A right-wing politician has been slammed by a number of Protestant churches in Austria for using God’s name in a campaign slogan, arguing that God shouldn’t be used as a means to attack other people and cultures.
“God cannot be manipulated for personal intentions or political purposes,” declared the joint statement of Protestant leaders as read by Bishop Michael Buenker.
“We consider that mentioning God for one’s own political interests and using Him along with reference to the Christian West to indirectly attack other religions and cultures amounts to an abuse of His name and of religion in general,” the statement continued, according to BBC News.
“We reject the use of God for political campaigning.”
Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, who has campaigned against immigration, opted to use a new campaign slogan which translated to “So help me God,” and according to his party, reflects “a strong anchorage in Christian and Western values.”
Hofer has sought to defend the slogan by pointing out that the lyrics to the Austrian national anthem mention God, while the U.S. dollar note bears the slogan “In God we trust.”
Reuters reported that Hofer, a former Roman Catholic turned Protestant, is facing off against Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen in a run-off election on Dec. 4, hoping to be elected the European Union’s first far-right head of state.
Hofer previously lost to Van der Bellen in May by a narrow margin, but an investigation annulled the vote after irregularities in the count were found.
Thomas Hennefeld, superintendent of the Protestant Reformed Church, explained that several Protestant leaders in the country are uncomfortable with Hofer’s stance against immigration.
“We stand for a biblical understanding of God, a universal God who is there for the weak, the strangers, the refugees — the opposite of what the FPO stands for,” Hennefeld said.
FPO head Heinz-Christian Strache said that the criticism of the slogan is unjustified, however, given that the exact same phrase is also used as part of the presidential swearing-in vow.
“I simply cannot understand how it is necessary to justify oneself when it comes to one’s core values,” Strache said.
Freedom Party official Herbert Kickl added that the phrase “is in no way a misuse of the concept of God.” Kickl argued that it “comes from the heart” of Hofer.
Immigration has been a controversial issue in Austria, with the country having taken in over 115,000 migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia since 2015. The FPO has warned that for a nation of 8.7 million people, such high numbers of migrants threaten security and jobs.
Close to two-thirds of Austria’s population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, though the Austrian Bishops’ Conference has said that it will not be commenting on the controversial slogan or on Hofer’s campaign.