As members of a minority church strongly involved in the struggle for human dignity, freedom of conscience, justice and peace, Baptists in Italy read the European Union’s constitution treaty with a strong “Amen!”–particularly the charter of fundamental rights.
This is more a spontaneous expression of than a rational affirmation of political principles. But what is our role as churches together in promoting the underlying values to these principles? Is there a “soul” we can offer to these principles beyond their formal affirmation within the European Union? Something that would reflect our peculiar perspective as Christians, who believe in spiritual transformation, dialogue and reconciliation.
If we hear Jesus’ words: “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and his justice,” what values should come first in our understanding as Christians?
We read in the preamble of the treaty that Europe, “reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilization, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and the most deprived.” This sounds very good, yet we observe the building of a Europe in which “the weakest and the most deprived” countries of Europe have hardly any chance of entering the European Union.
It is proper that a country should be required to meet standards of equity, respect for the minorities, freedom of conscience and democracy in order to be eligible to enter the EU. But what if the prevailing logic in refusing an application is instead based on economics? One part of Europe becomes stronger, and the other is left behind. An ideal of unity becomes a powerful instrument of division.
The European Union cannot strengthen its unity without working also at the same time for new forms of cooperation with those who do not belong to the European Union, those who by the way are “the weakest and the most deprived” here in this continent.
This ideal (or value) should also apply beyond the boundaries of Europe. The “path of civilization, progress and prosperity” should lead Europe to look outside Europe, including “the weakest and the most deprived” of the rest of the world.
We cannot live in Europe as an island where fundamental rights are respected (or should be respected), while forgetting there is a deprived world outside where the most elementary rights (right to life, to health care, human dignity, non discrimination, justice, peace, freedom) are not.
The value or priority I point to here is unity in solidarity.
Among the rights affirmed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights is the integrity of the person and “the prohibition on making the human body and its parts as such a source of financial gain.” Article 65 prohibits slavery and trafficking in human beings.
But trafficking in human beings and the exploitation of human bodies and dignity as source of financial gain is what is happening every day in the streets of the European Union countries. Every day bodies and souls of young women become under our eyes objects to use and throw away, lives held in slavery, people without voice, rights or citizenship.
This phenomenon expresses in the clearest way the division and disparity between the rich and the deprived Europe, and between the rich Europe and the deprived countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America from which these girls are deported.
And we could go on to mention hundred of thousands of undocumented human beings who reach the Italian coasts, risking and often losing their life, to escape from war or hunger and wind up living in Western countries without rights–citizens belonging to nowhere.
Protecting the rights of these women, taking care of the bodies and souls of these asylum seekers and irregular workers, affirming the inviolable dignity of trafficked children, understanding the causes of all this and fighting against global injustice, denouncing the idolatry of money in all its forms, struggling for fair legislation that protects the weakest more than our privileges–all are what the churches need to do.
If we solemnly declare that we believe in democracy, we have to consider citizenship not as a privilege but as a right. The priority I am affirming is taking sides with the oppressed and powerless and saying with clarity that the world is not a market, not all can be bought and sold. Human dignity cannot by any means.
Another value that European churches never tire of is affirming the precious gospel teaching of non-violence in response to violence.
We live in a continent where much blood was shed in God’s name. We have desecrated the cross by blessing arms and armies. This sin has not yet been confessed by all Christians as it should. European Christians should take side on this question, confessing our sin and promoting peace and reconciliation through disarmed and non-violent means.
Europe should grow in the awareness of the historical calling to be peacemakers in the world through peaceful means. This does not occur in Europe yet. We still send armies to promote peace. There is an alternative way. We Christians must believe there is and should work for it. This work for justice and peace without arms should be led by one of the most fundamental values found in this time: hope.
Borrowing Zechariah’s prophetic language, we should be prisoners of hope. In Jesus, Prince of Peace, we should. For God’s sake, and for our children’s.
Last–but first in my Baptist tradition–is the importance of promoting freedom of conscience and religion.
In many countries of Europe we still struggle for fair legislation that fully affirms this principle. We need to come together as churches in order to be heard, and, when possible, come together with people of other faiths
Christians must sign a covenant between majority churches and minority churches, by which we listen to each other, support each other and commit ourselves to protect the right of each and every person to believe in God in whatever manner–or not to believe–and the right of every religious group to live, express and spread its faith freely. This commitment would imply for the majority churches renouncing privileges, and this is never easy.
It would also mean affirming the principle of separation between church and state at all levels–not a hostile separation but a sympathetic and cooperative separation. This is an important value for Baptists, and the only one that can concretely guarantee freedom for all.
Anna Maffei is president of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy. This column is adapted from her address at the “Values, Religion, Identity” conference organized by the Conference of European Churches in cooperation with the state representation of Baden-Wuerttemberg to the European Union.