An “abomination”: the Orbán government refuses to recognize Gábor Iványi’s church

More than two years ago I wrote a post entitled “The vindictive Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán.” In this piece I talked about the two men Viktor Orbán hates most: Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gábor Iványi. We all know why Orbán hates Gyurcsány: Gyurcsány trounced him in the television debate that preceded the 2006 national election. But why does he hate Gábor Iványi, head of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship/Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség (MET), an offshoot of the Hungarian Methodist Church? Iványi, a bearded bear of a man, is outright saintly. Or at least he strikes me as such, and I am rarely impressed by churchmen. What does Orbán find so objectionable about Iványi, whom at one point he admired? They were such close friends that it was Iványi who persuaded Orbán and his wife, who in their youth were anything but religious, that they should allow him to baptize their two small children.

H. David  Baer, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University who is an expert on church-state relations in today’s Hungary, thought it was Iványi’s fierce anti-communist stance during the 1980s that attracted the young Orbán to him but that after the regime change they parted ways. Iványi became one of the founders of SZDSZ and served as a member of parliament between 1990 and 1994 and again between 1998 and 2002. A few years later, when Orbán’s political views turned toward the right, he didn’t want to be associated with a small religious community. He was interested in developing good relations with the Catholic and the Hungarian Reformed churches. The first two Orbán children were therefore “released” by Iványi at Mrs. Orbán’s request. The girl was rebaptized in the Catholic church and the boy in the Hungarian Reformed church according to a nineteenth-century arrangement devised for religiously mixed marriages. Meanwhile, Iványi, sticking with his own liberal views, remained a severe critic of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

Gábor Iványi

Gábor Iványi

The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship has a small membership but a large social presence. The church runs several kindergartens, elementary schools, a college, old folks homes, and homeless shelters. But since the Fidesz government refused to recognize MET as a church, it was not eligible to receive any subsidies from the government to continue its educational and social activities with the underprivileged, the Roma, and the homeless.

The first excuse for excluding MET from the list of accepted churches was that MET’s membership was under the required 10,000. At that point Iványi conducted a membership drive of sorts, and soon enough the church could show that MET had 22,000 members, more than sufficient to qualify.

But, as David Baer pointed out in his article published in Hungarian Spectrum, the process of deciding which church will be recognized has nothing to do with membership or any other formal requirements. It all depends on whether the government, in this case specifically Viktor Orbán, likes the leader of that church or not. And he definitely does not like Gábor Iványi and what he stands for. Baer quoted a telling paragraph from a Heti Válasz interview with Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources responsible for recommending churches for consideration to the parliamentary committeeThe reporter brought up the fact that it now seems that Orbán’s children were baptized “in a false church.” He responded as follows:

Baptism is valid even if it is performed by a midwife, which means that Orbán’s child is all right. In addition, it is not in good taste, in my opinion, if someone appears all over the media announcing that he baptized the prime minister’s children. What kind of spiritual leader gives statements about the spiritual life of believers who have been entrusted to him? I would never do such a thing because I take being a pastor seriously. And as to those who don’t, why are they surprised that the government, in turn, does not take them seriously?

So, basically, the recognition of a religious community depends on the whim of Viktor Orbán. And it matters not whether the formal requirements are fulfilled.

At the end of May Iványi decided to write a letter to László Kövér. In the letter he noted that Zoltán Balog, already in February, stated that MET had fulfilled the requirements for official recognition but that sixty days had gone by without any action. He asked Kövér to expedite matters. Meanwhile, during the past few months the Orbán government tried its best to find something that could make MET ineligible. Even the Office of Defense of the Constitution (Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal [AH]) was sent to snoop around in order to find out whether MET “posed a national security risk” to Hungary. Surprisingly, it did not.

At last, on June 12, the parliamentary committee on judicial matters decided to take up the case of MET. Gábor Iványi was called in. Iványi told about the billion forint loss the church suffered because its educational and social activities are not, unlike those of the official churches, compensated by the state. MET, not being one of the official churches, cannot even receive gifts from taxpayers who would like to donate 1% of the tax they owe to MET.

I should add that MET is not the only religious community that was in this predicament. There are nine others. Without translating them all, here is the list:

  • Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség,
  • Szabad Evangéliumi Gyülekezet,
  • Evangéliumi Barátság Vallási Egyesület,
  • Magyar Evangéliumi Egyesület,
  • Mantra Magyarországi Buddhista Közösség,
  • Magyarországi Szabadkeresztyén Gyülekezet Egyház,
  • Magyarországi Názáreti Gyülekezetek Hitéleti Egyesülete,
  • Magyarországi Bahá’í Közösség,
  • Szim Salom Progresszív Zsidó Egyesület,
  • Magyar Reform Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége

Surprise, surprise, all ten were again rejected on July 11. By now even the saintly Iványi was outspoken. He told Népszava that “today in Hungary there is tyranny because the pathological will of one man becomes the law.” He also gave a long interview to the Amerikai Népszava, where he called the Hungarian situation ” an abomination.” One can only agree with him.

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35 comments

  1. I think the justification for rescinding recognition of Reform Judaism is that it is too new. In fact, there were very active Reform synagogues in Pest in the 1840s, and they were much more religiously radical than Reform Judaism today- back then, they wanted to moved the Sabbath to Sunday, for instance.

    It’s true that the Neolog branch of Judaism is more conservative than Reform, partially in reaction to the more reformist German Jews. But this is a good moment to remember Aaron Chorin. Check out the wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Chorin.

    Some people point to Amsterdam in the 1790s as the beginning of Reform Judaism. But since I’m proud of my Hungarian tradition, I have to mention that Chorin accepted a position as rabbi in Arad in 1789, and the wild controversies around 1802-1805 are an important turning point in religious history in Continental Europe.

  2. @magyar zsido. OK, they are too new and is that good enough reason? I don’t think so. If a bunch of people decide to bring reform Judaism back to Hungary and want recognition of that community, they should be free to do so? Don’t you think?

  3. By the way, according to Wikipedia the Methodist movement has about 80 million followers worldwide.

  4. Ivanyi is the good Hungarian, of perfect moral, and I am adoring him.

    Re Jews, we had our Spinoza. He started the independent thinking as a pioneer of the Enlightenment.

    Can Ivanyi follow Spinoza’s logic and reason? I am sure, he can, while he carries Christ in his heart.

  5. I must say that in principle I am very much against this system, where the government decides who gets money for charity from the government, based on the fact whether the government recognizes the organization as a bona fide church or not. The American system, where charities are recognized as such by well defined criteria and the enforcement is done by a neutral tax collection agency (the IRS) seems to be a much better and objective one. And once recognized, private entities (people or corporations) can donate tax deductible monies to these charities. It is true that the objectivity and independence of the IRS has been questioned lately and the final word is still to be heard on the issue.

  6. The main Catholic and Protestant Churches of Hungary should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for not speaking up about the State’s involvement in religious matters. What a putrid lot. And to think that some Catholic commentators thought that the Bishop of Hungary had a chance to be elected pope!!!

    Hungaricum.

  7. gdfxx
    July 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm
    I must say that in principle I am very much against this system, where the government decides who gets money for charity from the government,

    Do not forget this is the government that provided the tax brakes for companies that donated to build a stadium in Felcsut. Did you know that the Puskas Academy in fact can receive the 1% from taxpayers. I guess soccer is different religion.

  8. @Eva:

    If a bunch of people decide to bring reform Judaism back to Hungary and want recognition of that community, they should be free to do so? Don’t you think?

    Absolutely, I think they should be free to do so, and should be given the same respect as other religions. More than that, I want to point out that the ruling party’s justification for revoking recognition are false.

  9. Some years ago I met Gabor Ivanyi when two benefactors of my Mother were decorated by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, prior to be declared Righteous of Nations. It was a fleeting meeting but I became interested in any news connected to this gentleman and was interested to note that whenever his name was mentioned in the Hungarian press it was in connection with some humanitarian gesture, be it the burial of a gypsy child victim or some other outrage. That he was a defender of freedom in a Hungary where the country once again experiences “sham democracy in a dictatorship” was not in doubt and it seemed to me that his Church was being punished for his humanity.

    Thus it is not surprising that in my words and belief I referred to Gabor Ivanyi as “Hungary’s Conscience” whenever and wherever I could.

    There are, sadly, few of similar stature as him and it is not really surprising that Mr. Orban and his ilk are against this gentleman and his religious organization.

  10. Orbán must be very sure of his power that he doesn’t move one millimeter in the direction of decency …

    Obviously he and his cronies don’t mind what the rest of the world thinks about them!

    And the “big churches” in Hungary are the same type of animals, just a collection of parasites, feeding from the state?

    PS and a bit OT:

    I’ve been an atheist all my life – started to think about this when I was six years old and got very sad because I was told that my friends wouldn’t go to school with me.

    Why:

    They went to the Catholic primary school and I to the Protestant, btw both were in the same building, separated by a wall installed after WW2 …

    That was the situation in Germany 65 years ago – (almost) as bad as in today’s Hungary!

    And Orbán dares to call himself a Christian!

  11. London Calling!

    Surely this is the way President Thug aims to control thought?

    With Zoltán Balog as Squealor the Pig in charge of propaganda?

    It won’t stop (hasn’t stopped) Orban of course.

    Shackled media; bullying of anything remotely independent and the increasing police state – nearly there President Orban!

    1984 in 2014? (Yes exactly 30 years late for Hungary!)

    You just need the sunglasses and funny hat and the Nicolas Orbansescu in his President Thug castle on the hill image is complete!

    I’m hoping to see some of those adulatory flower and moving card displays on Hero’s Square soon, should be a good tourist attraction.

    Or maybe it’s a bit small?

    How about building a multipurpose football stadium and display site, Orbansescu, Sir?

    It could be the stadium for the 2028 World Cup that Pinkeye – your loyal Gyor Thuggesz mayor is dying to host!

    All hail to his President Highness Orbansescu!

    Regards O Omnipotent One!

    Charlie

  12. Wolfi

    The Roman Catholic church is working hand in hand with Orban.

    By excluding other faiths they can perpetuate their monopoly.

    And he can always count on their support – tacit or otherwise – even under this acutely conservative new Pope.

    Whilst outwardly reforming it is still necessary for the Pope and the RC church to face up to their role in WW2.

    They need to open the Vatican WW2 vaults and answer the 47 outstanding questions.

    Their banking system is still shrouded in mystery – and how they benefitted from the holocaust exercise – and their silence, when they new well what was occurring.

    And their silence in all the paedophile cases globally.

    Rome is a fully supporting partner in President Orban’s classroom brick wall separating the religions.

    He’ll definitely go to heaven via the Vatican!

    Charlue

  13. @Charlie

    Wading in with both feet, are we Charlie? Good for you!

    Oh, to be able to afford jolly England, and live in the Cotswolds with the little prancing, black sheep!

  14. “whenever his name was mentioned in the Hungarian press it was in connection with some humanitarian gesture, be it the burial of a gypsy child victim or some other outrage.”

    Yes Gabor Ivanyi is known for supporting roma causes. I remember he recently condemned the racist Albert Pasztor too saying “it was not just a simple slip of the tongue”, what he said. It was not just one racist sentence from Pasztor but several unacceptable sentences in Ivanyi’s view. I had a general feeling he didn’t use stronger words against Pasztor, like fascistic or neo-fascist because he is far too polite but his feelings are very very strong against Pasztor.

    There are several similar people to Ivanyi who will always support the roma no matter what and will always condemn racism no matter what be that MSZP racism DK racism or wherever. This is why it is a big mistake for DK and the others to openly flirt with racist politics talking about “romacrime” and all that.

  15. A church, that is the Roman Catholic Church, which not only tolerated but, by its very structures,actively encouraged the sexual abuse of small children is given pride of place in the hierarchy of Orbanistan. Indeed, the regime falls over itself to give it even more control of our young children.

    A church which permits unapologetic nazis to be its ministers is given pride of place in Orbanistan.

    Yet a genuine Christian who attempts to help those disadavantaged (in the same way that Christ did) is intimidated and persecuted by the self-same *christian* regime.

    A regime which not only is dishonest, corrupt and fascist at its core, but one which also punishes the poor, the homeless, the minorities for the pure reason that they are poor, homeless and minorities is not a christian one by any stretch of the word.

    I sincerely hope that Hell does exist because if it does then there is a particular hot corner reserved for Orban and his paedophile-enabling and nazi apologists in the *established* churchs.

  16. We’ve got another Jobbik town. Nokia (now owned by Microsoft) is finally pulling the plug on its Komarom (Komarom-Esztergom county) factory leaving altogether about 2,000 people jobless and the town will lose its biggest IPA tax payer.

    People will hate globalization, foreigners, capitalism, the EU, the Americans even more.

  17. I guess Americans should also hate Americans, because Microsoft is laying off 18,000 people, some of them in the US. I wonder when people there will understand that no company can afford to keep people on the payroll if there is no need for their work. This was tried in the decades of Communist regimes and the results are known.

  18. My understanding of the Microsoft layoff in Komaron, is that it wasn’t based in anyway on the productivity of these Hungarian workers, but rather on the fact that their wages were too high. The entire operation is likely to be moved to Vietnam where wages are even lower than Hungary. The average monthly wage in Vietnam is about 87 HUF. It is also my understanding from reading the Budapest Business Journal that the closing of the Microsoft operation in Komaron could result in a total job loss in Hungary of 12,500 due to layoffs at various parts plants.

    I think Paulie’s point was well taken.

  19. gdfxx: you are absolutely right. However, you cannot really blame voters who hate this ‘system’, it’s mighty stressful.

    Nobody knows (they never really knew) or remembers anymore that the communism involved untold amounts of debt (especially in Hungary but also in the DDR and the SU) and nobody remembers the problems. Only that there was order and security then, none of which exists now. Moreover people emphatically hate politicians who try to force them to face this reality (i.e. SZDSZ and MSZP) so that the majority now would cut their limbs rather than to vote for anything remotely liberal or leftist (ie. synonymous with uncritical acceptance of capitalism and the EU rules).

    Jobbik and Fidesz offer protection, even if they can scantly deliver. The left has nothing to say – as usual. Thus it is unsurprising that the left will vanish after the muncipal elections, people just aren’t curious about them any more.

  20. The problem with these big companies who had received magnanimous tax breaks, land, and lord knows what else…is that the beneficial recipient on the Hungarian side were the politicians who pocketed the asked-for, and received, under-the-table payoffs. Had deals been structured to keep a minimum number of employees for a minimum number of years, it might have been a different story. But, sadly, the politicians use workers only as bargaining chips…Hungaricum.

  21. Paulie: Why should people hate the EU or globalisation when Nokia moves out? Certainly this is a good development: no interference from outside anymore, just the own genius can reign now. Why are you so pessimistic about Hungary’s own strength, have you (or those people who plan to “hate” even more) not listened to the gospel of the Great Leader?

  22. Paulie: “Jobbik and Fidesz offer protection, even if they can scantly deliver. The left has nothing to say – as usual. Thus it is unsurprising that the left will vanish after the muncipal elections, people just aren’t curious about them any more.”

    I am sick of such sentences. Are they fed to people with their breakfasts? I can tell you who has “nothing to say – as usual”: people such as you who prefer to keep an air of detachment from all and repeat such nonsense. Do you have some basic idea about what Hungary’s future should be? Including your future in Hungary? Are you planning to indulge in these worries about the future of some “left” or “right” forever? Why do you believe it is the job of the majority to watch some fight between a “left” (minimum number of people, at least those active) and “right” (also minimum number of people, given that these have to be accepted in Orban’s power circle), making “clever” statements about their bleak outlook? Your own outlook in this country should be of more relevance and worth being thought about, perhaps then people will have something to say – and not only about the bleak future of others.

  23. Kirsten, I understand the sarcasm in your words, but please don’t forget that people are inherently self-contradictory. Also, ambivalence is the most natural state of mind. This is the normal situation. Logical consistency can’t be expected. This is a rationalist, enlightment-inspired, liberal myth. People don’t behave that way.

    People will develop a “rational” answer to contradictions very naturally, which will seem a craziness only to you, but to the average people such answers will be perfectly rational (eg. “Hungarians are geniuses, so if we are not successful that is because foreigners are oppressing and taking advantage of us. At least Viktor Orban is working against those foreigners, whereas the communists are supporting the foreigners.”)

    Orban realized one thing. Democracy and voting (even if rigged) is about being more popular. Being afraid of populism is a Western inhibition, so the conformist Hungarian left wing does not dare to be populist and being too rational and pragmatic, it cannot even be convincingly populist any more.

    Orban cares about what people care about, like it or not, because this is the way to get elected ultimately. He certainly does not care about what the intellectuals, uber-educated people, smart foreign observers care about, but about what average, rather uneducated, conservative, mostly rural people care about and he intimately knows how this majority thinks. He has no inhibitions to say or do anything. This helps him. Jobbik too is very sensitive, as it is a real movement unlike any other Hungarian party, with an extremely strong grass-roots background. You have no idea how much any and all leftist parties lag behind Jobbik’s national party network. Thus, again like it or not, Jobbik very directly reflects what its members want and want desperately.

    The left wing in Hungary for all practical purposes not exist any more. It has no media, and all the small independent media talks about in connection with the left wing is how they are trying to screw each other, how they debate and compete. The left’s image is that (besides being beyond repair and hopelessly uncool) it is forever debating everything to death but have nothing to say about big issues which concern people like competition, anxiety, foreign bosses, demanding jobs, utility prices, fx loans or about notions like the nation, being Hungarian, the life in villages and towns with many romas etc. I am not saying Orban will stay for ever, but this current left wing is over, it is completely empty, devoid of any power to attract any attention. People just don’t care any more. It failed to invest in itself and now it is too late (not that there was any sign of any investment).

  24. Paulie, that can be stated over and over if you wish. I believe the whole approach is rubbish. You take public opinion as given, unchangeable, as if it had always sided with Orban. No, it has turned this way because more sensible ideas about Hungary’s future – be them from your “left” or “right” or just from the “broad public”, “civil society” – have not been developed or suggested. So laziness of the mind, in my impression. Why is there only some choice between the vision of Orban (the highly attractive autocracy green red and white), this “populism” as you call it, and some dead left? Why are there no other ideas around than those of these specific parties on the “left” or “right”? Even accepting for a moment this highly popular idea that the broad public is unable to think straight when it comes to Orban or the national flag (which I consider to follow from laziness of the mind also), why do people who demostrably are able to think – such as you – repeat the statement about some dead left and why are these people not proposing new ideas about what could be done and how Hungary’s future should look like? In burying the Communist party Hungary would merely catch up with the other countries in the vicinity. And yet this does not mean that other parties, not autocratic, not merely “populist”, would not emerge. But of course, for that more is needed than the clever observation of a “mere bystander” that the “left is dead”. Be happy about that and suggest something more workable.

  25. Kirsten did you really mean this: “Why should people hate the EU or globalisation when Nokia moves out? Certainly this is a good development: no interference from outside anymore, just the own genius can reign now.” Moving an operation to Vietnam where the monthly wage is only about 87 HUF is not an issue of genius, its an issue of massively lower wages. I can totally understand how this can easily be exploited by the Jobbik.

  26. The US Holocaust Museum just made the UN 2nd world war crimes files, 370,000 pages, public.

    The files contain information on

    “Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary from 1920 to 1944; Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief of Lyons, France; and many other lesser-known perpetrators.”

    http://www.ushmm.org/information/press/press-releases/museum-makes-united-nations-war-crimes-archive-public

    Search for Horthy:

    http://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&per_page=100&utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=horthy&search_field=all_fields

  27. Istvan, I was indeed cynical. And yet I only repeated what I learned from Viktor Orban: that Hungary has been exploited by foreigners and should grow much faster and more to the liking of people if it is left to its own resources.

  28. Paulie,

    You wrote, “The left wing in Hungary for all practical purposes not exist any more. It has no media…”

    Am I wrong in saying that Népszabadság is a left-wing paper that still has the largest daily circulation of all paid newspapers in Hungary (for now, and not including “newspapers” that are essentially tabloids that don’t really report on the news), and that newspapers are almost always included in the broad category of “media” outlets?

    One thing you forget to mention is that there is a significant group of older people, currently dying out, that is going to support MSZP until the bitter end? I would understand if you dismiss them because they are not wealthy, but they do vote religiously, which is why MSZP is still viable, in my opinion.

  29. London Calling!

    O/T

    Putin has probably become an International Pariah after his sophisticated radar and anti aircraft missile – used by Ukrainian rebels with Russian training – shot down the Malaysian plane flying aids experts to the Australian aids conference.

    A shocking tragedy that Putin has already blamed on Ukraine, whilst his rebels have taken one of the black boxes to Moscow.

    If Putin is ostracised surely Orban will have to distance himself from Putin?

    And cancel PAKS?

    Gets President Thug off the hook maybe.

    Regards

    Charlie

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