Pastor who wants to integrate pornography into the Christian message shows where ecumenical modernist (im-) morality is heading

Religion mixes with porn for this Instagram pastor

With her red lips and nose piercing, Maike Schöfer looks like a rock star. As an aspiring pastor, she shows on Instagram how to rediscover church - and how feminism and Bible verses go together.

If the Twelve Apostles were on Instagram, they would certainly have subscribed to Maike Schöfer. The 31-year-old reaches almost 23,000 followers with her account @ja.und.amen and has become something of a modern model Christian in the last three years. With a self-confident, clear voice, the young mother talks about religion and her faith in her Insta-stories, uses gender-appropriate language and stands out above all because of her appearance. With her blonde pixie cut, her nose piercing, her look of jeans and leather jacket under her gown, she doesn't look at all like the general public imagines a representative of the church. And her profile picture is also provocative: she wears a "Hail Vagina" shirt with a halo.

In her posts and videos, she deals with topics that some conservative people would rather put in the 'unholy' category. Maike puts self-stimulation and pornography in a religious context and enriches her thoughts with biblical passages or historical facts - and does so in aesthetically pleasing yet provocative posts. "Self-stimulation is not a sin", for example, is written on a picture of a blood orange, which is reminiscent of the female sexual organ. In the post, Schöfer explains that the nun Hildegard von Bingen was the first to describe an orgasm and that sexuality does not distance us from God, so self-stimulation is not a sin either.

"Every woman can experience more pleasure than she currently does".

Schöfer also takes a more contemporary view of God. The portrayal of him as a white man with a rakish beard is completely outdated, she says. She writes God* with gender asterisks. Because for her, God is neither man nor woman. "For me, God has no gender, but includes all forms of genders and sexualities - without being a concrete being or person. I don't believe that God* is a person who is tangible and available in a place, as a body," she says. "God* is always more and greater. But above all, He is not just 'HE'."

This modern interpretation of faith should actually be just fine for the church: 220,000 people left the Protestant Church last year. Some cite financial reasons, others a loss of confidence, and still others cite alienation from religion and faith as the reason. But if you look at church and religion through Maike Schöfer's eyes, both do not seem so unworldly.

Late fascination with church and religion

The aspiring pastor realised late in life that she also wanted to deal with religion and faith professionally. "I don't come from a Christian home, we never prayed at home. But my parents had me baptised - because that's the way it's done." She also went to confirmation classes, Schöfer says, but the only time she saw the inside of a church was at Christmas. "I've always felt comfortable in churches, I was fascinated because I felt a kind of mystery that I couldn't clearly grasp at the time."

Religious education is voluntary in Bremen, where Maike Schöfer grew up. The young woman, who was sometimes a punk, sometimes a goth and also listened to hip-hop in her youth, stayed away from lessons despite her fascination with religion. After graduating from high school, she followed her former love and planned to become an actress in Berlin. In the end, she decided to study. "My A-levels were lousy, so the only options in Berlin were natural sciences or religious education." A friend reminded Maike that she had always found religion fascinating and that she would make a great religion teacher. So Maike Schöfer enrolled. "Then on my first day at university I sat in the lecture with my yellowed 90s Bible next to all the pastors' kids."

But even though Maike Schöfer already stands out at that time with her appearance and has the feeling that she doesn't really belong, she finds exactly what she has been looking for for a long time with the lecturers: "Enthusiasm for religion and this approach to the big questions of life". And she also realises that religion can definitely be reconciled with feminist issues, which are very important to her personally, because Schöfer experienced sexism more often in her life. And she believes that addressing equality is also important in a Christian context.

Instagram as a place for religious self-determination

To create a channel where she can address such issues, Maike Schöfer opened her Instagram account on 13 June 2018. "In the beginning there were doubts whether I could write at all, whether I could simply address the things that are important to me." But with her topics and her texts, she inspires more and more followers post after post. With each new post, she becomes more self-confident, opens up more, becomes more progressive and provocative - "but always in the wake of the EKD, the Evangelical Church in Germany," as she says.

After her diploma in religious education, she taught as a religion teacher and also had an unconventional effect on her students. "I was able to directly gain plus points with them because of my appearance," she says. She likes that she could be a person for many students to talk to about things that move them. "I was the person I wanted so much as a teenager." Nevertheless, Maike Schöfer felt that teaching at school was not enough for her and applied to train as a pastor, proudly announcing via Instagram last August that she was going into the vicariate with immediate effect.

Her congregation in Berlin-Charlottenburg doesn't even notice what she's wearing under her gown. And only a few people who listen to her sermon offline probably know her Instagram account. Schöfer finds it good to be able to separate the different facets of her work. "The people in my congregation don't need a bird of paradise, they want to hear a good sermon and an engaging discussion of biblical texts." Nevertheless, from time to time people come by who know Schöfer from social media and seek out conversation with her.

But despite all the encouragement for her work, tolerance and openness, there is always criticism of her femininity, her appearance and her views. Above all, she has to offer contra to ultra-conservative hate commentators: "Neither the Bible nor Jesus are conservative." Schöfer wants to clearly distance herself from the attitude of interpreting the Bible literally: "The Bible contradicts itself in some places. To take Bible passages as given truths about the present is wrong. Just like strict prescriptions à la 'The Bible says' or 'God wants it that way'."

She certainly does not want to become Germany's best-known Christian, says Maike Schöfer. When one of her videos went viral on Instagram last summer, attracting not only new followers but also a lot of haters, she took an Insta-break. In the meantime, her channel is active again and is filled every few days with Christian taboo topics, thoughtful reels and lots of educational work that make people want to go to church and religion again. For this she has also founded the feminist devotional collective (fAK) with other Christian women, ten young people who hold weekly Christian devotions from a feminist perspective on Instagram.

Maike Schöfer has not yet received any feedback from her regional church about her Instagram work. But she does not see this as a rejection, but rather as a tacit acknowledgement of her efforts to make the church accessible to younger people again.

Because Maike Schöfer thinks: "Church is not boring, dusty and dry, it also has cool sides and I hope to make church a place again where everyone feels comfortable, where everyone can feel the closeness of God." And whether God is a man, a woman, queer or a little bit of everything, everyone can and should decide for themselves.