Trans-European Division President Speaks at European Parliament Reformation Celebration

What is the legacy of the Reformation for Europe in the 21st century? For Raafat Kamal, President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Trans-European Division, his answer is simple: it is a legacy that must not end.

Together with mainly Lutheran theologians, pastors, MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), and church historians, Kamal was invited to present at the European Parliament Celebratory event on Tuesday, October 17, at the Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium.

Organized by MEP Hannu Takkula, Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Intergroup for Freedom of Religion and Belief, the aim of the day was to explore lessons from the Reformation that can positively shape a future Europe.

From the start, there was a strong emphasis on “grace,” a concept that, according to Bishop Simo Peura of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland, “opens the prophetical role of the community.” He noted Luther’s example in Wittenberg of a “common purse for the poor,” and his strong work ethic which was for the well-being of the whole community.

Dutch MEP Peter van Dalen equally focused on the importance of grace, noting that it was closely linked to “doing justice” (Psalm 37). He stated that it is “essential for us as politicians to seek justice and prevent injustice.” He emphasized that “good government will seek the well-being of our neighbor,” adding, “Gracious politics is directed to ‘the other,’ the neighbor, the environment.”

The translation of the Bible into national languages was seen as significant by several speakers. The key, according to Hungarian Theologian and Historian, Dezsö Buzogάny, was that it put the Bible on the table of every family. It also helped establish the language and so, equally, led to national identity. The emphasis on reading Scripture led to education – even for girls! This transformed Europe. He strongly stated that school, social service, and mission are still the key for today.

Speakers noted that many reformation issues were still highly significant today. “Tolerance is still a big issue” said MEP Arne Lietz. Orthodox priest, Father Heikki Huttunen observed, that different Christian traditions can come together on “the relevant, not the routine.” By this he meant that different approaches from a variety of backgrounds can lead to better understanding in areas of witness, justice and hospitality. “Migration is an issue, not just for those coming into Europe, but also those moving internally,” he explained. He stressed the need for safe entry into Europe to reduce human trafficking and criminal exploitation. “The church needs to bring this discussion to the table,” he stated.

Kamal was one of the last speakers who led the attentive audience back to the concept of grace, expounding on the Old Testament principle in Micah 6:8, to “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Martin Luther, with his transformed conscience, held fast to this concept, which has since inspired generations of believers and non-religious people alike. During Luther’s speech at his trial at the Diet of Worms he reinforced a message for today: ‘Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God.’”

“To embrace religious freedom is to champion and integrate the dignity of human beings in our laws, culture and way of life,” Kamal said. “It is to adopt a personal attitude of tolerance, whereby tolerance is an expression of solidarity with every member of the human family. It translates into respect for every human being, after all, we are created in God’s image and this can only be genuine when other peoples’ rights are respected.”

However, for Kamal, this goes hand-in-hand with mission. Before highlighting some of the mission aspects of the church he leads, he emphasized, “Most people know that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and grace – these are hallmarks of the Reformation. Less well known is the biblical teaching that a true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates persons, communities and nations to see and apply biblical justice and mercy in this world.”

Martin Luther might have been surprised if he had found himself sitting in the parliament building. Two speakers, both from a Catholic background, spoke highly of his contribution to the development of Europe. Mairead McGuinnes, First Vice-President of the European Parliament has developed a great deal of understanding and tolerance for those who think in different ways to the way she was brought up. “Even my mother,” she confessed, “thought she could talk straight to Jesus and didn’t need to go through an intermediary.” She then reiterated the same point Kamal had been stressing, “The church must keep reforming.” Even though Christianity is not as influential as it used to be in secular Europe, she emphasized that the Church plays in important part in our society.

Perhaps not a surprise in the seat of European legislation, the final speaker was a lawyer — and also a theologian. Katrin Hatzinger acknowledged Luther’s mistakes in his treatment of the Anabaptists and Sabbatarians (among others), yet through those mistakes she saw the basis of learning for current dialogue. She sees the church as a “critical counterpart” in legislative dialogue and also a great provider of expertise in, for instance, areas such as handling asylum seekers and refugees. On a religious liberty note she stated that, “We want differences of churches to be recognized by the EU.”

Looking back at the day, Kamal reflected that, “the unending reformation, the implication for today, based on the Word of God; I saw this today, in the presentations that were shared.”

WATCH a short video clip of President Kamal’s address to European Parliament:

Or, read his full speech here.

This article was written by tedNEWs editor Victor Hulbert, and was originally published on the Trans-European Division News Network website.

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what a great opportunity for TED president raafat kamal to present our church in such a positive light…to be invited as one of only eight religious leaders to speak to the european parliament must mean we are regarded relatively well…europe is generally seen as so secular…but obviously the excitement of the quincentenary of luther’s 95 theses is an opportunity for many people to discover or rediscover and perhaps be motivated to look into religion seriously…

i have tended to think that raafat kamal would be a good choice for our next GC president…he’s so well-spoken and cheerful and thoughtful…he’s probably multilingual, too, which i would think would be a real asset…certainly a european GC president would be a natural arbiter between the money might of NAD and the numbers might of SID and other african divisions…maintaining an effective balance between these clear realities in our church will certainly need to be a priority for our next GC president…

of course i’ve really liked and appreciated what i’ve seen in TW…he’s the first GC president i’ve made any effort to follow, and if he agrees to a third term, i think he should definitely be re-elected…i do believe the caricature of autocrat we’ve seen from progressives who lost in san antonio is just that…it certainly reflects the bitter disappointment so many of us felt, and perhaps it’s a form of catharsis that needs to be put out there…but any objective reflection must see that TW is simply doing what any GC president would do…we cannot have a GC president step outside of established rules in order to run roughshod over a GC vote - that would truly be authoritarian and disastrous…it just so happens that TW is in the presidency during this difficult time, when a GC vote can be seen, retroactively, to fall short of a clear example in the bible…and it also just so happens that TW is a skilled politician, which is unnerving to many heidi on the mountaintop types in our church…but this is how war is fought now…we are no longer on the battlefield, but we are in the committee room, where a slick knowledge of policy and permissible procedural manipulation is obviously crucial…let’s understand that god has been with TW when he has outmaneuvered his opponents just as he was with david when david was physically killing his enemies…

but speaking of politics, i think the return of the phase 2 document may be fortuitous, if not providential, first in terms of the vote itself, but also because it gives such cover for TW, who can now only be seen to be doing what can be done…that is, conservatives can’t seriously complain that TW is ignoring san antonio even though they’ve been put on hold, and progressives can’t complain that they’ve been disciplined unfairly, or even at all…in addition, this long, drawn-out battle is probably what many need to see that WO is of god…i feel confident that the tide will turn for WO in a future GC vote…perhaps raafat kamal will be our GC president when that happens…

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And just as the Europeans are getting a full appreciation of what Reformation means and celebrating its significance to their civilization, our beloved Adventist church under the direct leadership of our beloved and highly esteemed GC TW is headed backwards to the dark ages, muzzling the conscience of its executive committee by mandating the signature of a 14-page document appropriated only for Paranoid Anonymous and continued subjugation of its female believers.

Starkingly embarrassing!