Attack on Pastor Debreczeni in Phoenix, AZ is orchestrated from Budapest

On September 1, 2019 Zsolt Demeter, Presbiter of the Hungarian Reformed Church in America  published a three-page letter attacking Pastor András Debreczeni of the First Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix, AZ.  Demeter called Debreczeni a liar and cheater who illegally taped conversations and demanded  his removal.  Demeter has threatened with lawsuits and made it clear that he had the backing of Bishop Zoltán Lizik of Windsor, Canada.

The ominous letter — in Hungarian.

Debreczeni hails from Romania, Transylvania, and was a popular pastor at the Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix. Two years ago he separated from the Bishop and re-registered his congregation under the new name First Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix.  Notice, he added only one word to the previous name.  Now Demeter and Lizik accuse him of „stealing” the congregation.

This is a new split within the Hungarian Reformed Community.  Orbán’s „masterplan” to unite Hungarian Protestants in North America and turn them into Budapest’s quasy-lobby organization doesn’t seem to work.

Photo: Pastor András Debreczeni with family – his Arizona based congregation wants independence from Budapest.

Before we go further we need to explain the unusual organization of the Hungarian Reformed Church in America.

Calvinist Hungarian immigrants started to establish Churches in North America about 150 years ago.  Many congregations had German language services and later merged with German congregations.  On October 7, 1921 the Hungarian congregations signed the Tiffin Agreement to join the Reformed Church in the United States formerly German Reformed Church.

Rebel congregations refused to honor the agreement and demanded a Hungarian Church.  The first independent community was formed in Dubuque, Pennsylvania in 1924.  Other pastors joined and The Independent Hungarian Reformed Church in America was formed as a new denomination.

Today Hungarian Protestants in the US maintain two separate organizations with two bishops.

The congregations that originally accepted the Tiffin Agreement are now part of the United Church of Christ (UCC) under the Calvin Synod. They have a Hungarian-born US-trained bishop, Csaba Krasznai of Walton Hills, Ohio.

Most of the remaining Hungarian speaking congregations formed an organization called Hungarian Reformed Church in America.  Their Bishop is a Hungarian immigrant pastor, István Lizik of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

In the last couple of years with clever maneuvering (and with the promise of financial support) Budapest has been able to „conquer” both groups.  Bishops Krasznai and Lizik now accept the religious authority of the Hungarian “Mother Church” and have become Orbán loyalists.  They attend the annual Diaspora Council meetings in Budapest and sign political proclamations and Hungary uses the North American congregations as a lobbying platform.  The leader of the Hungarian “Mother Church,” Bishop István Bogárdi Szabó is a nationalist and a willing collaborator in this project.

László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament and Bishop Csaba Krasznai of United Church of Christ (Calvin Synod) in Budapest.

Bishop Krasznai in Ohio is excited about the reunion: “It was a long time ago that the child left his mother. However, one day the child, who in the meantime had become an adult, found his way home again. His mother received him with open arms and loving heart, since the mothers are like that. They cannot deny themselves and the love they have toward their child.”

But Bishops Krasznai and Lizik are on thin ice.  In the United States religious organizations receive tax benefits as non-profit organizations and political lobbying on behalf of a foreign power or government is prohibited. Hungarian Reformed communities in North America were independent from Budapest in the past and the current arrangement has no historical precedent.  Also, the opaque financial arrangements with the Budapest based support organization called Bethlen Gábor Alap should be made public.

Bishop Zoltán Lizik (left) and Presbiter Zsolt Demeter.

Make no mistake, the essence of the relationship between the American Reformed Congregations and Budapest is financial support.  It is no secret that the Orbán government spends millions of dollars to “buy” the loyalty of these communities and some congregations would not survive without the support.  The Bishops and clergy also receive perks, e.g.: trips to Europe to attend Diaspora Council meetings.

There is a need for more transparency.  Members of the congregations are mostly elderly immigrants and their descendants who deserve to know about the monies their Bishops receive from Budapest.

Pastor Debreczeni and his congregation are in for a fight for independence.  I have a feeling that Bishop Lizik and Presbiter Demeter are on the wrong side of history.

György Lázár

2 Comments

  1. My parents were married in the Church in Windsor. I have seen it. I was baptized and confirmed in the Magyar Reformatus Egyhaz. My son was confirmed in it and I have many relatives who are lelkipasztorok or are married to one and are very active in the Church.
    I think that it’s deplorable that Orban is buying off pastors. It’s disgusting, and a disgrace to those of us who are members. I left that Church years ago, but still have ties.
    I have found something which much better serves my spiritual needs as has my family, but I still find it a shame that the Hungarian gov is trying to meddle in Church affairs.
    Or are they taking cues from the USA where the gov is in bed with the Evangelicals?

    • PS By are members I mean I have never asked the Church to remove me from membership records so we are still technically members (just to clarify)

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