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Europe needs Christians who are willing to speak out.
Throughout Europe, there is an underlying perception that Christendom’s influence on the continent has been on the wane since the Reformation, and that a combination of world events, scientific discoveries, populist movements, influential philosophers, and political institutions have hastened that demise up to the present day. As things stand, the future influence of the Christian gospel in the societies of Europe does not look promising.
What we now call the European Union (EU), had as part of its foundation not only a desire to form a community of trade where, in the aftermath of World War Two, harmony would replace hostility, but also “a community of peoples … which is deeply rooted in basic Christian values” (EU founding father Robert Schuman,1958). While specific mention of God was strongly debated but ultimately left out of the proposed European Constitution, the approved Lisbon treaty does mandate a duty to dialogue with faith leaders. Mainstream church leaders are invited to talk with senior officials, commissioners and the European Parliament.
CARE for Europe is a Brussels-based non-government organisation (NGO) that has a unique role in dealing with European institutions. A distinctly Christian charity, it campaigns on issues of liberty, family and bioethics. As part of its operations, CARE for Europe monitors the activities of the European Parliament, a practise that reveals the presence of many Christian members (MEPs) who are standing strongly for their faith.
One such MEP is Branislav Skripek, from Slovakia. A former street preacher, he was elected to the European Parliament in 2014, having previously served as a member of the Slovakian government. Skripek boldly speaks up in parliamentary committees and main plenary sessions, calling for the respect of Christians, the protection of the unborn, and against the sexualisation of children in school. He is a member of the growing European Christian Political Movement, and frequently concludes meetings with a time of prayer.
During his short time as an MEP he has become a target for secularists and members of the homosexual lobby. His response has been to deal with them firmly in parliament, and yet compassionately over a cup of coffee. Thankfully, he is not a lone voice.
However, it is one thing to claim you are a Christian voice in the European Parliament, but it can be quite another when it comes to casting your vote. In March, two reports were presented to parliament, on human rights and equality. Among some fine proposals to end human trafficking, child labour, and female genital mutilation, were paragraphs advocating the fundamental right to abortion for all. Many Christian MEPs spoke out against these paragraphs and yet, ultimately, all of these pro-abortion motions were adopted. Despite abortion being stipulated as an issue for each member state to decide, the will of the European Parliament was expressed 413 to 232 that “women must have control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, not least by having ready access to contraception and abortion”. The voice of the abortion lobby in Europe is powerful, but all is not lost.
The movement One of Us, which seeks to affirm that life begins at conception and therefore should not be experimented on or terminated, saw a record-breaking two million citizens sign the European Citizens’ Initiative. These voices - many of them professing a Christian faith - were ignored by the European Commission and Parliament, with both behaving undemocratically in their desperation to avoid action that threatened their embryonic research and abortion aid sponsorship. A legal challenge is underway, a charitable foundation has been formed and campaigners are responding with a healthy anger, fed up with being treated as second-class citizens.
HATE SPEECH LAW
Another indication of the decline of Christian values in European legislation is the increase in Hate Speech laws. Christians have a message which Jesus warned would cause division: “All men will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13); and “brother will betray brother to death, a father his child” (Matthew 10:21). In making known the grace-filled message of the gospel, street preachers are being arrested, Christian businesses are being targetted by homosexual activists, and messages from the pulpit are being investigated by police.
Roger Kiska, of Christian legal NGO Alliance Defending Freedom, cites the cases of three Belgian bishops who are the subject of formal police investigations because of things they’ve said, either in the pulpit or in private conversations. The growing workload of Alliance Defending Freedom and other similar organisations, indicates a rising tide of intolerant speech laws, where disagreeing with the accepted common position could lose you your job, business, reputation and even your freedom. Secular commentators mourn the passing of freedom of speech, as Europe becomes a place where you can be jailed simply for singing a song (O'Neill, B. 2015, Je Suis Billy Boy: free speech for football fans).
This inconsistency has created an environment in which you have the Pope (Strasbourg) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Brussels) both visiting the European Parliament amid a clamour for their attention. Both men represent a fresh face of the church towards the institutions; one with his humility and global popularity, the other with business and global experience and influence. But when the churches are consulted on issues - as they were on embryonic stem cell research - the European Parliament shuns their point of view, or at least listens politely then ignores them. A “divided house” does not help. CARE for Europe was campaigning on the issue of embryonic stem cell research only to find that, frustratingly, leaders of some mainstream churches were arguing a different position.
Thomas Bucher, General Secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance, believes that for too long the Church has been been living on its religious inheritance: “There is an influence through inheritance, but there is a diminishing influence in voice. Distant church members pay church tax but don’t have much interest in the services. This model is dead … we have to move from having certain rights or privileges, … to working with the most active membership, and building influence in society … this is a huge step forward for state churches.” However, unless the Church takes this step, there won’t be anyone left to speak up.
A church afraid of opposing the populist tide is further silenced by the “rule of tolerance”. “There is one truth; and that truth is that there is no truth.” Touch that truth and you meet an intolerant, violent, extremist response. These are what one German philosopher called “the anti-dogmatic relativists” – the last descendants of Christendom.
So, where in previous centuries the Church had directed the beliefs and practices of a society, the overthrow of that role by a secular domination is just as intolerant (or more so). We are at the point where the Council of Europe has approved an Orwellian report on “The dangers of creationism in education” (Brasseur, A. 2007, The dangers of creationism in education, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Strasbourg); where those with unwanted same-sex attraction are to be denied access to therapy; and where promoters of euthanasia shout angrily against Catholic hospitals denying their rights. The confusing mantra remains: “Do what you feel is right and fight for your rights”.
One of the most intolerant pieces of legislation being promoted in Europe this year is the misnamed and ill-conceived Equal Treatment Directive. Resisted since 2008, if adopted the legislation would force EU businesses, government institutions and individual citizens to recognise special rights for those who identify themselves as gay. It would allow for the scenario whereby if an individual claimed that they were offended by something you said or did, you would be guilty until proven innocent. To date, Germany has been the only country opposing this legislation. Pray that other countries in Europe will join them.
With the rise in anti-religious rhetoric in EU institutions, it is easy to believe that the Church is being defeated at every turn. Among the most sustained attacks is that on marriage. From no-fault divorce, to preferring cohabitation to the permanent commitment of marriage, we face a charge to redefine the whole institution. France, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and other countries in Europe have pushed for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, allowing not only financial recognition of a couple but also the right to adopt children.
In France, the “Taubira law” mandating “equal marriage” was rushed through its parliament. In response, the French public rose up in protest and more than two million people took to the streets to show their support for the traditional view of family and marriage. Sadly, media outlets sought to play down the protests, reporting the numbers involved as far less than the reality. The movement, La Manif Pour Tous, however, galvanised the public and it is now a powerful force in French (and European) politics. La Manif Pour Tous is not aligned with any religious group, but it enjoys the support of many mainstream church denominations. It has also received messages of support from Pope Francis.
In the UK, the Coalition for Marriage campaigned against same-sex marriage, gaining more than 500,000 supporters, but ultimately it was ignored by the government.
Despite propaganda that would report an advancing agenda of “equal marriage” (meaning redefining marriage as including same-sex couples), only nine out of 47 member countries of the Council of Europe actually allow this arrangement. And in some instances there has been a renewed push to reaffirm the traditional view of marriage. In Slovakia, Slovenia, Moldova, Croatia and a number of other European countries, churches are supporting campaigns to redefine their nation’s constitution to encapsulate the meaning of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The Church can always make its voice heard through words and action. The question is, are we willing to pay the price – to leave the comfort of our couches and to engage our brains and bodies? An encouraging sign is that religious freedom organisations, pro-life groups and supporters of traditional marriage and family are enjoying growing support from a younger generation. They may not have access to big budgets, powerful industry interests, or mass media campaigns, but faith-centred NGOs and individuals are making a stand for what they believe. They are willing to pay a high price to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and so that future generations can exercise their faith in all aspects of their lives.
Paul Moynan is the director of CARE for Europe. (The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those held by CARE for Europe.)
This article was first published in Solas magazine. Solas is published quarterly in the U.K. Click here to learn more or subscribe.