Evangelical Education in Bulgaria is at Halt

April 15, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

With the new Bill on Religion in Bulgaria, the Muslim community has been given amnesty on some $4,500,000 of public debt, while granted another $3 million in annual government subsidies. As a result, the monthly salary of Muslim clergy (imams) has already increased with 20% and a new Islamic school is being opened in one of the historically oldest Christian places in Bulgaria, the city of Sliven. All while, the evangelical protestant communities are not receiving financial support under the new law and their schools remain without proper government legalization via the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. 

Though this legal precedent follows the Russian Law on Religion that has already effectively closed the evangelical seminaries in Moscow, it is manifesting a political agenda undergoing in Bulgaria for over a decade. What remains unsaid with the recent changes in the Law of Religion in Bulgaria is the ultimate halt of evangelical education in the country. The Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute has been functioning at its operational minimum for years now. Students are trained mainly online or via small local groups spread in various cities. They are called to the school departments only for graduation or occasionally lectures by visiting scholars. Even after years of waiting, the Institute was never granted official accreditation through Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education and most of the students preferred getting their degrees from other accredited and licensed institutions. Less than 1% of the students who were not in ministry at the time of their enrollment entered the ministry post graduation. And even fewer of them remain in ministry today; which ultimately ensures the lack of adequately trained ministers for placement in the evangelical churches of Bulgaria.

The last Bulgarian to graduate from the Church of God Theological Seminary did so over a decade ago, and 2009 was the last class of the Bulgarian Theological College (seminary). One of the greatest mistakes made was closing the college in 2009, thus leaving the movement with virtually no higher ministry training for the last decade.

We were present at the national meeting of elders on September 10, 2009 in Sofia when the final decision to close the Church of God Theological College was voted. Only a few others along with us disagreed with the vote and pleaded with the assembly to make everything possible and keep the school open. At the final vote, it came down to a few thousand dollars due in annual membership fees and the school was closed.

Five years prior to these events in 2004, we published an article on evangelical education in Bulgaria with some warnings. The article proposed a change of the evangelical educational paradigm in anticipation of new legal changes and the prolonged waiting for a governmental accreditation. In fact, the same issues addressed in our proposal repeated themselves in 2016 upon Russia changing its own legislation on religion and religious education thus effectively illegalizing evangelical seminaries and overall missionary work. Today, similar legal measures are put in place by the Bulgarian government as well.

The final of our 10-point proposed plan in 2004 included the following observation:

  1. Naturally, the well-educated graduates have chosen not to occupy themselves with denominational politics both to avoid confrontation and to express their disagreement. This dynamic has been partially ignored by leadership remaining from the period of the underground church when religious education was virtually nonexistent and lacking a complete realization of the power of education. This unnoticed trend, however, endangers Bulgarian Evangelism creating a lack of continuity within the leadership and preparing the context for the emerging leadership crises.                                                                                                                              

With the new Bill on Religion in Bulgaria closely following the effective closure of evangelical seminaries in Moscow, the opportunity for a government recognized ministerial training in Bulgaria may be legally impossible to regain. In the light of those resent changes, our 2004 proposal for a legal ministry training alternative was successfully implemented and used for our Master of Chaplaincy Ministry graduates since 2009 providing a single valid alternative for evangelical education in Bulgaria.

NEW elections in BULGARIA (2019)

March 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

Government Elections in Bulgaria (2005-2015):

elections 20132005 Parliamentary Elections
2006 Presidential Elections
2007 Municipal Elections
2009 Parliamentary Elections
2009 European Parliament elections
2011 Presidential Elections
2011 Local Elections
2013 Early parliamentary elections
2014 Early Parliamentary Elections
2015 Municipal Elections
2016 Presidential election
2017 Parliamentary elections
2019 European Parliament election (23-26 May)
2019 Bulgarian local elections

Global Network of Bulgarian Evangelical Churches outside of Bulgaria (2019 Report)

March 20, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

bulgarian-churchBulgarian Evangelical Churches in the European  Union (2019)

Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in America (2019 Report)

  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Chicago (2019 Report)
  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Texas (2019 Report)
  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches – West Coast (2019 Report)
  • Atlanta (active since 1996)
  • Los Angeles (occasional/outreach of the Foursquare Church – Mission Hills, CA)
  • Las Vegas (outreach of the Foursquare Church – http://lasvegaschurch.tv)
  • San Francisco (occasional/inactive since 2012, Berkeley University/Concord, CA)

Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Canada (2019 Report)

  • Toronto (inactive since 2007)
  • Toronto/Slavic (active since 2009)
  • Montreal (occasional/inactive since 2012)

CURRENTLY INACTIVE CHURCHES/CONGREGATIONS:

  • New York, NY (currently inactive)
  • Buffalo, NY  (occasional/inactive)
  • Jacksonville, FL  (occasional/inactive since 2014)
  • Ft. Lauderdale / Miami  (currently inactive)
  • Washington State, Seattle area (currently inactive)
  • Minneapolis, MN (occasional/inactive since 2015)

READ MORE:

New Revision of Religion Bill Voted in Bulgaria

March 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

The new Religion Bill (aka Denominations Acts) was voted in on the last working day of 2018 by the Bulgarian Parliament. At the beginning of the parliamentarian season, on January 31, 2019 Parliament considered several new corrections to the just voted-in bill as follows. Those new corrections were all voted in on Friday and allowed for:

  • Between $15-40 million in stipends for the Eastern Orthodox in the form of salaries
  • Some $400,000 will be provided to the Muslim confession
  • Additional $5 million were allocated for the so called “Religion” Directorate – a government agency that will oversee all religious activities, sermons, visitors, finances and otherwise religious business in the country

Additionally, a one time tax amnesty would be given to various confessions at $ 5.2 million, as $ 5.1 million of this amount goes to the Muslim confession. Some sources cite that with interest of years past, the Muslim confession actually owes the state over $10 million and European Union organisations have been summoned to intervene to this “tax amnesty” as being illegal to the current code.

One reason for this is some $20 million in annual income the Muslim confession collects annual from renting properties, which should be sufficient to pay their tax. Just for comparison, at one time our building in Sofia owed $90,000 in waste tax, but was quickly summoned to pay it. But this is not the scary part just yet!

This rather large government stipend of roughly $50 million annually is designated in the government budget as “Orthodox and Muslim confession” (singular). Such in Bulgaria does not exist, except if administrative merge of those religions is meant by the government with the current legislation. There has been lot of talk that the great tax exemption toward the Muslim confession has been done in order to secure ethnic peace on the Balkans and to some extent, Muslim religious leader are confirming this in recent days. Additionally, after meeting with the Eastern Orthodox patriarch and the Muslim chief mufti this week, the Bulgarian Prime Minister stated that:

“The Bulgarian state should pay for its Bulgarian churches/confessions … in order to prevent foreign intelligence from dividing our nation.”

Such rhetoric seems to have been taken directly from the historical archives and brings the painful memory of the 1949 Pastoral Process when 15 Protestant pastors were sentences by the Communist Regime as “spies of foreign intelligence centers.” Perhaps for this reason, Bulgaria was promptly noted as one of the most intolerant countries in the Europe Union in a study by the University of Nevada, which collected survey data covering a total of 450,000 people in 100 countries.

 

IN MEMORIAM

January 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

Samuel Thomas “ST” Scroggs, 90, passed away peacefully at his home Thursday, January 10, 2019. He was born in Seneca August 8, 1928, a son of Paul H. and Ethel Rose (Hughes) Scroggs.

His livelihood was in textiles for 45 years. He worked hard to provide for his family. ST loved being a farmer. Nothing brought him more joy. His wife, Rev. Evelyn Edgar Scroggs was an ordained minister and ST was a co-minister with his wife, supporting her in her ministry. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, watersports when he was younger, hiking and camping. He loved his senior social group at the Newry Church of God.

ST is survived by two daughters, Phyllis Durham and husband Bill of Easley and Marcia Harrell of Gastonia, NC; a son, Greg Scroggs and wife Marilyn of Anderson; son-in-law, Raymond Duane Harrell; grandchildren, Matthew Nix and wife Lindsay, Brandon Harrell and Morgan Floyd, Andrew Harrell, Weston Scroggs and wife Caitlan, Kyle Scroggs, and nephew, Tommy Sluder; great grandchildren, Colbi and Jaxon Scroggs, and Mattie, Evie and Olin Nix; and many nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his wife of 54 years, Evelyn; sisters, Irene Barton, Juanita Vickery, Ruth Johnson, Charlene Leopole, Ava Brush, and Betty Owens.

Funeral services will be held 2:00 PM Monday, January 14 at the Newry Church of God, 234 Newry Road, Seneca. Interment will follow at the Oconee Memorial Park.

The family will receive friends 2-4:00 PM Sunday, January 13 at the Duckett-Robinson Funeral Home, 108 Cross Creek Road, Central.

NEW LAW on RELIGION VOTED in BULGARIA

January 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

After eight street protests in the last two months, Evangelical Christians gathered in front of Bulgaria’s Parliament praying for God’s intervention in the legislative process voted on December 21st. On its last work day for the year, the National Assembly of Bulgaria voted amendments in the nation’s Religious Denominations Act effective January 1, 2019. A number of problematic provisions were pulled out of the draft following local protests and international pressure. The final draft voted in excluded most of the original amendments pushed at first reading in early October allowing the government to interfere in heavy ways into church affairs.

Those problematic articles are now dropped from the law! They included a number of disconcerting restrictions, including

  • impeding clergy training;
  • strict filtering of international donations to churches;
  • limitations on sermon content;
  • restraining liturgy to designated buildings;
  • obstructing non-Bulgarians’ ministry;
  • membership of 3,000 for legal registration;
  • and allowing special privileges to religious groups over one percent of the population.

After the seventh rally, held on a snowy Sunday, December 16th, Bulgarian Christians assumed voting would be postponed until after New Year, and called off the protests for Christmas. A sudden push by the Parliament, however, moved the vote date to December 20, 2018 right after a letter by Fredrik Sundberg Principal Administrator of the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, who reminded Bulgarian politicians that:

“Having examined the different version of the draft Bill […] the Department considers that certain provisions could, if adopted, undermine the execution of the above mentioned judgements which are currently under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers; thus, placing them in a situation at odds with the obligations of Bulgaria under Articles 9 and 11 of the Convention.”

As a result, during the meeting of the parliament’s Committee of Religious Denominations and Human Rights, its chairman Krasimir Velchev unexpectedly changed his mind and pushed a decision to scratch off the 3,000 members requirement for judicial registration of a religious group. Even though the Committee had expressed an unyielding determination to promote this provision, the correspondence from the Council of Europe quickly changed their mind. A day later, the Religion Denominations Act was presented for deliberations on the floor of the House. A few articles were voted in on Thursday, and the rest on Friday, December 21st. Almost all of the provisions that were protested against were dropped to include the following into the new legislation that is now effectively operational as follows:

(1) Each church is to maintain and submit to the government a detail list of all ministers operating within its government registration. It is unclear how churches, which refuse government registration, will continue to operate

(2) Buildings owned and used for religious purposes (liturgy, worship service) must be registered into a national registry before receiving any tax deductions

(3) It is unclear if and how will churches with rented auditoriums, which account for roughly some 70% of the Bulgarian congregations, will report to the goverment or use any tax deductions

(4) Worship services allowed outside of designated building are limited on the use of loudspeakers and PA systems

(5) Foreigners can hold services only after informing the state Directorate of Religious Affairs about their activity in Bulgaria

The final draft of the Religion Denominations Act envisages state subsidy for officially registered denominations on the basis of the number of self-identified followers in the most recent census. The state also assumes paying salaries to their active ministers using taxpayers money. Based on this, the Orthodox Church will receive annually between  $10-25 million and  the Muslim confession about $350,000. At this time, subsidizing Evangelical churches is not included in the government budget.

By accepting state subsidy, the two largest religious groups in Bulgaria are entering a season of dependence on secular government. No state should ever interfere with church affairs. No religious community should ever be placed in a state of financial dependency under the authority of the secular state. Will the Eastern Orthodox denomination and the Muslim religion be able to shake off political influences? Will they have the courage to stand up for justice and speak up for the truth?

A word from the man who prophesied the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

December 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News, Video

New Bill on Religion in Bulgaria Goes to a Final Vote

December 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News, Publication

A government committee met in Bulgaria today to decide any last changes in the new legislation on religion and churches in Bulgaria. The bill will be then brought before the Parliament for a final vote this Friday, December 21, 2018 before it becomes an official law. In its current draft, the legislation infringes harsh restrictions on religious freedom and evangelical believers, which will disrupt church services right before Christmas.

Protestant protests will continue all day on Friday before the Bulgarian Parliament in the snowy weather. Should the legislation be voted in to become an official law, Christians will be forced to continue their peaceful protesting and prayer marches in order to defend their religious freedom and right of expression.

Council of Europe and the European Union Report (video)

United Nations report on Government Restrictions of Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

UPDATE: Christians in Bulgaria continue to protest over new law

CBN: Evangelical Christians Praying Against a Serious Threat in Bulgaria

Christianity Today: Bulgaria Considers Religious Restrictions

DayStarTV: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK IN BULGARIA

Read more here: 

LATEST from BULGARIA: Freedom of religion is a fundamental right of all European Union citizens

December 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

  • Second vote on the proposed legislation was postponed for December, 2018 though current draft still infringes harsh restrictions on religious freedom
  • Protestant protests have continued for over a month in several cities on November 11, 18, 25, December 2 and now scheduled for December 9, 2018

SOURCE: Evangelical Focus – SOFIA, December 2018

Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) of the European Christian Political Movement have expressed their concern towards the proposed legislation titled “Bill for the Amendment and Supplement of the Law on Religions” currently progressing through the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s Parliament.

On November 27, the MEP’s said they were “uncertain about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria”. “In recent weeks, they have been made aware of a growing disquiet from a broad range of Christian communities in Bulgaria regarding the possible negative impact of this proposed law on Christian life”, said the movement of European politicians formed by committed Christians faith.

In their letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, the members of the ECPM wrote: “Freedom of religion and belief is considered a fundamental right of all EU citizens and a pillar of European democracy. We thoroughly believe that the wellbeing of Bulgarian people and development of Bulgarian society is your uttermost priority. Our experience from the nations we represent shows that respect for the principle of non-discrimination of Christians of every denomination always results in a harmonious and prosperous society.”

The organisation encourages the Bulgarian legislators to “take these arguments into account and consider necessary steps that will safeguard the rights of religious minorities living in Bulgaria”. The letter was sent to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, with a plea for intervention in this matter too.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADDRESSED BY ADF AND BULGARIAN CHURCHES

Two days later, On November 29, advocacy group ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches “filed a formal request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that he initiates a review of a proposed Bulgarian Law on Religious Denominations currently being debated in the Bulgarian Parliament”, the group said. “The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, would carry out the review”. Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International, added: “Nobody should be deprived of their fundamental right to religious freedom. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the past, the government should not engage in ‘picking favourites’ when it comes to churches”.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN BULGARIA

On December 1, the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance (BEA) issued the following statement summarizing the situation at that point:

The Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance continues to express concern in regards of the Religious Denominations Act amendments planned by the Parliament. Earlier this year, two drafts were coined out and later merged into one proposed legislation. It contained a number of disconcerting restrictions, including impeding clergy training; strict filtering of international donations to churches; limitations on sermon content; restraining liturgy to designated buildings; obstructing non-Bulgarians’ ministry; membership of 300 for legal registration; allowing special privileges to religious groups over one percent of the population.

The lawmakers’ initiative triggered a massive public outcry. Every faith group in Bulgaria issued a statement of objection. The BEA and communities like Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists and Evangelical denominations mobilized church members for public protests on November 11, 18 and 25. These peaceful vigils were called “prayer rallies” and were held in a dozen Bulgarian towns. The third protest, the largest so far having some 3,000 people in Sofia, was covered by every media in the country. The Evangelical rallies were accompanied by statements of groups of academicians and public figures, as well as by several legal rights associations.

After a Parliamentary workgroup deliberated on Oct.14, some of the initial proposals were withdrawn. Two days later, a new version of the amendments was published on the Bulgarian Parliament’s webpage. In the new document, the lawmakers had conceded some initial provisions like restricting worship only to designated buildings, filtering international sponsorship, limiting foreigners’ ministry, disallowing religious schools. However, other problematic provisions remained.

The Nov.16 version of the draft increased tenfold the threshold for registering a religious group: at least 3,000 members! This is an act of discrimination against minority groups. Apparently, the lawmakers’ intention is to severely cut the number of legal faith groups in Bulgaria (currently, 183 registered religions in the country). Even though there was an oral commitment that this article would not be used with reverse force, there is another one according to which a legally recognized religion might lose its registration if it fails to abide by the new requirements. A prominent installment is the provision that a private real estate could automatically become property of the religion using it by a prescriptive right. Once again, clergymen and missionaries wishing to be involved in liturgy or worship will have to register with the state or else risk penalty.

Ten days after the first meeting of the workgroup, a second one was held on Nov.23. Representatives of various religious groups were invited. The lawmakers made more oral promises for concessions, including: dropping the requirement for registration to 200 members; rewriting the text so that it would not have a reverse strength; canceling the prohibition of worship outside designated buildings. Once again, no written record was provided of the group’s deliberations. No document was submitted into Parliament documenting these concessions. Instead, it was made clear that every preliminary version of the proposed legislation would enter parliamentary deliberations. This understanding leads us to be seriously concerned that some of the commitments taken during the workgroup discussions may in fact be ignored by MPs during the bill’s final voting.

The BEA also expresses anxiety regarding the procedure of how the new legislation was handled by Bulgarian lawmakers. Whereas the normal logic of new legal instalments would mean first a consultation with the religious groups affected, and only then submitting the bill for reading at Parliament, in this instance our decision makers adopted a reverse series of steps. First, two new drafts (with different agendas) were pushed in Parliament; then they were factitiously united into one bill with amendments; and only then was a work group of interested parties invited to the table to discuss provisions that were completely unacceptable, before submitting the document for 2nd reading by MPs.

By this point, BEA concerns have been shared and reiterated by a number of European and global religious and legal rights entities, including

  • the World Evangelical Alliance, the European Evangelical Alliance,
  • international denominational bodies (Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, and others),
  • the Conference of European Churches,
  • the USCIRF,
  • Advocates Europe,
  • Transform Europe Network,
  • Norway’s Stefanus Alliance and Helsinki Committee,
  • the European Christian Political Movement,
  • ADF International, etc.

On Tuesday, Nov.27, a week prior to its 17th general assembly in Brussels, the European Christian Political Movement sent a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The address expressed uncertainty “about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria.” The letter was also sent to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, with a plea for intervention.

On Nov.29, ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches filed a request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to initiate a review of the proposed Religious Denominations Act. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, has been involved to carry out a review of the legislation.

The BEA appeals on the common sense of the Bulgarian authorities. The freedoms of belief, word, and meeting are fundamental rights. We remind our politicians that in a free and democratic society they are called to defend fundamental rights, rather than introduce arbitrary and dubiously motivated restrictions. By claiming these freedoms and upholding the dignity of the Bulgarian nation, we urge the Parliament to withdraw all proposed amendments to the Religious Denominations Act.

BULGARIAN PASTOR WILL SPEAK AT EU PARLIAMENT EVENT

This week, a board member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance will tak part in an event at  the European Parliament in connection to celebrating 70 years since the signing of “The Universal Declaration for Human Rights”, back on December 10, 1948. Reverend Daniel Topalski will attend the sessions planned for December 4-6 in the European Parliament. He will take part in a panel discussion on basic human rights, and he will use the opportunity to speak up about the situation in Bulgaria. Pastor Topalski is head of the Methodist Church in Bulgaria, and a representative of the BEA in the EEA.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK in BULGARIA (CBN/DayStart video)

November 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

If this new legislation gets voted by Parliament, it will immediately affect virtually all evangelical churches in Bulgaria in the following manner:

(1) Over 95% of the congregations, which do not own their own church buildings will be forced to stop services until they purchase or build one approved by the government. For the majority of them, this requirement will mean their end of existence

(2) Some 1,000+ small congregations, which represent the last buffer between Europe and Islam and meet in temporary buildings in the Gipsy ghettos will be virtually outlawed

(3) Without any external support at the verge of a heavy winter, many evangelical churches in Bulgaria will be forced to close doors simply for not being able to pay their cost of operation

UPDATE: Christians in Bulgaria continue to protest over new law

CBN: Evangelical Christians Praying Against a Serious Threat in Bulgaria

Christianity Today: Bulgaria Considers Religious Restrictions

On November 11th, 18th and 25th all evangelical churches in Bulgaria are openly protesting in the streets a new restrictive bill on religion, which allows government control over churches across the country as follows:

(1) Funding, which does not originate from Bulgaria will become illegal

(2) All denominations must present before the court a list of the names of at least 3,000 members or have their government registration revoked and services stopped

(3) All church services must be held in government approved buildings, not rented auditoriums, open air or even private homes

(4) All denominations must submit a list with the names of their ministers to be allowed legally to preach

(5) It is illegal to evangelize minors under the age of 18

Video from the protests and LIVE coverage here: http://cupandcross.com/protest/

Dr. Dony K. Donev
http://cupandcross.com/

Read more here: 

• EEA calls to action in support of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance

• Religion Funding Law “Sad Reminder of Communist Past”

• New Controversial Law on Religion to be Voted in Bulgaria

• Bulgarian law to ban all foreign preachers

• New Bill of Religions Bans Foreign Support for Churches in Bulgaria

• Bulgarian evangelicals alarmed by restrictive and discriminative bill on faith minorities

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