A New Russian Law Against Christians?
A new anti-terrorism law in Russia has been criticized in headlines in the Western media as tailored to target Christians, especially evangelicals and Pentecostals. Others denounce that it was tailored to ban evangelism. Some have labeled it as a “communist” law to persecute evangelicals and Pentecostals.
What are we supposed to know about this anti-terrorism law in Russia? I asked some questions to Alexey Komov, who is the international foreign affairs director of the Patriarchal Commission on family, protection of motherhood and childhood of the Russian Orthodox Church. He answered me:
Just wanted to give you my perspective on the set of the “anti-terrorism” amendments that became law in Russia recently. The main purpose was to amend several laws in a way allowing better anti-terrorism protection/prevention (that other countries including the US and EU already have). Now cell phone operators and internet providers will have to store data for some time and make it available if needed for an investigation, etc. The main and real threat is the activities of various radical Islamic missionaries who are rather active in Russia. We have around 9% of Muslim population that have been historically peaceful, but in the recent decades is being artificially radicalized by foreign radical sects like ISIS and other wahhabi/salafi sponsored imams (just today I’ve seen in the news that a radical imam who has publicly supported terrorism has been arrested in Moscow). Youth is particularly vulnerable and is the target.
New regulation of the missionary activities is just a minor part within the set of the new amendments to various laws. It basically says that foreign missionaries need to receive a permission/registration to do their work, and that they should preach only at their mosque/church/etc. But this concerns only official representatives of a religious organization. All normal people can freely express/preach/promote their religious and other beliefs with no limitations (which is a Constitutional right), and the law does not regulate that. The final law was seriously amended and many controversial things were deleted.
So the conclusion is that many negative reports on this topic in the Western mass media are:
1) Biased against Russia.
2) Use the draft of the bill, and not its final version.
3) Misinterpret actual text of the law.
I personally think that those amendments regarding the regulation of the missionary work could be softer, but even in the current form there is nothing really dramatic (I’ve read them). Plus the actual implementation and practice is now aimed at the radical Islamists. Of course there is also a prejudice against some innovative Western protestant groups and Eastern sects that have been calling for illegal actions, drugs, violence, preaching suicide or terrorism, etc. Plus many non-Orthodox religious groups have played an important role in anti-Russian coup d’etat in Ukraine. Also Russia has a centuries old tradition of over-regulating things.
So there are some worrying factors in this new law, but nothing really dramatic, as the press reports.
This is the view of Alexey Komov, the most prominent pro-life leader in Russia.
What are my thoughts?
The new law was drafted, and eventually enacted, in Russia after the Islamic bombing of a Russian jet in Egypt. It hits millions of Muslims in Russia, and affects also Christians of other persuasions (Catholics and evangelicals), who are not so numerous as Muslims are in Russia. Islam has about 10,000,000 members in Russia.
The Catholic Church has 140,000 members, thus about 0.1% of the total of the Russian population.
Jehovah’s Witnesses has 300,000 members, thus about 0.2% of the total.
Protestantism in its various denominations, both historical and Evangelical or Pentecostal, has also 300,000 members, thus about 0.2% of the total.
The Russian Orthodox Church has 58,800,000 members, thus 41% of the total.
So the two only major religions in Russia are the Orthodox Christian Church and Islam, and it is very obvious that the anti-terrorism law hits Islam head-on.
Differently from the U.S., where anti-terrorism laws increasingly stifle her major religions (especially evangelicalism) and grant more power to Islam and homosexual activism, and specially a massive secular State, Russia has been stifling homosexual activism and radical Islamic expansion and granting more power to its major Christian religion, the Orthodox Church.
The difference is while U.S. anti-terrorism laws protect an anti-Christian secular State, in Russia anti-terrorism laws protect the Orthodox Church. At least in Russia they are protecting its form of traditional Christianity.
My worry is that anti-Christian and anti-family laws and measures in the United States target not only U.S. citizens, but people around the world. In 2011, WND reported about Homeland Security surveillance on my blog, even though I am not an American citizen. Yes, DHS watches conservative blogs.
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former CIA agent who has lambasted the Russian law, exposed to the world that the U.S. government was, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, spying on Americans and people around the world. “The (National Security Agency) NSA surveillance scandal is the biggest story of your lifetime,” said Michael Savage in a WND report.
It is very troubling that even without laws and measures allowing surveillance and spying on innocent Christians around the world, the U.S. government is engaged in this behavior in a global scale. If the Russian law is a threat because of the data store of its cell phone operators and internet providers, it is a threat only in Russia. But what about the massive surveillance and spying scandal of NSA? It is a threat hovering illegally not only over Americans, but also over multitudes of people around the world.
The new Russian law was not tailored to target specifically evangelicals and Pentecostals. It targets millions of Muslims. It can also affect other religions, including many U.S. sects as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism that are operating in Russia, but it will not affect the power and status of the Orthodox Church.
According to Charisma magazine, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government panel headed by Jesuit priest Thomas J. Reese, condemned the new law.
Religious organizations directly affected by the new laws are those with strong evangelization programs in Russia — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and other Protestant organizations with Baptist, Pentecostal and independent Christian roots.
“The Russian Orthodox church is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism stirred up by Vladimir Putin,” David Aikman, author of “One Nation Without God,” told Christianity Today.
It is a pity that evangelicalism, which was a part of early American nationalism, is not longer essential for the U.S. government, which has discarded it.
Charisma also said, “Only about 1 percent of the Russian population is Protestant; the majority religion is Russian Orthodox Christian.”
Interestingly, Charisma showed no concern and made no mention that in a much larger scale the law hits millions of Muslims.
Even though evangelicals are a very tiny minority in Russia, the Orthodox Church has partnered with them in common missions. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Russian Orthodox Church will be hosting a summit in Moscow on persecution against Christians next October.
“I met with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and evangelical leaders, and we discussed at length the persecution of the Church worldwide,” said Rev. Franklin Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He added, “The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians will shed a global spotlight on this crisis. We will bring delegates from around the world and will be able to join hands with people of other churches and denominations of the Christian faith to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to hear firsthand reports of the suffering that is taking place.”
“In the years under Communist rule, virtually all of the [orthodox] priests, pastors, and church leaders in Russia were imprisoned or executed by the Communists, and their graves are on the outskirts of Moscow and throughout the country serving as a reminder,” continued Graham.
“No church in modern history has suffered more than the church in Russia. … So Moscow will be a fitting and meaningful location for this much-needed summit.”
Portuguese version of this article: Uma nova lei russa contra os cristãos?
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