By implicit theological conviction, by explicit eschatological interpretation and by chronic administrative paralysis and myopia, European Adventism has always been skeptical about Europe. This is highly paradoxical if we consider the fact that every Christian community’s goal should be that of being beneficial to its local geographical area. In the U.S.A., notwithstanding the various critics, Adventism has grown up friendlier to American culture. In Europe, Adventism has instead managed, at most, to be nationalistic (cf. German Adventism) rather than European.
On a different but parallel political level, in a kind of indirect Referendum on the European Union itself, last May the European Parliament election has given a strong dual signal. On one side Eurosceptic and far-right parties have seized ground, in what France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls called a “political earthquake”. UK Independence Party and French National Front both performed strongly. The three big centrist blocs all lost seats, though still hold the majority. The outcome means a greater say for those who want to cut back the EU’s powers or abolish it completely. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the public was “disillusioned” with the EU. Right-wing anti-EU parties of various flavors have won not only in France and Britain but also in Denmark. The anti-euro (but pro-EU) Alternative für Deutschland has broken through in Germany. In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is set to enter the European Parliament. On the far-left, meanwhile, the anti-troika Syriza party leads the ballot. After the years of financial crisis the biggest danger to the European project is now economic stagnation and, above all, political rejection.
But the results weren’t uniform. On the other side Europeans manifested their trust in the European project together with a strong request for courageous reform of EU’s bureaucracy and a radical change of today’s restrictive economic strategy of austerity. The most spectacular result was actually in Italy, where a new pro-reform, pro-Europe Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, won 40% of the vote. Chancellor Merkel won in Germany and there was a strong vote for the SPD also. In some cases, the vote just tracked the domestic politics of the country. However the victories of UKIP in the UK and the National Front in France together with the election of parties across the continent on explicitly ‘anti the status quo in Europe’ platforms signify something. They cannot be ignored. They point to a deep anxiety, distrust, and alienation from the institutions and core philosophy of the European project. More than that, even amongst those who are in favor of Europe, there is a keen sense that the moment is right for Europe to think carefully about where it goes from here, how it reconnects with the concerns of its citizens and how it changes in order better to realize its ideals in a changing world. So, when some European politicians say that despite the showing of the far right, there nonetheless is still a majority for a pro-Europe position – that is true. But it is also complacent and therefore dangerous. Even ardent supporters of Europe think there has to be change. Whatever the correct interpretation of last month’s vote, it was not a vote for the status quo.
Will the European Adventist Church be able to take this historical challenge and build up and articulate its mission in response to this crucial season for Europe? Signs are not encouraging. Not from the membership or the leaders. Church membership is fast growing into a hard identitarian Adventism concerned with its own theologically poor and self-referential obsessions and stuck in the incapacity of reading and being empathic with today’s European needs and challenges. In leadership the same trend is visible by its increasing obsession to preserve rather than create and by the embarrassing bureaucratic and centralistic spirit of today’s main administrative strategies – naively sold as accuracy and methodological discipline.
The inconsistency of such administrate strategies is perfectly visible, for instance, in the paradoxical situation of the Adventist European theological schools. In the Inter-European Division (EUD) there are actually eight theological schools with a total of only 200-250 students. This fact clearly represents a weird and untenable administrative situation the Division Education Department that the Division itself in Bern has been, up until now, unable to solve. Actually they are making it worse. In fact, with such a reduced numbers of students is not justifiable to have eight schools and even less to maintain two Division schools of theology (Collonges-Sous-Saleve and Friedensau). Every year these schools receive in subsidies roughly three million Euros, which represents one third of the total Division’s annual budget. These subsidies don’t create dynamic institutions but rather apathetic and self-referential ones. They are unable to promote and create a European net of theological institutions through continuous dialogue and initiatives in Rome, Milan, Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona, Bucharest, Zurich or Vienna. They are just national (French and German) institutions improperly financed via common funds. This is a cheap and bureaucratic way of being and thinking European – only in form but not substance. This reductive administrative thinking can’t see both the urgent and paradoxical need of, on one side, preserving and promoting local European religious thinking and witnessing in countries like Italy, where it is the only educational Adventist institution left. And, on the other side, to courageously propose and create a European Theological Initiative (Seminary) with the participation of all the Adventist European theological schools and Conferences – as the Baptist European Church (International Baptist Theological Seminary) has for instance recently done in moving its headquarters from Prague to Amsterdam.
But the main difficulty of European Adventism is not administrative. It’s theological.
Adventism has always considered Europe only as an historical artifact uniquely needed for the fulfillment of its own theology. But we must learn not to assess European religious relevance after the Adventist theological paradigm but rather the other way round. We need to ask the uneasy question of the real validity of our theology in the context of today’s urgent European socio-political and cultural questions. The visible de-europeanization of European Adventism can’t be attributed solely to the indifference of the Europeans. That would be a much too easy and complacent alibi. We don’t succeed in Europe also because we are not addressing in our message the problems that are important for Europeans today. And the gap between Adventism and Europe unfortunately keeps growing. To reverse the situation we need vision, creativity and theological flexibility. All these ingredients have nothing to do with apostasy, dismissal or renunciation of our religious convictions but rather represent the very essence of any serious and winning theological project.
Some of the main European challenges today are:
– the urgent need of a new socio-religious model of integration,
– the motivation of tired old generations – to bridge an abnormal cultural and political polarization,
– the control of too independent financial initiatives,
– to recompose an excessive political dispersion — and particularly
– to downsize the classical European politico-cultural profile in the context of a new polycentric world.
In order to help in this European Adventism needs to become more ecumenical, more social-oriented and more spiritually unbiased.
The key to win the battle for the Adventist future within Europe is to win the battle for the future of Europe itself. To do that, we in Adventism must make the debate more than about the formal accuracy of certain Adventist rules and doctrines. It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Adventism playing an important role in the reform of Europe, not just a negotiation of the social acceptance of a little protestant church. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Adventism. Last month’s European election results matter. They are a wake-up call to Europe and to Adventism. Our response should be to lead not to follow. Interpreting election results as much as interpreting our Bible today in a European context from an Adventist perspective is always a risky business. But can we really do otherwise? I don’t think so.
Euroscepticism (sometimes euroskepticism) is the body of criticism of the European Union (EU), and opposition to the process of political European integration, existing throughout the political spectrum
“Holzwege,” the German word for wood-path, refers to paths in the forest that lead nowhere. Thus the concept of a wood-path can be seen as a metaphor for life’s uncertainty. Also a reference to philosopher Martin Heidigger’s book: “Holzwege”, See also: https://archive.org/details/apl028, and http://finearts.northcentralcollege.edu/event/holzwege-deborah-b-orloff-0
Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department, Dean of the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.