Michael Bourdeaux – The Role of Religion in the Fall of Communism – 4

michael_bourdeaux

10. These events led directly to the fall of the Berlin Wall – and you know the rest of the story. I want to pause just for a moment to point out that the continuing power of the Christian faith was playing its part in other communist countries, too. For example, in Hungary the example of the imprisoned Cardinal Mindszenty was just as inspirational as Cardinal Wyszynski. In Germany Lutheran pastors provided a safe haven in several churches, especially Leipzig, where discussions on freedom – and not just religious freedom – could take place in an environment where the Stasi (secret police) did not dare – in later years – to interfere. Romania – well, that could be a whole lecture to itself – indeed, I plan to give just such a lecture tomorrow. There were heroes and martyrs in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Perhaps the best known was Fr Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa. After fifteen years of imprisonment as a young man, he became a priest and inspired a younger generation in the 1970s with his sermons at the theological seminary in Bucharest. They, too, were a passionate call for freedom of conscience, but even more to the youth of the country in general to turn away from communism and embrace the Christian faith. I was in Romania just before his second arrest and he send me a secret message that I must visit him. He became my friend and, many years later, after eight further years in prison, he was able to address the annual meeting of the organization which I founded to defend religious liberty, Keston College. It was an unforgettable occasion. Another significant development was the demand for freedom from state interference from the Baptists, especially at first Pastor Iosif Ton and then Pavel Nicolescu, who founded an inter-denominational committee to defend religious liberty. Outside Romania, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand caused an ongoing international stir by his forceful anti-communist preaching. He was converted from Judaism to the Lutheran Church and the Norwegian Lutheran Mission helped him to emigrate. He did a tremendous amount to prove to the Western world that persecution of religion was an ongoing reality. This, in turn, strengthened the faith of persecuted believers by clandestine importing of the Bible, radio broadcasts and, simply, the power of prayer.

11. No single factor in all that I have recounted in this lecture could have led to the end of communism on its own. Yet I have had time to tell only the smallest portion of the reality in these oppressed countries. All together, the cumulative effect of the urgent appeals for religious liberty led to appeals for national independence and, in later days, very quickly to the undermining of the political system by a true democratic movement, in which the Christian faith undoubtedly played a part. My argument today is that the full story of these countless acts of heroism still has to be told. Thank you, though, for the opportunity to recount part of it today.

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Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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