German pastor will not take gender criticism back


Central Europe

Arie de Heer, RD

Pastor Marcus Piehl in the pulpit. Still from video YouTube

German pastor Marcus Piehl came under heavy fire in May after criticising "gender ideology" in a church bulletin. Six months later, the pastor looks back. "We are called to stand up for Biblical truth and not to conform to the spirit of the times."

For five years, Pastor Piehl (51) was associated with the Evangelical Lutheran St. Johannes parish in Nordstemmen, near Hildesheim. Then suddenly everything went wrong. In August, he was transferred to another parish within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

The whole commotion was triggered by an article written by him in the May/June issue of the parish newsletter. Pastor Piehl criticised an appearance by Lady Bitch Ray, who is known as a porn rapper, at an SPD executive meeting in early March. She stated that "it is also part of feminism to move away from binary gender constructions". "In other words," concluded Rev. Piehl, "that there are two genders (woman and man) is just something invented, developed and culturally determined."

For Biblical-theological and social reasons, the Nordstemmen pastor opposed this representation and advocated for "God's order. Genesis 1:27 says: God created them male and female. And on the lifelong union of man and woman in marriage, He gives His blessing (Matthew 19:5-6)."

The pastor then stood up for the traditional family and called for "taking this pandemic time also as an occasion to ask anew about Him and His values. I wish that for Lady Bitch Ray too, because if you look at her life, she's not doing herself any good, first and foremost."

Pastor Piehl, how would you characterise the Nordstemmen congregation?

"It is first and foremost a people's church congregation. Overall, about 50 per cent of the population in Germany are still members of a church. It also applies to Nordstemmen: About half of them are Protestant. However, the church is like the fire brigade for many people: good that it exists, but better if you don't need it. On the other hand, several very committed members seriously live the faith and want to pass it on to others. The congregation in Nordstemmen has about 2,300 members; about 50 come to Sunday service, at least in normal times."

What prompted you to write your article for the church bulletin?

"In the sixteen years I have been a pastor, I have had many confirmation students in my classes — very many great young people. However, in recent years I have noticed that more young people have problems.

For example, when we organised a trip with the group, some of the young people who came along were people with conspicuous eating behaviour, ate very unhealthily, or isolated themselves a lot. If you know the family situation of such a young person, you often find a connection: There are problems at home, the parents have divorced or something similar. And of course, I can be wrong; it is my subjective observation. Still, scientific studies show that psychological or other problems in young people are often related to their domestic situation.

Today, every fifth child in Germany grows up in a single-parent family, with the parent often being the mother, who has to bear all the care. Such a child is twice as likely to develop psychological problems as a child growing up in an average family. The probability of becoming a drug addict is four times higher. It worries and saddens me.

That's why I was distraught by the report on the SPD board meeting where a so-called porn rapper promoted transcending the sexes. Mind you: instead of strengthening young people's identity as adolescent men or women, they are made even more insecure. I wanted to contradict this because the Bible teaches something entirely different. The Bible only knows man and woman and nothing in between."

Did you not expect your writing to cause such a stir?

"That I had taken a clear stand, I knew, of course. But I wrote my contribution to our community for our 2,300 members. I didn't expect it to become soon known throughout the republic and that the national media would report on it.”

How do you explain that?

"I don't know. But obviously, certain groups are very active on the internet.”

Could it be that a church member sent the bulletin to the media?

"It was indeed some church members who were upset about my post. They put it on the internet."

Even Lady Bitch Ray responded.

"Yes, but according to my children, who are more active on social media than I am, her response only got 200 or 300 likes. Ridiculously few, in fact."

What reactions stood out to you the most?

"The reactions that surprised me the most were the ones where I was accused of homophobia: I didn't even mention the subject of homosexuality in my article. And that I was accused of misogyny when I was actually advocating for women: stay together as a couple; men, don't run away from your wife and family – because they are the ones who suffer the most."

In your article, you also quoted the Kassel evolutionary biologist Prof. Ulrich Kutschera. Later you said you shouldn't have done that.

"I quoted Kutschera because he can't exactly be called Christian-friendly. When such a person says gender research is an anti-biological pseudoscience –even more: political propaganda– that says something. But Kutschera has also said things, among others about homosexuality, that I would not support. I didn't know that at the time.”

You apologised pretty quickly for your contribution. Was that necessary?

"After my article was published, I first received reactions from people in my community. Some of them were women who had gone through a divorce. They had to take care of their children alone, and some of them had financial problems. They felt: "We already have so many problems, and now the church is making life difficult for us.” That hurt me as a pastor because, of course, that was never my intention.

Those who have read my apology carefully know that I have not taken anything back. Some people have taken it that way: He has taken everything back. But that is not the case. In retrospect, I would have liked to have worded my apology differently; I had no experience dealing with the press. In any case, I did not retract my position on content and principle.”

How would you briefly describe it?

"That, Biblically speaking, there are two sexes: Man and woman, who complement each other wonderfully in their difference. And that the family, i.e. father and mother, is the place where children can grow up best. Ideally, that is the most stable environment."

Although you had apologised, the church leadership felt that you should leave Nordstemmen. How do you look back on that?

"That surprised and hurt me. Until then, with one exception, I had a good relationship with the church board. I also wonder if this was the best solution for the congregation. But yes."

Have you considered taking your case to court?

The minister hesitates. Then: "I thought about it, but even in the interest of the congregation, I didn't do it. I should not have been transferred against my will. I have done nothing wrong. The fact that a pastor writes something in the church bulletin that outrages some people is no reason to dismiss him. A local church board may not dismiss a pastor on its own authority. I agreed to the transfer because I felt that the issue had already caused so much commotion and discussion that I shouldn't harm the congregation by getting involved in a dispute."

Have you also received support.

"Certainly. I have received most of the expressions of support, including some from the Netherlands, by the way. My superintendent said he had made two stacks of letters: one stack of people against me and one stack of people who were for me. According to him, both stacks were about the same height."

Are there any ongoing discussions with the church leadership at the moment?

"No. There was mentioning of ministry talks, but they have not taken place. I have done nothing that could lead to disciplinary proceedings.”

When contacted for this interview, you indicated that you still need to be careful.

"That's right. A lot of people are looking at me now, and of course, I have to be careful not to cause offence again."

Does that mean you wouldn't write a similar article again?

"I wouldn't say that. It's about the truth. As preachers, we are called to stand up for Biblical truth and not to conform to the spirit of the age."

You are not the first German pastor to face opposition in this area: The case against Olaf Latzel from Bremen is still pending appeal. Do you know him personally?

"No. We had brief contact by phone, but I don't know him.”

In the meantime, you work as a pastor in Ronnenberg, not far from Nordstemmen. How is it going?

"I am filling in for a preacher who is on maternity leave and am now serving various congregations in the region. It's a transitional phase, also to come to rest a little.”

Not the only one

Rev. Marcus Piehl is not the only one in Germany who has been criticised for speaking out on marriage, sexuality and the family. In November of last year, the Bremen district court sentenced Rev. Olaf Latzel, pastor of the St. Martini congregation in Bremen, to a fine of EUR 8,100 for "inciting hatred" against people with a different orientation. The appeal, in this case, is still pending; Rev. Latzel has so far not been given a date when the trial will be continued.

Last year, a 71-year-old Christian restaurant owner in Berlin-Schöneberg also came under fire for "incitement to hatred". In her "Imbiss", she has a panel with Bible texts, including Leviticus 18.

In the Netherlands, the case against Rev. A. Kort, pastor of the "Old Reformed Congregation in the Netherlands" in Krimpen aan den IJssel, is still ongoing. Gay activist Leon Houtzager and his lawyer Gerard Spong asked the Court of Appeal of The Hague this summer to have the Public Prosecutor investigate whether Rev. Kort can still be prosecuted for insulting homosexuals. The case is still pending.

In the Netherlands, you regularly hear the call for churches to speak "prophetically" lately, especially in connection with the climate. What do you think of such a call?

"Prophecy is often associated with the future. But, the term "prophecy" comes from a Greek word meaning to show others what God's word says. Climate or the preservation of creation is a crucial topic. But when it comes to concrete measures for climate protection, some people know much better than we do as a church. Marriage and family and the cohesion of society are also important issues. In my opinion, it is the task of the church to stand up for these issues, based on what the Bible tells us about them.

St. John's Church in Nordstemmen. Photo Wikimedia

In this respect, I find it sad that we, as conservative Christians in Germany, cannot be better networked and speak with one voice. There are many small groups like "Kein anderes Evangelium" (No other Gospel) or “Netzwerk Bibel und Bekenntnis” (Network Bible and Confession), but because of the fragmentation, they hardly have a voice worth mentioning."

Do you see a hardening of the climate around marriage and sexuality in Germany as well?

"In Germany, yes, but also internationally. Two years ago, I was on study leave in America. What is happening at universities there is serious. And in England, we recently heard the news of Professor Kathleen Stock, who resigned under the pressure of the gender movement. It is incredible how such a small minority has been able to gain so much influence in such a short time. At the same time, all kinds of polls show that a large majority rejects gender ideology.

I always want to emphasise that God's word is not something that restricts us humans, but on the contrary, it gives us space to live. It wants to show us what God wants, also in this area.

Marcus Piehl

For me, the question arises more and more: Who still stands up for conservative values? For example, in response to my article, I received a reply from a woman in police training. "Thank you for saying that", she wrote. She said that if a male arrestee said he was a woman, she, as a police officer, had to pat him down to see if he had drugs or weapons on him, including between his legs — a very unpleasant situation. But because nowadays they say that everyone can choose their gender, the young woman must do it. Then I think: who will stand up for people like this policewoman? That she doesn't have to do something like that?”

How did your wife and children experience the past time?

"Of course, it was a difficult time for them too. On the other hand, we were also one as a family. We got through it together. It has bound us even more to each other.

This is a translation of an article published by Reformatorisch Dagblad on November 27th, 2021



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