Russia Closing Down Methodist Church

Monday, April 14, 2008

 By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Members of a United Methodist congregation in Russia were without a church Sunday, April 13, after authorities closed it for running a Sunday School without government permission, the latest in a series of police raids targeting Christian education, Christians said.

The congregation in the western city of Smolensk was closed down by a local court March 24, on charges of "educational activity in a Sunday school without a corresponding license," the church’s Pastor Aleksandr Vtorov said in a statement released by the news service of religious rights group Forum 18.

Investigation into the congregation and the school, attended by some four children, started after a complaint from local Russian Orthodox bishop Ignati Punin.

The complaint originally focused on a planned missionary college, but later the Sunday School became the target of a police investigation.


In published remarks, C. Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice said he fears the Methodist congregation's liquidation increases the threat to other religious education.

"Almost every religious organization has a Sunday School…"I don't know of one that has a separate education license. Do they intend to liquidate them all?" Elsewhere in Russia, adult religious education without a license has already led to raids and enforced closures. Forum 18 said. Human right group

Voice Of the Martyrs told BosNewsLife that "while the court's decision to dissolve the church means loss of legal status rather than a complete ban, it does bar the Methodists from maintaining or developing any form of public profile as an organization."

There has been concerns that non-Orthodox churches and Christian groups are facing a new crackdown in Russia, following some years of relative freedom. Analysts say the organizations are often viewed as a danger to the power base of outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies. Authorities have not commented on the latest raids.

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