Three nations make surprising appeal for church’s help
Just as the Obama Administration is actively excluding Christian institutions from traditional roles in American society, the governments of two of the most populous nations in Africa and Asia are seeking help from local congregations – and one of Europe’s former Communist states has handed its schools over to local churches.
BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
The President of Nigeria says that without the church, his oil-rich African nation would have disintegrated during years of military rule. His comments came as the government of Communist China startled Christians there by requesting they help over-extended government officials to care for the elderly.
Meanwhile, Hungary has turned its schools over to local churches – saying the formerly Communist nation lacked the funds to keep the schools open.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Obama administration seems headed in the opposite direction – forcing chaplains in the armed services to quit praying in the name of Jesus, banning the distribution of Christian literature in Walter Reed hospital and forbidding religious ceremonies in a number of national cemeteries.
Nigeria is officially 50 percent Christian, 50 percent Muslim – making the Nigerian president’s comments even more remarkable. And in China, as recently as a year ago, the Communist government was jailing church leaders – a practice it began in the 1950s. Its client state, North Korea, last week held public executions for 80 people, many convicted of owning a Bible.
In Hungary, local government officials have been handing state-owned schools over to churches for more than a year. Hungary’s Heti Valasz weekly newspaper said shrinking state subsidies, heavy municipal debts and a declining birthrate has prompted Hungary’s move.
“Churches are entitled to run schools in Hungary as public service providers, receiving the same taxpayers’ money as public sponsors,” Balazs Odor, ecumenical officer of Hungary’s Reformed Church, told ENInews.
Odor said the church’s governing Synod Council had issued guidelines requiring local congregations to “study each case carefully” and obtain approval for school acquisitions from church leaders. “There’ve been discussions with the state, where our church committed itself to be cautious and reserved in its approach,” he told ENInews. “Congregations have not only to consider the financial resources which have to be secured for a takeover. They must also guarantee the spiritual capacity and potential of the community needed for such an enterprise and study the attitude of concerned parties, such as parents, in advance.”
The Reformed, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches ran most schools in Hungary before the imposition of Communist rule after World War II, when 3,750 church schools were taken over by the Communist government and 4,500 teachers were forced to resign, leaving only a handful of colleges in church hands.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan declared that but for the church the country “would have disintegrated,” according to news reports. The President paid glowing tributes to a local pastor, Ayo Oritsejafor, for his help building up Nigeria as a democracy and said strengthening Nigeria is a collective responsibility. He challenged Nigerians to join hands with his administration for the difficult task.
“But for the Church, this country would probably have gone into oblivion,” he said. “You have been praying persistently day and night. Nigerians are totally committed, not pretenders.”
In China, “the government welcomes the support of the Church,” said government official Wang Xinhua at a Shanghai conference sponsored by the Bible Society. “We lack the resources to meet all the needs that we face, so we need religious organizations in order to do so,”
Wang told the conference that the “beliefs” and “love” of the Church were an “advantage” to society. He added that China’s charitable sector was facing “a crisis of confidence” due to corruption scandals and that the Church was a less corrupt partner to the government.
A noted academic, Choong Chee Pang, told the conference: “Many social problems have their root causes in social injustice, the abuse of power, inequality, the widening gap between the rich and the poor due to mismanagement of the resources, corruption and bribery.”
Although it is the world’s second biggest economy, China is facing a social care crisis, particularly in caring for an increasingly elderly population. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, by 2040 nearly 20 per cent of China’s rural population will be aged over 65.
At the conference, the government called on the church to provide care for the elderly, as well as offer drug prevention and rehabilitation, and work with those living with HIV.