Join us in Brussels!

April 20, 2024

Recent articles on the Christian news website Evangelical Focus, ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections in June, reflected the views of evangelical Christians that the European Union was ‘a distant entity that had little impact on their daily lives’.

Brussels, others felt, was part of the problem of a continent that had abandoned its Christian roots. Such views tell us perhaps more about evangelicals than about the EU. That is my conclusion after researching evangelical views on European integration three years ago. Twenty evangelical leaders I interviewed, representing a wide range of evangelical bodies and movements mainly in western European lands, saw two dominant factors shaping evangelical views of the EU: ignorance and indifference

Various historical and theological reasons were given why evangelicals were ignorant about European history, the EU story, and about what the Bible taught about politics, government and international relations. One British evangelical academic spoke of ‘incredible ignorance (about Europe) on the whole across the churches’. In Spain and France, evangelicals had been pushed to the margins in history and ‘were now comfortable there’. Also, popular eschatologies spread through American books and films had influenced the older generation particularly to view Europe as a Modern Babylon. 

National independence and sovereignty were cited on the website as reasons why Dutch evangelicals had generally taken distance from the EU. ‘It’s too far from my bed,’ is a complaint often heard, even though many may have bought their bed from the very pan-European phenomenon of IKEA! Yet to talk of ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ shows ignorance of the current realities of the contemporary web of international commitments and political and economic interdependence. Turning back the clock to old-style nationalism – as many populist politicians cheaply promise – is impossible in a world facing global challenges when cooperation and solidarity is essential for survival.

Three minutes!

Despite our stated commitment to the authority of the Bible, we evangelicals remain widely ignorant of the central role of the Bible in shaping European society, culture and values; of the breadth and depth of God’s mission in the Bible for all of his created order; of the biblical implications for socio-political responsibility; of the Christian faith motivating the founding fathers of what has become the EU; and of the responsibility of God’s people to engage in the battle for Europe’s soul and future. 

Ignorance of the story of Christian forgiveness and reconciliation, and the role of church-related movements, has fed the myth that the European project is just a humanistic effort promoting godless lifestyles. Few Dutch people know when or what Europe Day is and why it can be called the defining moment of post-war Europe. I recently joined a walking tour of the European quarter, with some thirty Dutch participants led by two secular Dutch journalists. After our guide in the European Parliament mentioned Europe Day, I asked the group if anyone could tell us what and when Europe Day was. Not one of the thirty knew.

Yet in Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, May 9 is celebrated as Europe Day, the birthdate of the European project. For on that day in 1950, Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister and a devout believer, announced a plan to bring the coal and steel industries of participating countries under a common authority, thus sharing sovereignty. From that day on there was a plan on the table that has driven European integration. Schuman’s speech lasted less time than it takes to boil an egg – a mere three minutes! And yet it laid the foundation for the European house in which 450 million Europeans today live together in peace and cooperation. 

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Since the Reformation, Protestant Christians became territorially focused (e.g. the Dutch Reformed Church and the Church of England) and thus lost the broader European perspective Catholics still retain. The vision of smaller independent, evangelical churches became even more restricted. As one historian put it, ‘Catholics see woods; Protestants see trees’. And we could add: ‘evangelicals see branches’.

Fortunately fresh Christian scholarship is revealing European integration as a project offering a moral framework often inspired by Christian churches helping traumatised societies to face a new future. The ‘Blueprints of hope’ project, for example, will hold a symposium in Utrecht on May 7 presenting such conclusions, under the chairmanship of Prof. dr. Beatrice de Graaf. 

Europe Day, two days later on May 9, falls this year on Ascension Day. Prior to this year’s State of Europe Forum, starting on Friday evening, May 10, in the Carmelite Church (above), the Schuman Centre is holding an (English-only) European Studies Day on Europe Day itself in the Chapel for Europe. For anyone wanting a better understanding of Europe’s past, present and future, this day offers insight into how the Gospel shaped Europe, European integration and current EU politics. 

My colleague Evert Van de Poll and I will be joined on this day by David Fieldsend, former attaché in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representation to the EU, and Jasper Knecht of the Quo Vadis think tank.

The State of Europe Forum this year is a joint project of Ensemble pour l’Europe (België), The European Evangelical Alliance Brussels office and the Schuman Centre for European Studies, as well as the European Prayer Network, which will hold extra prayer events associated with the Forum, starting May 8, 14.00 at Grote Markt 28, Brussels. See:

Come and join us in Brussels!

Till next week,

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