Russia Missionaries Fear Soviet-Era Persecution Under New Law

Thursday, January 11, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Missionaries and church leaders warned Thursday, August 11, that Russia's new law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could lead to persecution of devoted Christians "reminiscent of the Soviet era."

The Russian Orthodox Church, long seen as a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, reportedly added its voice to the chorus of opposition that greeted the passage of Russia's 'Law on Non-Governmental Organizations'.

Russian Orthodox leaders reportedly said that the new requirements are "reminiscent" of the Soviet Union, as they allegedly limit religious freedom and Christian activities.

Under the new legislation, scheduled to take effect April 15, NGOs, including churches, would be required to register with special state agencies, supply details of membership, provide sources of funding and give a record of all meetings.


Russian Ministries, a major evangelical mission group working in Russia, said this would make it impossible for Christian organizations and churches to function.

"Can you imagine that this law prescribes on a monthly basis that [churches] should count donations from different people?" said Igor Malin, director of distance learning with Russian Ministries' "School Without Walls" program.

"This is basically impossible to do because the banking system is not working and people give cash," added Malin, who is also a pastor in the city of Nizhny-Novgorod, in a statement to BosNewsLife.

Leaders of Orthodox and Protestant denominations have asked the Kremlin for an exemption
from this reporting. NGOs also complained that "the numerous provisions in the new law" are "impossible" to keep, Russian Ministries said. In addition evangelical churches reportedly fear a "selective application" of the law.


"The law gives the Federal Registration Service too much leeway to shut down a church or ministry simply because they do not like what it's doing," explained Sergey Rakhuba, vice-president of ministries for Russian Ministries.

He said the new measures would re-introduce, the "authoritarian way of ruling under the Soviet regime, when the church was not allowed to use its funds or volunteers to help the needy in their communities or support their pastors."

He warned that officials could soon "single out mission organizations that receive financial support from abroad; then declare that their activities are based on foreign interests that are not supported by the government."

The Salvation Army, a major Protestant mission group, was already banned from one of its outposts on similar grounds, a move overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.


Russian Ministries said news of the law came after a year when it trained church leaders to "spread the Gospel", stepped up school programs and "work with orphans and other needy children, especially through summer camp ministry."

Around the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7, Russian Ministries' national workers in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova also distributed gift boxes among especially orphans and "other needy children". The group said, "youth had the opportunity to hear the good news of the Savior's birth."

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