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Europe: East and West - Freedom in society and in Christ

An interview with Vlady Raichinov (Bulgaria) and Marc Jost (Switzerland).

EUROPEAN EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE AUTOR 6/Marc_Jost,158/Vlady_Raichinov 21 DE FEBRERO DE 2022 16:25 h
Vlady Raichinov and Marc Jost. / [link]European Evangelical Alliance[/link]

Over the first six months of 2022, the overarching communication theme of the European Evangelical Alliance will be “East meets West – West meets East”.



Europe is a diverse continent with many cultural backgrounds and perspectives. We would like to create a platform for dialogue, specifically between Western and Eastern Europe.



We want to seek to understand and learn from each other by highlighting differences and similarities in terms of culture, society, faith practices and much more, and also by sharing encouraging stories of fruitful cooperation. We want to hear one another and celebrate that together we are the body of Christ in Europe.



Vlady Raichinov (Bulgaria) and Marc Jost (Switzerland) have agreed to share their perspective on freedom in society and in Christ.



 



Question. How is freedom defined in your context and what significance does individual freedom have in your society? Are there any values that are considered more important than the value of individual freedom?



Marc: Individual freedom has a huge importance in Switzerland. It is hard to say, if there is any other value as important than this. However, security and prosperity come very close. In my country, people enjoy far-reaching freedoms in society, as well as in churches or in the private sphere. On the one hand, legislation offers great leeway for the individual, on the other hand, the social trend of individualism prevails, which also very much influences churches and Christians in the private sphere. Institutions have lost importance and at best serve as a reference for shaping personal freedom.



Values and norms of institutions, however, are only regarded as binding by a minority of the population. Even if there is a partial loyalty to church values and norms among Christians, they also take much greater liberties to deviate in individual cases without having conflicts of conscience.



Vlady: Traditionally, communal values have been an integral part of Bulgarian culture. Relatives by blood and marriage on both the male and female sides are perceived as part of the extended family. For centuries, our communities have found strength and security in celebrating holidays together, round a table, over traditional meals. Only lately have individualistic tendencies started to penetrate our way of life, as Bulgarian society has been shifting towards a more Western type of mentality. Despite a steep urbanistic tendency, Bulgarians still pride themselves on their hospitality and neighborliness. An unexpected visitor will generally be invited into the private domestic space and will always be offered a meal.



On this backdrop, however, for the past few decades Bulgarians have experienced a visible shift in the way they treat one another. Where once hospitality and interconnectedness marked social relationships, today one can sense a colder culture of self-centeredness, racial prejudices, age and gender-based wariness, unwillingness to cooperate. Modern Bulgarians seem to lack a general sense of hopefulness or optimism that their life would develop in a good direction. Our nation cannot seem to agree on a national ideal, a shared vision or at least an anticipation of a better life.



 



Q. Which rights of freedom are of particular importance in your country and for what reasons?



Vlady: As a nation that has been deprived of political independence for five hundred years during the times of the Ottoman Empire, and then for half a century of totalitarian regime under Soviet dominance, Bulgarians have had their share of being tyrannized and exploited by foreign powers. And since it was political freedom that has eluded us for so long as a nation, perhaps this is the dominant type of freedom that we would perceive as a value: the freedom to travel wherever we want, to speak our mind, to interact with others.



[destacate]Vlady: "Where once interconnectedness marked social relationships, today one can sense a colder culture of self-centeredness"[/destacate]


We are not exactly sure what to do with this freedom, but we are ready to hate, or envy, or shun, or cuss anyone who would dare touch it. Fifteen years after joining the EU, we still have not come to a good grip with the values that actually uphold this kind of freedom. In a way, we are still caught up in the notion that we are insignificant as a nation – and instead of doing something about it, we seem to substitute it with an artificial sense of nationalistic identity. Bulgarians hate their country, but take pride in their nation, or at least in a romantic image of that nation’s independence, identity, history and culture.



Marc: Freedom has a long tradition and a high value in Western Europe. However, today there is also an instrumentalization of the concept of freedom in various directions. Thus, freedom of religion is partly reinterpreted and twisted into freedom from religion, which results in a devaluation of everything religious. I see this as a consequence of secularization.



Or sometimes the freedom of one specific group of people is over-emphasized to such an extent that they are patronized. For example, when the LGBT+ community is not allowed to confront certain Christian norms: sexuality exclusive to the marriage of a man and a woman suddenly becomes an affront and personal attack. I believe this is because of the sheer lobbying of this lobby group in the Western world.



 



Q. What opportunities and what dangers does the pursuit of individual freedom hold in your opinion?



Marc: Although freedom is far-reaching in many areas and shapes society, there are some controversial areas (regardless of the pandemic). For example, there is a dispute about freedom of expression and how far it can go and when it turns into hate speech against a group of people, for example.



[destacate]Marc: "Institutions have lost importance and at best serve as a reference for shaping personal freedom"[/destacate]


In Switzerland the threat of being accused of hate speech can occur with reference to people’s sexual orientation or religion. When Christians want to spread their faith among people of other religion or when they express their conservative view on sexual ethics, there is a real danger of receiving harsh reactions from society or even legal charges.



On the other hand, the strong emphasis on freedom has helped fewer people feel discriminated against and marginalized. Everybody is invited to be himself and to have self-consciousness.



Vlady: I am not completely sure that we, as Bulgarians, have attained a good grasp of “individual freedom”, as it is understood in the Western world. Our society is now experiencing a season of brokenness and despondency that has pushed many of our youth to either seek their fortune abroad, or to build a life of self-sufficiency that is disconnected from a sense of communal belonging. We would prefer to seek ways to “cheat the system”, cut corners and find loopholes, rather than consider working in partnerships built on trust and shared values. Individual freedom, in our current state of mind as a nation, tends to imply “I will do whatever I deem right, come what may”, or “No one, even the government, has the right to set rules or impose boundaries on me.”



As strange as it may sound, some two thirds of modern Bulgarians would identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians, but underneath this claim sleeps a mindset of a nationalistic nostalgia for times gone by, rather than a disposition towards fear of God or neighborly love.



 



Q. What does freedom in Christ mean to you personally? How is freedom in Christ taught and lived in the churches of your country?



Vlady: Unlike secular understanding of freedom as “the opportunity to do whatever I like”, my Christian belief system follows a different pathway. True freedom in Christ is actually a new life after I have been broken free from sin. Before I met Christ, I was bound to a grid of vices I was unable to get rid of: I was a slave to habits of cheating, petty thefts, pornography, arrogance – and all of this was intertwined with a deep melancholy, loneliness and insecurity. In one sense, I was completely “free” to do whatever I wanted, and I could not care less if anyone got hurt along the way. I was the king of my life. On a deeper level, however, I was a desperate slave to hidden impulses within me: I was caught up in my own smugness, self-gratification and squeamishness.



[destacate]Vlady: "Being liberated into a new and vibrant lifestyle with Jesus is the only hope for our society"[/destacate]


It was not until I got introduced to Christ and He undertook a massive reform of heart and mind that I was able to sense the Biblical meaning of freedom – the light feeling that I am not under the control of those forces anymore, liberated into a new and vibrant lifestyle with Jesus. And yes, this kind of freedom is definitely taught in churches today. As a matter of fact, this is the only hope for our society.



Marc: To me personally it means that I am accepted by God as I am and that I do not have to proof to God, that he needs to love me. Christ delivered me from the curse to work on my justification. In the churches in Switzerland the focus in teaching is on the fact, that we do not have to satisfy any people or God to be accepted by Him. But that the love of God is unconditional, and we then are set free from working for our freedom.



 



Q. What liberating message does the freedom we have in Christ hold for my society and for Europe as a whole?



[destacate]Marc: "Christ delivered me from the curse to work on my justification"[/destacate]


Marc: My weaknesses and my sins do not define me as a human being. Christ has freed me to follow him and to follow his example in humility and service. Our society needs free people that want to serve their neighbours.



Vlady: The church has a message. To a large extent, it overlaps with Jesus’ own mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19).



In a world that desperately needs some silver lining, we are entrusted with a mission of hope. Instead of aligning with what the world aspires to, we are given God’s Spirit in order to disperse the flavor of a different value system. In a subversive way, we insert the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus into the narrative. Nations and societies, and politicians may not hear us, but individuals of every race, and gender, and age, will.



 



Vlady Raichinov is an ordained minister and a freelance translator of both fiction and theological literature. He is a member of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, co-hosts a radio program, and writes articles. Currently, he is working with The Bible Project, as Language Advisor for Bulgaria and performs the duties of vice president of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, for a second mandate.



Marc Jost was a secondary school teacher and then worked as a pastor for seven years. He is now General Secretary of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, where he is responsible for the areas of society and national coordination. He is a politician for the Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland in the cantonal parliament of the Canton of Bern.


 

 


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