Spain: Baptists Debate about Money and the State

Spain: Baptists Debate about Money and the State

Manuel López/Klaus Rösler - November 15, 2005

G a n d i a – Debates on the relationship between church and state during the Council meeting of the Union of Evangelical Baptists of Spain which took place in Gandia near Valencia in early November remained without conclusive results. The topic needs further discussion. Central to the debate was the question of how one should react to the government’s offer to financially support the work of three religious minorities in this predominantly Catholic country. The socialist government of Prime-Minister José Luis Zapatero has offered Protestants, Muslims and Jews a total of three million EUR for the current year. However, the 227 convention delegates were debating whether Baptists should accept the payment - Baptists would receive EUR 12.000 via their Union. Fears were expressed that this would result in dependency on the state. Spanish Protestants are to receive total support of EUR 630.000. The discussions showed that 15 Baptist congregations had already received roughly EUR 6.000 each through other arrangements.

Controversy also surrounded the decision to lend the residential, conference and leisure-time complex „La Residencia“ for 25 years without charge to the Denia Baptist Church (near Alicante). These premises totalling 20.000 m2 were originally purchased by the US-based Southern Baptist Convention and subsequently transferred to Spain’s Evangelical Baptist Union. They have been used by the Baptist congregation in Denia for a long time now. Later on, the congregation built a series of buildings for educational usage. Pastor in Denia is Jorge Pastor, a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance.

The draft of a new constitution for the Union was also discussed. It limited the service of the Union’s primary executive to four years. It also attempted to decentralise the Union’s structure. However the draft was not supported by the majority. At present there are varying terms of office: The General-Secretary is elected for five years, the President and Vice-President serve for only two years, but their re-election is possible.

Elected as incoming president was Roberto Velert, pastor of one of Barcelona’s four Baptist congregations. Velert is also the director and founder of „Radio Bona Nova“(Good News Radio). He succeeds as president the lawyer Pablo Simarro (Lleida), who is also heading the committee preparing for Spain’s 6th Evangelical Congress scheduled for Barcelona in December 2007.

The candidacy of designer Lola Calvo (Madrid) for the board of directors did not find the necessary majority. She serves as an executive for the Spanish Bible Society and would have been after 137 years the first woman member of the church’s board of directors. In 13 rounds of voting she failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. During the last round she lacked only two votes. Theological grounds cannot be cited - after all, Spanish Baptists ordain women as pastors.

A total of 132 congregations with nearly 9.600 members belong to the Union of Evangelical Baptists of Spain. Roughly 94% of the country’s 39,5 million residents are Catholics; there are approximately 800.000 Protestants, 300.000 Muslims and 15.000 Jews.