HELP! Our email server was down this week, the victim of a spam attack, contributing to a late WW – not a hopeful prospect. I heard recently of an English survey discovering that failure to get online for a whole week produced as much stress for businessmen as a divorce…! I can identify with that, especially with a series of YWAM conferences coming up next week in Greece.
That’s the bad news.
Let’s continue with good news. Last week we started to talk about reasons for hope as we begin a new year.
1. on going signs of growing spiritual hunger
2. consequences of the expansion of the European Union and the ongoing God-in-the-constitution debate
3. the slow dawning in the west of global spiritual realities
4. signs of an awakening people of hope…
As the year drew to a close, Italian premier Berlusconi’s promises to pull something out of his pocket “at the last minute” to push the draft constitution for the EU through to adoption proved mere smooth talk. The main sticking point was primarily the proposed new voting rules, which many felt would give too much power to the grouping’s ‘big four’ of Germany, France, Britain and Italy. But another 100 issues still remained to be decided, including proposed majority voting on foreign policy, allowing 60 percent of the bloc’s population to carry the day. And whether or not God should be mentioned in the charter,
The God-in-the-charter issue has split Europeans along the lines of Enlightenment-Humanist versus Judeo-Christian. Giscard d’Estaing, former French premier and main architect of the draft constitution, dug in his heels against all personal efforts of the pope to change his mind to include an explicit reference to God and Europe’s Judeo-Christian roots. The Frenchman stood firm on his conviction that the European institutions belonged to the secular universe, not the religious domain. In the draft version of the constitution’s preamble, Europe’s roots are described as ‘the cultural, religious and humanistic traditions of Europe’. Churches do get a mentioned further down in article 51, when the importance of continued dialogue between church and Union is acknowledged.
For many, separation of church and state is reason sufficient to keep God out of a political document. They say the constitution rightly stresses what unites us, not what separates us. Mentioning God or the Judeo-Christian tradition automatically excludes others.
For Christians all across Europe, this is nonsense.
A preamble should rightly indicate where Europe came from, and how the EU itself came into being, they respond. And the history of Europe cannot be written without explicit mention of the Judeo-Christian worldview, beliefs and values that still shape the thinking and values of most Europeans, consciously or unconsciously. To do so is simply to live as squatters in someone else’s house. Short memories produce short sightedness.
So what happens now? Ireland – still one of the most tradition Catholic societies in Europe – has taken over the presidency, to be followed in July by Holland. Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende has made no secret of his personal desire to see God written back into the constitution. While many may scorn his efforts, others no doubt will be backing him fervently in prayer.
And that may well be encouraging. I for one happen to believe that the Story of Jesus has been the single greatest influence on shaping Europe’s past. And that we can only understand our present identity by honestly acknowledging our roots. It is not the only story, but has been the most consistent and transforming story through 20 centuries of European history.
The truth about the past is very important. It is the key to present identity. But to me, what is far more important than winning the battle over the past, is winning the battle over the future. My question then is, why should not that same story of Jesus not continue to be the single greatest influence in shaping Europe’s future?
I fear that until we see a major turnaround in the outlook of believers across Europe, we have already lost that battle. We seem to have resigned ourselves to accepting the description of Europe as ‘post-Christian’ as prescription. It is indeed an accurate description in many senses. But let us never accept that as the inevitable future.
Has that transforming Story lost its power? Or is it not still the central story of history? Will we Europeans one day not be forced to realise that we no longer belong to the majority world where this story is unfolding in new dynamic ways?
Let us never forget that the Spirit of God has sprung many surprises in Europe’s past – and could well be planning something again.
The longer this constitution debate stretches out, the more time there is for a ground swell to grow. And something seems to be underway.
Last October, I was asked to meet with Helmut Nicklaus of the YMCA in Munich, who told me about plans for large gathering of Christians who wanted to affirm and celebrate Europe’s Christian heritage. “Together for Europe” will focus on Stuttgart, on May 8th this year, the eve of Europe Day, and just days before Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic officially join the EU.
!0,000 participants are expected from all over Europe, and satellite links will bring the event to thousands more in numerous other centres, including Den Bosch in Holland.
This event is initiated by the Christian Movements and Communities of renewal and social commitment, a network of fraternal relationships including Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox, Reformed and Anglican believers, involved in many fields of social life.
Well-known German evangelicals like Ulrich Parzany and Walter Heidenreich are participating in the programme, which aims to express the unity in diversity of believers in Europe. The Focolare movement is playing a lead role, and I have met with other evangelical and charismatic leaders in the Focolare centre in Holland to explore possibilities of the Dutch satellite event. My reading of what is beginning to happen is that believers are responding across a broad spectrum to the opportunity to add their voice to a collective declaration of Europe’s past indebtedness to the Judeo-Christian tradition. And that ground swell could mount significantly in the coming months. (See www.europ2004)
But what then? Will this be just a one-off grand gesture? Or is there an ongoing strategy for God’s people to face the future as the people of hope?
For if, as J√ºrgen Moltmann put it, the church is an arrow sent out into the world to point the way to the future, then surely there’s much more to do than ‘simply’ getting God written into the constitution, significant as that may be.
Surely we must learn to live as the people of hope!
I have finally delivered a book to the printers this week on this topic.
And in Holland we are preparing for an event along this theme.
But more about that next week.