Religious liberty leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church this week met the Hungarian ambassador to the United States in an effort to help officials from that country better understand the potential effects of a looming deregistration of churches.
The Law of Churches, set for implementation on January 1, would deregister all but 14 religious denominations in Hungary, including the Adventist Church. It could also potentially affect the church’s theological seminary.
Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, Gyorgy Szapary, met with officials from the Adventist Church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department on December 12 at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C. While the law is still set for implementation, Adventist representatives later described the meeting as “cordial” and “productive.”
“We expressed our deep concerns to Ambassador Szapary about Hungary’s recently passed ‘Law on Churches’ and its impact, not just on the Adventist Church, but on many other minority religions as well,” said Dwayne Leslie, the Adventist Church’s director of legislative affairs. Leslie represented the Adventist Church at the meeting along with Ganoune Diop, the church’s representative to the United Nations.
Diop and Leslie provided the ambassador with an overview of the international denomination and the history and scope of the Adventist presence in Hungary. They also explained the potential impact on the Adventist Theological Seminary in Pécel, near Budapest, which serves 66 students.
Adventist Education officials have previously said the seminary is key for providing theological and counseling education in the Hungarian language and cultural context. “Although it’s small, the seminary meets the needs of the church in Hungary for pastors and theologians, as well as for life style and family life counselors,” said Mike Lekic, an associate Education director for the Adventist Church.
Following Monday’s meeting, Diop said the ambassador was gracious and receptive to the issues presented by the Adventist Church. “The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for dialogue — we stated our concerns clearly, and heard the perspective of the Hungarian government,” he said.
When the new law, voted in July, goes into effect next month, it will strip all but 14 “historic” religions of their legal status. Minority religions must then apply to the Hungarian parliament for re-registration.
Since the legislation was passed, Hungary has maintained that the move was not “anti-religion,” but rather a legislative means to root out fraudulent organizations operating behind the protection of religion.
Religious liberty advocates worldwide, however, have decried the law, calling it unnecessary state interference with religion and a setback for human rights in Hungary. More than 300 groups are set to lose their registration, including Hungary’s Methodists, Unitarians, a number of Islamic communities, and many smaller Protestant and evangelical churches.
In November, Diop and John Graz, PARL director for the Adventist world church, met in New York with Hungary’s ambassador to the United Nations to express the church’s concerns about the potential plight not just of Adventists, but of other religious groups in Hungary that will be affected by the new law.
Leslie and Diop said the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department will continue to monitor the situation in Hungary and will provide any assistance requested by local church leaders.