An interview with Albanian evangelical pastor and philosopher Akil Pano, who is defending in court his right to express Christian views on family and marriage. “People are scared, trying to be polite and politically correct”.
A well-known pastor and philosopher in Albania has told Evangelical Focus that he will not renounce to express what he believes is the Christian understanding of marriage and family.
“We have to be free”, Akil Pano says, as he spoke to this news website. “Albania has been a Communist country from 1945 to 1991, the most severe Communist regime in the world. In our constitution it was stated that God does not exist and that the people of Albania do not believe in God. There were no Bibles, and people who said there is a God were arrested and sent to jail”.
The evangelical pastor and philosophy lecturer at the State University of Tirana has been invited to national television talk shows for over a decade, speaking form a Christian perspective on all kind of social issues. But in summer 2021, he was asked what he thought about the proposal of a gay activist to change the state’s family code’s description of ‘father and mother’ to ‘parent 1 and parent 2’.
Pano was clear in expressing his views, saying that such legal changes would “dehumanise” people. It would be “ethical selfishness” not to respect the children’s right to be raised by a father and a mother and a prove of a “sick society”.
[photo_footer]Akil Pano, speaking with others as they presented a new Pro-Family and Pro-Life coalition which includes parliamentarians, university professors and representatives of five faith groups in Albania. / Photo: Facebook Pastor Akil Pano
Pastor Pano’s words were denounced to the Albanian Human Rights Commissioner, who opened a case against him for “hate speech in the form of discrimination” and formally asked him to stop voicing such opinions.
The evangelical pastor responded with a 37-page letter arguing his views were based in the teachings of the Bible.
On TV, the pastor insisted that his “duty as a Christian is to love my neighbour, therefore to love everybody. But I cannot keep myself from talking about what I believe to be true, the biblical values on family, marriage and adoption of orphans”.
In January 2022, the pastor challenged the warning of the Human Rights Commission in court. According to him, “a precedent was being created”. For the first time in democracy, “a secular institution was saying it interpreted the Bible better than a theologian or a pastor”, and “freedom of religion and of speech in the public sphere was being violated”.
Akil Pano and his wife Linda spoke to Evangelical Focus three days after the latest court hearing on 16 December. He has not changed his mind. “Putting numbers to the most loved figures is dehumanising them, numbers have no soul and no will. We must be careful because families are the core cell of society”.
He continues to insist in the danger of changing the legal wording of marriage. If words without meaning are introduced in the marriage laws, then “who will decide what is marriage? What if someone loves their pet and would like to marry it? Or if someone would like to marry two or three people?”.
In the hearings throughout 2022, the pastor’s lawyer presented evidence that this was “a fabricated case”, Linda Pano says. They denounced foul play such as trying to link the rape of a trans person to an alleged wave of hatred created by the words of the evangelical philosopher.
[photo_footer]The evangelical pastor and his wife Linda at a recent visit to the European Parliament in Bruseels. / Facebook Pastor Akil Pano
The couple hoped that the last hearing of the year would also be the end of the case - but then they learned that the state’s attorney has asked to join the legal case in defence of the Commissioner.
In November 2021, around 20 LGBT activists entered a church service in Akil Pano’s community with rainbow clothing and recording cameras. “They did not expected that we would receive them as we did”, says Linda. “We hugged them and welcomed them. They thought we would reject them, and they could do a scandal out of it”.
Their beliefs have nothing to do with opposing homosexual people, they defend. “We love gays and lesbians. We respect their right of choice. God has given every human this capacity of freedom”. But “they cannot choose for others”, says the pastor.
Not long ago, Akil Pano was awarded with one of the highest decorations by the President of Albania, for his promotion of freedom and family values.
Many in Albania “do not agree that the government or schools can teach 4-year-olds about sexual orientations and how they should see themselves. This should remain exclusively in the hands of their parents”.
The deeper issue, the well-known communicator thinks, is “the imposition of an agenda the people do not want”. 72% of Albanians are Muslims, 16% Roman Catholics, 6% Orthodox Christians - and the pastor belongs to the 0.5% of Albanian evangelical Christians. “95% of the population support Abrahamic values on family!”, says the philosophy teacher.
The problem is “the cultural imperialism that is being forced on Albania through particular progressive agendas”. Akil points to the embassies of Netherlands and Sweden in Albania. “Some, including non-believers and atheists, are saying: ‘If the European Union is going to press this agenda, then we do not want to be part of the EU”.
In the last months, controversial laws proposed by the left-wing majority have been postponed, just as a Pro-Family and Pro-Life coalition which includes parliamentarians, university professors and representatives of 5 faith groups, was formed by Akil Pano and others.
[photo_footer]Photo: Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news
Does he regret any of the words that started the whole controversy, we ask the pastor. “See, we are masters of our own words. And as a philosophy teacher I carefully choose the words I use”, he responds.
Pano is very confident: “we will win the case”.
“People are scared, trying to be polite and politically correct. Of course not everybody, there are pastors who are standing with us, but others don’t want to get involved in this case”.
But Albanians should feel secure in their democratic freedoms. “No one has the right to censor our beliefs and our right to share these in the public sphere. And we have to build a society in which we can all cohabitate in peace and good will”, says Pano.
To young Christians in Albania, pastor Pano says: “Be the salt and the light of this world. Faith is not complicated, we better keep it simple. As Christians, we need to mature. The church has to be driven by the values that Christ: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and fear the Lord”.
[title]A call to prayer
Asked about what other Christians can pray for, Akil and Linda Pano pause a moment to think. “I would really appreciate that people from all over Europe and the rest of the world could pray that we in Albania can be focused on the Word of the Lord and brave in our stand”, says Akil, and adds: “and pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit”.
“Pray for our protection”, says Linda. “Even though many people are supporting us, there is a lot of pressure: going into the court knowing that we have the government in front of us is not easy”. And concludes: “Pray that Albania will not go back to the past. We cannot even imagine our lives without God and the Bible in our country”.
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