Christian Dialogue Established

October 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

dialogue21Several months ago, in an article entitled “Orthodox Split Deepens” we reported that the Bulgarian Parliament had passed a controversial bill concerning religion. The problems with the legality of the new Confessions Act came into clash with reality when in July 2004 the police raided 250 Orthodox churches arresting several priests from the so-called Alternative Synod. Several developments have followed.

As it becomes obvious that the new Confessions Act is already failing to respond to the social and spiritual needs of Bulgaria’s postcommunist context, it is unfortunate that its malfunctions prevent an atmosphere of religious freedom, pluralism and tolerance where everyone can experience the right to believe. Thus, the Bulgarian Confessions Act of 2002 cannot and should not be the legal text operating in Bulgaria when the country is accepted into the European Union.

The Act has shown itself insufficient and even harmful for the existence and practice of religion in Bulgaria, as well as to the right of every Bulgarian to freely choose to believe. None of the traditional confessions has experienced positive results from the practice of the Act , as it remains the only Bulgarian law that regulates personal convictions and conscience. In this sense, the Act clearly introduces and enforces discrimination.

The statements made by the Confessions Act’s authors and supporters that its principles of establishing state religion are not a precedent in Europe, but have been implemented and practiced in many Catholic and Protestant European countries is also invalid. The reason is simple and obvious. None of the said countries has passed through half a century of Communist Regime or has worked in a postcommunist context, where not only politics and economy, but the very mentality of the people has been flooded by totalitarianism creating a contemporary reality which has no Western European precedent.

The mentality of the Church is no different. Forced to be indifferent to politics under Communism, the Church remains distanced from culture and society to the point of a minority complex. In that oppressive context, the role and functions of the Church were imposed and strictly regulated by the government. As a result, today the church is failing to recover and reclaim its Biblical identity becoming simply a state institution with predetermined interest in strictly regulated areas of social life.

The Confessions Act of 2002 in Bulgaria attempts a return to an older autocratic style of government, turning the postcommunist Bulgarian context into a postcommunist regime. In the journey toward democracy such approach is without excuse. The state cannot and must not attempt regulatory interference in the rights of the church through the predetermined legality and the pressure of public opinion. It cannot and should allow tradition to dictate special privileges for any denomination. And when the state fails to be the initiator of actions against discrimination and oppression, the Church must and should assume this role.

After the unfortunate police actions, on October 18, 2004 the oppositional Democrats for Strong Bulgaria presented in the Parliament with recommendations for changes of the religious law. Less than a week later, perhaps as a response, the government announced the formation of a new special confessional commission. The commission will combine representatives from several government departments including Christian Dialogue (Continued)
internal affairs, finances and health. The idea strongly reminds of Kremlin’s Interreligious Council, but unfortunately does not include representatives of the religious denominations.

The search for a democratic paradigm which integrates religious freedom and freedom of conscience is not over either. Religious pluralism in Bulgaria will occur, unfortunately, in the already forming postmodern context. The time has come for the Bulgarian Church to rediscover its identity through revisiting its Biblical theology. There, common theological presuppositions presented within the faith of all Bulgarian Christians will lobby religious tolerance and create a healthy environment for the implementation of a new paradigm for ministry which successfully incorporates interdenominational partnership.

The first step toward such a paradigm may have been made as Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant believers came together on October 23, 2004. In an “Universal Character of the Christian Church” round table discussion they considered the possibility of the establishment of religious community where Christians from various denominations can come together for worship in freedom from fear and according to their religious convictions.