The Baptist Union of Romania voted in December 2009 to accept government subsidies, two years after rejecting such funds. Some say the policy threatens Baptists' distinctive independence.

European Baptists have long promoted the separation of church and state, a concept they derive from Matthew 22:20-22 ("render unto Caesar") and Anabaptist teachings. Romanian Baptists are parsing the concept as they deal with a shrinking population, machine politics, and the higher prices that come with membership in the European Union.

They refuse subsidies for pastor salaries. However, Baptist Union president Otniel Bunaciu estimates that between 20 and 30 of the denomination's 1,800 congregations have accepted funds from local governments for projects such as parking lots and insulation. "While larger churches may have several Western partners who can support their efforts," said Bunaciu, "many of the small churches do not have such friends and would accept support from local authorities."

Politics have also been part of the problem. "At every election, local authorities have made significant donations to churches to get electoral support," said former Baptist Union president Paul Negrut. "Some churches have completely discredited themselves by taking money from everyone."

When the government asked the Baptist Union to clarify its policy on subsidies, Bunaciu convened the council's 40-some members, who voted to accept such funds.

Danut Manastireanu, World Vision International's director for faith and development in Eastern Europe, said the debate is mostly "typical Balkan-Byzantine politics," in which rivals imply, "'We are standing for the faith; the others are for compromise, as under Communism.'" He said the discussion had little theological substance and ignored the fact that both sides already accept government subsidies.

Bunaciu sees no contradiction between the 2009 resolution and the previous one. Romania distributes a portion of tax money to religious groups in proportion to their number of adherents. Accepting the funds, Bunaciu said, is the equivalent of American tax exemptions for charitable donations.

Refusing funds would not doom churches but may scuttle certain projects, said Negrut. "Just follow the future development of those churches that have accepted money to see which is doing better in witness, integrity, and impact. Western Europe speaks volumes."

In the meantime, Manastireanu said, "Some think there is nothing wrong with state subsidies. Others see this as getting the first finger; then the state will want to control matters of faith and church life."

Related Elsewhere:

Previous articles on Romania include:

Majority Spoils | New law sidelines minority faiths in Romania. (February 28, 2007)
Under Reconstruction | How Eastern Europe's evangelicals are restoring the church's vitality. (October 2005)
Churches Want to Drive a Stake in Transylvania's Dracula Park | Tourist attraction gives a false image of the country and could fuel interest in the occult, Christian leaders say. (November 1, 2001)

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