Around Christmastime I read an article in the Guardian about the populist Christianity used by Hungarian President Victor Orban to bolster his very right-wing policies. He parrots the common neo- fascist myth that White Christian Civilisation is under threat from migrants, especially muslim migrants. He advertises himself as a saviour of the Christian tradition.
Ivanyi Gabor, (Gabor is his Christian name) , the president of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, made a public declaration last year, denouncing Orban’s claims to Christianity, and upholding genuine discipleship of Jesus, who cared for the poor, the outcast and the stranger. It is unlikely to have increased Orban’s appreciation of Ivanyi who was once his close friend.
Ivanyi Gabor was remembering the Barmen Declaration of the anti- Nazi Confessing Church in Germany and the costly witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He explicitly warned Orban and his party of the consequences of a politics of hatred against other races. In a democratic Europe we have become accustomed to various political philosophies and practices, which even if we disliked them, we saw as part of our liberal democracy. Now we are seeing in Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, France, Austria and The Netherlands, the rise of parties that question both liberalism and democracy itself. Typically, they are opposed to foreigners entering the nation from the outside and gays, transvestites, feminists and other “abnormal” people corrupting it from within. Their chosen language is prejudicial and brutal. Although such parties are small in the UK, the same brutality has been evident in some of the supporters of Brexit.
Earlier in his life Ivanyi Gabor, now 70, was a leading activist against the Soviet-style communist rule in his country. Now he and his church are opposing a politics ,which he regards as equally dangerous in its love of “strong man” government and its intolerance of dissent. It is interesting that he and his church are doing this, not as fashionable liberals or fanatical revolutionaries, but as ordinary believers in the broad evangelical tradition of Christian teaching. They identify themselves as Methodists. The difference between them and larger denominations in Hungary such as Lutherans and Roman Catholics is not so much doctrinal as that they have seen a possibly demonic politics and faced it publicly with the gospel of Jesus.
Their faithfulness is a challenge to other European churches: how do they confront right-wing populism in their own countries, and how can they support the Evangelical Fellowship in Hungary, and each other?
It seems to me incontestable that Boris Johnson cultivated the support of English right-wing populists, but doubtful that he will govern according to their wishes. Boris is not Victor. Inasmuch however, as he owes his power to them, he may feel obliged to feed them. I hope that our churches will be inspired by Ivanyi Orban to offer a critical witness in the name of Jesus.