Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Godfather

When we decided to have the Dude Baptized, we did it for several reasons. First, I thought that it was a nice, social situation in which everyone could come together and see the baby. Second, although the German and I are not very religious (we are the Easter and Christmas kind of church goers), we do want the Dude to grow up with some moral guidance which we think Christianity can provide. I had no idea however that the Church would make it so hard on us.

In Germany you must declare what religion you are when you move to a new city and register. When you declare your religion, church taxes are taken out of your pay check and go to the said church. I am Catholic, but do not feel that the Catholic church needs my tax dollars, so 4 years ago when I registered I declared that I have "no religion." When I did this, I knew that my children could not be baptized in the Catholic church. The German is a baptized and confirmed Protestant and still pays his church taxes. Therefore, we decided to have the Dude's baptism in the Protestant church.

There was a lot of paperwork to get in order. First, we had to get permission from the local church to have the baptism in the German's home town church. Second, we had to prove that the German was a member of the Church. There is some official letter that I had to get, but could never get to the church office when it was open. Therefore, we submitted our tax return which showed how much we paid in church taxes. Third, we had to provide documentation regarding the Godparents.

Now, we put a lot of thought into choosing the Dude's godparents. We wanted someone that we are close to and someone who would provide the Dude with a good example of a life well lived. Without hesitation we choose Ch-ard. Not only was he living with us when I got pregnant, but he also is one of the toughest and community oriented people we know. However, he is American so the documentation bit would be tricky.

Ch-ard is a baptized and confirmed Catholic. Up until a few years ago, he even went to church regularly (well, more than me). However, since going back to the U.S. last year, he has not really gone to a church. When the German's church asked for documentation that Ch-ard was "in the church," we sent them his confirmation certificate. How much more "in the church" do you have to be?

Apparently a lot. The certificate was not enough. We needed a letter from a church that he attends now in order to prove that he attended church regularly (even though we don't), and here is the kicker, that he donates.

When we had our meeting with the minister to discuss the baptism, I got a little hot under the collar. First, when I filled out the application, I wrote that I was Catholic; old habit and all. But when she found out that I don't pay church taxes, she erased it. In one swoop, my religion was gone. That hurt. Then she informed us that Ch-ard could participate in the ceremony, but the Church would not recognize him because he was not "in a church."

I got very upset. Theoretically, someone who is registered in Germany and pays church taxes but NEVER goes to church, could be the godfather, but an upstanding member of the community who is religious but just does not belong to a church at the moment cannot. To me, it seemed to come down to money.

I expressed this view to the minister. Of course, she did not agree. Then I thought to myself, "Jesus was a radical dude. He hung out with thieves and prostitutes. I am positive Jesus would not exclude Ch-ard as a godfather because he doesn't pay church taxes."

I said to the minister, "It does not seem like a Christian thing to exclude someone from a ceremony because of a problem with paperwork."

She stared at me in a stony silence.

Needless to say, the Dude was baptized and Ch-ard participated in the ceremony, but as predicted his name is not on the official church documents. In our hearts we could not have picked a better godfather, regardless of paperwork. But the entire process left a bad taste in our mouths. This is unfortunate because I believe that a church can play a good and important role in providing community in raising a child. We are going to let the Dude decide if he wants to be confirmed, but I am glad that we had him baptized.

The Dude, Ch-ard, and Mareike (the godmother)


kim said...

i was asked by one of my best friends to be their daughter's godmother when she was still pregnant. i was thrilled even though we knew it'd be a problem in the "official" ceremony because i don't pay church taxes either [long story]. so i ended up "participating" and holding my goddaughter when she was baptized and it was great.

it does sting a tiny little bit to not be on the official document. but when we got home with the family to celebrate afterwards, they gave both of us [the godfather isn't in church either, so same story] our very own "tauf-urkunde" with all the important data, a picture of "my girl" and the "taufgebet" on the backside - all laminated.

to me, that was much more meaningful then my name on the church document that decided i'm not "good enough" to be the kid's godmother because i'm not in a church... it's about a lot more and most important is that the person you chose will accompany the dude on his path through life - paperwork or no paperwork. :)

C N Heidelberg said...

Oh wow. That is a big, big problem!

The religion thing here in Germany is pretty weird. I had a friend who told me that she didn't want to read in her friend's wedding as she was asked, because she doesn't believe in any of that stuff and is atheist. So she refused. Later, she helped me with my taxes and I saw on her form that she paid taxes to the Protestant church!! Why!? I guess it's just a matter of tradition and not religion. Kind of stupid.

I don't pay the church taxes, so if I have a kid here this is going to be a problem....I wonder if I could get the kid baptized in the US? My husband probably wouldn't mind if we didn't baptize at all, but that wouldn't fly with my family.

Dr. J said...

We became godparents earlier this year despite being strong athiests - for the mother it was important that there was some connection to the church for her child, but more important that there was a caring set of adults willing to be around, take part in their child's life and be willing to take responsibilty for the children should something happen to the (both parents have no extended family). They knew from the start that we don't believe in a God and will not be helping aid the religious side of their son, but we ARE pretty damn decent people and we want to be part of his life. The christening was held in England and we just didn't tell the minister.

From an athiest's point of view, I wish there was a non-religous term for godparent. I would like to have trusted friends in that role for my kids one day but I don't want to involve religon in it. Why isn't just saying "I'm going to be there for this child that isn't mine, in whatever way it may need me" enough?

christina said...

Oh geez. That is just one of the (many, many) reasons that we didn't have our children baptized or confirmed here. Not enough "love thy neighbour" and waaaay too much hypocrisy and money-grubbing going on.

Mr. M was chosen by close friends of ours to be godfather to their daughter (now almost 18). Neither he nor the parents are particularily religious, although when she was born he was "in the church" (ie: didn't go but paid taxes) so there was no problem. He has since excommunicated himself. I wonder if that means he isn't her godfather any more??

I think that only the "religious upbringing" and "financial help" aspects are included in the duties of godparents here. If you want a specific person to look after your child in the event of your demise, you need to have a legal document drawn up, otherwise the child becomes a ward of the court. We made a note in our will specifying what we wanted for our kids.

I'm glad everything worked out with Ch-ard. Who cares about official documents? YOU guys know you made the right choice.

chicagokarl said...

This is another example of how the Church Tax is killing the Church(es). The cynic is me believes that the State does this to control rather than to help religion. There are prominent theologians that favor repealing the Church Tax for these reasons. For example, Stephan Kulle:

annonamoose said...

I come at this from a totally different angle - but the paperwork does tend to drive me bonkers, too.

Especially with your friend - even if he had been attending his church you may very well still have had document problems because one doesn't "belong" the same way one does here. I donate a bit on top of the tax, but I don't get receipts for it and it's exactly those receipts they would want. I attended church regularly for years without being registered.

If the problem extends beyond the paperwork, I don't think it's unfair to ask people who wish to make a specifically non-religious commitment to a child to make that commitment in a non-religious ceremony. (Atheists can be lovely people and "sponsors" or guardians - you're right, we need a word for it- but if they are pledged not to assist in religious upbringing, they're not godparents.) The problem is that the word is popularly used to mean a host of things.

BTW - the people who would have raised us if something happened to my parents were not my godparents (or at least they weren't both mine and weren't my siblings').

PapaScott said...

We had Christopher baptized 8 years ago, and we managed to have my best friend from high school listed as godparent without any hassle at all. As I recall they took my word that she is an active church member (albeit a Methodist rather than a Lutheran). She was not present for the ceremony, perhaps that made a difference. For what it's worth, both my wife and I pay church tax.

As I see it, if the wording of the certificate is what's most important, then it's a club you want to join and you have to play by their rules. However, if the commitment (be it spiritual, emotional, or whatever) to your son by your chosen godparents is most important to you, then the opinion of the pastor or the wording of the certificate don't really matter at all.

J.Hager said...

This is what happens when a religion gets organized. lol They get between you and God.

Reading this post made me very angry and frustrated for you. You weren't even able to use "Jesus" logic with them. lol Any church that's that exclusive/elitist should pay their own taxes. Like the above post from Papascott, it sounds like a club their running. My apologies for any offense.

Carrie said...

Makes you kind of appreciate the separate church and state thing, doesn't it? Wonder what they would do when they found out Aaron was Buddist.