Spain’s Baptist Union to Accept State Subsidies

Spain’s Baptist Union to Accept State Subsidies

Manuel Lopez / Klaus Rösler - October 30, 2006

G a n d i a (EPBS) - Spain’s Baptist Evangelical Union (UEBE) has ended its ambiguous position on public subsidies. Until now, the Union had fully rejected any subsidies from state quarters, even though most of the 88 local congregations and their 9.500 members had willingly accepted such funding. The most recent UEBE convention, held at the Mediterranean resort of Gandia near Valencia, has now decided to approve the acceptance of public funds. The results were 104 votes in favour, 83 opposed and 14 abstentions.

Debates had been scheduled because of a controversial decision the previous year. Then, the Union had rejected 12.000 Euros offered by the “Fund for Pluralism and Coexistence”, which was sponsored by the socialist government of Minister-President José Luis Zapatero. With the three million Euros stemming from this Fund, the government has hoped to bolster the Protestant, Muslim and Jewish minorities in this heavily-Catholic country. Yet many congregations had already accepted the 6.000 Euros to which each of them were entitled. According to commentators, this new, “historic” agreement has returned the Baptist Union to the “common house” of all Spanish Protestants. Baptists had once been co-founders of the Federation of Spanish Evangelical Religious Entities.

Strongly in favour of accepting public funds were Prof. Maximo Garcia-Ruiz, Chairman of Madrid’s Evangelical Council (CEM), and Maria-Rosa Medel, Secretary of the Board of Directors of Spain’s Union of Evangelical Women (UDME). Their decisive stand conflicted though with the position of their own congregation: Madrid’s congregation is among the few in Spain’s Baptist Union which has until now rejected all state subsidies. Yet, according to members of this congregation, the decision will remain largely a theoretical one without practical consequences. The 3.000 Euros allocated for this year’s Reformation Feast had been sent to Madrid’s Evangelical Council and not to the congregation.

According to observers, the new decision has ended a “schizophrenic” state of affairs. For the sake of defending its independence from the state, Baptist Union offices had rejected all government subsidies even while congregations were indiscriminately accepting funds from unchecked foreign sources, tax breaks and land donations for the construction of church buildings, and foreign food relief shipments.

Maria-Rosa Medel received the longest round of applause. She had recommended that public funds for cultural, educational and social integration programmes be accepted. She also spoke out in favour of making room for women in the Baptist Union’s leadership bodies. Though the Union does have female pastors, the road to full gender equality remains long. She labelled the Union a “man’s world”. She lauded the fact that a female pastor, Esther Rodriguez (Granada), had been asked to hold a devotional during the convention.