Considering the worldwide persecution Christians face today, saving persecuted Christian communities from extinction is not an effort one country can take on alone. Nevertheless, whilst international bodies turn a blind eye, one government is determined not to wait for everyone else to act: Hungary is stepping out alone.
Hungary does not concern itself with such supposed dilemmas as ‘could this support we are giving possibly be perceived as favouring Christians?’ That is precisely the declared intention of the Hungarian government.
Unlike most Western governments, Hungary is not afraid of calling a spade a spade. It terms genocide against Christians the global phenomenon it is and not just a series of unfortunate coincidences. ‘Four out of five people persecuted for their faith are Christians, and some 245million Christians around the globe suffer extreme persecution,’ Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated in his address to the Second International Conference on Christian Persecution (ICCP) in Budapest late last month.
The scandal of worldwide Christian persecutions is barely acknowledged by international bodies such as the UN and EU or by national governments. Addressing the conference, Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó directly challenged the international community. ‘The Hungarian government rejects the approach that often appears on the part of the international community, according to which Christian phobia and any form of anti-Christian sentiment is acceptable,’ Szijjártó said. ‘This hypocrisy must be eliminated.’
Hungary’s resolve to combat Christian persecution grows from a past which it is determined will never be repeated. First the Nazi-like Arrow Cross party then the communists dominated Hungarian life. The decades of their own persecution gives them a sense of solidarity with their persecuted brothers and sisters.
Hungary has set about re-establishing its Christian identity. Prime Minister Orbán regularly harks back to Hungary’s founding over one thousand years ago by King Stephen and to the king’s Christian faith. Orbán ties Hungary’s Christian past to his government’s determination that Judeo-Christian values will shape the nation’s future.
He does not just speak of ‘values’ but takes action in enacting policies promoting biblical marriage and family life, sanctity of life, and reaching out to persecuted Christians with practical and generous aid.
This emphasis on Christian social values encourages Hungarians to defend human dignity, the family unit and communities. ‘The only thing more important than defending Christian democratic values is defending Christian people who are suffering for their faith,’ said Tristan Azbej, state secretary for the aid of persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps program in the office of Prime Minister Orbán.
Hungary has the humility to defer to those who experience persecution. The victims of persecution are more aware of their own needs than any IGO or NGO parachuted into the situation can ever be. They are not likely to allow themselves to be bogged down in endless academic discussion of what constitutes a persecuted people.
Rather than channelling their aid through international organisations such as the UN, or awarding contracts to professional NGOs, Hungary prefers to work directly with the churches and civil society on the ground. This allows them, for instance, to rebuild churches and ensures that aid intended for Christians goes to Christians in the most effective way.
Tristan Azbej explained, ‘We are not trying to be smarter than who we support . . . We always ask what they need and then provide the support for that objective, and in 99 per cent of cases, we ask how we can support them and the answer is that they wish to remain in the homeland, in their ancestral land.’Often criticised for refusing to throw open its borders and accept unfettered illegal Muslim immigration, Hungary spends its effort instead in helping Christians remain in their homelands and preserve Christianity in the place where Christianity began.It is also helping enable future generations. The Hungary Helps Scholarship for Christian Young People provides scholarships to Hungarian universities for almost 300 Christian students from persecution areas such as Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria. They intend to increase the number of scholarships annually.
Speakers in plenary sessions at the ICCP were markedly ecumenical, including Roman, Syriac, Chaldean and Maronite Catholics; Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian, Coptic and Russian Orthodox; Hungarian Reformed; Evangelical Lutherans and Assyrians; Armenian Protestants; Evangelical Americans and others.
A study by Notre Dame university found that the two Christian groups most likely to be persecuted worldwide are Protestant evangelicals and Pentecostals. Their determination to take the gospel to the unsaved and to live out their faith makes them target groups.
Hungary is under political attack and religious criticism for its pro-Christian stance. Those Christians who raise their voices against the Orbán government because of its determination to preserve Hungary’s Christian identity should ask themselves what they are doing to preserve the Christian heritage of the West and protect their persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide.
Perhaps it is time for us all to remember the words of Christ: ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’, and ‘Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’ (Matthew 25:40, 45).