I first went to Hungary in August of 1992. It was a very hot summer; at the Olympics then being held in Barcelona, I remember seeing TV footage of horses and riders getting completely drenched by multiple hoses before heading out to perform. In Budapest, just post-revolution and long pre-EU, torpid summer evening walks along the Danube under the lights of illuminated bridges were filled with the music of accordion players, the scent of goulash, and the beguiling cries of traditionally dressed Roma and their children. I fell in love with the place lock, stock, and barrel. The romantically tempestuous past, the recent transition away from the Soviet sphere, the sweet promise of better days to come, the mix of cultures from decades of empire cast a spell on me as strong as any I have ever felt. I’ve been back twice since then, both times very pleasant, but nothing that affected me as deeply as that first time. Still, Hungary has held a warm spot in my heart.
Until now. Until the migrant crisis that is gripping the world but crashing across Europe in previously unimaginable waves and ways, with some communities welcoming the desperate, others turning deaf ears, often with tragic results. In early September, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, wrote,
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Or is it not already and in itself alarming that Europe’s Christian culture is barely in a position to uphold Europe’s own Christian values? Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
‘Keep itself Christian.’ Hmmm. Let’s examine that proposition for a moment by referencing our helpful Wikipedia. Does that mean the Christianity of Charlemagne?
“During the Saxon Wars, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, forcibly Roman Catholicized the Saxons from their native Germanic paganism by way of warfare and law upon conquest. Examples include the Massacre of Verden in 782, during which Charlemagne reportedly had 4,500 captive Saxons massacred upon rebelling against conversion, and the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law imposed on conquered Saxons in 785 which prescribes death to those that refuse to convert to Christianity.”
Maybe not. Ah, I know. The Christianity of the Crusades? Before the “Defenders of the Faith” even reached the Holy Land, they practiced on some unlucky Jews along the way, to say nothing of Cathars and other unruly Christian sects:
“The call for the First Crusade touched off the Rhineland massacres also known as the German Crusade of 1096, the persecutions of 1096 or Gezeroth Tatenu Gezeroth Tatenu גזרות תתנ”ו – Hebrew for the edicts of 856, which occurred during the year of 4856 according to the Jewish calendar. Prominent leaders of crusaders involved in the massacres included Peter the Hermit and especially Count Emicho. As part of this persecution, the destruction of Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz were noted as the “Hurban Shum” (Destruction of Shum).”
No, probably not again. Another try. The Christianity of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, those great supporters of world exploration?
“The (Spanish) Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. This regulation of the faith of the newly converted was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave Spain…Although records are incomplete, estimates of the number of persons charged with crimes by the Inquisition range up to 150,000, with 2,000 to 5,000 people executed.”
I’m coming up short here, and that’s before we even begin to discuss the events of the 20th century, chock-a-block full of rampage and horror that claimed the lives of countless millions of people around the world, most of them civilians, mostly in service to the preservation of precisely those European countries that Orban calls ‘Christian.’
There are, of course, bright lights. The people of Iceland, begging their government to allow in more than their legal allotment. The people of Frankfurt, holding up welcome signs. The Prime Minister of Finland offering his spare house. But most importantly for this discussion, Pope Francis urging the Catholic churches of Europe to each sponsor a family in need. The question is now, how brightly and how long can those flames be alit?
In the thundering expository tone of the King James Version of the New Testament, these words could use an airing this fall:
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Matthew 25:40-45
If there was a time for those who claim to hold “Christian values” to overcome their history of violence against others and “walk the walk,” as it were, me thinks we is there. Or don’t use the term and just admit that your feelings are based on xenophobia and racism, which are deep, understandable, but shouldn’t hide behind the robes of theology.
The lights along the Danube have dimmed in my memory, and the accordion music seems less sweet. On the other hand, thank you Angela Merkel for having the courage to live up to your first name. May you find support and solace for your actions and leadership. May the road truly rise to meet you during these challenging times for “all God’s children.”