Victor Orban at the CPAC Meeting
Earlier this month, Hungarian President Victor Orban was the featured speaker at a meeting of CPAC – The Conservative Political Action Coalition – whose website claims to be “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” For political conservatives CPAC is a political All-Star game, the means to gaining widespread recognition and financial support for one’s political ambitions. On the CPAC website are featured such persons as Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump, and more recently, Victor Orban.
Why Hungary and why Victor Orban? According to Orban, he represents a model of conservative leadership that has cracked down on civil liberties and has focused on issues such as opposition to immigration of non-Hungarian refugees, same-sex marriage, abortion, and a crackdown on free speech, especially opposition to his policies. In his speech to the 2022 gathering he said, “They [his detractors], “hate me and slander me and my country as they [speaking of progressives and Democrats] hate you and slander you.” In the same speech he characterized the tensions between him and those who oppose him as “a religious war.” Like many conservatives in the United States, he regards issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage as an assault on the basic foundations of his nation, and appeals to the white Christian heritage of Hungary to make his case. Interestingly, when Orban began his political career, he was an atheist, but like many politicians in the United States, he changed his tune when he realized an embrace of conservative and evangelical Christianity was a pathway to political power.
Christian and Racist
In the process of describing and then justifying his restrictive policies, Orban pronounced: “Don’t worry, a Christian politician cannot be racist, so we should not hesitate to heavily challenge our opponents on these issues. Be sure: Christian values protect us from going too far.” Regardless of whether people align themselves with Orban’s political positions, this statement should give anyone professing themselves to be “Christian” pause. The annals of European and American history are chocked full of tragic accounts where so-called “Christians” justified and carried out racist actions in the name of their religion.
In Europe one only has to look at any number of racist historical movements propagated by Christians:
- The Christian Crusades of the 11thand 12th centuries in which thousands of Christian soldiers waged war specifically to eliminate Muslims and Jews in Europe and the Middle East;
- The Spanish Inquisition from the 15th to the 19th century against Jews;
- The persecution of Jews through highly organized pogroms throughout European history
- The 15th-century Papal decrees known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which justified the genocide and enslavement of millions of indigenous peoples in Africa and the Americas in the name of spreading the message of Christ;
- The mass murder of six million Jews in the 1930s and 1940s by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis — with quiet and passive assent of the German Evangelical Church, the state church of Nazi Germany.
In the United States there were similar atrocities from the very beginning of European immigration to the shores of North and South America:
- The enslavement of African- Americans before the Civil War and continued oppression after it in the form of Black Codes, convict leasing, Jim Crow legislation, and lynching, all openly supported by the churches of the South;
- The near genocide of Native Americans wiped out by war and disease, and the forced march from the east to barren lands in Oklahoma. a “Trail of Tears” removing them from their native lands – all with the blessing and cooperation of the church, and;
- The continued discrimination of Jews, Asian Americans, and immigrants from other parts of the world — again all done in the name of some perverted Christian set of values.
Like Victor Orban, I am an inheritor and descendant of this violent history of Christian racism. While I am keenly aware of this history, Orban is either ignorant of it, or like many White Americans today, he has chosen to ignore it. In fact, looking at the broad expanse of historical themes and patterns, an objective outside observer could easily conclude that to be Christian is to be racist. So, for Orban to say as a Christian politician he cannot be racist is at minimum misinformed, and at most, treacherously dangerous and provocative. At the very least, it is a way of thinking that suggests to be a Christian one deplores racial and ethnic diversity, opposes basic human rights, holds rigid disdain for anyone who does not adhere to a strict set of white supremacist moral values, and uses violence and oppression when those values are not followed or upheld. This is the Christian politics Orban has inherited and which he professes.
What Jesus Says
Because of the way people like Victor Orban, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the numerous Christian leaders who support them, have distorted and perverted what is deemed to be “Christian,” I have chosen to not use that label to describe myself. Instead, I refer to myself as “a follower of Jesus.” And through that lens, I see a Jesus who spent an inordinate amount of time relating to the marginalized people of his day: the lepers, the lame, the prostitutes, the poor, and the belittled. That same Jesus specifically said that when we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit those who are in prison, we are ministering to Jesus himself. This Jesus characterized his ministry as one that brings good news to the poor, offers liberty to the imprisoned, and provides justice for the oppressed. And he calls us to a life characterized by love, not violence; charity not selfishness; hospitality not discriminatory exclusion; and humility not national and racial arrogance. Whatever Orban and those like him mean by “Christian,” it seems their faith has little to do with the priorities Jesus set for those who claim to follow him.
What Should Be Our Response
While I do not know or presume to know Victor Orban’s inner thoughts and commitments, I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul who stressed that the authenticity of our faith is not solely determined by what we say we believe, but also by our actions, what Paul referred to as our spiritual fruit (Galatians 5.22-26). I am reminded of the words of the brother of Jesus, James, who said “faith without accompanying action is dead” (James 2. 17). What a person says they believe is either confirmed or invalidated by how they live. The brutal way of governing exhibited by Victor Orban and admired by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson and so many others at CPAC, in no way reflects the values or actions of the Jesus they claim to follow.
Just a few days before Victor Orban spoke at CPAC, Pope Francis visited Canada, specifically to apologize and to begin a process of making amends for the Roman Catholic Church’s history of separating Indigenous children from their parents by forcing the children to attend so-called Indian schools, leaving a legacy of trauma that still afflicts Indigenous communities today. We ought to follow the way of Pope Francis rather than the way of Victor Orban. Instead of continuing a practice of “Christian” racism (and denying it), we, who are inheritors of this white Christian racist legacy, need to find ways to make amends, offer reparations, and face up to the truth of our history and our present practices.
NOTE – For those wanting to learn about the history of racism within the Christian religion in the United States, I recommend the following books
- White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity – Robert P. Jones
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism – Jemar Tisby
- Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery: Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah