Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith Issues Shape Bid by Turkey to Join EU

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith Issues Shape Bid by Turkey to Join EU

Article excerpt

Early last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presided over the opening of a new synagogue, mosque and church--the last partitioned into Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox sections--in the Mediterranean resort area of Belek.

It was a rather flamboyant gesture on Erdogan's part, designed to convince skeptical Europeans that the secular but largely Muslim nation of nearly 70 million people practices a religious tolerance that makes it a worthy candidate for membership in the European Union. "Beyond its symbolic importance, this project gives the message of peace and brotherhood to the whole world," Erdogan said at the ceremony.

In Brussels on December 17, after two days of tough negotiating, European Union heads of government gave Turkey the official green light for consideration, but the membership process could take years to complete. Two days before in Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament voted 407-262, with 29 abstentions, to urge EU leaders to begin the membership talks.

A key issue for the leaders, and many of their constituents, is the degree to which Turkey is ready to conform to religious freedom standards as they exist in Europe.

Erdogan, who is described as a devout Muslim, is anxious that Turkey cast its future with a secularized but historically Christian Europe. And Turkey has undertaken a host of human rights reforms, including abolishing the death penalty and acting to rein in torture, along with political and economic measures.

But the long scars of history and the impact of contemporary, events--including the precarious and fragile situation of the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarchate, the headquarters of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, and the killing in November of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, allegedly by a Muslim militant--threaten the effort.

On December 13, for example, the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches addressed what they called "new pressures and difficulties being brought upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate." A letter, signed by Samuel Kobia, WCC general secretary, and Keith Clements, general secretary of the CEC, said: "We are pained to read of the public criticisms and attacks being made upon yourself and upon the Christian community in Turkey. …

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