WASHINGTON — A top Hungarian government official is touting his country's quest to "implement the social teachings of the Bible" at home as he visits the United States to discuss the nation's efforts to address religious persecution abroad.
Tristan Azbej, the Hungarian Secretary of State for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps Program, appeared at a dinner kicking off the fourth annual International Religious Freedom Summit on Monday.
The dinner was co-hosted by the Embassy of Hungary. In an interview with The Christian Post Tuesday, Azbej discussed the significance of religious freedom in Hungary and how helping victims of religious persecution has become part of the country's "national code."
"It was a great honor that we were asked to host the opening reception," he said. "I also dare to presume that it is also a sign of recognition of what Hungary is doing for the persecuted Christians and other vulnerable communities all around the world through our aid program, the Hungary Helps Program."
The Hungary Helps Program was established in 2017 as the "first-ever governmental department dedicated to serve persecuted Christians." The department that he now leads was first created to address the fact that there are "more than 360 million people in the world who suffer discrimination, persecution, [and] terror attacks because of their faith in Christ."
"Ever since we have started the Hungary Helps Program, we have engaged in 330 faith-based humanitarian projects all around the world in more than 50 countries and we have reached approximately 2 million people who are ... members of vulnerable faith communities," Azbej added. "We started to work together with Christians, but only supporting Christians would not be Christian at all."
Azbej said the Hungary Helps program has also extended help to persecuted Yezidis in Iraq, Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar and Jews in Yemen. He cited the humanitarian effort as evidence that "a government can directly engage in the persecuted church with faith-based actors," describing "Christian and other faith-based entities" as "the most trustworthy humanitarian partners who are the closest to the most vulnerable communities."
"Unfortunately, most of the Western governments are reluctant for such direct engagement," he lamented. "They claim that working together with faith communities is against the principles of … impartiality in humanitarian assistance. We think that this is a complete misunderstanding of the humanitarian principles. And on the contrary, we think that working together with these faith-based organizations [is] the only way to reach the most vulnerable … and those communities who are left behind."
The Hungary Helps Program has established a "scholarship program over the years for Christians from conflict zones in vulnerable faith communities to come to Hungary and to study at Hungarian universities." The scholarship program awards 100 scholarships annually to enable Christian youth living in areas of the world hostile to Christianity to receive "a higher education degree with the objective for them to return to their communities of origin."
Azbej sees the scholarship program as a way to "educate the leaders of the new generations of these communities to support their long-term future and their … future in their ancestral homelands."
While the Hungary Helps Program started as a project run exclusively by the Hungarian government, Azbej told CP that "many private companies joined our efforts" and "made donations to the persecuted Christians." According to Azbej, "Hungarian churches, civil society, [and] even municipalities joined our program."
Azbej characterized Hungary Helps' "mission to support persecuted Christians and others" as "not only a governmental program anymore" but also "a national vocation for us Hungarians." The Hungarian official identified the Hungary Helps Program as one of several examples of how the country is "trying to implement and represent the social teachings of the Bible."
"As part of that, we support and we protect family and life," he asserted. "This shows in the … very unique and very strong family policies of the Hungarian government."
Azbej insisted that while the "Hungarian government is pro-life," the country seeks to "implement that idea not through restrictive measures but through [a] very strong family support policy."
One policy embraced in Hungary enables women to have their personal income taxes waived for life once they give birth to four children.
"Our goal is that no financial burden should keep Hungarian families from having children, and one other pro-life policy that we have is that all the different and wide range of family allowances are distributed and awarded not at the birth of the child but from the conception, during pregnancy," he maintained.
Azbej contends that the policies enacted by the Hungarian government have already yielded positive results, specifically by raising the fertility rate from 1.2 children per woman to 1.6 children per woman. While the Hungarian government remains short of its targeted fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman, Azbej sees other promising developments in the country as a direct result of the "very strong family policies of the Hungarian government."
Expressing gratitude that "Hungarian families choose to have their babies and keep their babies," Azbej claimed there's been a 30% drop in abortions and a 50% increase in marriages that have materialized following the adoption of the new policies. Additional "Judeo-Christian and Christian-inspired policies" in Hungary include the amendment of the country's constitution to clarify that marriage is a union of one man and one woman as well as defining families as consisting of a husband, wife and children.
Acknowledging that Hungary's policies have "infuriated the LGBTQ lobby and therefore they criticize us," Azbej defended them nonetheless: "For us, the results such as the increase in childbirth and the increase in marriage is encouragement for us to face all that criticism" and stand by them.
Azbej pointed to history as the reason why Hungary has adopted combatting persecution of Christians and other religious minorities as its "national code." He recalled how "not so long ago, in the 20th century, Hungary and Hungarians experienced anti-religious oppression by two totalitarian regimes: the Nazis who have murdered 600,000 Jews in Hungary tragically with the collaboration of the state at that time and then 40 years of Communist oppression" that "treated religious citizens as second-rate citizens."
"So, therefore, for Hungary, there's a national code to stand up for those who are persecuted for their faith," he concluded. "The Hungarian Constitution recognizes Christianity as the … key factor that contributed to … the preservation of the Hungarian nation for 1,000 years … and it recognizes Christianity at many parts. This Hungarian Constitution was adopted in 2011 to replace the illegitimate Communist National Constitution, and it gives clear reference to the importance of Christianity in Hungarian history."
Azbej stressed that while Christian influence looms large in Hungary, the country still hopes to serve as a beacon of religious freedom: "The most important … Christian biblical value that we represent is human dignity coming from the religious idea that man was created by God in the likeness of God."
"Part of this human dignity is human freedom, so therefore even [though] we recognize Christianity at a very high level, it is also enshrined in the Constitution that we value, and we protect religious freedom of all regardless of one's faith or belief."
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com