The Hungarian Reformed Church and the extreme right

I don’t want to bore readers with a history of Protestantism in Hungary, but I often find that at least in the United States people are surprised to learn that there is a sizable Protestant minority in Hungary. They are convinced that all of East-Central Europe is Catholic.

We have only estimates on religious affiliation of the current Hungarian population, but these estimates indicate that about 20% of Hungarians were at least baptized in a Protestant church. About 17% are Calvinists (Magyar Református Egyház) and 3% are Lutherans (Magyar Evangélikus Egyház).

I’m sure that people will also be surprised to hear that at the end of the sixteenth century 80-90% of the inhabitants of historic Hungary were Protestant. And Hungary was not alone in the region: Poland, now the most Catholic country in the area, was solidly Protestant. Ninety percent of the members of the Polish parliament, the szejm, were Protestants. Such a rapid spread of the teachings of Martin Luther (1483-1564) and John Calvin (1509-1564) in this particular part of Europe was indicative of serious societal and political upheavals and general dissatisfaction with the status quo. The new faith was spread by itinerant preachers, both Calvinists and Lutherans. At the time the two branches of early Protestantism were not separated. It was only in 1567 that the Calvinist and the Lutheran churches went their separate ways.

One could ask how it was possible that while the Counter-Reformation managed to completely eradicate Protestantism in Poland, in Hungary the Catholics were less successful. Despite the efforts of the Catholic Habsburg dynasty, large pockets of Protestantism remained. In fact, the answer is quite simple: during the sixteenth century historic Hungary was divided into three separate entities. A smaller part in the north, an area called Royal Hungary, remained in Habsburg hands while Transylvania became nominally independent, only paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire. The rest, a large chunk of today’s Hungary, was occupied by the Turks who had no interest in converting the population to Islam. It didn’t matter to them whether the infidel was a Catholic or a Protestant.

magyar reformatus egyhazAfter the expulsion of the Turks Vienna tried to reconvert Protestants, and they often used rather brutal methods to make Protestant worship impossible. The Protestant communities were beleaguered and persecuted; Calvinists in particular came to represent the true Hungarian spirit against Catholic dominance in the Habsburg Empire. And that differentiation of Calvinist and Catholic Hungarians didn’t end with the Compromise of 1867. Voters in Calvinist areas were more apt to vote for the Party of Independence. Given this history, one shouldn’t be terribly surprised that today’s Hungarian Reformed Church is even more nationalistic than the Catholic Church.

While I’m not surprised by the Church’s nationalism, I am surprised about their right-wing rhetoric. I gained the impression from my readings and also from personal experience that Protestantism at one time was more enlightened than the official line of the Catholic Church. Less bigoted, more open-minded. What I see now is a shift of Hungarian Calvinist leaders toward the extreme right while the Catholic leaders are just deeply conservative and wholehearted supporters of the current government party.

Perhaps my views are influenced by the prominent political roles played by church leaders as László Tőkés, who gained worldwide fame as a key player in the events that eventually led to the Romanian “revolution” and the removal and execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Nominally he is considered to be a Fidesz man, but in fact his ideology puts him to the very right edge of the Fidesz spectrum where the differences between Fidesz and Jobbik are blurred. The other person who is much more obviously a man of the extreme right, in fact an outright neo-Nazi, is Lóránt Hegedűs. He has been in the limelight for at least fifteen years and his views should be unacceptable to the church by any standards. His own wife is a member of the Jobbik parliamentary delegation. Yet the Reformed Church refuses to expel him from the church. There were attempts but no final resolution.

In 2007 Gusztáv Bölcskei, the clerical president of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church and the bishop of Debrecen, tried to remove him but failed in an internal legal procedure. Then came the erection of a Horthy statue, but Bölcskei himself was guilty of having too tender feelings toward Hungary’s governor between 1920 and 1944. Bölcskei unveiled a plaque of Horthy in Debrecen. It seems that the Church either can’t or doesn’t want to act.

The latest upheaval in Hegedűs’s church in the heart of Budapest again prompted calls to do something with Hegedűs. It was in early November that Horthy’s bust was unveiled and placed close to the entrance to be seen by all passers-by. This time the church leaders promised real action. A serious investigation of the case was going to take place, they promised. Attila Jakab, who often writes on church affairs, predicted more than a month ago that most likely nothing will happen because if Hegedűs is considered to be guilty of political activities Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, will also have to be investigated. After all, Balog is also in politics. On paper he suspended his religious activities and can’t use his title “minister” (lelkész), a status that allows him to conduct religious services only occasionally and only by special request. But, in fact, Balog regularly holds services in his old church.

Jakab turned out to be right. Nothing will happen to Hegedűs but not because of Balog’s services in his old church but because the Hungarian Calvinist Church doesn’t really want to pursue the case. A few days ago Index reported that György Horváth, who is the legal counsel to the Hungarian Reformed Church, resigned his position in disgust because the diocesan court refused to take up the case, claiming a conflict of interest.

Horváth suggested expelling Hegedűs from the Hungarian Reformed Church. This was not the first time that Horváth recommended such an action, but each time the members of this particular diocesan court refused to hear the case. After his third attempt, Horváth had had enough. He announced that he “will not assist in this opportunistic practice.” He claimed that the church leadership is afraid of Jobbik and that members of the court are worried that their names might appear on kuruc.info, the virulently anti-Semitic neo-Nazi internet site.

This is not the end of the story. The case will be transferred to another diocesan court. But don’t hold your breath. The same thing happened in the earlier investigations as well. Clearly, the Hungarian Reformed Church refuses to deal with the problem and in my opinion not only because they are afraid of Jobbik. Rather, because they sympathize with this clearly neo-Nazi party. This is a sorry end to a church with a glorious past of fighting for freedom of religion and suffering persecution over the centuries. It is a real shame.

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Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Spectrum, a term widely used in science, denotes a broad range of related values or ideas or activities. Contrasting only a part of a spectrum gives a distorted and possibly a prejudicial appraisal of the state of an observation.
A blog that has not conveyed a single instance of an idividual, event or institution that can be termed as sympathetic, is prejudicial of what it claims to report over the past year certainly fits that category.
Anti-semitism is evil but so is anti-magyarism. Both represent racism of the most odious kind. Those who practice it obviously need psychiatric help. Their diatribes are reflections of the abyss of their psyche and not what happens in the real world.

varese
Guest

Csaba – I would not call holding Magyars up to a higher standard anti-Magyarism. Dr. Balog doesn’t need me, nor anyone, to defend her, but she is a solid researcher and academic and, while she has a point of view (who hasn’t?) and an opinion (ditto) – both of which, I will add, she’s entitled to hold and share with others – she CITES HER SOURCES and provides the best and most carefully vetted information she can to support her statements. So many of the things she has pointed out are indefensible – the Horthy Statue, and this crazy idea about the ‘Fate’ holocaust museum or whatever it’s called. Besides being a borderline fascist dictatorship/kleptocracy, the current elected gov’t of Hungary tolerates and, at times COURTS WAAAYYYY TOO MUCH anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy sentiment by any standard. I wish Eva LONG LIFE and GOOD HEALTH and you.. If you support the current gov’t and its activities I sincerely you hope that one day you get your comeuppance.

Varese
Guest

Csaba, one more thing. With regards to the use of the word spectrum, Éva is presenting the broad spectrum of crimes against decency and humanity that are being perpetrated daily against average Hungarian citizens by the current Hungarian regime/kleptocracy/mafiacracy. I’m sure she’s only scratching the surface. After all she’s only one investigator.

spectator
Guest
Csaba K. Zoltani : Spectrum, a term widely used in science, denotes a broad range of related values or ideas or activities. Contrasting only a part of a spectrum gives a distorted and possibly a prejudicial appraisal of the state of an observation. You definitely are on the wrong path interpreting the word “Spectrum” or/and comprehending it. Besides the clearly scientific definitions here is one more what you should read: “Spectrum – a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence: the spectrum of political beliefs.” In the title of the blog it means a broad range of topics related to Hungary and the Hungarians from the point of view of the blogger, and that exactly what you find here, not only a “part of a spectrum” as you mentioned. Let me remind you one more little fact, what obviously eluded you: this is a private blog, with a complete freedom regarding topics, opinions and their interpretation, so your only possibility for a change is limited to one single action: you may decide freely, whether or not you interested to read it,… Read more »
spectator
Guest

Regarding the subject, I don’t think it has much to do with religion, certainly not in a classic sense as Eva put it:
“I gained the impression from my readings and also from personal experience that Protestantism at one time was more enlightened than the official line of the Catholic Church. Less bigoted, more open-minded.”
As I see it, to too many of the fellow Hungarians religion only an excuse, the churches only the well known places of gatherings wit access to audience with a certain mindset, with affinity toward beliefs I mean.
It seems quite obvious, that many priests, ministers, or whatever has their priorities elsewhere, to serve a political agenda rather than God.
In the above mentioned cases too, but even from statements of other servants of God – Semjén and Balog by name – became clear, that the commands of God and the teachings of the Churches can be totally ignored even by Theologists, in order to please their political master, their Lord and Sire, Orbán…
God bless him, indeed!

gdfxx
Guest

Mr. Zoltani confuses the Hungarian people with its present government and its Jobbik allies. He would like to see back those times, when patriotism meant glorifying the ruling party and the government.

I would like to remind him that the main role of the press (and a blog is part of it) in a free society is to keep an eye on the government.

gdfxx
Guest

I think that someone who thinks that the host of a blog “obviously need psychiatric help” should have no voice on that blog.

J Grant
Guest

No surprises in Csaba K. Zoltani’s views. He and his ilk will spout forth about “balance” only when they have no real answers to well backed up and well reasoned opinions and thus feel outnumbered and outgunned. He is obviously a good pupil of his puppet master, the Great Leader. Note the farce that Hungarian Ambassadors are instructed to entertain their hosts with when they’re ordered to counter press opinion about Hungary abroad. They and the government equate criticism of their appalling regime with an attack on Hungary. This is surely the sign of the dictatorship that craves sycophantic adoration and calls it patriotism. I love Hungary, am proud to be Hungarian, but nothing will ever stop me attacking the neo-nazi mafia state currently in power in Hungary or its Stalinist dictatorship in the past. Personally I would prefer if the likes of Csaba K. Zoltani would be cleared out of here, but that decision is up to Prof. Balogh.

post 1989
Guest

A Csaba K. Zoltani may be a good biological scientist, but still a blind guy regarding politics, history, social sciences.

Wake up, and see the truth.

The post communist/socialist/ploletarism era of Hungary has been a sad chapter, littered with corrupt leaders.

None of them has been a greater disappointment than the orban team.

A democratic promise, but a true opposite of it.

Penny Oswalt
Guest

@post1989;@j grant;@gdfxx: and other pertinent bloggers.

Some of you got very narrow opinions and thinking based on what only you know. Expand your horizon and get with todays program about church in the world. Do any of you know about us Pentecostals let alone what we are and represent? We are not Catholic but there are some Pentecostal Catholic out there. I have Hungarian native blood in me and there will be a day when you will see a difference. And if you do not care to see the difference? You still owe it to your opinions on this subject to check it out.

lengyelországból
Guest
I think that someone who thinks that the host of a blog “obviously need psychiatric help” should have no voice on that blog. Personally I would prefer if the likes of Csaba K. Zoltani would be cleared out of here, but that decision is up to Prof. Balogh. so in your ideal, anti-nazi/commie/authoritarian/narrow-minded/whatever world, someone with another opinion is a liar, a spoiler and he have to go away? it sounds like an ostracism, and smells even worse, like ‘not-so-long-time-ago-not-so-far-away’ reality (any kind of nostalgia not intended), and it seems to be a little bit…hypocrital? and by the way seeing everywhere a “great master” is a little bit paranoic too, but sorry, nevermind… [let’s say, blame it on the gov’t per se, not really the particular one] and if I could correspond with the article, not with the topic but the ‘minor facts’ – the protestantism (which so-called “open-mindness” is really debatable, if not to say it’s a joke – for instance let’s see the views of Luther [even if his goal was not to create ‘another branch’ of Christianity], for example on the Jews [and somehow of post-lutheran, “german/teutonic” philosophy too, both in general discourse and in thoughts of… Read more »
googly
Guest

so in your ideal, anti-nazi/commie/authoritarian/narrow-minded/whatever world, someone with another opinion is a liar, a spoiler and he have to go away? it sounds like an ostracism, and smells even worse, like ‘not-so-long-time-ago-not-so-far-away’ reality (any kind of nostalgia not intended), and it seems to be a little bit…hypocrital?
and by the way seeing everywhere a “great master” is a little bit paranoic too, but sorry, nevermind… [let’s say, blame it on the gov’t per se, not really the particular one]

Classic obfuscation. He has been allowed to post here, so alternative opinions are accepted on this site, but his lies are what make him a liar, and his unfounded attacks will be what gets him excluded. If he aired his opinion in a reasoned, well-supported way, and didn’t attack people personally by questioning their sanity without giving a legitimate reason, he would not be excluded. The fact that you are able to post your illogical and intentionally misleading opinion here is proof enough that unpopular opinions are allowed.

eleph4nte
Guest

Hm, don’t know where did you take the opinion that in 16th century Poland was “solidly Protestant”.Yeah, it was a considerably tolerant and open country with significiant Protestant community, which was very influential in 16th century, but saying that 90% of Polish Parliament (btw – sejm, not szejm, however I guess the pronounciation is adjusted to Hungarian-speaking readers of your blog;) was Protestant also sounds… curious. I found the following information: “In 1568, there were 58 Protestants in the Senate, while Catholics were represented by 55 senators”. In my opinion the regions under German influence (Prussia, Pommerania) were solidly Protestant, but I wouldn’t be so sure about the rest of the country. Unfortunately I can’t find any exact numbers regarding the issue:( I only found that “A relatively small number of Protestants in Poland by the end of 17th century was conditioned by many factors”. I took it from here: http://www.academia.edu/2291606/Tolerance_in_Poland_from_the_Protestant_point_of_view article is in English and written by a Polish protestant priest, so it’s not any sort of Poland-ever-Catholic propaganda.

tired of orban
Guest

#12 is displaying such an orwellian slippery moral.
We want to encourage our fellow Hungarians to improve the general moral.
#12 – what would be your contribution to the subject?
You can refrain from explaining the destructive report card of the FIDESZ regime.

Ovidiu
Guest

Tokes interview on Protestants, Catholics and politics, in Hungarian language

http://erdely.ma/kozeletunk.php?id=155736&cim=minden_idok_karacsonya_interju_tokes_laszloval

gdfxx
Guest

Ovidiu :
Tokes interview on Protestants, Catholics and politics, in Hungarian language
http://erdely.ma/kozeletunk.php?id=155736&cim=minden_idok_karacsonya_interju_tokes_laszloval

Nothing to worry about, the newest (East European) members of the EU will save Europe form the satanic secularism (according to the interviewee).

gdfxx
Guest

Penny Oswalt :
@post1989;@j grant;@gdfxx: and other pertinent bloggers.
Some of you got very narrow opinions and thinking based on what only you know. Expand your horizon and get with todays program about church in the world. Do any of you know about us Pentecostals let alone what we are and represent? We are not Catholic but there are some Pentecostal Catholic out there. I have Hungarian native blood in me and there will be a day when you will see a difference. And if you do not care to see the difference? You still owe it to your opinions on this subject to check it out.

I am sorry, but I fail to understand what my two comments have to do with yours.

Mutt
Guest

Ovidiu :
Tokes interview on Protestants, Catholics and politics, in Hungarian language
http://erdely.ma/kozeletunk.php?id=155736&cim=minden_idok_karacsonya_interju_tokes_laszloval

I love his note at the end about family values … 🙂 (“The world changed thats why are marriages destroyed”)

According to the Blikk, Pater Tokes (61) just married hastily his second wife, who is 31. The reason – new baby is on the way.

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