Gábor Iványi: The churches are politicizing if they remain quiet

March 8, 2015

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“We believe that even if we have very little, we must still give to those who have much less than us. We can’t turn anyone living in poverty away simply because we are also struggling to make ends meet. We simply can’t allow ourselves to sit by idly.”

“What is happening in Hungary, the destruction of a cultured nation, is not the result of people not knowing any better or the result of a cabal of persons. Everyone knows exactly what is happening, they see it, they can measure it, they can assess it. If we allow this to continue, if we remain quiet, this will become the shame of everyone, it will be a collective sin.” 

“We’re facing a strong, ever-growing monster that eats and destroys everything in its path. What it can’t take away, it destroys, and it blankets everything in a kind of religious glaze that turns my stomach.”

– Gábor Iványi

Interview with Hungarian Methodist Church leader Gábor Iványi appearing in Népszava on March 5th, 2015.

It can certainly happen that the people start to revolt. Gábor Iványi understands their frustration because [the government] has gone to great lengths to make them out to be crazy evil people. The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood’s lead minister tells Hungarian news site Népszava that it is possible for him to be a quiet and peaceful man, but being such a person in this situation would be a sin — and even those remain quiet are in some way politicizing.

– What kind of year did you have? The reason I ask is because [you church] finally won its lawsuit in Strasbourg after almost two years.

G.I. – We belonged to that group that was adversely affected by the discriminative Church Law that even the Constitutional Court deemed unlawful. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the Hungarian state unlawfully stripped our church of its legal standing. Regardless of what happens next, I refuse to become a participant in this government’s “national cooperation” system. I do not want to cooperate with this government in that way — to for my church to exist only at the mercy of the government. I don’t want to be collaborate with a government that strips the people of their lands, small convenience stores, newspapers, education, and health care. I don’t want to enjoy the benefits of dirty work. I’d rather be part of the group that is persecuted, those who we must stand up for, those who must raise our voices in support of.

– You have a very peculiar way of challenging what’s happening. You quietly say incredibly serious things and that, in of itself, is an act of defiance in today’s world.

G.I. – I won’t throw laptops through the windows of Fidesz’s headquarters. I’m not saying that’s wrong, it’s just not something that sits well with me. I will now, however, remain quiet because our church represents the interests of thousands of people who have been carrying out a service that should otherwise be carried out by the government. The government now wants to take that away from us. What’s more, I am also a part of the state, not only those who consider me a guest or stranger in this country, and who also think I have no business offering my input on what’s happening. I think the state must contribute toward to the work that it is not doing. That’s not a donation, it’s a requirement. That being said, I demand food for the hundreds of kids at our schools, shoes for their feet, heat and lighting for their classrooms, and a good quality education. I demand that hospitals for the homeless receive adequate amounts of bandages, medication, and money for equipment — compensation for that which has been shamelessly taken away so that it could be spent on their interests.

– Your church performs a comprehensive range of social programs from the Fűtött Street preschool for children living in poverty to running schools and retirement homes in the rural countryside. How have you been able to keep these operations afloat if the government has stripped you of state support?

G.I. – Over the past few years we’ve operated in a manner similar to that of a poor family. We take it day by day, looking at what it is that needs to be paid immediately and what can wait. If, as a result of the Strasboug court’s decision, we receive compensation for the debts that we forced to incur, then we’ll be able to pay off these arrears. But the government hasn’t stopped us from continuing to our, we’ve been able to make progress too! Thanks to a group of French businessmen, we have managed to create a women’s ward in our hospital for the homeless.

– I’ve noticed for a while that you guys have always been able to make progress when and where the progress was needed.

G.I. – We believe that even if we have very little, we must still give to those who have much less than us. We can’t turn anyone living in poverty away simply because we are also struggling to make ends meet. We simply can’t allow ourselves to sit by idly. We have to look around and see what we have so that we continue to work into the next month. But it’s those who live in desperate poverty that are the real artists of survival, those who have to make such important decision many times a day. I am not outraged that they burn their chairs and summer clothes to heat their homes — that’s still better than freezing to death. The poor are always fighting a war to stay alive, sometimes even at the expense of the rich. Modern society despises this and tries to address it was hate, laws, and force, instead of sharing the spoils of their ill-gotten gains.

– Last year we saw news that the police tried to evict the school you were running in Felsődobsza.

G.I. – In 2011 the local government asked to take over the school. They had used EU funds the year before to renovate the building that was an extension of an old castle. Apparently, someone got the idea that the building could be used a wellness resort. There were rumors that the mayor of the town was an ambitious man who later came to conclusion that entering into a contract with us wasn’t the best idea. I am a born democrat, I’d like a normal world, and I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter which side one stands on when its the education of disenfranchised children that’s on the line. We argued back and forth over the summer and local government finally handed over the building before the start of the school year. We organized a community potluck to take place on that day and the school was packed. I explained to the people that they don’t have to be afraid because those who are short-sighted sometimes confuse God with the worldly powers. God doesn’t wear a Rolex and doesn’t walk around in Gucci shoes. Our five-year contract to operate the school will expire soon and I will not try to force a renewal of the project. If the school is abandoned, the children are sent to other schools and the parents accept this, I will acknowledge this.

– The “historical churches” are really becoming part of the system. They’ve been quick to increase the number of schools they operate. Are there really such big differences between the various faiths?

G.I. – I consider the abandoning of democracy, curtailing of human rights, twisting of justice, and the crafting of legislation that does not protect the weak to be an attack against humanity. I have not change, it is they who have strayed away from the fundamental values that we all used to believe in. Those who stop supporting the poor, the disabled, and who take away the money saved by the elderly are the ones who are rebelling against the Good Lord. On this land it is God’s will that man act as God. One must act as if there is no God. God is not here to immediately put order in the world when evil people start doing unconscionable things. Order must be brought to those places where a narrow group of people – who feel no remorse at all – are doing evil things and prospering. Furthermore, these people are doing it in the name of religion. I regret that the only thing these same people learned from the story of Joseph is the centralization of power. Joseph was able to get out of prison because we won the favor Pharaoh. He told him that seven good years would come, then seven hard years, everything that can be saved and stored should be saved and stored because there will be a famine. Pharaoh liked the idea. He built cities to store grain and stored the crops grown during the seven good years. When the famine start, they started to sell the stored crops. First, the people spent all their money, then Joseph nationalized their animals, then he bought up their lands, and then he brought the people into slavery. This is the direction we’re heading. We’re being held for ransom again, because we’re headed in the direction where it is the skin that is being pulled off the people.

– The Democratic Roundtable was formed in January and you are one of its founders. The roundtable’s call to action addressed the churches too. What do you think, will they take part in it?

G.I. – Seeking the involvement of other churches to take part in this kind of politicizing, like many other things, is a hopeful wishing. They have their own opinions about what is happening in society and they have become a spokespersons for certain political views. They take a stand on issues and have opposing positions on other issues. Even if they are not politicizing, that, too, is a form of politicizing. The Democratic Roundtable was not my idea, but the idea that we must try to do something to get the attention of society is something that rests very close to my heart. What the Democratic Roundtable wants people to know is that what is happening in Hungary, the destruction of a cultured nation, is not the result of people not knowing any better or the result of a cabal of persons. Everyone knows exactly what is happening, they see it, they can measure it, they can assess it. If we allow this to continue, if we remain quiet, this will become the shame of everyone, it will be a collective sin. We’re not sure that the Democratic Roundtable is the answer for Hungary’s problems. This is an attempt to bridge the gap between right and left wing democrats so that they can together declare that this must stop because it is dragging our country through the mud and we’ll never get out of it unless we do something about it.

– Do you really think that these two groups will have people who will listen?

G.I. – We have to believe this. Even Jesus said that you have ears but you don’t hear. That’s why the Democratic Roundtable was created, because many people – myself included – are afraid that the situation is getting worse and worse and will eventually result in the people becoming destructive. This is a legitimate fear because we are parading around on the idea of an illiberal democracy, the state is being used to stuff the pockets of certain people, and these people are allowed to continue this. These people have been allowed to become so crazy and evil that there’s no perfect way to deal with this.

– We first met when the Support for the Poor Fund was created, just as the democratic opposition tried to unite. Does the Democratic Roundtable give you the sense of déjà vu?

G.I. – Yes, very much so. Then, we were facing a tired power. Now we’re facing a strong, ever-growing monster that eats and destroys everything in its path. What it can’t take away, it destroys, and it blankets everything in a kind of religious glaze — this makes my stomach turn. However, the situation is similar in that the powers have now started to acknowledge the problems. The Support for the Poor Fund said it clearly that there is poverty. We poured the collected donations out on top of a piano, and started organizing the money. We started collecting clothing and medicine and we were watched by the police. It was clear that our efforts had no significant impact, because of course we wouldn’t be able to change the world. But even if we can’t stop the world from turning, we should at least raise our voices once in our lives and try to convince the people to act as adults.

Referenced in this article:

Iványi Gábor: nem ülhetünk tétlenül, Népszava.hu; 5 March 2015.