By Dan Chirilenco March 11 2011.
A quick look at the history of Roman Catholic Church during the Medieval and Renaissance periods will unveil certain elements which have been carried over into the contemporary Romanian Pentecostal Church. The most glaring of these are intolerance of different ideas, blind adherence to traditions, and the belief in the sacredness of the Latin language. My intent here is not to bash the Roman Catholic Church, for even they have recanted and apologized for their past abuses. However, I do intend on harping on the latter point, mainly the belief in the existence of a sacred language which is upheld above all others. Within many Romanian Pentecostal Churches in the diaspora, particularly within North America, several obstacles have been put up to prevent the introduction of English and other languages in their services. This reality is often to the detriment of the younger generations who have little or no knowledge of Romanian. Although the reason for this is nationalistic in origin, it has become entrenched in many Romanian Pentecostal Churches even though nationalism has no business in churches. As a result of this situation, it would be of use to examine the cause and effects of these state of affairs which cause so much controversy.
A plausible explanation for the insistence by older generations in using Romanian exclusively within services, is one which is cultural in nature. Due to the Communist past of the Romanian state, severe laws and regulations were in place which prevented the free movement of people, free speech and expression of the individual. The state itself was permitted to intrude in every aspect of private life, giving it a totalitarian flare. Although this past seems austere in nature, it went hand in hand with the legalist mindset of several Pentecostal Churches at the time. Legalism as we know it seeks to control the behaviour of people and is made clear by analyzing some of the rules intended to control how Pentecostal Christians dressed, who they interacted with others, the music they listened to, the literature they read etc. The difference between control imposed by the Communist state and control perpetuated by the Pentecostal Church, was that one aspired to achieve citizen subservience to the state, and the other spiritual fulfillment. The collapse of Communism in 1989 was followed by an explosion of mass migrations from Romania to other developed countries like Australia, Canada and the US. This migration still occurs although the destination countries now tend to be in Western Europe and this is due to the accession of Romania into the European Union.
Upon arrival to their destination countries, I suspect culture shock sets in. The typical Romanian who was once subject to severe rules and regulations, suddenly came into contact with the alien concepts of rights and freedoms. In addition to these new concepts, migrants were faced with different social interactions in the destination countries, ones that were grounded in the belief that each individual has the right to their own fulfillment without interference. This translated into behaviours which Romanians found to be abhorrent or sinful. The psyche of each conservative Romanian individual was ill prepared to grapple with the supposed “immorality” ensuing all around them. In response to this, Romanians created an “us” and “them” mentality. And this was cemented over by using language as a barrier to filter out any non-Romanian individuals who may bring the “immorality” of the native Canadians or Americans into the church. As a result many sermons are only given in Romanian, congregational hymns must be in Romanian, even English in Sunday school lessons is severely curtailed. The negative effects of these draconian measures to prevent the “anglicization” of Romanians has led to monumental problems within the Romanian Pentecostal community. The first is the apparent attack on the identities of the younger generations. The realization has not yet set in with some Romanian immigrants that their children may not consider themselves fully Romanian in their new country.
Taking myself as an example, I was born and raised in Canada, was taught English and French, was educated in only English institutions, have strong allegiances to the Canadian federation, have never stepped foot in Romania and hold no loyalty to the Romanian state. The only tie I have to that country is the reality that my parents were born and raised there for a short period of time. If I were uprooted and deported to Romania, I wouldn’t feel at home at all. Therefore I cannot call myself Romanian in the fullest sense, but Canadian with a Romanian heritage. Sadly though, this situation is not recognized by many Romanian churches. The perception is that even children born outside of Romania to Romanian parents are Romanian in the fullest sense. There is no room for tolerance of what is called hyphenated Romanians (Canadian-Romanian, American- Romanian, British-Romanian, French- Romanian etc). And what this intolerance of hyphenated identities entails, is the complete rejection of other languages which may be spoken by these individuals EVEN if it’s easier for these people to understand the message of Christ in their own language. In essence, upholding one language to the exclusion of all others becomes more important than spreading the message of Christ to as many people as possible. In addition, the absurdity of this situation arises when the realization sets in that I (among many others) get told by foreigners what language to speak.IN OUR OWN COUNTRY. It would be the same as myself moving to Romania and telling the people in churches there to stop speaking their own language. If that sounds extreme, why must we tolerate it here?!
In addition to the attack on hyphenated identities, two other related effects of this situation are the slow integration of Romanian migrants into the host country’s society and the lack of community involvement of the church as a whole. What I mean by integration is the extent to which Romanians incorporate themselves into the destination country. Examples include voting in national elections, interacting with non-Romanian people and creating social contacts with them. Learning the language is a major component in this process. However, if the Romanian church acts as the main social hub of interactions amongst Romanians (as is the case), and if at the same time the church looks with disdain on other national languages (English in most cases), there is little incentive for Romanian Pentecostal migrants to learn the language and become productive citizens within the country. I do not extend this criticism to aged migrants who may find difficulty in learning a new language, but I do have a problem with those who migrate to a new country and live there for several years with little to no effort to learn the national language(s). With slowed integration also comes less interaction between the Romanian Church and the community surrounding it. Interactions such as ministering to the destitute, providing spiritual counsel to those who are spiritually broken, and fighting for social justice. This is not to say that Romanian churches do not engage in such activities, but for many churches these types of services are only offered to other Romanians, therefore making the church inaccessible to other people of different national identities. This strikes at the core of the universal nature of Christ and transforms His message into a cheap tool of nationalistic aspirations within the Romanian community.
At this point, I am well aware what my growing number of critics will say. “Move to another church if you don’t like it!” will be a common response after this is posted online. My pre-emptive response to them is: Why should I move to another church when I was born and raised in my current church? Why must I succumb to the demands of migrant Romanians who have a xenophobic attitude towards other cultures? Considering the fact that Romanian churches in Canada operate on a tax-exempt status granted by the national government, in addition to operating under the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I have every right to stay within my own church while promoting my own linguistic and cultural identity. It is those who oppose this who should ask themselves what exactly they are doing in a non-Romanian country if they have such a profound dislike for it. And this applies to all other Romanians finding themselves in other countries. It is high time that the realization is made that individuals born to Romanian Pentecostal parents outside of Romania will develop an identity other than Romanian. And after this realization takes place, accommodation is next on the to do list. Actions such as allowing some congregational hymns to be sung in English (or other languages depending on where in the world you find yourself), actively encouraging non-Romanian sermons, and allowing small children to learn about God in their language of choice, would be a great step forward in accommodating differences. I must note that I am well aware of several Romanian Pentecostal Churches in the diaspora which have taken significant steps in accommodating these differences, but at the same time, I daresay these churches are a minority when compared to all the Romanian Churches globally who still harbour nationalistic sentiments and a fear of other languages and cultures.
For all the romanian christians, please feel free to publish this article on your websites.