Since October, Bulgarian evangelicals have protested proposed legislation that would hinder preaching, evangelizing, funding, and training by non-Orthodox minority faiths with weekly demonstrations and nationwide calls to prayer.
Last Friday, its last working day of 2018, the country’s parliament finally passed the new law, without the restrictions Protestants had feared the most.
“We celebrate the decision by the government of Bulgaria earlier today to allow hundreds of churches, including 130 Baptist churches, to remain open so that people of faith may continue to worship in the free convictions of their conscience,” stated the Baptist World Alliance, which opposed the initial proposal along with the Baptist Union of Bulgaria and several other national church councils.
The amendments to the Religious Denominations Act go into effect January 1 and present some additional regulations in the southeastern European country. The two major faith groups, Orthodox (85%) and Muslim (10%), also receive bigger government subsidies under the new law.
An earlier version of the amendments, as CT reported last month, put the future of Protestant education and foreign funding for churches in jeopardy.
The original proposal also barred all church activity outside official buildings and kept foreign preachers from leading services; the approved amendments regulate only the use of loudspeakers to amplify outdoor worship and allow non-Bulgarians to preach if they inform the religious affairs office, according to Evangelical Focus, a Christian news site in Europe.
Gong forward under the new rules, churches and other religious buildings can join an optional national registry to receive tax deductions.
“The willingness of the Government to listen to the concerns and perspective of citizens with a minority faith is commendable,” according to the Baptist World Alliance.
“The work of many Baptist leaders and other people of goodwill who led rallies for seven weeks inside Bulgaria and faithfully pressed for full religious freedom, as well as the support of many who prayed and engaged across the world, is a powerful example. The actions of today are a true Christmas blessing.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt