Europe Is Still a Mission Field
I enjoy Europe. I’ve traveled there extensively. In the early eighties I lived in Basel, Switzerland, while earning my doctorate at its ancient university. In particular, I’ve always been interested in Europe’s religious history. We in North America owe so much of our spiritual heritage to the influence of Europeans like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and even to lesser known figures such as Zwingli and Oecolampadius, the reformer of Basel. The temptation, therefore, is to think that Europe is a great place to visit but not necessarily a mission field. We think of it as already Christianized, a place to see beautiful churches and cathedrals. But make no mistake about it: Europe is a mission field.
This was brought home to me again this week as I read the flurry of reports about the European Union’s new constitution, which was unveiled last Thursday. The draft was presented by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who is the president of a European Constitutional Convention that includes 105 delegates from the 15 current EU member states and the 10 countries slated to join next year. Praise for the new compact was prolific.
Yet the draft constitution is generating—of all things—a great deal of moral controversy in Europe. Officials in Brussels have omitted the word God from the EU constitution. Among its statements are pronouncements of respect for member countries’ national identity and for human rights, as well as commitments to social justice and the environment. But none of the chapters mentions any deity or any explicitly religious or Christian values supposed to underlie the European plan. Nor is there any mention of religion in the draft. “The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, values which are common to the member states,” reads the draft of Article 2, the section dealing with European values. “Its aim is a society at peace, through the practice of tolerance, justice and solidarity.”
Much of the opposition to the use of religious language in the constitution comes from the European gay and lesbian community. According to a CNSNews.com, The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) argues that due to the “increased secularization of morality and public life,” all references to God should be left out of the preamble. GALHA’s spokesman Terry Sanderson said, “religion is dying throughout Europe and we have to realize that.” Instead the group would like to see the preamble state: “The Union is founded on the principles of secular rule of law: freedom, equality, democracy and pluralism.” GALHA has accused the Vatican of trying to impose “ultra-conservative and cruel doctrines.” It blames the church for the suffering of homosexuals.
Some countries—particularly Poland, a future EU member—have argued for such a mention. In addition, the Vatican and smaller denominations, including Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant organizations, have also advocated its inclusion. The European Catholic Bishops have called for a mention of God in the proposed constitution, though they are not pressing for any reference to Jesus Christ. Bishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher represented the Irish Catholic Church. Duffy told The Sunday Business Post: “Religion is part of our identity. You can’t understand the history of Europe without acknowledging the impact of religion, which has made an enormous contribution to the identity of Europe.” But other countries—including France, a strictly secular state—have strongly opposed it. Even former French President d’Estaing says he’s against a reference to God.
This is but another reminder that the vast majority of Europeans have no meaningful contact with biblical Christianity. Even the tiny minority who do attend a state church seldom hear the Gospel preached. John Blake, the former director of the Billy Graham Association in Spain, has noted: “Europe has almost the lowest percentage of evangelicals in the world.” Indeed, according to one report, the combined populations of Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Austria—197 million people in all—has but a total of 0.7% evangelicals, the same as the entire nation of Egypt! Yet who ever thinks of Europe as being like Egypt in its need for the Gospel?
In World War II Winston Churchill sent out a plea to the United States and Canada for the new world to come to the aid of the old to keep the light of democracy in Europe shining. He said:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Our forefathers heard that cry and responded, and today courageous evangelical leaders are working against all odds to get the Gospel back into the mainstream of European life. But they can’t do it alone. They are asking for help—and deserve it.
May 27, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.