Our ministry of Advocacy and Religious Freedom is, in fact, a Christian apologetics work, using the concepts of today’s society to defend the public expression of the Christian faith. It aims to protect the freedom of the Christian church to gather, worship, and witness in the post-communist Bulgarian environment and to engage the culture with the witness of Christ.
Activities and projects
Below you can read brief explanations of the following ministry activities:
1. Freedom for All online magazine with a related English language blog;
2. Annual lawyer-pastor conference (held in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2017 in various Bulgarian cities);
3. Counsel and litigation.
Freedom for All Web Site: Origin, Essence, and Purpose
Freedom for All (FFA) is a Christian apologetics web site written in Bulgarian. We designed the website to engage the culture with the Christian message and to encourage Christians to develop a vision for public witness. The site gives a voice to Christian views on issues of ethics, morality, spirituality, politics and other such of public importance. We also defend the freedom of Christians to speak on these issues.
We started FFA in December of 2004 to create a forum for the discussion of the freedom of conscience, religion, and speech. The idea was to work on the level of discussion and education of the public about the value of respecting one’s conscience in their choice to worship God. The typical monolithic ideology which ruled the Bulgarian people during the time of communism turned out to be hard to crack. In the Bulgarian cultural and political thinking the state is still revered as the sole source of law and good. We have moved to discuss along with evangelical and Eastern Orthodox thinkers issues of public policy, morality, politics, and human rights as these related to the mission of the Church.
Regardless of the brief revival of Christian preaching and conversions to Christ, at the dawn of the new democratic political system (1990-1994), the post-communist society politicized and rejected the preaching of the Gospel as a “Western spiritual invasion.” The old demons of anti-evangelical and anti-Christian feelings began to emerge soon after the initial years of enthusiasm of finding a plain message of God’s love and salvation. Alleged political pluralism did not immediately translate into religious tolerance or respect for the evangelical message. Without overt and harsh persecution, by accepting religious freedom laws but not applying them, or by renouncing them through lesser ordinances, the actual freedom to believe and evangelize became yet again an unacceptable choice for Bulgarian society.
The State and politicians saw the Orthodox Church as its new partner for justifying an attempt to promote a state-sponsored ideology. The “free” media also brought up many anti-religious reports which bordered on the ridiculous. As conditions improved slowly during the 20-year post-communist period hostility against Christian witness and charity remained steady. For example, our ministry to state-run orphan homes (2000-2007) had to be closed due to change of administration which requested that we abandon our religious message but continue to bring in donations of clothes and food to the orphanages.
In this context the discussion of issues on how the church must relate to the state, why the state has such a predominant presence in society even after the alleged collapse of totalitarianism, what are the practical dimension of man’s freedom to believe and worship, were all very poignant.
Since 2010 the government has opened the communist State Security files, thus revealing many pastors and Orthodox priests and church leaders involvement in serving the communist secret services. These revelations prompted a public debate, including strife within the church — both Orthodox and evangelical. We have been involved in the public discussion on how Christians must approach the issue from a biblical perspective. One observation we must make is that yet again it was the state that initiated delving into the issue, and the church did not have a ready ethical and theological answer, nor did it take the initiative to address the problem before the secular government did.
The FFA online magazine offers 2-4 issues of 4-6 original articles per year by various Christian thinkers and scholars. On few occasions, we have offered the floor to non-Christian authors to engage in the discussion. We have worked with over 80 renowned Bulgarian and foreign authors. Since then we have expanded the site to include a blog and commentary sections. In the first year, we had about 15,000 unique visits to our site. By 2014 the visitors had tripled.
Internet search phrases in Bulgarian, related to freedom of conscience, church, and state, freedom of religion, bring up our site in the top results. All this we have been able to achieve by God’s grace, on a modest budget and with the hard work of our small team.
The other aspect of this ministry has been the network of author contacts we were able to create. We have worked with over 80 renowned Bulgarian and foreign authors throughout the years, most of them — believers. As the result of these contacts, we have been able to conduct successfully two historical Evangelical-E. Orthodox theological and missiological conferences (2012 and 2014). In respectively 2013 and 2015 we published collections of scholarly articles of the authors in this group. The titles were Church and State After the Fall of Communism (2013) and Christianity and Politics: Cooperation or Conflict? (2015).
Our Vision. We continue to publish the online magazine and strive to keep it as the top web publication for discussing and promoting the freedoms of religion, conscience, and speech and defend the Christian faith in the public square. We hope that through this discussion the Church of God will continue to be equipped with wisdom and boldness to worship and preach the Gospel.
God and Caesar Conferences
This is a training event with highly committed Christian lawyers and other speakers. The idea first started with three Round Table talks were held by us in 2001, 2005 and 2008. We have hosted five Christian leadership conferences for ministers and lawyers “God and Caesar” 2010-2013 and 2017. The events have been attended by over 400 pastors, Christian lawyers, and theological and law students from around the nation. Viktor and his team and a Christian lawyer from the US partnered in organizing the event the goal of the conference is to equip pastors and Christian workers to network and work with Christian lawyers and professionals in engaging the culture at large with the Gospel and issues of the Kingdom of God.
Currently, we are revisiting the format of the conference as we seek to make it an even more effective tool for training Christians for a specific ministry.
Counsel and Litigation
Even though Bulgaria has been free from communism since 1991, there are still situations in which authorities violate the right to gather, worship, and witness of evangelical and Bible-believing Christians in Bulgaria, and the media generally helps the state in the process.
Bulgarian evangelical Christians, on the other hand, seem to have been prone to adopt an identity given to them by the atheist state. Such identity is not necessarily in line with the identity given us by Christ, as described in Matthew 28:16-18. We try to resolve these issues through training, education of Christian leaders, and through introducing state officials to their obligation to follow the right to freedom of belief and speech.
However, as state officials often feel that they have the right to impede religious belief and speech, regardless of the law, we initiate negotiations which in some case may lead to legal action to uphold justice and the right of Christians to believe and preach without state intrusion. You can read more about the specific cases in which Viktor acts as the counsel in our newsletter updates (click on the Newsletter page, for info on how to subscribe).