Sunday, November 12, 2006

Upon Deaf Ears

ABC News - We know this much: The 73-year-old pastor's last sermon focused on his fear that Christian Europe would be overwhelmed by Islam.

A few weeks later, at one of the most important Lutheran landmarks, the Rev. Roland Weisselberg soaked himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze.

He left no suicide note, and the meaning of his final words is still the subject of conjecture.

But in a time when Christians and Muslims in Europe lurch from one crisis to the next, the poetry-quoting, retired Lutheran minister is being proclaimed a self-martyr the latest victim in a growing conflict between the cross and the crescent.

"What's sad is that many people are so quick to believe that he killed himself to protest Islam. They want to believe it," said Bishop Christoph Kaehler, who leads the German Protestant Church in the eastern Thuringia state, which includes historic Erfurt, where the 16th-century Reformation trailblazer Martin Luther took his first religious vows.

"Weisselberg has become a magnet for fears and suspicions about Muslims," Kaehler said. "It's an unfortunate lesson in how tense things have become."

Germany has felt that uneasiness in many ways recently.

Last month, a Turkish-born lawmaker sought protection from death threats after calling Islamic head scarves a symbol of oppression of women.

In Berlin, an opera company has become Europe's latest freedom of expression flash point. A planned production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" outraged Muslims with a scene depicting the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad along with other religious figures including Jesus and Buddha.

Pope Benedict XVI used a speech at a German university in September to decry violent trends in Islam, setting off a maelstrom of protests around the world. The German pontiff is scheduled to begin a visit to Turkey on Nov. 28 in his first papal trip to a mostly Muslim nation.

Weisselberg was not a silent bystander.

He wrote letters to newspapers, venting on a range of topics. Most were packaged around his belief that European Christians had become too meek and separated from the faith's bold history such as Luther's famous call for spiritual renewal, which helped stir the Protestant Reformation.

In his last sermon in late September called from retirement to fill in for an absent minister Weisselberg said Christians in Europe must unite or risk being overrun by Islam in generations to come.

Page 2 of 3