The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism

The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism

The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism

The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism


What does a religious community do when confronted by a political regime determined to eliminate religion? Under communism, Hungary's persecuted Lutheran Church tried desperately to find a strategy for survival while remaining faithful to its Christian beliefs. Appealing to the Lutheran Confessions, many argued that the church can do whatever is necessary to survive provided it does not compromise on its essential ministry, while others, appealing to the witness of the confessor Bishop Lajos Ordass, argued that the church must uncompromisingly witness to the truth even if that means ecclesiological extinction. Here, H. David Baer draws upon the disciplines of theology, history, ethics, and politics to provide a comprehensive analysis of the different strategies developed by the church to preserve its integrity. Relying on previously unnoted archival documents and other primary sources, Baer's telling of the history is also a sensitive and moving account of courage and cowardice in the face of religious persecution. This book should be of interest not only to students of religion in Eastern Europe but also to anyone concerned about the problems that arise wherever there is religious persecution.


László G. Terray

Few studies exist that examine the smaller “minority churches” of Eastern Europe. Yet these churches have, throughout the centuries and under changing conditions, nobly represented basic Christian values in thought, belief, and way of living. Among those churches, some have roots in Martin Luther’s sixteenth century Reformation. Lajos Ordass, bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary, became known throughout the Christian world when in 1948 Hungary’s communists sentenced him to prison on trumped-up charges of foreign currency manipulation. Although he was rehabilitated eight years later and allowed to return to his office, he was removed again by the communists in 1958. After bravely resisting both Nazism and communism, Bishop Ordass was forced to live out the remaining twenty years of his life in isolation and loneliness.

The ways of arranging one’s relationship to the totalitarian system of Marxist-Soviet socialism varied in Eastern European churches from country to country and period to period. the attitudes of the communist parties toward the churches also moved along a broad spectrum, ranging from brutal oppression to aggressive persuasion, when parties would swarm around the churches and offer advantages in exchange for cooperation in “building socialism.” From among a conglomerate of attitudes, beliefs, and theologies, the author of this book investigates the different ways the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary related to the communist state.

Helmut David Baer learned the very difficult Hungarian language and stayed long enough in Hungary to make use of the language in interviews with contemporary witnesses and to conduct research in Budapest archives. He succeeded in finding documents of great value and relevance that had been unknown and that were a surprise even to Hungarian researchers. By analyzing these materials and working also with published Hungarian sources, Baer has been able to identify the main types of Lutheran response to, and ways of thinking about, the power-wielding communist party. At the same time, when writing about these various attitudes and theological positions, Baer manages to portray historical figures as . . .

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