A Religious Revival in Europe?
Capernaum Church in downtown Hamburg, Germany, is under new management and is much busier than it used to be. The main hall accommodates 500 worshipers. Under the building’s previous owners, the Evangelical Church, only about 20 people showed up each week. But for its new owners, the hall is not big enough.
Why the dramatic change? Because it is now the Al-Nour Islamic Center.
The change is symbolic of the trend sweeping Europe. In London, since 2001, 500 churches have become private homes, and more than 400 mosques have opened. In 2016, seven French churches were demolished, 26 put up for sale, and many more converted into offices, apartments, gymnasiums, etc. Meanwhile, since 2003 nearly 1,000 French mosques have been built.
So it seems odd to talk about a Christian revival in Europe. Churches are dying. Religion is playing a smaller role than ever in people’s everyday lives.
But in politics, religion is making a major comeback.
Politicians are talking about their nation’s religious heritage more than ever. They are using it to differentiate themselves from Muslims. They talk about its importance to their culture. Although Europeans aren’t going to church or letting religion tell them how to live their lives, they are looking to religion to tell them who they are.
As early as 2014, the Catholic magazine First Things noticed this trend emerging in Central and Eastern Europe: “In Hungary, Croatia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, a pro-family, pro-life revolution and a rediscovery of Christian roots is occurring.
“Unnoticed in the shadow of a secularized West, religion’s public role has been growing in the East since the collapse of communism” (Jan. 17, 2014).
This process has sped up dramatically as Europe’s migrant crisis has worsened. Since 2013, around 2.5 million migrants have applied for asylum in the European Union. The EU does not track the religion of asylum seekers, but the vast majority are from Muslim-dominated countries. According to PewForum in 2010, about 19 million Muslims lived in the EU. So the EU has had roughly a 10 percent jump in its Muslim population due to the refugee crisis alone.
As thousands of Muslims have arrived every year, bringing their religion with them and setting up numerous mosques, European leaders have shifted their rhetoric away from strict secularism and have begun to emphasize how Christian their nations are.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was one of the earliest to take this route. In May 2015, he said flatly, “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.”
“Let us not forget, however, that those arriving have been raised in another religion and represent a radically different culture,” he wrote in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity” (Sept. 3, 2015).
Orbán has since been joined by many others. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said in May 2016, “I do not want to see a Muslim community in Slovakia. … We do not want to change the traditions of this country, which are built on the Christian tradition.” The president of the Czech Republic warned in January 2016 that integrating Muslims into Europe “is practically impossible.” Earlier this year, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that the presence of the largely Muslim refugee population is a “ticking bomb.”
The rhetoric is popular. Polls in Poland and Bulgaria show that three quarters of respondents want their countries to stop accepting Muslim migrants.
Catholic leaders also support this stance. Although Pope Francis has been one of the most prominent leaders encouraging Europe to take in more migrants, senior bishops in the East are singing from a different hymn sheet. The former leader of the Czech Republic’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Jan Graubner, has said his country should take only “Christian refugees.” At a February meeting of Catholic leaders from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the current Czech president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Dominik Duka, said, “The whole history of humanity shows how uncontrolled migration causes violence and conflict, as well as economic and cultural collapse.”
“The larger the Muslim community, the likelier the violence—in such a situation, it’s legitimate to ask about the religion these people profess, and how beneficial it is to our society,” said Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský, the leader of the Slovak bishops’ conference. “We shouldn’t forget that Christianity and Islam are, despite all efforts at dialogue, in permanent conflict. Once one side gains the upper hand, there’s always conflict” (emphasis added throughout).
In the West, bishops who will speak so bluntly are scarce, but they still exist. The most high-profile is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who is considered a possible successor to the current pope.
“Will there now be a third attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe?” Schönborn asked in September 2016. “Many Muslims think so and long for it and say: Europe is at an end.”
Luc Ravel was made archbishop of Strasbourg, France, by Pope Francis in February. In July, Ravel told a French newspaper, “Muslim believers know very well that their birth rate is such that today, they call it … the Great Replacement. They tell you in a very calm, very positive way that, ‘one day all this, it will be ours.’”
This trend extends even to political leaders in Western Europe.
Western Europe is traditionally the most secular place on Earth. In late 2015, a Gallup International poll found that Western Europe and Oceania were the only regions in the world where around half of the population was either atheist or nonreligious. But even here, political religion is making a comeback.
In France the very religious François Fillon was nominated to lead Les Républicains—France’s main conservative party. “Help, Jesus Has Returned!” was the headline in the Libération newspaper (Nov. 24, 2016).
Robert Zaretsky at Foreign Policy wrote, “[L]egions of Frenchmen and women who have not kept their faith will nonetheless turn out in droves for a politician who has. … [I]n a country where barely five citizens in 100 attend church, the weight of Catholicism is still evident” (Dec. 1, 2016). He termed these voters “France’s zombie Catholics.”
As it turned out, Fillon crashed and burned, brought down in a financial scandal. So Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front party attempted to raise the standard of Christendom.
Le Pen’s religion is “a secularized Christianity as culture,” Rogers Brubaker, a sociologist at the University of California–Los Angeles, told Atlantic magazine.”It’s a matter of belonging rather than believing,” he said. Brubaker described it as a Christianity that says, “We are Christians, precisely because they are Muslims. Otherwise, we are not Christian in any substantive sense” (May 6).
That is an excellent summary of the trend occurring across all Europe. Christianity is not motivating people to attend religious services or to obey religious rules, but it is being used to drive people to vote for religious-sounding leaders.
Germany’s September 24 election saw the same Christian revival. One mainstream political party that has helped form the foundation of German politics since World War ii—the Christian Democratic Union (cdu)—was founded by those seeking to cement Germany’s Christian character. However, despite its having “Christian” in its name, it has grown progressively more secular. It seems many voters in September’s election punished the cdu by migrating to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which achieved great success.
Foreign Policy wrote about the “party’s goal to become the true guardian of Germany’s—and Europe’s—Christian identity” (September 11). A group of Catholic and Protestant theologians formed the organization “Christen in der AfD” to urge support for the party. They warned that if Germany loses its Christian identity, it will “endanger nothing less than the foundations of our system of state and of our civilization.”
The AfD, though, is a perfect example of this “belonging rather than believing” Christianity. Its election slogans, such as “Burkas? We’re into bikinis,” are hardly paragons of chastity and virtue. Two of its top leaders are lesbians. But it is identity that matters. Even the lesbian leaders have made no big push for homosexual “marriage” or any other kinds of homosexual rights. In the culture wars, they are on the side of the Christian right, and the Christian right is happy to accept them.
The AfD’s stunning election success—coming from nowhere to become the third-largest party in Germany’s parliament—shows the appetite in Germany for this kind of religion in politics.
But the AfD isn’t the only group embracing this Christian heritage. Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, has kept much closer to its Christian heritage. The party has good relations with Viktor Orbán. It even invited him to Bavaria, despite great opposition from the German federal government.
The csu’s star speaker in the recent election, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, brought a “Christian” message. At the Gillamoos festival, he told a packed crowd, “When we are not ready to love our culture, then others will start to define our culture,” adding that Germany must protect its “Christian/Jewish Western society” (Trumpet translation throughout).
“If you go outside in August with temperatures of 35 to 38 degrees [95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit] and go through a street in Munich and you see a gentlemen from Abu Dhabi … and at a respectable distance, one or two women with a niqab behind him, I don’t see much freedom there,” he said. The “suppression of the woman has no room in our culture!”
His statements are milder than the message from the AfD or many in Eastern Europe. But they are stronger than many Western mainstream politicians are willing to make. And they were met with enthusiastic applause.
A Growing Trend
Europe’s rediscovery of its Christian identity comes mostly as a reaction to Islam. Muslim migration is changing the nature of Europe’s cities, and radical Islam is outright attacking them.
Time has proved that the migration and the attacks are not going away. In response, secular Europe is only becoming more Christian.
“We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against,” wrote Samuel Huntington in his classic work The Clash of Civilizations. ”For people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential.” Many of Europe’s enemies have been Muslim. And so the Continent is adopting the language, symbols and identity of Christianity—because that is what most clearly distinguishes it from these enemies.
“Instability and violence in the Middle East has led to Muslim migration to Europe,” wrote Geopolitical Futures analyst Jacob Shapiro. “Muslim migration has, in turn, stoked nationalism, sometimes to electoral effect, and has even led to limited European involvement in Muslim wars” (August 23). Terrorism, he pointed out, has been rising in Europe since 2005. Nationalism began rising at almost exactly the same time. The terrorism is already transforming Europe. “The age-old conflict between Europe and the Middle East, Christendom and Islam, is simmering once more” (ibid).
Once again, religion is playing a major role in the fate of Europe!
The Trumpet and, before us, the Plain Truth have been watching for this development since the 1930s. For decades Herbert W. Armstrong forecast that Europe would unite into a 10-nation superpower. But most of the Continent’s history is of one European nation fighting another. What force is strong enough to bind Europe together?
Attacks on Europe from outside are one powerful motivating force. Europeans certainly have one common enemy: radical, extremist Islam. But there is one other important factor all European nations share: their Christian heritage.
In August 1978, Mr. Armstrong wrote in the Christian-living magazine Good News, “Europeans want their own united military power! … They have made a real effort toward union in the Common Market. … But they well know there is but one possibility of union in Europe—and that is through the Vatican.”
Mr. Armstrong forecast a common currency in Europe. In the November-December 1954 Plain Truth, he wrote, “Germany inevitably [will] emerge as the leader of a united Europe”—a sentiment many in southern Europe would agree with today. The September 1967 Plain Truth declared, “[O]ne thing you can count on. In fact it is so sure you can bank on it: The cry of a political union in Europe will get louder.” In April 1952, Mr. Armstrong’s Good News said, “Russia may give East Germany back to the Germans and will be forced to relinquish her control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and parts of Austria” in order to complete this union.
So much of this has already happened. Mr. Armstrong’s forecasts, based on Bible prophecy, have proved accurate. Yet full union has not yet been achieved. Why? Mr. Armstrong wrote, “In only one way can this resurrected Holy Roman Empire be brought to fruition—by the ‘good offices’ of the Vatican, uniting church and state once again, with the Vatican astride and ruling …” (Plain Truth, January 1979).
The Catholic Church has been the one missing ingredient in European unity. And now that ingredient is being added back into the mix.
The same prophecies that forecast European unity also foretell that a church will have major role in leading this new superpower. Revelation 17 describes a woman that sits “upon many waters.” Her power stretches over a vast portion of the Earth. Typically in the Bible, a woman represents a church. The “kings of the earth have committed fornication” with this woman, meaning that she is a major political power.
The religious revival in Europe is paving the way for the return of this woman.
The Bible has a great deal to say about what this European religious power will look like. And so does history. Religious empires, in close alliance with the Vatican, have repeatedly risen in Europe.
Our free book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy puts this history and prophecy together. It proves how much of this prophecy has already been fulfilled. It shows what is to come in the near future, while at the same time proving what a sure foundation Bible prophecy is.