European leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are calling for compassion and are lifting up government leaders in prayer amid a sharp rise in nationalism and anti-immigrant attitudes that nearly led to the election of the European Union’s first far-right politician as the head of state last weekend.
Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party narrowly lost Austria’s presidential election to Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent, by a margin of just 31,000 votes of the 4.64 million cast on Sunday.
Many European citizens appear to be “disoriented and confused” by a sluggish economy, recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, and a large inflow of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and other conflict-torn countries, the Adventist Church’s Inter-European Division said Wednesday.
“We hope and pray that our leaders may use wisdom, steadiness and empathy in understanding the concerns of the citizens,” the division, which encompasses 13 countries, including Austria, said in a statement.
“We pray that as European citizens we may regain faith and hope,” it said. “We pray that the spirits of hate and division may not prevail in our hearts and minds.”
Mainstream European politicians have expressed relief over the Austrian vote. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he was glad that Austrians had rejected “populism and extremism,” and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared that Europe was “breathing more easily.”
France and Germany are among the European Union countries where nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment have grown, leading to a surge in popularity for far-right politicians. Other countries include Denmark, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.
“Europe is being strongly drawn toward extreme political proposals that are resting on fragile bases of fear and insecurity,” the division said. “Across the continent — in almost all European countries — extremists are on the march.”
Over the past year, European Adventist believers have stepped up efforts to assist refugees with food, clothing, shelter, and jobs. At the same time, they have insisted that terror threats would not stop them from fulfilling Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 to “make disciples of all the nations.”
The division underscored that Jesus loves every person on European soil.
“May the Lord help citizens and institutions alike to work together with enthusiasm and passion so that the dignity of every person may be preserved and no one is left behind,” it said.