The recent European Baptist Federation consultation in Dorfweil, Germany produced examples of Europe's present religious upheaval. In once-communist Hungary the government is helping finance the construction of Baptist churches. But in Belgium, employees are on occasion still fired for becoming Baptists.
Relations between evangelicals and the state are deteriorating. A return to power of former communists in Bulgaria a year ago has brought together two mighty forces with a mutual heritage of anti-Westernism: communism and Orthodoxy. These conservative forces share a deep-seated fear of cultural inundation by the West.
Bulgarian Baptists have been barred from prison ministry and access to most public meeting halls. They have been accused of attracting young people by offering them drugs. A local newspaper in Varna, Bulgaria even accused Pastor Boshidar Igoff of cannibalizing children.
Theo Angelov, president of Bulgaria's Baptist Union, reported that "things we heard during the Communist period have returned. Worst of all, we have no means of defending ourselves. We have written articles and given scores of interviews, but none have ever been published. We are totally isolated." "The Orthodox openly display their hatred for us," he continued. "Many who once participated in the World Council of Churches now say they are against ecumenism."
Similar tendencies are evident elsewhere: Russian lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev claimed that Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky has privately expressed his intention to "eventually outlaw all types of Pentecostals and Baptists."
Evangelical growth has awakened Orthodox insecurities. Nationality is consequently being married to confession. The stance taken by the Orthodox in Bulgaria is, according to Igoff: "Hari Krishna is the Indian religion, Baptist is the American religion, and Orthodoxy, the Bulgarian one." A paper in Lithuania claimed that local non-Catholics were agents of the KGB.
The consultation also pointed to Western evangelicalism's co-responsibility: Its sectarian fringe invites attack. Events in Waco, Texas and the killing of a medical doctor by abortion activists made front-page news in Albania.
One study group in Dorfweil came closer home, distinguishing between para-church organizations "open to learn and dialogue and those not open to consultation and learning." Albert Latuzis of Lithuania claimed: "The greatest problem is that most missionaries don't want to listen to the Lithuanian believers and to learn their culture. They try to transplant what they did in America to Lithuania."
The consultation's closing recommendations centered on educating Europeans. One group proposed that a pamphlet for government agencies be printed listing "Baptist life, principles, and personalities." Other study groups added that "Baptists need to be disentangled from other groups" and "extricated from the sectarian mob."
The need for persons capable of influencing foreign governments was stressed. "Small teams should be set up to visit hot spots. These should include a prominent politician and a legal expert. They should meet with top members of the government; local Baptists could follow up. Immediate visits should be planned for Bulgaria, Georgia, and Belgium."
Chris Burnett of Albania pointed out that a visit by Jimmy Carter "swayed the President to extend religious tolerance to all. Carter helped establish the Baptists as a valid religious group."
Friendships were stressed: "Individual church members need to build positive and respectful relationships." "Baptist Press" was asked "to publish positive stories of relations between Baptist and Moslems. We will need to defend Islamic groups if they are in the minority."
Berlin, March 24, 1994
Composed for “Christianity Today” near Chicago, 555 words