Two weeks ago, the Notre Dame caught fire and burned. In the aftermath of the blaze, fundraising efforts to repair and reopen the church have raised millions of dollars. But they’ve also highlighted disparities in the ability of other religious traditions—primarily Protestants and Muslims—to open new places of worship and maintain their existing ones.
Currently, a new church opens every 10 days in France, says Raphaël Anzenberger, the director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries for the French-speaking world. But expensive rents often mean that these churches can’t move to the city center, and consequently have a harder time influencing their culture’s leaders.
Existing congregations seeking to renovate their buildings also run into challenges.
“It's getting really complicated for our pastors, who not only need to feed the flock, which is their first calling, but also to be experts in handicapped law [and how to] fireproof buildings. You have to be a lawyer, a notary, it's just crazy, an architect,” said Anzenberger.
And the government isn’t necessarily a friend.
“Sometimes what they'll say is, ‘We really like you. We think we understand who you are. We think we understand you're not a cult,’ which is already a good progress, but then they'll say, ‘You know, if we help you then we'll need to help all the other ones.’ And the other ones is basically the Muslims.”
Anzenberger joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss why the relationship between church and state in France is so terrible, why the fashion industry needs more evangelists, and what’s behind a recent spate of vandalism in French churches.
This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you by the MA in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership program at Wheaton College Graduate School, preparing leaders to serve the most vulnerable and the church globally. For more information, go to wheaton.edu/HDL.
This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, a ministry-focused insurance and payroll provider serving Christian churches, schools, and related ministries. For more information, visit BrotherhoodMutual.com.
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April 30, 2019 transcript
Morgan Lee: Today is May 1st, and you're listening to Quick To Listen, where we go beyond hashtags and hot takes to discuss the major cultural event. Today, we will be talking about the state of Christianity in France, one of the world's most secular countries. I'm Morgan, digital media producer here at Christianity Today. I am joined by my co-host Mark Galli.
Mark Galli: Today, We're talking to Raphaël Anzenberger. He is director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries for the French-speaking world, president of France Evangelization, and adjunct professor of intercultural studies at Columbia International University in the United States. Welcome Rafael.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Thanks for having me on the show.
Morgan Lee: As most people know two weeks ago, the Notre-Dame caught fire and burned. Not to the ground, but the damage was so severe that some have suggested that the church may not reopen for up to five years. As efforts to raise money to rebuild the famous Paris cathedral have commenced, its catalyzed a larger discussion about the state of Christianity in this officially secular country. So last year Pew Research Center did a big report on the state of religion in Western Europe, and I thought I'd just kind of go over the French religious breakdown that they found. So they saw in their research that when they looked at the population, 18 percent of the population were church-attending Christians, 47 percent of the population—so almost half—were non-practicing Christians, 22 percent of the population was not religiously affiliated, and eight percent was a different religion, or they said they did not know.
A month prior to the Notre-Dame fire, Newsweek published this article. It said, "Catholic Churches Are Being Desecrated Across France and Officials Don't Know Why." And I just wanted to read a couple lines from this particular report. It said, "France has seen a spate of attacks against Catholic churches since the start of the year, vandalism that has included arson and desecration. Vandals have smashed statues, knockdown tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, and torn down crosses, sparking fears of a rise of anti-Catholic sentiment in the country." So, that's also kind of happening, you know, against this other context of the fire in Notre-Dame, which there's no reason to think that this has been caused by vandalism, but obviously these things have all happened in a short period of time.
So concurrent to all of this, France continues to welcome immigrants. Be they Christians or Muslims, who practice their faith often, much more robustly than the local population. And so this week on Quick To Listen, we wanted to discuss the state of Christianity, and of course more specifically the Evangelical movement in one of the world's more secular countries, and what the aftermath of the Notre-Dame blaze reveals about religion in France. So Mark, I think we should just do our gut check about this particular fire that happened a couple weeks ago.
Mark Galli: Yeah, the main gut-check was, as was to be expected but it still was disappointing. It's understandable and disappointing in that when the fire, when Notre-Dame was described by journalists, it was described as an icon of the French people or the country of France. For a while people seem to forget that it was a building built to honor our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a church.
Morgan Lee: And Mary.
Mark Galli: Well, there you go. And Mary, exactly. That was the main thing. But you know, like most people, it is something special to France. There's no question about that, but given the worldwide reaction to it, I was surprised. It seems to be iconic for the whole world in a lot of ways.
Morgan Lee: Yeah, when you were saying that I thought those interesting point because the day before that it burned it was Palm Sunday, and they actually had Palm Sunday services in there. And presumably they were going to have a number of other Holy Week services that were going to play out there. But I actually think that that speaks to kind of attention that I'm assuming we're going to get into. About a country that sees itself as a secular, but when people think of like what really seems to epitomize it one of the things that they pick is a church.
Mark Galli: That's interesting. Yeah.
Morgan Lee: And so why is that? You know, what is this kind of like bleeding together these two things that's happening?
Mark Galli: And when I think of a country that's supposedly secular, I don't think of a country in which 18 percent of the church population is attending church and another 40% still consider themselves Christians but non-practicing. So I'd like I'm looking forward to getting into that with Raphaël. It seems more religious than I imagined it to be.
Morgan Lee: Raphaël, do you want to give us your reaction when you found out that there had been this big fire that had happened?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, it was it was very interesting indeed to see the reaction of people in France, and it’s true that you had on one side those who mourn the fact that it was a place of worship, and the Catholics mainly, and I often noticed that the media or even the French president when he addressed the nation the day after didn't mention the Catholics. And then another segment of the population, which is the largest segment, who remembers not for them as a place not just for a religious activity, but also that that inspired movies, cultures, a cultural icon, reference point—when everybody visits Paris, you have to go through Notre-Dame. And so in a sense the Notre-Dame has this dual heritage. It's a spiritual heritage, but it's also it's a very strong cultural heritage. So we can understand why, you know, some people would choose to emphasize one rather than the other.
Morgan Lee: So, obviously I read these numbers at the beginning of the show and I kind of wanted to revisit them because Mark mentioned them as well in his gut check. So I don't expect any of our listeners to remember these off the top of their head. So I'm just going to go through them again. So it found that there were 18 percent of the population were church-attending Christians. It's 47 percent of the population was non-practicing Christians, 22 percent was religiously unaffiliated, and eight percent was other religion, or they said they didn't know. So, Raphaël when you see these numbers, do you find them surprising or kind of consistent with what your experience has been in France?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well when it comes to numbers and statistics, it really depends the way you actually count. We're using a little bit of different statistics range, which I think will speak better for those who are listening to the podcast. Usually what we say is that one out of ten French people is going to church on any given Sunday. So that makes ten percent of the population—and that is roughly six percent practicing Catholic Christians, you add on top of that three percent Protestants, which will include evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, and then orthodox, so basically within the Christian tradition faith, and you get to ten percent. So one out of ten French persons is going to church on a Sunday, and 9 out of 10 either stay in bed or do something else. That's pretty much the way we talk about church attendance today.
Mark Galli: Yeah, I could be often when they do church attendance in American polls: have you attended church once in the last month, or twice in the last month? So that what that would explain the disparity. But your stats seem real more realistic in terms of how its felt week to week.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, that's right. I mean still 54 percent of the French people would identify themselves as Catholics, but when you actually dig into that there's at least nine different tribes with in Catholicism. The bulk part is actually social or cultural Catholicism. Those who would subscribe to the Catholic faith and understand actually what they're talking about, that's more in the six percent. And I've even seen recently another figure of four percent, which would signify that the number is still dropping in number of people attending church. And I guess, you know, the recent scandals in the Catholic church has not helped too much the perception of the French people over, you know, the relevance of the Catholic church.
Morgan Lee: So, what I found interesting about how Pew kind of had this taxonomy of different groups that they were surveying was that they had non-practicing Christians, and I know you said that there's even greater variance in how you've studied this. But maybe you could talk to us a little bit about the ways that Catholic identity is understood and experienced, even if it's not necessarily practiced in the way that we like think of faith being particularly practiced.
Raphaël Anzenberger: So usually what you will find is a split among generations. So if we want to really call it like this, if you take 50 [years] up, those would be Catholics who have been raised Catholics and so they would define themselves as Catholics. And when you when you ask them what they mean by that it means that they were baptized, or they had their children baptized in a church, they were usually married in the church, and they surely hope to be buried in a church. Then when you ask the 30-50, this is a generation that needs to remember if they were raised Catholics or not. So that's still a remote souvenir, in a sense. And then they're not really sure why their parents ask them to be that because they will say that their parents are not really that religious. So that that proportion is questioning really if there are Catholics or what actually means to be Catholic. And then if you take the 30 years old and under, that's where you will find more a militant generation, those who attend the Catholic Youth Event day, that is very popular. Those who will go to Taizé community, those who will have regular pilgrimage to different places of worship. And usually those are militant in a sense that they abide by the Catholic faith, and the sacraments, and the tradition. So that's broadly how we would see the split when you look at the different generations.
Mark Galli: It's interesting because when I saw the news photos of people praying on their knees as the cathedral was burning, most of the people were young that we're doing that.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, absolutely. This is surprising. But if you if you go to Paris on Sunday evenings, you have a lot of Catholic churches who are putting together special events for youth. And it's there. I mean, the Catholic youth is very much militant in a sense and it's interesting to see that they are being also inspired by the evangelical Church in the way they express their faith, the kind of the worship that they are bringing to the church, the way they do evangelism and missions, and it's almost sometimes a difficult to see if they are actually Catholics or evangelicals.
Mark Galli: That's very interesting. That parallels some things that are going on in the States. I attended at a couple mid-week Catholic outreaches because I knew people who were speaking at them. And the tone of the meeting was just like you described, if you didn't know better, you'd say you were in a charismatic evangelical gathering to listen to someone talk about abortion. It was just quite interesting to me.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, you see the same phenomenon in Poland for instance, where the youth is very much active in the Catholic church, and it's sort of a rebirth. But it's not coming out of tradition, it's really coming out of faith in the credos of the Church.
Morgan Lee: So, I'm curious because you know at one point obviously most of the French population, an overwhelming amount of the French population would have identified really robustly as Christian or Catholic, and so was there a particular point in the last 50 to 75 years were that type of level of enthusiasm really began to wane? And could you give us some of the context for why you think that happened?
Raphaël Anzenberger: One thing that is a little bit difficult for the listeners coming from North America to understand the state of the church in Europe is the fact that when America was birth, it was decided not to have any state church, but from the very beginning to offer a pluralistic understanding of how religion could be practiced. That's why the rise of denominations is quite recent in ancient history and it's actually North America that has given that to the world. But only until very recently European countries were defined, or are still in some places defined, by a state church. So in Germany, this is a Lutheran church. In Norway, Sweden, you have State church. In the UK, you have the Anglican church. And in France, it was the Catholic church, like it was in Italy and Portugal and Poland. So being Portuguese or being Polish or being French equals you belong, and you're born within the state church. And the church sponsors the state and vice versa. So it's very difficult for Europeans who were born in the state church to imagine that there is actually a reality beyond the state church religion, and that's why for a lot of the French people there is nothing beyond being Catholic. And if you say even the word Protestant, they might have some vague souvenir, but for them to Protestants are in Switzerland, and they're not necessarily in France. And that's very important for our listeners to understand, and that makes it difficult.
But to answer your question, I'd say that the split started in 17th, 18th century for multiple reasons. Number one, was the do the way wars were raging throughout Europe between Protestants and Catholics, and at some point, it became really difficult for people to envision actually building a society on a religious ground. Who do we trust, and which confession do we follow? And so that was difficult. That's why the rise of Deism was perceived as a better option already in the 18th, 19th century. That if we can all agree that there is a First Mover, there's a Great Architect, and that would be the definition of God, and this would be removed from any church tradition or religious definition, then maybe this would be the start of something that we can build on. And that was at the core of the Freemason enterprise in the 18th century. And with that it was fueled in the field of philosophy with The Enlightenment of course, and the rise of subjectivism, the idea that actually I can exist beyond a cosmos, beyond a society that is regulated by order, and I can exist for myself. I can have a personal opinion and it can be different than the one that is perceived as to be the norm by society. And when you look at the trajectory in France, there was a definite split in the early 20th century, especially in 1905 when there was a strict separation between church and state through a law that we call the law of laïcité and you have probably heard that word somewhere somehow through the media—and that said that it was pretty much the end of the story for the Catholic church in terms of running the school system, running the hospitals, being involved in the public life, even the political life. 1905 was a definite divorce, a bad divorce I might say. And then overnight, in 1906, you had two splits, we had a split and two Frances pretty much. You had to Catholic church, which deemed that the Pope was actually the ruler, and then you had the Republic of France, where in the Republic was the ruler. And it took basically till 1960, 1970 to bring back some sort of peace and in this couple between the Catholic church and the French Republic. We're still dealing with the aftermath of it. But 1905 was a very bad divorce, if I must say.
Mark Galli: My memory says there's also has been a tremendous amount of resentment against the Catholic church in France for various and sundry reasons. Was that part of the reason for the ugly divorce?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, I say you really had to split-split. I mean it was half-half. Half of the French people couldn't believe that you could be actually French without being Catholic. And so that means it was like Quebec in a sense. It was an identity that was rooted in religion and politics. And then for the other half, they wanted to be free of doing other things and exploring other things, and actually the Protestants along with the Freemasons and Free Thinkers were the ones who actually petitioned for a strong divorce. In a sense, we needed, it needed to be said to the Catholic Church, we need to move into something that is different. And the Catholic Church couldn't envision actually operating differently. That's why the divorce was such a difficult deal because on the Catholic side they were not at all pleased with the way things were going. It was not an agreed position that we had to move into a pluralistic society. France was still considered to be the daughter of the Catholic church and as such had to remain under the authority somewhere, somehow of Rome.
Morgan Lee: Wow, that's a really great understanding and makes sense about why there's so much disconnection, I guess, from the Catholic church today if there was that much fighting that was going on for so long.
So, I want to actually go back to what we were talking about in the aftermath of the fire at the Notre-Dame. When Macron or some of these other leaders are talking about it, do they feel like they need to be careful with how they talk about things like this in light of all the history that you just talked about?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, I mean for practically one century, pretty much throughout the 20th century, you had to be—as a political figure, you had to be very, very careful, and not to identify yourself with a Catholic church. That doesn't mean that you had to be an atheist to be a to be leading the country. Like Charles de Gaulle was a great president, great general, and he was a devoted Catholic, but he would not go to the mass on Sunday. He will only go to the mass whenever he would be back in his own parish, or he would he would take communion are in a private setting. So, from that point on it was very important that the leader, the political, the public figure of the Republic, would abstain from actually identifying itself to a church tradition. I will say that with already with Sarkozy and also with Macron now, we're moving into a second stage of secularization, I'd say. If the in the first stage, especially the 20th century, the role of the state was to keep the Catholic Church a bay in a sense, far from any relationship or influence on the political scene. Now we're moving into a second phase, which I would call the post-secularization phase, post-secular phase, and that is the State sees itself now as a referee more. Because again, if you take the number of practicing Catholics, if you take the six percent figure, or the four percent, a more recent figure, it's no longer a threat to the government. You add that the three percent Protestants, you add on top of it roughly five percent practicing Muslims. And so what you end up is actually how you have militant minorities who are actually asking the right to express their faith in the public square, and so the State has to shift from being the protector of the Republic to be actually a referee in facilitating the way religious minorities can express themselves in a public square. And that's a very, very new dynamic that we see in politics, and Macron especially is very open to that kind of dialogue and is asking actually the State to be more conducive and fruitful in the conversation with the religion tradition rather than just ignoring them all together.
Mark Galli: Again, remind me of my memory of news stories is faulty, but it does seem like when we hear stories of how European countries are dealing with Muslims particularly, and how they want to express their faith by wearing head coverings in such in France, my impression is France seems to have little patience with that sort of thing. Is that a correct impression?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, you have to remember that France has the largest Muslim community and the largest Jewish community in Europe. So we have to—you know, that's why whenever there is a political tension in the Middle East, in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, there's different direct correlation in our suburbs. And so the Muslim community tends to be very pro-Palestinian. And of course, you know Jewish community tends to be pro-Israel. So it's a tough place for the government to be in because they have to keep those two minorities at peace with one another. So it has to use great care in the way we are dealing with Islam. And I think the government is right in considering that not all Muslims are radicals, that Wahhabism and Salafism are only one of the four strands of Islam. Actually, most of the Muslims in France are very peaceful and they would abide more to a folk Islam coming from North Africa than a more radical Salafi. We see the complexity of trying to even bring the Muslims together to form sort of a council of Muslims of France that could speak of one voice, and when you look at the different strands and within Islam, they even have a hard time coming together around the table. There's a Moroccan strand, there's an Algerian strand, Egyptian strand, the Saudi strand, and it's different. It's not a monolithic segment, its multiple traditions and multiple voices, which adds to the complexity of it.
Morgan Lee: Yeah, absolutely. But before we get into more about Islam—because I do want to talk about that and immigration in general and France and how that's affected things—I did want to just ask you about the vandalism story that we mentioned at the beginning of the show. How has that been received in France? Are people aware that this is happening? Is this something that you think is a big deal, or is just, you know, small incidents happening that are probably the result of local anger, but not necessarily a symbolic of something larger that's happening?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, I mean, you're right in a sense that there's something new. If you look at the numbers of vandalism acts, it's on the rise and it's it does raise the question why. Why is it so? Now you have to remember there's 22,000 Catholic places of worship in the country. Most of them are empty, because when you have a parish with nine or ten villages, you have to regroup all the worshipping to one or two places. And so the Catholic church is really stretched. To give you just a figure they've ordering a little bit more than 150 priests last year. And that's to take care of 22,000 congregations. So you can see the difficulty and the need of the Catholic Church actually to request help from Africa and Asia in terms of priesthood, to be able to fill up the gap. So a lot of the Catholic buildings are just rundown buildings, and so people come and squat them and they think they can do actually everything they can, or they want in those places. Others, which is not the majority I think, are political statements or also the work of a satanic cults that are very keen on breaking into the church and then finding the holy sacrament and then use that for their own ceremonies.
Mark Galli: That's interesting.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yes, yes. So you have those a lot. Especially in the center of France and in the west.
Morgan Lee: All right, let's talk about immigration to France. Maybe you can just tell us right now, what countries are the majority of immigrants who come to France? Where they from?
Raphaël Anzenberger: So we had different waves of immigration throughout the centuries. We had waves of immigration from Africa of course, from the Caribbean. Then in the 20th century from North Africa, from Italy, from Portugal. And then we have new waves of migrants coming through the Middle East, and in East Africa, West Africa—so those are would be migrants from Syria, from Iran. We have a lot number of Iranians also coming in. But also from Ethiopia, from Eretria, from Congo, from Mauritania, from Libya. So those would be more recent waves of migrants. So, because Europe is—we call it the Schengen space, so if you enter into one of the European countries, you can actually be very mobile once you have your paperwork. Usually people, migrants will not stay in France—especially the new migrants. They would rather actually go to the UK, because the UK Society is more multi-community-driven, it's more multicultural. And so you can move to Birmingham, for instance, and be an Afghan or be a Pakistani and not even speak a word of English, and you still have work and you can still you know function. In France, if you don't learn the language, then that's it. You cannot actually integrate into society. So, it's very difficult for migrants to make it to France because the level of integration which is required by the State is so high that often the migrants will choose another country. And then also we have nine percent unemployment, so we have a stock of unemployment which is really high. So it's very difficult for them to find any sort of employment. So they tend to go through and not stay.
Morgan Lee: Are many of the migrants who are either coming in now, or who have been here for several decades, are many of them Christians?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, those coming from Syria usually are from a Catholic tradition and so they are very much welcomed by the Catholic churches in our country, and many have found sheltered among the Catholic communities. Then you have those coming from Congo. They are usually Evangelicals, and they do sometimes end up in our communities. And then you have those, which is the ballpark, coming from Muslim background. And those, either they stay, or they tend to go to the UK or Germany, where they are just more employment opportunities.
Morgan Lee: So can you tell us a little bit about the outreach that the Evangelical churches that you have worked with or attended have done with these immigrant populations.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, I will say that—let's put it this way, I wish I would have some great stories to tell you. But, the reality of the fact is that the French Evangelical church, which is roughly 2,300 churches total in the country last time I counted, which is basically what you will find in the Dallas-Fort Worth area—that's what we have for 66 million people. So you do the ratio. We have a church for every 32,000 inhabitants. And that means that there's still a long way to go. And the Evangelical church is still not totally missional in its thinking, and they're very much preoccupied to be able to survive, especially in rural areas. We have issues with the ability to form a new generation to take over the existing churches, at the same time we want to plant more churches. But about reaching out to the migrants, let's say that we praise the Lord for American missionaries who are willing to come and stay amongst us with a full-blown salary, and they really have a heart for that.
It's changing, especially among the new generation. We see some great ministries in the west, or in the north, some in the south—younger generations who are refusing to follow the pattern of the classical Evangelical Church to think that this should be somebody's else's problem—it's changing a little bit. But we're still far from actually embracing, in a sense, the opportunity that is in front of us. And I really much regret that state.
Mark Galli: So that, in terms of reaching out to Immigrant communities, you're saying the Evangelical church doesn't do a great job of that, but are there concerted efforts to reach out to the French population in general? I mean your whole ministry is based on that.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, maybe the listeners will be surprised to hear that currently we're opening a church every ten days in France. Which makes the Evangelical faith the fastest growing religious segment in France.
Mark Galli: So basically, you're reaching out to disaffected Catholics and people who have lost all touch with religion?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, those who call themselves Catholics and can't remember why. So the distance is really far out. But we're also, I mean to be fair I would say that the majority of the French population is agnostic, you know. We've always had sort of core structural atheism stock that we would be glad to ship to the States anytime if you want some more, but never really reached beyond 15 percent. And they're very vocal, but they don't get any traction. So, you know the majority, the 2/3 majority of the French population is agnostic—soft agnostic, hard agnostic. So it's different in terms of evangelism than it's actually convincing a Catholic that they need to change their faith, or an atheist that he needs to give up his atheistic. It's more about presenting the God that they think is there, but they don't know how to get to Him.
Morgan Lee: So what does your ministry actually look like? Maybe you can tell us about its strategy, philosophy, and approach to trying to reach this population.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well within the Ravi Zacharias Ministry, we are keen on reaching the cultural influencers. That's really where our heart is. And in France that means, you know, we're trying to reach out to those who are in the field of politics, in business, but also in the fashion industry—there's very few things done in the fashion industry and if we have any listeners interested in evangelism and the fashion industry, I would be very happy to be in touch with them because that's a segment, sociological segment that is really in need of the gospel. And the we have of course New York, but we have London, and Paris, and Milan that are the big places for the fashion industry, so we want to reach out also to that segment—those in also in the fields of arts. And then, in terms of other ministries like French evangelization, what we're trying to do is we educate the local church about the role of the ministry of the evangelist, and we say that God through the sovereignty that is His is still raising up evangelists in the local church, and we are very happy as a ministry to come alongside the local church and equip their evangelist in their midst, so that they can actually then in turn equip the saints to give a reasonable answer to the questions that people are asking about their faith.
So we're both an evangelistic ministry, but also were equipping the church through evangelists to be better at being missionally driven.
Mark Galli: Yeah, it brought smiles to our faces to think about reaching out to the fashion industry. But if the depictions in the media of life in the fashion industry, it would strike me that would be a fertile ground for evangelism. There's a lot of insecurity, and it's an environment that can really be brutal to people.
Raphaël Anzenberger: It's tremendous the way, you know, it's a business, it's an industry that is geared around the idea of image, but you think about it the first designer was God. He knows about design, He knows about image, He knows about covering, and in a sense, humans are very different than animals because they're the only one who dress. So why do we dress? Why do we do feel the urge, number one to create? And second, to create something to cover something? So it's actually crazy to see the different, the multiple bridges—natural bridges—in the conversation for the gospel. And we've seen people very hungry to look at identity, issues of identity and image. And we use the Imago Dei, image of God, conversation to bring them to the point of realizing that what they're seeking through their craft is actually the God the designer.
Morgan Lee: When you're talking about these churches that are, these Evangelical churches that are in France, are they more likely to be in the major urban areas, or are they out in the countryside?
Raphaël Anzenberger: We have both. We have both in the rural and in the cities, I think where the church is not right now, it's really in the hearts of a big Metropolitan centers, like Paris and Lyon and North Marseille. Due to two reasons: number one, it's very expensive to live there, and so it's very complicated to rent a place of worship and to live in the heart of the city. You have to remember that in Europe, rich people live downtown and poor people live in a suburb, which is different than it is in the States. If you take San Francisco or New Orleans, you have a better understanding the way our European cities are built. So, we have a hard time now penetrating really the heart of the cities. And the second reason why it is difficult beyond just the price tag, is because we still don't have the how to behave in a society. You know for so many centuries and years, we were persecuted minority. And it's only very recently that we are perceived to be something credible, almost an alternative a credible alternative to Catholicism. And so we have to learn to exist in society. The way we've always felt was society was an enemy in a sense. So it's a learning curve for us. We only have very recently, MPs who are evangelicals, or senators who were evangelicals, or those in the field of academia—it's very, very new. And it's great to see this younger generation wanting also to influence society.
Morgan Lee: So I think what you're saying is that for a long time evangelicalism just hasn't had this type of cultural cachet or respectability, and I'm sure like many things it also has a reputation that's influenced very broadly by American evangelicals as well.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, which is which is good and bad. I mean depends who is in power, right? But I remember when George Bush went to war against Iraq, there was one of the big equivalent of the—Newsweek magazine if you say, then had a bit cover up, you know: Bush, he's heading the Evangelical cult who wants to conquer the world. A lot of media actually came to see us, and say oh, okay, so how come you are working for the American government? Are you CIA? And it took us about 10 years, through very heavy communication to sort of draw distance to the American policy, to say that no, you know we actually—if you look back through history, we're Europeans first. So in a sense we were there before America was born. But at the same time, let me tell you how much I personally I'm thankful for the American Church. You know, in my tradition 70 percent of the churches that were planted in France were planted because of foreign missions and Americans have been the bulk part of this effort of missionary endeavor. And I can only be thankful for the so many lives who decided to come, and do the work, and learn the language, leave their country, and love my people. So, I'm not the one who's going to say anything negative about Americans.
Morgan Lee: You can say one or two negative things. It's okay. You know us.
Mark Galli: Now that's the report I hear from many Christians in other countries as well. We do tend to be, as well we should be, a little self-critical of our own efforts and how we could have been better missionaries in the past, and how we can be better missionaries in the present. But, when I do ask people on the ground in other countries that have a strong Christian presence due to mostly American missionaries, they're fundamentally grateful for the efforts that were taken.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Absolutely. I think we still have as a national Church a lot to learn. And I really believe that the maturity of any given country is its propensity to send its best people, men and women, for Kingdom's sake to the nations.
Morgan Lee: So one of the biggest stories that's come out of France in the past six months has been the Gilets Jaunes protests, and I didn't know to the extent that those protests have it all intersected with any of the work that either the Catholic church and also the Evangelical Church is doing.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, it was not really related or correlated at any point. I think Gilets Jaunes was it was a multi-level conversation. That's why it's still today difficult to say who is a Gilets Jaunes, who is not a Gilets Jaunes. I think today the Gilets Jaunes is more the story of some extremist groups, anarchist, left-wing groups who are trying to topple the government. And so they're adding a lot of confusion to the story. But the early Gilets Jaunes were the middle class and lower class who were expressing the fact that they were paying too much tax. And in France is a welfare country, it's a socialist country, and requires a lot of tax to run the government. And it's true that at some point, it became really very difficult for some of the families, especially women raising children alone, to be able to end the month in the black. And so it was just a profound frustration with the tax level in the government. And I think the government responded last week to that very preoccupation. So I believe that the Gilets Jaunes will fade out, and the only ones who will continue to be militant are usually more on the left-wing extremist side, and they want to redefine what the Republic is all about.
Mark Galli: You might want to translate that into English for how journalists here translate that.
Morgan Lee: Oh, the yellow jackets?
Mark Galli: The yellow jackets. Thank you.
Morgan Lee: That's fair. One thing I think that is interesting though is that when you live in these countries that are welfare state in many ways, I think people's experiences of the Church is different than in the United States, right? Lots of people experience the Church through social services here in the US, because the government does not provide nearly as much. And so to some extent, there's not as much of an entry point sometimes for the Church to be able to play a role in people's lives. Not like that's a bad thing, It's just a different thing, right?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, absolutely. I think you're right. I mean 1905 was definitely, you know, the end of the supremacy of the Catholic church in the field of education, and the medical field, and so you also have in France a strong tradition of free association—those are what we call 1901 Association—and many actually are doing social work. But the ball park actually is the government's role to take care of the elderly and the poor, and then the free association and the church to do their part. But welfare system is, there is only one who is responsible for even the bad weather. It's called the president. And you can find his phone number on the White House. It's online.
Morgan Lee: So, having said that then, what are the issues that are really important to the French Evangelical community?
Raphaël Anzenberger: I think one of the main issues we're having right now is finding new places of worship. Really, it's getting complicated. Again, we're opening a church every 10 days and that's the net figure. That means it's all the ones that we're opening, minus the ones were closing. So it's a net figure. And so that means that we need to, we need to find new places of worship. At the same time, those smaller congregations we had are growing, which is a sign of health, and many are doing building renovations and that requires special legislation for that. And so part of the beauty of being French is to be very, very complicated when it comes to legislation. I don't know why, but it's almost like we invented, you know, administration headaches, and we're very, very good about that. And so it's getting really complicated for our pastors, who not only need to feed the flock, which is their first calling, but also to be experts in handicapped law, to fireproof buildings. You have to be a lawyer, a notary, it's just crazy, an architect. It's very, very complex, and the administration is not helping. Because sometimes what they'll say is, we really like you, we think we understand who you are, we think we understand you're not a cult, which is already a good progress, but then they'll say, you know, if we help you then we'll need to help all the other ones, and the other ones is basically the Muslims. And so do we want to do that? Do we want to help you? Because then they'll come and say hey, you helped the Evangelicals then what about our prayer room? What about our mosque? And so that's where it becomes really complicated with political figures.
Morgan Lee: Wait, so why would France not want to help? Or why would it not want to make it easier for all religious groups to be able to open up new religious spaces?
Mark Galli: That's a very good question.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, that's part of the complexity to move from a place in the 20th century, where they're the enemy with the Catholic church to a place now where we have to reinvent religious discourse in a public square, but with militant minorities. Because the Catholics, they want something. The evangelicals, they want something. The Muslims want something. The Jews want something. And so some of the political figures today, they have no clue how to actually navigate in in this new field of pluralism. What does it mean for the government to be a referee in that? And so it defaults back into the position where we have to defend the sanctity of the Republic. But at the same time, that's not what the law says. The law says you have to guarantee that it's actually happening. And so we continue to have back and forth conversation with members of the government, and we've done quite a number of publications with the National Council of French Evangelicals on that very topic. On what is it mean to be to be a hippie big lake, and what is the proper place of religion in a public square. But there's still so much to do and especially in the heads of the hearts of those who are elected for public service. They still need to ramp up to the idea and that it is legitimate today in 21st century France to be an Evangelical and to have a voice in the public square.
Morgan Lee: So obviously we have an issue with empty churches here in the US just like you in France. You guys and France have lots of empty churches, and at least in my experience in Chicago, I've seen a number of these turn into all different types of things, including the place that I do circus at is a former church. Most of them, of course get turned into buildings where people end up living, some of them turn into community centers. I'm not sure if any Catholic churches turn into Protestant churches. Presumably they do, but I don't know that I've seen that. But has there been any conversation about turning any of these empty Catholic churches into Protestant churches or to mosques or synagogues?
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, one thing for sure is that the church can become a circus, and I've been a pastor and I tell you that it thinks it's often more the case than it is not.
Mark Galli: So that makes perfect sense for the circus to meet in a church.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, there's a partnership to do here. But to answer your question, it's interesting and to pick back the conversation on Notre-Dame. It is okay for the French person to see a Catholic church being turned into a cultural center, and most will become a cultural center, a place for artists to express their arts. One or two times there were questions about Muslims buying Catholic churches to make them places of worship, and that did not go well at all. And especially the extreme right raised the funds to be able to secure actually the premises so that the Muslims would not actually buy it. And that's still very much a very sensitive and nationalist agenda. And so I don't think I don't think we'll see that happening. Now when it comes to the Evangelical churches, some Catholic churches are selling their premises for a fortune, number one. And two, when you look at actually the state of the church, the way it's actually run down, it is so cost—a massive cost in terms of maintenance that it will kill us. We don't have, you know, the financial backbone to actually be able to restore them to their proper measure.
So we're seeing a trend for some hotels to actually invest in those places of worship. But usually the people who will do that. They will respect in a sense the tradition that was there, and when they do it, they do it with elegance which is which is a nice.
Mark Galli: Part of the DNA of France. If you're going to do something do it with elegance.
Raphaël Anzenberger: There we go. There we go.
Morgan Lee: I will say that like, you know American evangelicals do put churches in schools and I go to house churches. I don't know if those are options that are on the table for the Evangelical community when it opens new churches too, but—
Raphaël Anzenberger: Well, it's difficult to have access to schools because their majority public schools, and the Catholic schools are not that eager for us—
Morgan Lee: But you can't meet in public schools?
Raphaël Anzenberger: No, we can't. No that's just strict. That's separation of church and state, so that wouldn't be possible. So usually what happens is we find a business, and then we just rent the place. That's usually do the way it happens. Sometimes we build, but when we have to build, we will have to build outside of the city, which means that we lack then the cultural influence that we could have if we would be you know in the heart of the city.
Morgan Lee: Alright, so my next question is how can we pray for the French evangelical church? And it sounds like zoning.
Raphaël Anzenberger: Yeah, I think in a sense we were growing and that's a happy that's a happy thing. Again to church every 10 days. The low figure is 650,000 evangelicals in France. I believe we're more now into the 1 million. There's also the rise of a new generation, who is taking a stand, strong stands for their faith in the fields of politics and business and the fashion industry and the arts, so that's really topics of rejoicing. So we can celebrate for that. But we can also pray that, you know this this verse, to whom it has been given much, much will be required. For many years, France has been the recipient of a missionary generosity, especially coming from America. I think it's time for France to turn around and start to give to other nations. When I see the need in North Africa, in the Middle East, it's just around the corner. I live in Nice, I'm an hour away from North Africa. And we're not doing our part in a sense. And so my prayer would be that the Evangelical Church would go through a strong missional conversion and start actually blazing other nations to pay back in a sense, to pay it forward.
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