March 21, 2004

The Serbian Whirlwind

I don't want to be perceived as belittling the persecution of the Orthodox by the Muslims in Kosovo. I think what is happening there is absolutely dreadful. If you are not a regular reader (or author) of the various Ortho-blogs, I will refer you to any number of the links to the right from whence the details of the situation are available.

I merely offer an observation relevant to the bigger picture in Serbia.

The Serbia Orthodox Church doesn't seem to mind persecuting the indigenous Protestant population. I'm not talking about American evangelical missionaries going in to convert those poor Orthodox souls to Christianity. Everyone who knows me very well knows I don't have time for any of that nonsense. I don't think it should be outlawed, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for it. I'm talking about Protestant Christian Serbs.

It is very true that destruction of holy places and the loss of Christian lives in Kosovo is of a much, much greater scale than the attempt to shut down a few churches, the beating up of a pastor here and there, vandalising and burglarising, and the refusal of any dialogue on laws regarding religious freedom. But that's the thing about sowing and reaping. It doesn't just work with blessings.

When it comes to persecution, the Serbian Orthodox have sown the wind and should not be surprised to be reaping the whirlwind.

Posted by david at March 21, 2004 01:41 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for more aspects to the picture. Persecution seems to purify - or at least to come with that blessing, among others. Indeed, may the Saints of Serbia pray that we be granted compunction!

Posted by: Huw Raphael at March 21, 2004 11:07 AM

Huw is better at this stuff than I am.

To say, "The Serbian Orthodox Church doesn't mind" lacks context, but let's say it's as bad as bad can be. We've all got a huge stake in corporate guilt, and "reaping the whirlwind" doesn't explain why a woman and her week-old baby get burned out of their home and the people of Atlanta live on in prosperity after the church burning there.

If the situation were otherwise, I might agree with you that the Serbian Orthodox Church needs to update its understanding of mission in the marketplace of ideas. But now? If I get cancer, I can say it's a wakeup call from God. If my friend gets cancer, I don't have standing to say that.

Next question, what did the Protestant Christian Serbs sow, and where does it stop?

Posted by: Jan at March 21, 2004 12:30 PM

Of course what's happened to the Church of Serbia in Kosovo is inexcusable but I understand such is life in those parts - the Balkans aren't called a powder keg for nothing. What I wonder is if perhaps the left from five years ago had a point and that perhaps the Serbs aren't just innocent victims in Kosovo either.

Posted by: The young fogey at March 21, 2004 01:16 PM

There were human rights abuses against the Albanians before the war. There was a president of the former Yugoslavia who used nationalism and ethnic mistrust to build his own power.

There were also initiatives among religious leaders -- Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox -- to tell their people that violence wasn't the way to live.

The Leader of the Free World at that time stiff-armed the religious leaders, treated the president of Yugoslavia as the man to be worked with and then bombed Belgrade schools, bridges, water and electricity supplies and the Chinese Embassy. Then put UN soldiers with rubber bullets to finish straightening out the chaos.

We, specifically Americans, but British, French, Germans and Italians get stirred into the mix, made the situation worse, not better.

The frustrating thing is that nobody knows. Those who know don't care. And those who care say, "The Serbs. They're fascists, and they deserve what they get."

Posted by: Jan at March 21, 2004 03:51 PM


I'm not sure whether you are attributing the sentiments in bold type to me. I hope not, as I said nothing about fascism nor about deserving what they get.

I don't think that commenting upon the biblical principle of sowing and reaping requires that I find every possible sowing and reaping implication, or that it the reason for ever situation. I don't buy the Marxist/Hegelian implication of "what did the Protestant Christian Serbs sow, and where does it stop?" that sowing and reaping is some sort of thesis-antithesis-sythesis which becomes the new thesis principle.

I am merely pointing out that where the Serbian Orthodox are in the minority they may be terribly persecuted, but when they are in the majority, they are perfectly happy to persecute.

I'm not sure what you mean by my statement lacking context. There is some information available on the internet. Much of the persecution I hear about second hand (as opposed to third or fourth hand or from a news source) from Serbian Protestant pastors who are friends of my parents.

Posted by: David at March 21, 2004 11:51 PM

The comments in bold type are a link to a conversation a fellow blogger heard on a bus. I think it's typical.

About lacking context, when the Serb mobs began attacking Belgrade's mosque, they had to get past Serb riot police and Church officials trying to stop them. I would be interested in a statement from Patriarch Pavle that "the Orthodox Church doesn't mind what happens to Protestants." It doesn't square with other statements that all the ethnic groups need to live and work together in respect. The Church has also advocated that persons responsible for crimes be tried and punished individually, not as a cultural entity. (That's not to say that there are no loose-cannon Church officials, but the Serbian Orthodox Church is not the only body with that problem.)

I knew a man who carried a laptop through a poor area of Kiev a few years ago and told the story of being mugged for it as if it were an act of persecution. I don't know what your parents' friends have experienced, but not every crime is persecution; not every act of true persecution is the fault of the government if it makes an honest effort to prosecute; not every unprosecuted crime or persecution is the fault of the Church if it's doing what it can to battle the corruption of the state.

And the distinction between "reaping what they sow" and "deserving what they get" is a little too nuanced for me to follow.

Posted by: Jan at March 22, 2004 12:59 AM

P.S.: I just read an article about the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Kosovo that might put these issues into perspective. It doesn't say that all Serbs are innocent, nor that all non-Serbs are guilty, but lays out how this tragic situation came to be and what the path out of it might be.

Posted by: Jan at March 22, 2004 01:04 AM


Sorry I missed the link in that quote.

I'm glad that I have actually generated some discussion, even if it is to challenge one or more of my propositions.

I'm not saying that every crime is persecution. I am saying that the Church, at least in parts of Vojvodina is making life difficult for many Protestants (the Lutherans appear to be an exception). I do not know who the hierarchs are in this area - the information available online is difficult to decipher.

I would love to see something from Patriarch Pavle that encourages ecumenical dialogue and peaceful co-existence with Evangelicals.

Posted by: David at March 22, 2004 03:15 AM

I was just looking at the Serbian Orthodox Church's website, and for some reason, they just don't give much attention to the condition of ecumenical dialogue with Protestants. They seem to be occupied with the train wreck in Kosovo.

Maybe the Protestants you know should ask the Lutherans what they're doing differently. Maybe bad things are happening in Vojvodina. All I'm saying is that I don't have enough information to judge, and apparently you don't either. Honest people can made honest mistakes in cross-cultural situations. Serbs are not immune from sin.

But I still don't see why problems of Protestants in Vojvodina explain why the Decani Monastery is being shelled--after sheltering Albanians from Serb forces before the war.

If you're saying that the Balkans are a land of proud, fierce and frequently dangerous people, I'll agree with you, as long as Croats, Muslims and Serbs are included in that characterization.

Posted by: Jan at March 22, 2004 03:51 AM

As an American Evangelical are you suggesting I
cancel my trip to Serbia in May?

Posted by: Honey at March 22, 2004 05:22 AM

I assume you're asking David. He's the one reporting depredations against Protestant pastors. I've never heard anything about it.

Best bet is to check with the State Department for travel advisories.

Posted by: Jan at March 22, 2004 06:26 AM

That's not the point she's trying to make, Jan.

The Lutherans, who are Germans, and the Reformed Church, which is predominately Hungarians, cut their deals with the Orthodox long ago.

I'm not making a direct correlation between Protestants in Vojvodina and the Decani Monastery. But I'm also not falling into the fallacy that because there is so much going on in Kosovo, the responsibility of Christian charity elsewhere can lapse. It's not an "either/or" situation.

The problems in Vojvodina, and elsewhere for that matter, are not new. Christianity Today was mentioning it two years ago. It continued to be mentioned in other sources more recently.

What I'm talking about has nothing to do with how the Serb people may or may not be stereotyped. It has nothing to do with Serb-ness. The Evangelicals are Serbs as well. It has to do with the attitude of the Orthodox hierarchs and faithful in historically Orthodox lands since the fall of Communism. Serbia isn't the only example. It just happens to be in the news and it just happens to be where the Orthodox in a historically Orthodox land are being particularly tried in the fire.

I pray for Patriarch Pavle and especially for the Orthodox of Kosovo. I do not want to see Decani or any other holy place destroyed or damaged. I'm only pointing out that in the case of persecution, I hope they aren't operating under the belief that it is better to give than to receive.

Posted by: David at March 23, 2004 04:16 AM

Thanks for the links. They give me the context I was lacking. Here and here are a couple more that put the situation into even better perspective.

I still can't wrap my mind around the difference between reaping what they sowed and getting what they deserved. It keeps coming back to "the Serbs" did it -- not these Serbs committing these specific acts and these Serbs having ideas that they need to be persuaded from, but the photo of the week-old baby driven in her mother's arms from her home in Kosovo.

It may be my own stupidity. After 9-11, people--Orthodox hierarchy and Jerry Falwell and who all--kept saying the U.S. had it coming (reaping what we sowed, I believe they would say). If I think about my own experience of 9-11, limited as it was, I could go along with it, the same way I can be grateful to the sufferers under Stalin's Gulag, because of what I learned from Solzhenitsyn. If I thought about the people jumping out of the top floors of the WTC because they didn't want to die of the fire, about the office workers and janitors and firefighters who never came home, I can't get there. If I think about those who went through the unimaginable suffering under Stalin, the change in my easy, comfortable life is not sufficient to balance the account.

I am a Bear of little brain. It's been a good argument, and I thank you for being so patient with me. Our different lands of origin give us different perspectives, I think, because here in America, we elected a man who needed to chase his skirt problems off the front page with a winnable little war. Here collective guilt applies, because even though I didn't vote for him, I probably didn't fight his election with all the strength I might have. We betrayed the Serbs and increased the bitterness in the region, while we partied and laughed through the '90s. So maybe we did "deserve" 9-11, but no one "deserves" to have to jump from the 100th story of a burning building.

Nope. Still too stupid. Sorry.

Posted by: Jan at March 23, 2004 05:58 AM

First of all, I didn't realise you weren't aware that I am an American and lived in the US for the first 35 years of my life. I watching the US/NATO attack on Serbia from the comfort of my Indiana apartment. I'm not denying that there have continued to be systemic problems with US (or UK) policy toward Serbia.

I think the distinction between "reaping and sowing" and "getting what they deserve" is the distinction between Eastern and Western theology.

The latter is very Western and juridical. It is saying that everything must operate on the principle of lex talionis. The former is much more relational. It's a general spiritual principle.

I also don't based my views on babies driven from their homes or people jumping from the 100th floor of the WTC. Drawing in one emotive image after another clouds the issue.

This is why as far as whether the US had it coming with regard to 9/11, I would have to agree more with Jerry Falwell than with most of the Orthodox hierarchs. It wasn't about supporting Israel or taking over the world with McDonalds and Microsoft. It was about spiritual decay and collective responsibility. And sometimes when judgment hits the collective, "innocent" individuals get caught in it.

But that is all further and further from the point I was originally trying to make.

Let me repeat again, my focus is not on Serbia or the Serbs. It is on the Church. It is on the future of the Church in its historic lands. I want Orthodoxy in Serbia to flourish. I want Protestant proselytism to be a moot point because Serbs are drawn back to their spiritual roots.

But the reality of the present world is that the days of national Church hegemony are over. Whether it is foreign missionaries or indigenous Evangelicals, the Orthodox Church is doing itself no favours by throwing up legal barriers or physical barriers against them.

"Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side."

I said from the outset that I wasn't offering the definitive reason for the trouble in Kosovo, but rather an observation.

Posted by: David at March 23, 2004 11:56 AM

But the reality of the present world is that the days of national Church hegemony are over. Whether it is foreign missionaries or indigenous Evangelicals, the Orthodox Church is doing itself no favours by throwing up legal barriers or physical barriers against them.
I agree with this statement.

A lot of the "Old Country" Orthodox have this problem--Greeks, Russians, Serbs--going back to the times when evangelization was first unnecessary then not permitted (or vice versa). They lost the knack, and now having media-savvy Westerners show up with their money and (frequently) their heresies frightens the traditional churches.

Is there an answer? Can friendly Westerners show up with media savvy and money and throw their weight in on the other side? Take large groups of Old Country seminarians to public relations school? Use Western influence to force their governments to make laws to enforce Western-style pluralism? Protest individual acts of persecution against religious minorities (Baptists? Mormons? Falun Gong?)? Slow down the world so that they can catch up?

I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm interested in your take on this.

Posted by: Jan at March 23, 2004 03:01 PM