Paris and Brussels, both dominating the headlines with terrorist attacks and threats, are the hot venues this week for significant events. The Paris Climate Change Conference will continue to grab headlines for the next twelve days as world leaders wrestle with the daunting challenge of changes in global weather patterns. More about that next week.
In Brussels, after six days on maximum alert and still on guard, another important event happens that will receive little if any media attention. The European Parliament Prayer Breakfast will be held Wednesday morning under stricter security measures than normal. The invitation-only event, held annually in the European Parliament building in Brussels since 1998, aims to foster lasting relationships between politicians, civil servants and lobbyists around the person of Jesus.
The organisers focus on relationships rather than agenda, noting that Jesus built a circle of friends through which he launched his world changing programme. His command to love God and love your neighbour has had and continues to have amazing transforming power.
Hosted by thirteen European parliamentarians this year, the breakfast is one of 130 such events now happening around the world. The original prayer breakfast was held in Washington, DC, in 1953. Every American president has since attended the US event. Recent speakers there included Bono, Mother Theresa and Tony Blair.
In Brussels over the past few years, speakers have included the former European Commission president, Herman van Rompuy, the former president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, the former vice-premier of the Netherlands, Andre Rouvoet, and the French comic, political activist and organiser of the massive street marches 1.5 million people strong protesting France’s proposed changes in marriage laws, Frigide Barjot.
God & Caesar
For the first time, the Schuman Symposium on Spirituality and Politics will be held as a satellite event on Tuesday afternoon, 16.00-18.00, to highlight the essential role of spiritual values in politics. This initiative of the Schuman Centre, planned to be held annually, aims to challenge the secularist assumption that there is no room for religious or spiritual expression in the secular state or institution. That’s like saying worldview has no place in politics. Or, that only secular people are allowed to bring their beliefs into the parliament.
The separation of church and state was not the invention of rationalists and secularists, as is often believed. It was the fruit of Christianity which distinguished between what was Caesar’s and what was God’s; between throne and altar; between the City of Man and the City of God. This separation over time gave rise to the unique feature of western life, the social midfield not directly controlled by state or church.
At the core of Europe’s various crises–with the refugees, with Islam and Islamism, with the economy, with political legitimacy, with social tensions and even with the environment–is a crisis of faith and belief. Without faith in God, and thus in human beings as created in the image of God, the foundations for our values of equality, human dignity, freedom, democracy and solidarity turn to shifting sand.
Thomas Jefferson, a father of traditional secularism and principal drafter of the American Declaration of Independence, asked: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of people that these liberties are of the gift of God?”
Because today we are afraid to say what we believe, we are afraid to defend the values of the European tradition. In the name of multi-culturalism and relativism, we have renounced our own European identity. Yet the climate of militant secularism has been so intimidating in recent decades with the rising tide of intolerance in the name of tolerance, that Christian politicians often find it difficult to offer an alternative to the prevailing ethos.
Review & preview
This symposium, to be held in the Chapel of the Resurrection, a short walk from the parliament buildings and well-known to Christian politicians, will begin with a presentation by Dr Margriet Krijtenburg on the spirituality of Robert Schuman, acknowledged ‘Father of Europe’, and how his politics was shaped by his faith. Margriet wrote her doctoral dissertation on Schuman’s spirituality, and will suggest what that can mean for Europe’s future. Tunne Kelam, a well-respected and senior MEP from Estonia, former dissident in Soviet times, will share from his own experience how his faith has inspired his political life.
A panel formed by several informed observers of the Brussels scene, including Christel Ngnambi (of the European Evangelical Alliance) and Father Patrick Daly, (general secretary of COMECE, the European council of Catholic bishops), will share their insights on the significant developments of 2015, from a Christian perspective. They will round off the symposium talking about their expectations for 2016, offering information for both prayer and action concerning the struggle for Europe’s future.
All are welcome at: Chapel of the Resurrection, Rue Van Maerlantstraat 22, 1000 Brussels, 16.00.
See here for further information. See you Tuesday?
Till next week,