The Hungarian Evangelical Association was raided amid a conflict…… | News and reports

A friend’s wounds may be faithful, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has not forgiven his former pastor for criticizing him and says he never will.

“He called me a fascist”, Orbán Told Atlantic in 2019. “And that’s the one thing I can’t forgive him for.”

The years-long dispute between nationalist political leader and Hungarian Evangelical Community pastor Gábor Iványi led to a federal raid on Monday, amid allegations of “large-scale budget fraud”.

The evangelical association, which employs about 1,000 people, would be liable for 156 million forints in social charges, plus a fine of 90 million forints (about 742,000 dollars in total). Orbán’s government revoked the brotherhood’s legal status as a church in 2011, so Hungarian Christians cannot designate part of their paychecks as tithes, a standard way of funding churches in a much of Europe.

The government has also stopped paying the scholarship for social services it has been providing since 1989. The charitable arm of the religious association provides food, health care, legal assistance and social work to the poor and vulnerable from the country. Ivanyi Told independent news agency Telex that the government owes the charity about 12 billion forints ($36 million) – more than enough to pay the tax bill.

The National Tax and Customs Administration does not seem to agree with this accounting.

On Monday, dozens of tax agents searched the Budapest offices of the fraternity, the homeless shelter, the hospital and the theological college. Hungary today reported they seized computers and documents which they believe may contain evidence and information about “assets”.

The mayor of Budapest, an opponent of Orbán, dismissed the allegations against the brotherhood and condemned the raid as a personal vendetta.

The mayor said Iványi was the “conscience of the Hungarian nation”, whose witness reminds Orbán of “the democrat he once was, who betrayed everything he once stood for”.

Iványi told local reporters he still remembers how Orbán rose as a democratic leader opposed to the communist dictatorship, but recent events have him wondering what happened to the man he it once served.

“I mourn him and find it hard to understand what happened,” the pastor said. “He was intact, brave and pure in his word. I could not have imagined that this man, who seemed to be the emblematic figure of the flag’s desire for freedom, would ruin everything we fought for together two decades later.

Orbán rose to national prominence in 1989 when he delivered a bold speech demanding free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops. He was elected to Parliament the following year, and before the end of the decade he became Prime Minister. He was only 35 years old.

During the transition from communism to democracy, Hungary experienced a burst of religious freedom and Orbán, as a rising political leader, publicly committed himself to Christianity. He and his wife renewed their wedding vows in a church and had their first two children baptized.

For all three services, Orbán chose Iványi to preside.

Iványi, the son of a Methodist minister and a schoolteacher, first clashed with the Communists in 1968 when he was in high school. In 1974 he was expelled from a Hungarian seminary for opposing government control over church affairs. He became an independent Wesleyan, served two brief stints in prison, and was sometimes forced to preach on the streets when communist authorities expelled him from his church.

In 1981 a group of separatist Wesleyans were allowed to form an association and founded the Magyarországi Evangelium Testvérközösség, or Hungarian Evangelical Community. The fellowship is not part of the National Evangelical Alliance, of which the Hungarian Methodist Church is a member, but acts as an independent denomination. It is an association for “sincere Christians who seek salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, conform to his gospel and follow him”.

When the country first held free elections, Iványi and Orábn were part of the same larger group of new leaders demanding reform. However, the relationship cooled, according to for The New York Timeswhen Iványi refused to publicly endorse Orbán’s re-election in the early 2000s.

Orbán lost, but his party returned to power in 2010 with a landslide victory. When the minister-elect invited the pastor to pray at an official event, he refused and wrote a public letter opposing Orbán’s Christian nationalism. Orbán proposed transforming Hungary into what he called an “illiberal democracy”, centralizing government power and restricting civil liberties to combat multiculturalism, immigration, feminism, LGBT ideology, “revival and anything that would erode the dominant cultural order.

Iványi and other evangelicals were particularly alarmed because Orbán asserted that Christianity could only survive if defended by a strong state. In a famous speech, the Prime Minister Explain that “the essence of illiberal democracy is Christian freedom and the protection of Christian freedom”.

One of the first actions of the Orbán government was to strip more than 200 mostly smaller churches of their legal status. The Hungarian Evangelical Community was one of the target groups.

The nation’s top court overturned the decision, saying it violated constitutional protections for religious freedom, but the fraternity’s legal status has remained in limbo ever since. The fraternity has approximately 18,000 members and 40,000 individuals who have chosen to contribute a portion of their salary to the fraternity’s charitable work, if legally permitted.

The ambiguous legal victory was monitoring by disputes with the National Administration of Taxes and Customs.

Some Christians in America have applauded Orbán and his view of what they call “national conservatism”. Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict optionargues that the soft totalitarianism of the left can leave Christians have no choice but to seek political power as a “bulwark against cultural disintegration”.

Dreher warns he doesn’t know if Orbán’s approach — using the government, for example, to shut down gender studies programs at universities and ban children’s books that discuss homosexuality — will actually work . But, he said, “that’s how a real pro-family, socially conservative government works.”

Iványi, now 70, says Orbán’s approach works, but it shouldn’t be called Christian. It gives a party the power to shut down churches and ministries and limit freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, while claiming to defend “Christian freedom”.

True Christian freedom, he argues, cannot be protected by government. It is given to Christians by grace at baptism.

In 2019, the Hungarian Evangelical Community released a statement condemning Orbán’s policies. It was modeled after Barmen’s declaration, when German Christians including Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned Nazi attempts to co-opt Christianity.

Hungarian Christians called their statement Advent Declaration.

“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,” he said. “The authoritarian exercise of power…deliberately eliminates differences of political opinion through the eradication of independent media, the spreading of false news, discredit and defamation, and harassment by the authorities.”

Perhaps that’s why Iványi was not surprised to see government agents blocking the door of the stock exchange offices on Monday. An independent video journalist, broadcasting live, watch the pastor advancing towards the door, a disposable mask partially covering his large white beard, and addressing the agents calmly, before going inside to see what they took.

In this political climate, Iványi has already said, he is called to go straight into a headwind that could sweep his entire ministry. But he trusts God.

“If it is swept away now, I will say that with God’s blessing we have endured [so many] years in the hurricane”, he Told a Hungarian journalist. “As a deep believer, of course, I am convinced that our mission will not end when the head of government decides, but when the Lord decides that he no longer needs this job. … My job is to go to the wall and firmly trust in the wisdom and mercy of the Good Lord, for he is a level above the [tax authority] and the head of government.

Barry F. Howard