With burning concern, we gathered in Budapest between the 14th and 17th October. We belong to different denominations and cultures; we are a diverse group of women and men who share a similar concern and fire within as our courageous predecessors who phrased The Barmen Declaration.
Not only did we gather on the basis of shared Jewish-Christian heritage and enlightened humanism declaring the freedom of religion, but we share the intention to resist all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion and stigmatisation.
We are calling for resistance to an arrogance of power that makes the concept of “Christian Liberty” a slogan for exclusionary, hate-filled and corrosive policy; a power that destroys the social fabric and eliminates useful social institutions; a power that systematically threatens democracy and the rule of law. We are concerned about the arrogance of power that mixes the language of national identity with the language of Christian identity in a manipulative way. We cannot let our freedom, given to us by grace in baptism, be taken away.
We are concerned by the narrow political usage of the concept of “Christian Liberty”. Our goal is to restore the dignity of this biblical and theological concept. Christian liberty includes freedom from causing harm to the other person and to ourselves, freedom from abuse, exploitation, ignorance and freedom for protecting the other person’s dignity and rights, as well as our own. In this light, we cannot be indifferent to the current state of affairs we experience in Hungarian society.
Who can be content and who cannot?
“Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand.”
True Christian freedom is always threatened by a politics that separates and isolates.
The authoritarian exercise of power is spreading around the world but especially before our eyes in Hungary. We are witnessing manipulation of electoral law and the use of legislative and executive power in order to provide legislative protection for the corruption inspired by the state. This is a strategy of power that deliberately eliminates political differences of opinion through the eradication of independent media, spreading fake news, discrediting and character assassination, and harassment by authorities.
Because of this, in the name of Christian liberty we would like to be prepared to speak up and act unambiguously.
Today’s practice places heavy restrictions on freedom of religion. Legislative practice takes away rights previously granted and impedes reacquiring them in manipulative ways for several Christian, Jewish or other religions. One example is the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship. In this procedure, those in power ignore such external bodies as the Hungarian Constitutional Court, the Venice Commission and The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and provide huge support to the chosen and prioritised churches and, in that way, establish them under their control in the long run. Meanwhile, they present themselves as the protectors of Eastern and Asian Christianity.
We want to be free from our religious affiliations becoming tools for manipulation, and we want to take action so that our diversity of political and religious views will not be restricted in any way.
We are witnesses that the poor and marginalised suffer the most in this situation. We witness the suffering of the Roma people, the homeless, those living with addictions, the victims of violence—especially domestic violence, and refugees turned away from our borders or starved in ‘transit zones’. They are our sisters and brothers. We, who live in today’s Hungary see and condemn the criminalisation of poverty. We also condemn the fact that those currently in power regard helping refugees as breaking the law, in the same way as the ruling power did seventy-five years ago in the case of helping those persecuted for political or racial reasons.
We want to be free from indifference to the problems faced by the other person: from deafness, blindness and judgement. We want to be free to be moved by the other’s poverty, and free to respond to helplessness; we want to be the voice with and for the voiceless who suffer.
In our society the equal treatment of women, including their full involvement in political and scientific life, is still a distant hope. Women alas do not enjoy equal esteem in Hungarian church life either. It is distressing that the Hungarian government will not ratify the Istanbul Convention, which seeks to eliminate domestic violence. Against this background, the closed official attitude to academic research on, and unbiased scholarly discussion of, discrimination by gender (research and discussion facilitated by Gender Studies) is painfully egregious. According to the Bible, God created man and woman equal and entrusted them both with the care and cultivation of the earth.
We want to be free from the culture and language of subordination and humiliation. We want to be free for respecting the other person’s dignity in its full integrity.
Excessive unsustainable consumption of our planet’s resources, the worldwide popularisation and practice of overconsumption, the continuous deduction and eradication of local trade and communities, and the void of climate justice are threatening issues for all humankind. It is unacceptable that Hungary is one of those countries that void and undermine serious conversation on these interconnected issues, making declarations and engagements on sustainable changes a matter of political games. We believe that God has created our whole world and every creature’s life in it with love/from love. And God has appointed humankind to a duty to work and keep the earth in its delicate balance and harmony.
We want to be free from the misleading overconsumption and greedy accumulation of material goods. We want to be free for keeping God’s diverse creation in its own abundance, beauty and wish to respect the life of every creature.
The spread of fear towards, and alienation of, distinctive social groups by means of government policies is a worldwide problem which we experience in Hungary, too. We believe that it is not hatred but the practice of getting to know each other and inclusion that bring all of us closer to those belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community.
We want to be free from judging the other person. We want to be free for unconditional acceptance and inclusion of the human person.
Those in power do not protect the most vulnerable and most exposed members of society and what is more, those in power are gradually reducing the opportunities necessary for the poorest to sustain life. We are in solidarity with people living with disabilities who are discriminated on a daily basis. We want to be free from our fears that prevent us from stepping closer to those who help us see our own vulnerability. We want to be free to be fellow creatures, friends and co-creators.
We deeply condemn incitement to hatred. We are saddened that after decades in which Christians merged with secular power in support of anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism, reaching its merciless peak in Auschwitz, that a clear confession of sins towards the Jewish people has not happened within Hungarian society. There is one covenant. Our task is to repent, to comfort, to remember, and to make reparation. We highly appreciate the intellectual and spiritual gifts from the Jewish people with whom we form one political community. We want to be free from the paralysing passivity and the oblivion denying responsibility. We want to be free to remember and to share community.
We cry out in the name of Hungary’s Roma residents, for them and with them. We live, work, love and struggle together with our Roma brothers and sisters in every area of life. It is unacceptable to discriminate against our fellow members of our community because of their ethnic origin. Scandalously, such discrimination means that millions live with immense disadvantage and in existential fear in today’s Hungary. We want to be free from segregation and condemnation to form a community practicing equality in all areas of life.
In today’s Hungary who has access to the basic goods of society, and who does not?
“Now let the fear of the Lord be on you.
Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God
there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”
(2 Chronicles 19:7)
In a truly free society, everyone has access to the basic goods of life. Jesus’ miracles brought real healing and real feeding as a partial manifestation of his healing of creation.
In today’s Hungary many live without basic material goods: without housing, decent work, food, clean water or heating.
The Church Fathers taught us that in a healthy society ‘wealth flows like a river’. In today’s Hungary public wealth does not serve the common good but only that of a narrow social segment, who use it as a means of power and for their own material gain.
In the 21st century, access to technology is a basic social good. We notice with concern in Hungary that technology on the one hand unites, but at the same time divides and isolates us. We see a rift between two groups: those with access to technologies and those who do not. Such material injustice limits full participation.
Education and science are basic goods in any free society. Public education, the politics of higher education and the politics of science in today’s Hungary limit free thought, and risks preventing the next generation from interpreting the world around them in a healthy emotional, spiritual and intellectual manner.
In today’s Hungary, a culture of respect is lacking. The air through which the sound of public discourse travels is poisoned by manipulation, stigmatisation, subordination, and threat. The culture of trust, mutual respect and access to the search of truth only exist and flourish in open communities. Their lack leads to disorientation. Isolation makes it difficult for an individual to find a calling and role in society. We can only find these and function in communities built on solidarity and trust.
This is why we believe that we can be free from hopelessness and free for the affirmation of life.
We can be free from emptiness and free for a meaningful life. We can be free from the compulsion to accumulate, and free for trust in God’s care and free for co-operating with God in extending it.
We can be free from the exploitation of Creation and free for a life lived in harmony as part of Creation.
We believe that we can be free from selfishness and free for love, following the example of Christ.
The practical realisation of Christian liberty Following Christ
For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.
(Gospel of Matthew 25:35–36)
Those of us who see the homeless, the excluded and the helpless encourage ourselves and you to climb over the wall that has shut us off from those who are crying out!
Let us not keep ourselves away from the fence or from those standing at the ends of the streets where no one goes, those who are at the other end of technical “development”, those holding on to boats, those doomed to perish in wars or those suffering from natural disasters. Let us gather strength together and go with water and bread, and find a way out together.
If we see the other’s vulnerability at a place where we are at home, let us give protection and welcome the unprotected to our local communities and let us trust that we will be welcomed, too. Let us offer work so that we can work together and learn to create things together.
If you are hungry, let me give you bread and invite you to our table, and let me accept your invitation as well. Let us invite you to our communities and accept your invitation to yours.
Let us be gracious because we live by grace.
We are not saying all this with certain knowledge but as people who struggle daily with our own fears, prejudices and intimidation.
We, who sign and issue this statement, wanted to speak based on the calling we have received from God as committed Christians. That said, this message is addressed to us all. It is addressed to non-believers, believers, those who believe differently from us and have different gender and cultural identities; in short, to all those we are pleased to call our brothers and sisters.
We believe that God’s wisdom is reflected in our diversity and that we were all created in God’s image and likeness. We want this image and likeness to be recognized and honoured in the image of the other person. We are speaking now because we sense the return of perils and shadows from the past. We do not expect the end of the world, but the fulfilment of God’s promise: the manifestation of God’s divine will in time, and peace. We are waiting in eager expectation, but we know from Paul the Apostle that while we are waiting for the return or the coming of the Messiah, the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. We want it to be obvious from our choices, confessions, and acts of standing by the other person, of preserving the creation we have inherited, that we are the children of God.
It is already signed by Gábor Iványi, Gábor Iványi, Miklós Iványi, Ildikó Kertai-Szabó, Anka Lakatos, István Ónodi, Petra Verebics (pastors of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship); Tímea Bagdi (HEF – Heated street and Wesley College) és Gyárfás Judit (HEF – pastoral assistant).
– Anna Rowlands, St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion; Dániel Deák, Roman-catholic, professor of the Corvinus University; Rita Perintfalvi, Roman-catholic, Department of Old Testament Studies at the University of Graz, Katalin Kelemen, rabbi, Szim Salom – and others.