Tamás Fabiny: In some way we must give a sign

Tamás Fabiny: In some way we must give a sign

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Magyar Nemzet, 5 August 2017 | Text: András Kósa, photo: Balázs Székelyhidi | English translation: Kinga Marjatta Pap
Budapest – We shouldn’t resort to means like fear and scaring the people with an image of the enemy, says Tamás Fabiny. In addition to politics, migration and the [government-made political] billboards picturing George Soros, we also discussed more elevated topics with the Bishop of the North Disctrict of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary,such as the 21th century message of the 500-year-old Reformation and last but not least, what would he like to ask from PM Viktor Orbán.

- How does a “Lutheran escape room” look like? In August, you will organise Hungarian days in Wittenberg, at the starting point of Reformation and the escape game will be part of the program.

- Room escape games are highly popular. In this case, the game will include questions related to the Bible and church matters – those who are familiar with those, will get out sooner. It is a secular framework popular among the youth but re-filled with church content. Therefore we may say it is also a “Lutheran” concept.

- Is it a priority for you to be “trendy” all the time?

- Trendy may not be the best concept to describe us but to be up to date is very important for the church – just as it was in the time of Reformation. Martin Luther was actually highly modernistic in his time. If we look at his usage of the media, how he handled publicity, recognised the importance of using the mother tongue in preaching the gospel, how he explored the role of the printing press, different leaflets and caricatures in quickly spreading the teachings of Reformation – those were all novelties at the time. Many hymns of the Reformation were composed to tunes of secular drinking songs. And not only Luther but also Jesus employed the tools of his own time when he conveyed his message through very simple and efficient parables both intelligible for an uneducated peasant and a learned Roman citizen.

- You visited the FINA World Aquatics Championship [Budapest in July 2017] and published a blog post on it. How did you like the event?

- It was an elevating experience. It is good to have such events in our country. I guess your next question will be how much it cost for us.

- Actually yes…

- Let’s say I am still exploring the topic. But I do stand for sports and I liked the peaceful community spirit of the event. It was exactly the atmosphere that I usually envy in the Western world. That parents may hold the hands of their children and go to a football match or a rugby match, and that it is not necessarily always about criticism and scolding.

- Coming back to the Wittenberg days: lay leader of the Lutheran church Gergely Prőhle will give a lecture on “What does the legacy of Luther mean to us today?”. Let’s give a hint in advance: what does it really mean?

- The starting point of the Hungarian days is the fact that the German Lutheran church borrowed Luther’s testament which has been in the property of our church for more than a hundred years. It is a great moral heritage and also an invaluable autograph. I don’t know what Gergely will talk about but for me, the core of the Reformation is the re-discovery of the Holy Script. Luther was in a passionate search for God. The biggest question of Reformation for him was “How can I find a gracious God?”. The Middle Ages rather had a threatening, punishing image of God. Luther found the gracious God in Christ on the cross, in the passion of Christ. Therefore Luther’s question can be logically continued: how can I find a gracious neighbour, a gracious fellow human being?

- Anti-corruption was a central element of Reformation. Luther raised his word against the corruption of the church of his time, against putting religious life on sale. What message may that have for us today?

- I often use the expression that Reformation started against corruption. And one may add, financial corruption starts with spiritual corruption. Corruption starts in the soul. That was why Luther wanted to reform the understanding of God. A false image of God also distorts our faith. And then the believer may think that we can do business with God, we can bribe him. Theological corruption can easily lead to real corruption where money moves under the counter and the scene is dominated by bribery, nepotism, positions are sold for money or other services or given to children and family members. When faith is restored (theologically we call this justification) and the relationship between the person and God is correct, in consequence one starts to live his or her everyday life through honest means, also on the economic and political scene.

- Based on all that, what do you think when you read about corruption scandals, especially in connection with people who claim to be Christians?

- In those cases, moral commandments have scarcely any influence, not even the threat of police action has any. We need moral renewal. On the level of individual people and on the level of the society. If someone is interested in the question of God, even to the smallest extent, he or she doesn’t have another choice than to seek a purer path. I know that this sounds naïve but where else should be preserve holy naivety than in questions of faith?

- How do you perceive the programs of the commemoration year up until now?

- There are two different channels: Our Lutheran church has its own remembrance committee (I happen to be the president of that instance) but also the committee attached to the Hungarian government organises a lot of programs. They have had many good initiatives and I am happy that those are mostly not stones but books and intellectual achievements. It is especially positive that the embassies of Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland are also part of the organisation along with the representative of the Catholic Church. Archbishop Balázs Bábel has an authentic voice saying that Reformation is far from being only an issue of the Protestants and that we are not celebrating the breach of the church but working together on its renewal. Maybe in the second part of the year, we could have a little less protocol and more self-critical, open dialogue.

- What do you mean by that?

- It would be advantageous to talk openly about what has happened with the church in the last 500 years in relation to Luther’s norms. We could discuss what has been lost of Lutheranism, of Calvinism and generally speaking, of high standards. We have become too relaxed. We are trying to adapt to worldly power. It is not only a problem of Protestant churches but also of the whole Christianity. Luther already underlined that the “theology of glory” is a dangerous temptation, and that the church should never be on the side of the winners and the powerful but it should represent the “theology of the cross” in contrast to the theology of glory. To my mind, today’s churches should cling more closely to the cross and seek less glory.

- For seven years now, we are having a government which has declared itself “Christian”. What dangers may this situation reveal in light of what you said before?

- Of course there are common interests. I can gladly support good family politics or a tax system supporting families. I am fully supporting the assistance of persecuted Christians both in the Middle East and other places. When I talk more critically, it is meant in the tone of positive concern. Church messages should not appear in a political framework. I am continuously struggling as I am being categorised once to the government side, once to the opposition side. The church simply operates in a different field. If someone makes politics as a Christian, he or she also has to follow those norms in everyday life.

- The Luther animation series is directed by Zsolt Richly, whose name in itself is a guarantee for high quality. The script writer János Lackfi is also a well-known author. What will the film look like?

- The authorsrecognised the dramatic nature of Luther’s life which simply cries for being filmed. The Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Era is in itself full of contrasts. Luther’s personality, his fight with God and with the Pope, struggling with the Emperor, his role in the peasant uprising and the perception of the Turkish threat are each worth a story. There have been many films about the topic but never in an animation form. There is already a lot of international interest, the English, German, Brazilian Portuguese and Finnish versions are in production. We hope to produce a Lithuanian and maybe even more exotic language versions. The text by János Lackfi is not at all didactic and its picture of Luther is not limited to a narrow religious framework – the dramaturgically exciting story can be valuable for both believers and non-believers. Zsolt Richly has produced an exceptional graphic language with meaningful colours and a style referring to both woodcut and cartoon. The title music has been composed by Dániel Gryllus. The ten-episode series was originally planned in twelve parts but we had to make a more moderate version, partly for financial reasons. Now we have plans to produce a full-length movie from the series.

- You also appeared in a film, a short video message on the topic of receiving refugees together with Roman Catholic Bishop Miklós Beer. You got very direct feedback not only from the extreme right wing but also within your own church. Were you astonished by the intensive reactions?

- Even if the most brutal offenses did not come from church circles, I would have hoped that in the church we used a different style. I find it most strange that even church members do not understand what I have been repeatedly saying, that is that we do not support immigration without limitations. Even if in 2015 terms like Willkommenskultur were used, now even Germany understands that it cannot be realised as such. What we have to support is helping the individual people. Of course in a coordinated way, with fingerprints and registration but it is very sad if we cannot take even those who evidently escape from famine, terror, poverty or climate change. It is my experience and that is what I try to represent. I also had a self-critical remark about people who a few years ago put the Arabic letter N to their Facebook profile but now they have forgotten about that and speak of stopping everyone who is foreign to us. If someone is in need, we have to receive those, be it Christian or not. Integration is of course a key question but I believe it can be realised in small steps. Let me mention a personal example.

- Not from Hungary, I guess.

- In Germany, I visited an integration centre housing refugees of different origin (Afghans, Chechens, Syrians, Iraqi people). It was a church property and we visited the house with a fellow Bishop. While we were there, representatives of the local government arrived and asked everyone to come down to the yard. It came out that part of the refugees were not familiar with the rules of selective waste handling and the system was introduced to them. At the same time, they explained to a Macedonian family that they should not raise chicken in the backyard. It was a positive surprise though that the people living in the house were all ready to adopt the rules, to handle the waste selectively and slaughter the chicken in order not to have them anymore. In a whole neighbourhood of immigrants, it would be difficult to imagine, but in a small community, in a house it worked. The receptive community may ask that its rules be followed and the newcomers may express that they are ready to follow those norms in exchange of not being sent to home. We would need many integration houses like that.

- Don’t you feel that you are in a minority in the church with this opinion? Just as Catholic Bishop Beer might feel in his church.

- Quantity is not always decisive. In some way we must give a sign. But I believe that there are many people with good intentions and that people can be convinced. If they hear positive examples, many will follow those. If we ask the question in terms of today’s political propaganda, we may be in a minority. But if we would be able to abandon this conceptual framework and ask questions about mercifulness, help and use other concepts typical of our Christian self, I am sure that the majority of the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary would give similar answers. We as Christians do not have to answer questions of state administration such as “is the fence or a more frequent patrolling at the borderline the most efficient means of defence” but rather the question “whether the voice of hate or the voice of mercy will be the new norm”.

- You are the leader of a diocese which includes some of the most disadvantaged regions of the country. Three years ago, we met after you had had dinner with PM Viktor Orbán and church leaders of the country. At that time you said the PM asked: “My dear Bishops, what is the news in the countryside?”. If he would ask that question today, what would be your answer?

- I am looking forward to him asking questions. I would prefer having substantial dialogue between political and church leaders and from my side, I am ready for that. If we receive such questions from the PM, ministers or mayors, I am up for the dialogue. Actually I do spend a lot of time in those regions. The saddest impression is depopulation. It is shocking to see the rows of empty, abandoned houses. Another phenomenon is the desire to leave – without any realistic hope of moving out. Most people hope to move at least to the West of Hungary and if that would be successful, the Eastern part of the country would be deserted. The negative style being used, a misplaced aggression against each other – actually fellow sufferers in the given situation – is also one of my worst experiences. But we are still present, even in such circumstances. Even if teachers, doctors, vets are leaving, we are trying to do our best that at least the pastor would stay in place.

- What is your opinion about the billboards picturing George Soros?

- My answer won’t be political but related to pastoral care – as that is more of my field. A young friend of mine often visits a visually impaired elderly lady to read the Bible to her. The lady said to him: “I know that a Christian shouldn’t hate anyone but I have dealt with the dear God and he gave me an exception in this case so that I can hate Soros”. Do we not have a role here, as pastors, as Bishops? We shouldn’t resort to means like fear and scaring the people with an image of the enemy. Also the Ten Commandments weren’t originally prohibitions such as “You shall not murder”, “You shall not steal” but promises: “You shall not murder, you shall not steal if your life is in accordance with the Creator”. If you find your place in the world, you wouldn’t feel like choosing such solutions. We are indeed threatened by serious things, not only the terror or climate change or people leaving our country in vast numbers or not even the Islamisation of Christian Europe. When I see those signs, it is even more necessary to convert and to sort out my relationship with God. Those are warning signs, maybe prophetic signs as there have been signs in each era to be noticed. Luther saw the signs and he dealt a lot with the Turkish threat and through that, also with Hungary: With the great loss at Mohács and with the occupation of Buda. Luther was very clear in saying that the Turkish (let’s say Islamic) threat must invite us to seek God. If I would see this intention in people vailing about the future of Christian Europe and if they wouldn’t only seek enemies but would say: “all this prompts me to sort out my relationship with God”, then we could say that today’s cataclysm has a meaning and an aim as the experienced distress leads us closer to God. 

Címkék: Fabiny Tamás - Interview -

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