American evangelicals are often noted for their engagement in the political process and major impact on election outcomes. Evangelicals outside the United States, meanwhile, have also played key roles in their own country’s politics – albeit much less known.
Evangelical leaders from Argentina to Sri Lanka have mobilized Christians in their country to respond to issues such as gambling, divorce, and anti-conversion laws. Many times, the topics that evangelicals address are responses to existing problems they see in their society.
In the small South Asian country of Sri Lanka, the Evangelical Alliance there had to step up to educate the church, Christians and the public about the danger posed by a proposed anti-conversion legislation.
The Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka lobbied high level national government officials and foreign governments and organized ecumenical demonstrations and signature campaigns against the anti-conversion bill.
“A lot of people do tell us that the work that we did in advocating and lobbying against and engaging the government is one of the main reasons that it (the anti-conversion law) is still pending and not implemented in Sri Lanka,” said Roshini Wickremesinhe of the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka last week at the World Evangelical Alliance General Assembly in Thailand.
She lamented, however, that many Christians in Sri Lanka still feel that politics and government affairs are not their concerns and as a result have the attitude that voting is not their business.
Similarly, Christians in Argentina for many years also distanced themselves from politics, but have since in recent years been highly engaged in political affairs, including the election of pastors to government offices, according to Pastor Hugo Alfredo of Argentina.
The Evangelical Alliance in Argentina, given the high-level of involvement by Christian leaders in politics, was forced to create guidelines on how Christians should properly balance their faith and politics. The guideline includes requiring that pastors give up their pastoral duties if elected to public office until they finish their term.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in the Czech Republic, the minuscule evangelical community – made up of only 30,000 from a population of 10 million – has been wrestling with the country’s severe gambling problem.
“The gambling issue for me is very similar to William Wilberforce and what he did,” said the Rev. Jiri Unger, the general secretary of the Czech Evangelical Alliance, referring to the British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
“It’s enslaving people. In fact, many marriages are damaged by addiction to gambling,” Unger said at the WEA GA conference.
In their fight against gambling addiction, the Czech Evangelical Alliance encouraged churches to not accept donations from casinos. Gambling institutions, he explained, give part of their profits to charities, public budgets, sports teams, as well as churches.
“It is a terrible problem because Czechs put ten times more into gambling than charities and civil society association,” Unger said. “It’s a terrible problem and it destroys people.”
The evangelical body in the Czech Republic has also responded to the country’s high divorce rate – which stands at 50 percent – by hosting the country’s National Marriage Week.
During the annual national event, secular and Christian agencies come together to promote and celebrate marriage while media outlets enthusiastically spotlight the event that is unique for a country with such a high divorce rate.
“We also want to change the image of evangelicals in our country,” Unger added. “That we are not just moralizing, showing what is negative but we want to bring positive alternatives to show that there is something to celebrate in marriage.”
Unger, Alfredo, and Wickremesinhe were among the speakers who took part in the “Living Room” panel discussion held on the last day of the WEA General Assembly in Pattaya, Thailand. The Oct. 30 discussion was on Evangelical engagement in the public square.
Other panelists shared about the effort to stop the legalization of gay marriage in Canada, end apartheid in South Africa, and defeat the legalization of prostitution in Barbados and other Caribbean countries.