Providence Magazine | Faith McDonnell | Dec. 10, 2019
In 26 years of advocacy for the global persecuted church, this is a new one for me. The government of a country establishing a national-level office to support Christians suffering for their faith in Christ was heretofore unheard of. But that is what Hungary did in 2016. The next year, Tristan Azbej became state secretary for the aid of persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps Program in the office of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
On November 26-28, that office sponsored their Second International Conference on Christian Persecution (ICCP) in Budapest. They invited some 800 of us who do religious freedom advocacy, as well as church leaders and victims of persecution. I was very happy to go.
Why the need for a stand? What is so objectionable about Hungary’s defense of and support for persecuted Christians? And what is it about Hungary’s defense of its sovereignty that has the world’s knickers in a twist?
Here are five things I learned about the Hungarian government’s commitment to the most persecuted religious believers worldwide (that would be Christians, in case you were wondering):
1. Such a government-sponsored, unapologetic initiative to help persecuted Christians around the world belongs to Hungary alone.
Frankly, even mouthing the word “Christian” instead of the ever-present euphemisms “minorities” or “religious believers” is one of Hungary’s trademarks.
Prime Minister Orbán is roundly criticized for many things, including his government’s focus on Christians. It embarrasses Western European diplomats, talking heads, leftist NGOs, and other spiritually dead secularists to hear anything other than euphemisms. Many only grudgingly add the most persecuted religious group of all, Christians, to their victim list. I could count on one hand (and did) the times that some Western speakers used the word “Christian” at this conference that was literally about Christian persecution.
Every Hungarian government official who spoke at the conference—including Viktor Orbán Tristan Azbej, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, and others—specified Christian persecution. They referred repeatedly to facts that make focused advocacy and support for Christians justifiable.
Hungary is at the forefront of naming genocide against Christians as a “global phenomenon” and not a series of incidences (or coincidences). “Four out of five people persecuted for their faith are Christians, and some 245 million Christians around the globe suffer extreme persecution,” Orbán stated in his ICCP address.
Hungarians agree with Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox archbishop of London. At the conference he counseled, “There is no shame in defining truth.” Foreign Affairs Minister Szijjártó put it even more forcefully, declaring, “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.”
2. Hungary is determined to remember the past and not to let it be repeated.
Memories of evil haunt Hungary. In recent memory it was dominated by the Fascist Arrow Cross Party and then by the Communists. These memories are the impetus for the Hungarian government’s aid to fellow Christians who face the persecution and horror that they faced—and even worse. It gives them a sense of solidarity with these brothers and sisters.
While at the ICCP, I visited the House of Terror Museum. This is a powerful reminder of what we lose when we lose freedom.
The building on Budapest’s historic Andrassy Avenue was first headquarters of the Nazi-allied Arrow Cross Party. These fascists rounded up, deported, and exterminated hundreds of thousands of Jews. A poignant memorial to their handiwork is on the riverbank. Featuring men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, “The Shoes on the Danube” commemorates some 20,000 Hungarian Jews murdered by Arrow Cross. They were lined up, shot, and fell into the river. Later the building became the Communist Secret Police headquarters (State Protection Authority or AVH) that “liberated” Hungary from the fascists.
The House of Terror “wishes to commemorate” its countrymen who were detained, tortured, and murdered in the building, says the website. “Apart from the detailed presentation of horrors, this exemplifies that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain.” The struggle against the two most oppressive systems of the century, it says, “led to the victory of freedom and independence.”
The Hungarian government wants to keep it that way! The country has reestablished Hungary’s Christian identity. Prime Minister Orbán harkens back to Hungary’s founding over one thousand years ago by King Stephen and to the king’s Christian faith. He ties Hungary’s Christian past to his government’s determination that Judeo-Christian values will shape the nation’s future, values such as promoting biblical marriage, sanctity of life, and reaching out to persecuted Christians with practical and generous aid.
After the horrors of World War II and Nazism, Hungary also has a thriving Jewish community. Soon after Orbán’s return to power in 2010, Budapest’s oldest and the world’s second-largest synagogue was rededicated. I visited this beautiful holy place, Dohany Great Synagogue, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to as the “symbol of a Jewish renaissance.”