Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 4, Number 2


Contextualizing the Christian Message for the Czech Republic

Jason Locke
Abilene, Texas


The cause of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution seems to be primarily shrouded in fog. Most analysts attribute the cause for the revolution to Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, or to Ronald Reagan's firm stance or to an unstoppable economic tidal wave of capitalism. A focus upon these factors alone, however, results in a very distorted image that too conveniently lays the credit for Czechoslovakia's success in our own laps.

Despite typical Western assertions, the primary building block for the Velvet Revolution appears to have been the revival of conscience and morality in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel proclaimed the power of truthfulness for communal regeneration in contrast to the communist system which fostered dishonesty and destroyed conscience. The Catholic Church also began to stand up for human rights and to reignite the flames of conscience within Czechs and Slovaks. The emphasis on conscience, truth and morality opened the door for the Velvet Revolution and created an atmosphere in which people began to believe that moral upheaval would usher in a glorious future. The four years since the Velvet Revolution have brought many changes. The borders are open for travel into and out of the country. More and more Western products are available, and the economy is being rapidly liberalized. The most prominent change is the recent division of Czechoslovakia into two autonomous nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Despite optimistic expectations, these changes have not ushered in an era of wealth, happiness and brotherly love. Disappointment and disenchant- ment are feelings which many Czechs now have toward the new system of government. Most have no desire to return to Communism, but they feel frustration at the fact that the revolution has not solved all of their problems. It actually brought new ones that often seem more difficult than past problems. Western investment has only trickled into the Czech Republic (Whitney 1993:A-5). Prices are steadily increasing while wages are slow to follow. The plight is especially difficult for pensioners who receive a fixed income from the government which barely provides for a meager existence. New evils like the use of pornography and drugs are on the increase along with a rising crime rate. The hard realities of life have returned to the Czech Republic and squelched the early optimism of many Czechs.

This article examines the current situation of the Czech Republic and presents some suggestions for preaching a relevant Christian message to the Czechs. Based upon our assertion about the moral foundations for the Velvet Revolution, three questions have a direct impact on the current situation in the Czech Republic: (1) Have conscience and morality remained the focal points of Czech leaders? (2) What has happened to the Catholic Church in the wake of the revolution? (3) Can the Christian message of good news speak to the Czech people in their current situation?

Conscience and Morality:

Already, the cry for truth and morality is only a faint echo. The new reality of life in the free world has brought many major difficulties with it, and government leaders have shifted their focus toward these new concerns which have little in common with the moral upsurge that characterized the Velvet Revolution. Communism is gone, and the battle cries which destroyed the bulwarks have now vanished with the battle. This loss is a tragedy for the Czech Republic, and it lies at the heart of the current moral dilemma. The reason for the disappearance of these virtues may be the lack of a future hope. In New Testament times, John the Baptist was able to conduct a massive campaign for moral regeneration among the Jews because he connected morality with the future hope of the coming kingdom. In Czechoslo- vakia, the return of truth and conscience became a powerful tool for change because the leaders began to connect it with the future hope of revolution and because the people began to see the power of truth as a force which could topple Communism and bring freedom. Without such a future hope, moral regeneration is impossible. The amorphous goal of a "good society" is not enough. Communism began by promoting a similar hope and ended because this hope was unrealistic and naive -- people would not naturally make moral sacrifices for the betterment of society.

Conscience and morality are nice reminders of the Velvet Revolution, but they hold nothing of value for most of the current Czech leaders. They be- lieve that the harsh realities of human existence demand intelligence and craftiness. They would never argue against the need for ethics and morality, but they have no concept of how such qualities can tie into everyday life. Their fatalistic world view leads them to be skeptical of the idea that the world can be a better place if they are simply good and kind to others.

The Catholic Church:

The collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia opened huge doors of opportunity for the Catholic Church. The Czech people held many of the Catholic leaders in high esteem after the revolution, and these leaders had a huge opportunity for witnessing about the good news of Jesus Christ. People were genuinely open to the message of the church in spite of a heritage which identified it with Hapsburg oppression (Luers 1990:89).

The Catholic Church has sadly squandered many of these opportu- nities. Perhaps the church's role in the Velvet Revolution gave it too much of a feel for power. Many church leaders seem to have focused upon giving advice to the new government, or upon trying to reclaim the financial losses suffered by the church under communist rule, or upon restoring and renovating church facilities which were in a sorry state of disrepair. In focusing on these things, the Catholic Church forgot its role as the church. It forgot that the church's primary task is to be a witness of Christ to the Czech Republic through sacra- mental worship, through community and through love (Weigel 1992:197). Failing to focus on these goals, the Catholic Church lost a huge opportunity to impact the nation, and it is now trying to undo the damage of its mistake.

The Relevance of the Christian Message:

When trying to understand the relevance of the Christian message for the Czech nation, we must first examine the pitfalls which Christian messengers should avoid if they desire to effectively communicate with the Czech people. (1) Messengers should not focus on political or ecclesiastical matters. They must learn an important lesson from the Catholic Church's experience after Communism's demise. This is a difficult temptation to avoid, especially if one is in a position to give advice to the government or to seize an important opportunity for reclaiming land taken from the church. I am not saying that a messenger should never concern himself with these matters. My point is that they should never be the focus.

(2) Christian messengers should not focus on morality and ethics. Working toward a moral and ethical society is a noble concept, yet it is impossible when it is not coupled with some type of future hope. Most Czechs are not opposed to ethical behavior, but they find it difficult to merge morality with the Western concept of individualism which they are rapidly accepting. Talk of morality for the benefit of society subconsciously stirs up memories of the naive notions of Communism. The Czechs are too fatalistic to believe that one ethical decision can make a real difference in the world.

(3) Christian messengers to the Czech Republic should never try to deny the harsh reality of human existence. Fatalism grips the Czech mentality, and any attempt to "candy-coat" the Christian message by ignoring the realities of life will meet with little success. They have seen centuries of conquest and defeat, life and death. They believe that nothing really changes and that history is a cycle which demonstrates the foolishness of searching for a "this-worldly plan of salvation." Messengers of good news to the Czech people should not preach the idea that the church will change the world or that the church is the best foundation for a good, democratic society. This message flies in the face of Czech experiences with Christianity, and Christian messengers would be wise to avoid such a message.

Now that we have outlined three pitfalls to avoid, I would like to suggest three approaches which might aid the Christian messenger in bringing good news to the people of the Czech Republic. (1) Christian messengers should admit to and point out the horrible plight of humanity. This world really is a nasty place, and messengers should freely acknowledge this. Any attempt to deny humanity's fate is an attempt to deny the past decades of oppression and suffering for thousands of innocent Czechs. The church should tell society that suffering is the path of humanity. Christianity does not suddenly make one's life free from suffering and pain. The powerful message of Christianity is that God suffers with humanity. In this context Christians are people who exhibit faith in God in spite of the world's problems. They testify to an existence which stretches beyond the seen into an unseen world.

(2) The church must focus on being the church. It must emphasize the power of Christian community, ministry and prayer, and it must demonstrate the belief that God is at work in the world. It must exhibit a distinctiveness which separates it from a mere humanitarian organization. If it focuses on the importance of being a unique community of hope in the midst of a chaotic world, the church in the Czech Republic will be a shining light to society.

(3) Christian messengers should connect moral regeneration with a kingdom outlook. The messenger should have a firm grasp on the kingdom of God as both an entity which has not yet been fully revealed and as an eschatological inbreaking into the present world of human existence. This understanding of the kingdom will speak powerfully to the Czech mentality. It neither denies the horrible reality of human existence nor presents a naive hope of improving society as a whole. Christian messengers should seek to have the impact of John the Baptist in combining these two elements. One should not preach morality but should preach the cosmic existence of God's kingdom here on earth and the moral regeneration that comes with entrance into the kingdom. This kingdom will manifest itself to society through the Christian community, through worship and prayer and through the constant affirmation of its belief in an other-worldly power.


The people of the Czech Republic are already feeling disappointment and disenchantment with post-communist life. For a brief moment they truly believed that they could rise above the awful cycle of human existence and create a good society, yet this belief resulted in a poorly defined concept of life in a free society. The Velvet Revolution changed the quality of their lives for the better, but it did not create a perfect society. New problems came with a new system, and these challenges sometimes make the old ones look easy.

Despite these problems, there is hope for presenting a powerful and effective Christian message to the Czechs. A powerful and effective message must acknowledge the harsh reality of the world, and it must provide an other-worldly contrast to the misery of this world. It must never naively tell converts that they will no longer face the problems of the world. Rather, it must announce the inbreaking of God's kingdom into the midst of human existence, and it must testify that God is at work in a world of chaos and despair.  

Selected Bibliography

Billington, James H.
1991 "The Crisis of Communism and the Future of Freedom." Ethics and International Affairs 5:87-97.

Luers, William H.
1990 "Czechoslovakia: Road to Revolution." Foreign Affairs 69:77-98.

Nielson, Niels C.
1991 Revolutions in Eastern Europe: The Religious Roots. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.

Weigel, George
1992 The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism. New York: Oxford University Press.

1993 "The Collapse of Communism: Recovering the Tran- scendent Order." The World & I 8:369-378.

Whitney, Craig R.
1993 "East Europe Still Waits for the Capitalist Push." The New York Times (30 April): A-5.

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