Belgian Baptists receive official recognition
WASHINGTON (BP)--Baptists in Belgium are now officially recognized, after having been classified as a "cult" for a number of years, and thus outside the country's constitutional protections.
The recognition came in a Dec. 6 unanimous vote by the Protestant Synod in Brussels to accept the Union of Baptists in Belgium.
Samuel Verhaeghe, the union's general secretary, reported that a representative from the minister of justice was on hand for the vote. "He congratulated us at the end," Verhaeghe said.
The Baptist World Alliance had joined with European Baptists to plead the cause of Belgian Baptists to be officially recognized, since this prevented them from carrying out many church duties, such as marriage.
Former President Jimmy Carter also had asked the Belgian government to give the Baptist union official status. An official with the Carter Center's human rights program in Atlanta had called Belgium's lack of official recognition of Baptists "a violation of guaranteed international human rights."
There are 19 churches with approximately 850 members in the Baptist Union.
Verhaeghe cautioned, however, "the change in people's minds will not happen overnight" and there are plans to work with the synod to develop this new partnership.
Verhaeghe thanked Baptists around the world who prayed and wrote letters to help.
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, said the Belgian recognition is a sign of hope for Baptists in Austria who still are not officially recognized. "It is good that we did not give up hope," Lotz said. "Now we need to encourage Austrian Baptists because they are in the same situation, at least not recognized by the state."