European Christian politicians respond to pope’s call
One recurring theme in Pope Benedict’s speeches is the need he sees for Christians to speak out more in public on moral issues. A group of European politicians has taken up the challenge and held a brainstorming session in Paris to “find forms of political commitment that responds to their convictions and to the challenges of the 21st century,” as their hostess, French Housing and Urban Development Minister Christine Boutin, put it. The meeting was held at the Collège des Bernardins, the refurbished medieval college where Benedict spoke only last month about Europe’s Christian roots.
Although most politicians there could be described as Christian Democrats, there was no question about starting a specifically Christian political party. Instead, speakers stressed they wanted to bring Christian values back into the general political discourse after decades of being derided as old-fashioned. Several speakers from France mentioned the way secularists had sidelined them in politics. “We Christians have gotten used to living under a kind of house arrest,” said Jean-Pierre Rive, secretary general of the Church and Society Commission of the French Protestant Federation. “We have to get back into politics.”
The financial crisis, they said, provided a dramatic example of what can happen when greed and shady bank practices sideline values such as solidarity and concern for the poor. “A new world is being built and we Christians must play our part,” said Boutin, one of the most outspoken Catholic activists in French politics, at the Oct. 10 meeting. “Christians in France have lost the habit of communicating their experiences. There are politicians who are open to new ideas now. Let’s meet them and talk with them.”
“Christians in politics are often afraid of being written off as hypocrites. Who can deny that some have earned that description?” she added. “We should not act as Christians, but in a Christian way.”
Kris Vleugels, a Belgian evangelical who is vice-president of the European Christian Political Movement, said European Christians had “accepted the prevalence of non-Christian values for too long. Christian values such as charity, humility and service can be put into action in politics. They are more important than profit.”
The most senior of about 250 participants was the European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering, a German Christian Democrat. He stressed that the European Union, despite its unwillingness to openly proclaim the continent’s Christian roots, reflects many Christian values. But he said: “Mere commitment to the European Union does not absolve us of our duties as Christians.” At the same time, he insisted on a division of labour. “You can never expect politicians to do exactly what the bishops expect. They have different roles.”
Among other participants were French Senate President Gerard Larcher, Czech Legislative Council President Cyril Svoboda, Irish MEP Gay Mitchell and several French, Dutch and Italian politicians. A Catholic bishop, Protestant pastor and Orthodox theologian from France took part, as did Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio lay Catholic community in Rome. The participants agreed to hold meetings every six months to exchange ideas. The next one is due in April in Prague.
It’s not clear how much influence these politicians will have, but the financial crisis has certainly created conditions favourable to a more ethical emphasis in public policies.