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News 2011-12

Please note: Many of these articles appeared in the name of the Russian Evangelical Alliance - a few even in another name. The authorising body is always listed at the end of the piece.

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Fearing “Gypsies” No More

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Presbyterians and the Roma of Russia

 

M o s c o w -- Much of Roma history remains shrouded in mystery – there is no consensus even on the matter of numbers. According to Wikipedia, the highest number of Roma (once called “gypsies” as derived from the word “Egyptian”) are located in the USA – around a million. Yet the Zurich journal “Religion und Gesellschaft in Ost und West” (RGOW) reports that the governments of Eastern Europe intentionally underestimate their number. Twenty-two-million-strong Romania now claims to have 408.000 Roma citizens, yet RGOW believes the number could be as high as three million. Roma are said to be Europe’s largest minority of 10 to 12 million. Their worldwide population could be as high as 60 million. The counting problems are compounded by the fact that there is no single definition of the term “Roma”.

 

It is generally accepted that ethnic Roma began their trek westward from India around the 7th century A.D.; a traditional stronghold has been southeastern Europe. Some later headed eastward, arriving first in the Polish–Lithuanian Union and the other Baltic states. They only arrived in the Russian kingdom after some regions were annexed by the Czar in the 18th century. Though strongest in Moldova and Ukraine, Roma can now be found even in the Russian Far East.

 

Reports state that the Roma were initially no more nomadic than native tribes. In time, they became a major unskilled-but-reliable workforce. The coming of Fascist Germany then brought deportation, extermination and major upheaval; as many as 500.000 may have been killed. Following WW II, the socialist governments of Eastern Europe attempted to force their assimilation by reintegrating them into the labour forces for heavy industry. In October 1956, the Supreme Soviet banned nomadism, forcing Soviet Roma to accept stationery housing. Soon, more than 90% of the USSR’s Roma were settled.

 

Burkhard Paetzold, PC USA’s Berlin-based “Liaison for Central and Eastern Europe/Roma“, points out that Roma were the first to lose their jobs after the economic collapse of 1989/90. The resulting ghettoization “shows discrimination and the one hand and the attempt to return to and protect Roma family structures on the other hand. It is said there are almost no homeless Roma!”

 

Peter Romme, a Kostroma-based Baptist missionary with ties to the PC USA, notes that Roma are a people of peace. Despite their frequent reputation as petty thieves and drug-dealers, they “have never incited a single war nor produced weaponry”.

 

Roma Culture

Pastor Romme, an ethnic German from the Irkutsk region of Russia, reports that Roma love celebrations: Christmas and Easter for ex. Romme states that Roma will celebrate holidays for two to three days: “In general, they celebrate until the money runs out.” Long-term investing is obviously not their forte.

                                  

Roma in time have usually accepted the faith of the surrounding culture: They are Muslim in Kazakhstan, Orthodox in western Russia and Roman Catholic in Poland. Yet their reluctance to forsake the old is apparent in their syncretism. They are called the last goddess worshippers of Europe and have placed great faith in the power of charms, curses, healing rituals and fortune-telling. Persons of dubious character can reincarnate as vicious animals. Women are expected to dress extremely modestly; sexual terms in the Bible – circumcision for ex. – are avoided in a Roma worship service. Pre-marital sex is forbidden, but many Roma youth are married before they become teenagers.

 

Their longing for miraculous signs and healing have given them a natural proximity to Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. Andrey Beskorovainy, a Roma Baptist pastor from Ukraine supported by the PC USA and living in Kursk/Russia near the Ukrainian border, reports that “gossip” and suppositions have led to near-panic situations among evangelical Roma. During Easter in 1991 and 2000, Roma refused to eat jointly claiming: “It will mean the end of the world if we sit down together at a banquet table.” Citing the lack of theological training among Roma, Beskorovainy quotes Matthew 24:36 and insists: “Brother and Sister – do not believe this gossip!”

 

Work among Roma has also demanded flexibility on the part of stiff, local missionaries - Roma believe in traditional dance and merry (also Christian) music. Roma have even struck a blow for the cause of female empowerment. A study on the Roma by the Ukrainian Olena Marchuk reports on the blind Albina Kozoriz. After joining a non-Registered Baptist congregation in Merefa/Ukraine in the mid-1990s, she began to preach and planted several congregations. Following her marriage to a blind man in 2004, the two began a ministry among the visually-impaired in Kiev.

 

Roma and the Evangelicals

Evangelical work among Europe’s Roma gained momentum only after WW I; Austrians financed a chapel for Roma in northwestern Bulgaria in 1930. RGOW claims that evangelicalism has made its biggest mark among Bulgarian Roma, especially since 1989. The number of Pentecostal Roma in that country is said to total 50.000.

 

Ukrainian evangelicals began to evangelise among the Roma in the early 1950s. Olena Marchuk’s study reports that underground samizdat literature produced by the unregistered Baptists in the 1970s included passages written in Roma dialects. By 1975, a congregation of unregistered Baptist Roma had formed in the village of Korolovoy Podvinogradov on the Hungarian border in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine. Two congregations there now have a total membership of 600. The conversion of a Roma „baron“, Grigory Maritsaskov, in Khmelnitsky (western Ukraine) in May 2011 made headlines. Another relative hotbed of evangelical activity among the Ukrainian Roma is Volchansk – near Kharkov and the Russian border on the opposite, northeastern end of the country.

 

The many and varied efforts among Roma have suffered from a lack of networking. Consequently, the evangelical Roma of Russia have been holding an annual conference in Kursk since 2005. Ellen Smith, a PC USA worker based in Berlin, reported recently that Andrey Beskorovainy has been officially recognized as head of the Roma network in Russia. She added: “This is no small thing. It has been a long process shifting the leadership (of Roma ministries) from Russians to Roma.”

 

Yet it must be remembered that the number of Roma evangelicals within Russia proper remains modest. “Operation World” lists only 9.000 for the entire ex-USSR. The annual Kursk conference in 2008 hosted only 70 Roma from 21 locations. The Kursk congregation, founded by Beskorovainy in 2004, is often described as Russia’s sole congregation of evangelical Roma – yet it has hardly more than 20 members. But significant efforts also exist in Michurinsk (Tambov region), Novoshakhtinsk (near Rostov) and Syzran (Volga). Rev. Romme remains committed to serving the Roma of Siberia and the Far East. Roma reserve regarding evangelicals can be attributed to a general distrust of outsiders – intermarriage with non-Roma remains rare. Beskorovainy states succinctly: “The best missionaries to Roma are the Roma themselves.”

 

Bible translation has been a major concern – Wycliffe for ex. is involved. Yet the Roma of Europe are divided into 40 groups, each with its own cultural traditions and dialect. There is no one Roma culture and tongue understood by all. Modest efforts to create an artificial Roma “Esperanto” have appeared – but no Martin Luther capable of devising a common language attractive to all. Some groups even oppose the appearance of their own language in written form.

 

Illiteracy remains a major issue. Romme estimates that 75% of Russia’s Roma are illiterate. Audio tapes and videos – for ex. the world-renown film “Jesus” – therefore play a vital role in evangelisation. Since the 1970s, Baptists and Pentecostals have used Roma Sunday schools to further the cause of literacy. A few of the most promising Roma - Andrey Beskorovainy for ex. - have attended Bible schools. Fostering musical training for gifted musicians has been an additional, side concern.

 

One of the largest missions involved with East European Roma is the France-based “Gypsy and Travelers International Evangelical Fellowship” (GATIEF). Others include the “Hope to People” organisation based in Rovno/Ukraine as well as the US-based “Southern Baptist Convention” and the “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship”. Methodists are reported to be particularly active in Bulgaria. The “Reformed Church of America” has a couple based in Budapest and serving the Roma.

 

US-Presbyterians care about the downtrodden. It’s therefore natural for them to notice the Roma of Eastern Europe and Russia. The PC USA’s effort, begun in 2001, consists primarily of its three-member team in Berlin along with Nadia Ayoub in Ukraine and Karen Moritz in Prague. Liz Searles will soon begin serving in Romania. This team is committed to more than simple church planting. Ellen and Al Smith speak for ex. of “empowerment” and a “gospel of inclusion”. Paetzold explains: “We try to support a holistic approach: social services, infrastructure programs, pre-school education, housing, job creation, church leadership training, youth summer camps, youth exchange programs, multicultural learning for white people and advocacy. Christians have been guilty of racist and discriminatory attitudes. This cannot be changed overnight. So working in partnership means you have to find the right partners.”

 

For the PC USA, small is also beautiful. Paetzold reports on a massive, EU-sponsored “Roma industry” which in the end stigmatizes Roma as aid recipients and reinforces negative stereotypes. “The challenge is to find human-scale development based in existing Roma communities which we can accompany. We are still in the beginning; we have built up a small network in Europe and the US. Presbyterian women have served as a great support network.” They even call for 10 days of prayer for the Roma, ending every year on 8 April.

 

In his 2008 report on the Roma congregation in Kursk, the Baptist Vladimir Popov dreamt of a time when parents will no longer frighten naughty offspring by threatening them with “Uncle Policeman and the gypsies”. Fortunately, such longings are no less international than the Roma themselves.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 04 January 2013

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-31, 1.610 words, 10.229 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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One-Hundred-Percent-Placement

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Moscow Theological Seminary is counting on the old for the future

 

M o s c o w -- “Moscow Theological Seminary”, the educational flagship of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB), has returned to its original format. Begun as a Baptist correspondence programme in 1968, the school soon became known as “Moscow Theological Institute” (MTI). Apparently because Western supporters were not familiar with any other kind of training, a residential, campus-based institution known as “Moscow Theological Seminary” (MTS) was added in 1993.

 

One MTS-founder admits today: “We began with a residential, three-year program that eventually failed – like nearly every other residential theological programme in the former USSR. That was due partly to cost: Students were to study for three years without any obvious means of support. The residential model is very expensive and soon we barely had any students.” As a result, correspondence-based MTI was incorporated into MTS in 2007. Total enrolment has skyrocketed since then: from 251 in 2007 to 975 today. This has proven that the original, distance-learning model was well-suited to Russia - more than just the unloved gift of an atheistic government.

 

Today’s MTS is spread across the entire breadth of Russia. Five of its nine “learning centres” form a horizontal line across the map from Moscow in the West to Khabarovsk just above Manchuria (China) in the East. The average distance between these five centres is nearly 1.600 km (960 miles); Khabarovsk is 6.147 km (3.688 miles) east of Moscow. Looking westward from Moscow, this would be akin distance-wise to MTS having a learning centre in Sydney/Nova Scotia.

 

MTS owns buildings only in Moscow. As with the population in general, enrolment is unevenly distributed with nearly 500 students in Moscow region and another 225 in the northern Caucasus. Enrolments further east average from 25 to 40. Two of the schools (North Caucasus and Khabarovsk) were independent, self-standing institutions before joining MTS. Both of these locations still have resident faculty not based in Moscow. The Khabarovsk site was down to nine students when it came under MTS auspices several years ago; enrolment has rebounded to 60.

 

Pastoral ministry and Christian education are the two traditional tracks at MTS. Most programmes are actually hybrid forms involving both distance and on-location learning. Bachelor programs require two two-week sessions per year in a learning centre for a five-year period; Masters programmes involve three two-week sessions per year. But many certificate programmes run for only a year or just for a week. A few courses are offered strictly on-line.

 

Flexibility is the name of the game in on-line and distance learning. MTS-Rector Dr. Peter Mitskevich, a medical doctor and US-trained theologian, assures that his institution is geared to “differing approaches to best serve the needs of the church”. One recent Moscow programme is designed for the directors of rehabilitation centres treating substance abuse. One staff member explains: “These directors have had a great deal of experience with people – but zero training in theology.” This programme consists of roughly 15 self-contained modules. A student is able to begin for ex. with module 8 at end with module 7 – one can start the programme at any stage.

 

Other new programmes include Christian counselling, church administration, digital media and church-state relations. One course on counselling is being taught at a tenth location: St. Petersburg. The youngest students can be found in a certificate programme aimed at church youth leaders.

 

Strong points

Distance learning and its hybrid forms fix many of the problems stemming from campus-based training. Traditionally, young people in the Second and Third Worlds have used church scholarships to exit themselves from unpopular rural settings and countries. This is of course the exact opposite of the intended purpose of such aid. One church leader states: “Our churches are afraid of losing the best and brightest. If we can train pastors indigenously, then they don’t need to uproot their families and leave their ministries or jobs.”

 

Distance learning is practice-oriented. The chances of a student disappearing into an ivory, academic tower far removed from the lives and thinking of working-class mortals are kept to a minimum. One supporter states: “According to this model, one is already involved in church – here there is no gap and no lag. Conversation in a classroom of proven ministers is on a different level than among 18- or 20-year-old beginners.”

 

An American states: “In the West, people ask me about the placement rate at MTS. I respond: ´100%!´ Up to 90% of these students are already involved in ministry. This is not like North America where a young person goes to seminary and hopes for the best afterwards.”

 

Rector Mitskevich explains that students of theology are decidedly older because ministry in Russia is a bi-vocational matter. “The majority will attend a secular institution for their first degree. They will become engineers, doctors or managers first. If God really is calling them, they will then begin to sharpen their ministry skills in church. They study theology after all that.” He continues: “We need to grow things step-by-step. We have only had 20 years of freedom – the churches need time to mature and grow. Obtaining a good place to meet and starting programmes of ministry are the initial objectives. The salaried ministry will only come years later.” The distance-learning model “fits our economic and geographic conditions”. It is the only means of reaching willing students in remote areas.

 

Students are covering their travel costs as well as 10% of tuition. Russian giving is now sufficient for 30% of the operating budget. An increased sense of ownership is probably due to that fact that the present model can be paid for with local resources. Is it not highly- inconvenient for an instructor to travel to as many as nine different centres of learning? “Sure”, responds the Rector. “But is it that not better (and cheaper) than expecting 29 or so students to come to us?”

 

The distance-learning model is future-oriented not only because the costs of campus-based training are leaping off the graph in Western countries. The young now begin with a computer in their cribs and the computer-smarts of the young will skyrocket.

 

One could argue that the Soviet-era church was far ahead of its time when it began with correspondence courses in 1968. But at the same time, Mitskevich notes that in a sense MTS is now only offering what the Anglo world already has on-line: a vast array of theological courses for every interest. “But we are a Russian-speaking school and it is our task to offer Russian-language courses to students everywhere.” MTS already has several students in the U.S., Australia and Germany who attend twice-annual sessions in Russia. The Rector does not rule out the possibility of additional theological courses in simple Russian directed at students learning Russian as a second language.

 

The down side

Are Russian Protestant institutions of learning in danger of being diploma mills? Mikhail Nevolin, a Baptist theologian in St. Petersburg, claims that only a few of them deserve the title of “university” or “seminary”. On-line education in Russia is clearly no match for the rigorous academic work common of Western seminaries. But stated positively: These Russian programmes require no great leap and are not far removed from the pastoral work students already know.

 

Rector Mitskevich is convinced that his new Academic Dean, Pastor Gennadi Sergienko, will lead the way in assuring quality control at MTS. Sergienko completed a doctorate in New Testament at California’s “Fuller Theological Seminary” in 2011. Mitskevich reports that the majority of faculty now hold earned doctorates. During the past four years, it has become practice for all students to travel to Moscow for their final oral exams prior to graduation. This helps establish a level academic field for all prospective graduates.

 

Converted ex-addicts are a major source of students for Russia’s evangelical seminaries. Since they rarely stem from the upper echelons of society, observers worry about a negative effect on the intellectual level of seminary and church life. “This is only a reflection of demographics in general”, one American observer interjects. “Handbooks report that 40% of Russian males suffer from substance abuse” (primarily alcoholism).

 

Give-and-take-discussion among students is a weak point of distance learning. Two-week sessions on location, informal chat rooms and email are being used to alleviate the problem. Dean Sergienko admits that he longs for the time when longer-term resident study will again be possible. “Every approach has its strengths and weaknesses”, Peter Mitskevich assures. “But for us at the present stage of our development, this is clearly the right way to go.”

 

Additional schools associated with the RUECB include a seminary near Novosibirsk and a “preachers’ school” located in Samara/Volga.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 19 December 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-30, 1.428 words, 9.037 keystrokes and spaces

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No Longer a Fringe Group

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The movement of Alexander Men today

 

M o s c o w – Following the murder of Alexander Men, the great Orthodox reformer, in the Moscow suburb of Novaya Derevnya on 9 September 1990, Western Christendom placed great hopes in his leading followers. One of them was Alexander Ilyich Borisov (born 1939), a Ph.D. in genetics not able to be ordained prior to 1989 because of suspect, undercover activities (including samizdat). The soft-spoken and modest Borisov had been appointed a deacon in 1970; in 1991 he was named pastor of the newly-resuscitated “Church of the Saints Cosmas and Damian”. It stands at a central location just across from the Moscow courthouse and not more than 100 metres from “Hotel Lux”, the legendary refuge of foreign communists during the 1930s and 1940s. This church structure made visible the transition of Alexander Men’s movement from a village chapel into the very centre of Moscow life. Today, this church is still active in preserving and promoting his heritage.

 

Alexander Borisov responds quickly to any question regarding the martyr’s specific contribution: „He always stressed the importance of the Bible. It was very clear to him that Christian renewal was impossible without knowledge of the Bible.” Only through a study of the Scriptures is Orthodox teaching made complete. Borisov adds: “We Orthodox possess a rich history of stories, culture, icons and music - but we also need a joint reading of Scripture. And to concern oneself with Scripture is by no means un-Orthodox.“ Beginning in 1991, Alexander Ilyich was for two decades president of the inter-confessional Russian Bible Society.

 

This priest is uncomfortable with the asceticism and plainness of Protestant life: Russian Protestants tend to do without impressive church buildings and beautiful music – its expression is largely limited to the spoken word. “Much is too simple and too superficial.” But he admits: “We lack the incredible variety of Protestants. They have more freedom than we do. Yet actually we have everything Protestants also have – plus our culture.” He concedes that he has learned about the importance of fellowship, dialogue and joint prayer from Pentecostals. Only in this fashion can relationships between individual believers develop. The congregation at Cosmas and Damian is known today for its dozens of Bible study groups.

 

Father Alexander authored a book in the 1980s which was only legally published in 1994: „Pobelevishe Nivy“ (Fields White Already to Harvest, as stated in John 4:35). It pointed to the urgency of mission and the fact that a closed and relatively uneducated clergy was in no way up to the task of evangelisation. The book’s Christ-centred orientation was apparent in the warning that icons may “distract us from the fact that Christ and his Gospel stand in the centre of church life”. His book, which was never translated, was so unconventional that Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008) inquired in jest as to whether Borisov’s wife  might have written it. (Nonna Borisova belonged to a Pentecostal congregation from the early 1970s to about 1997.)

 

Yet the course of history has dispelled Father Alexander’s fears. He recalls: “In the 80s we fantasized that the working class would become Protestant and the intelligentsia Catholic. Only the grandmas would remain in the Orthodox fold. But now we see that, despite all of its shortcomings, the great majority has opted for Orthodoxy.” He reports that Protestants and Catholics combined only make up 1% of Moscow’s population – 70% though regard themselves as Orthodox. Yet he concedes that only 10% of these practice their Orthodox faith. The shortcomings he lists include the grandmas (“babushki”) who continue to patrol Orthodox churches and supply all visitors with an immediate, unrequested examination of skirt length, head covering and footwear.

 

No rabid liberal

Gleb Yakunin, once a cohort of Borisov, could be described as a darling of the West and its media. This dissident (born 1934), who rose to prominence during the Soviet period, now serves as Secretary to the Synod for the renegade, 2004-founded “Apostolic Orthodox Church”. Borisov in contrast remained a close friend of Patriarch Alexy. The deceased patriarch not only protected him as head pastor of Cosmas and Damian, but also bestowed on him the title of archpriest (“protoierei”) in 2000. Borisov sees in him an open, cosmopolitan thinker: “Alexy regarded the division of the church as a great, historical sin. He never agreed with those who denied the necessity of ecumenism.”

 

Though Alexander Ilyich is himself a convinced supporter of the ecumenical concept, he interprets the increasing distance between the Moscow Patriarchate and other churches since the middle of the 1990s as an unavoidable process. “It’s a matter of identity and self-understanding”, he assures. “The securer we become in our self-understanding, the more open we can become to other confessions.” He regards good neighbourliness as the best possible option for the time being “with each continuing to reside in his own flat”. Citing the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes of New Testament fame, he explains that inter-confessional cooperation will never become a concern of the entire church. Even the discussion groups in his own congregation possess few non-Orthodox participants.

 

More than once, Father Alexander has hosted a joint Christmas party for Orthodox and Baptist children. Yet he sees in the issue of “rebaptism” a deep divide between Orthodox and Baptist circles. He interprets the non-recognition of sacraments as denial of the other side’s Christianity – a death knell for any hopes of inter-confessional progress. “We recognise a Baptist baptism if it occurs in the name of the triune God”, he insists. “Among Roman Catholics we even recognise a priest’s ordination if and when he transfers to us.”

 

The archpriest is not optimistic regarding the future of the worldwide ecumenical movement. He views the placing of efforts aimed at halting the recognition of homosexuality on par with anti-Semitism as a major offense vis-à-vis the conservative, Christian majority. “In this matter, Western churches have crossed over the boundary of acceptable tolerability”, he concludes. “They will cause great damage in their relations with Eastern churches – as well as among themselves. Here they are pushing an unbiblical position.” He sees the ordination of women as a second issue reaching beyond the boundaries of “acceptable tolerability”.

 

Yet in global East-West politics, Borisov sees no reason for undue pessimism. While decrying their activities, the priest also condemns the sentencing of two members of the female punk group “P*Riot” (or “Kitty Riot”) to multi-year imprisonment. He compares this to a youngster having his arm hacked off for stealing a loaf of bread. “This is a political case,” he explains. He nevertheless cannot imagine a renewed cold war in the foreseeable future. “Many of our leading politicians are oriented towards the West – their families and money already reside there.”

 

Despite the moral vacuum of present-day Russian society, he remains assured regarding the future of Alexander Men’s movement: “Our acceptance within church circles is still increasing.” It would be very incorrect to describe us as an Orthodox fringe group.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 08 December 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-29, 1.143 words, 7.250 keystrokes and spaces. 

 

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Exceeding Permissible Levels of Ecumenical Pain

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Regarding the support of Germany’s evangelical Christians for P*Riot

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w – A decision has been made contrary to the wishes of leading representatives of the “Evangelical Church in Germany” (EKD). Germany’s 16 “Luther cities” decided on 11 November to refrain from awarding its “Luther Prize”, called “The Fearless Word”, to the world’s most famous female punk band.

 

A word of explanation: The crafty young Russian women – or the male string pullers in the background – have discovered a name capable of forcing dignitaries from all walks of life to mouth a vulgarity. But no one should feel pressured to do so: Let’s label the group “Kitty Riot”. In a helpful blog published on 7 August, the Englishman Alexander Mercouris wrote: Group members “have openly admitted to using obscenity as a weapon – indeed obscenity is a part of (the group’s) name”. The so-called band has no clear membership, has never recorded a song and has no known song catalogue. The Englishman describes the core group as “militant political activists with ultra-leftist and possibly anarchist views”.

 

In his Reformation sermon in Berlin on 31 October the Evangelical Bishop of Berlin and Brandenburg, Martin Dröge, assured that “none of us like to be disturbed in our meditation”. The group had already apologised for this during the court proceedings. Yet Kitty Riot was a known quantity long before its famous protest in Moscow’s “Cathedral of Christ the Saviour” on 21 February. 

 

Since the appearance of the original group „Voina“ (War) in 2007, clearly illegal acts have taken place: the overturning of – even occupied - police cars, firebombing and violent attacks on humans. These include the attack on a McDonalds location in Moscow on 1 May 2007 whereby unsuspecting staff members were roughed up and pelted with live cats. 

 

“Nomen est omen“: This group has also brought body parts below the beltline into play. Particularly well-known is Voina’s public intercourse in Moscow’s Timiryazev biology museum in February 2008. One participant in that event was the presently imprisoned (then highly-pregnant) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Afterward the group immortalised itself by loading pornographic photos of the happening onto the Internet. Those with strong nerves can check out the group’s other “full-body operations” on the Internet.

 

Calling the lewd performance on 21 February a punk “prayer” qualifies easily as blasphemy. Besides the sewer language, both Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill are viciously cursed. The Patriarch is called a “suka”, which could be translated as “bitch” or “scum”.

 

In her words of support for the group at the EKD’s synod on 4 November, the synod’s moderator, the Green politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt, assured: “The Gospel, as we had already observed with Martin Luther, enables one to become free.” This implies that avidly atheistic Kitty Riot was motivated by the Gospel. Regarding the cathedral protest she added: “The women’s action was no less a provocation than an expression of despair over such relationships between church and state which we here in Germany can hardly imagine.” In other words: Pure despair regarding cosiness with the state was one major reason for the cathedral protest.

 

The blending of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Putin government is indeed a cause for concern. Russian Orthodoxy (the ROC) has always felt called to ally itself with the state – even during communist times. But the EKD is also by no means a free church independent of the state. Using the same rule of thumb would expect that if Russians take measures to break the union between the ROK and the state, then the Germans would in turn strive to eliminate the state-collected church tax.

 

Western observers were incensed that the Patriarch had thrown his weight behind the candidacy of Putin prior to the elections of last March. Would the West have been equally angered if Kirill had come out in opposition to Putin? If not, then to accuse the ROK of political partisanship is inconsequential. Exercising political influence would be evident in both cases.

 

The EKD’s “Ambassador for the Reformation’s Anniversary” in 2017 and former EKD-head Margot Kässmann also praised Kitty Riot’s nomination for the award. She stated in a radio interview that she “felt great sympathy for the young women” because of their courage. Bishop Dröge added in the sermon already mentioned: “I marvel at the courage and inner freedom of these young women.” Yet having nerve and standing up for what one believes does not automatically make one worthy of prizes. Islamist assassins and Japanese Kamikaze pilots have also demonstrated great courage. Courage against what is the decisive issue.

 

Apparently, many prominent persons in the West do not have an accurate impression of how the „silent majority“ east of Brest and the Bug River (Belarus) thinks. Editorials in the „Washington Post“ and „New York Times“ have described the court case against the three women as “Stalinist show trials”. That could be interpreted as serious belittlement of the suffering experienced by true victims of the Great Terror (1937).

 

„Amnesty International“ has called the two-year sentence a „bitter blow for freedom of expression“. Yet virtually all countries possess legislation on disturbing the peace. The legal expert Mercouris assured that the performance in Moscow cathedral would also have been liable for prosecution under British law. The case is sometimes compared to the Polish pop diva Dorota Rabczewska or “Doda”. She was conviced of blasphemy in May 2010 after claiming on TV that the Bible had been “written by potheads and drunks”.  Despite cooperation with the court and a full apology, she was saddled with a fine amounting to $1.450 US.

 

Mercouris claims Kitty Riot was guilty of contempt of court. The defence had made no real attempt to defend and had instead harassed and mocked prosecution witnesses. “It is inconceivable that tactics of this sort would be tolerated in the courts of any Western country.” For a number of weeks, the accused refused even to admit that they belonged to Kitty Riot. He believes the women themselves and “their supporters in Russia and the West“ are most responsible for the tough sentence. I assume their anarchist worldview left no room for appropriate behaviour in court.

 

The East is pushing for "high moral values"

It may be hard to fathom, but more than a few East European Christians hold themselves to be less decadent than their fellow believers in the West. They desire to struggle for the lofty historical values of the Christian faith: family, fidelity, convention. For long periods during the last millennium, Moscow has seen itself as the “Third Rome” (after Rome and Constantinople), as a bulwark stemming the tide of Western-inspired liberality and ungodliness. (One of those was Marxism.)

 

Speaking about tolerance on the issue of homosexuality, Sergei Ryakhovsky, Bishop of the major “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), claimed last summer that non-Soviet Russia had never permitted immorality to become a part of official legislation. He added: “I do not hesitate to call these people (Kitty Riot) enemies of the Russian people and church.”

 

For the sake of all, the Third Rome is presently willing to take on the West’s secularist movement for “political correctness”. Yet the evangelical partners in the West have chosen to side with the “enemy” and have found nothing better to do than to celebrate the primary adversaries of church, morality and the family. Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Affairs for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, assured: “We cannot comprehend the thinking of those Christians in Germany who are supporting this band. We don’t get it. The Lutherans in our country can only hide their faces in shame.”

 

What’s happened to the revered movement of ecumenism? (Russian Baptists prefer to call them “interconfessional relations”.) Ecumenism entails goodwill, mutual respect and consideration. This appears to be an attack on ecumenism. A statement made by Bishop Dröge in early 2009 is very appropriate: “Here we have exceeded the permissible levels of ecumenical pain.” But in that context he was referring to a position of the Vatican and its German pope.

 

„Morality“ and „propriety“ sound tacky and horribly conventional to Western ears. Yet one could endure them in the name of inter-church understanding and even find them laudable. How does the Muslim world interpret Protestant advocacy for Kitty Riot? A performance like the cathedral one in a mosque would in many instances endanger the lives of those involved.

 

Anatoly Karlin, a Russian study in California, attempted to explain Kitty Riot’s global appeal in „Al Jazeera“ on 23 August. “I think it boils down to them being telegenic, weird, having a cool name and, most critically, anti-Putin.”

 

Siegfried Kasparick, the evangelical Superintendent (Propst) of Wittenberg, spoke out against the band’s nomination for the prize: The city would make itself “look ludicrous”. A second well-known Wittenberg pastor, Friedrich Schorlemmer, added that “honouring a blasphemy” was highly inappropriate; the band had “chosen the wrong place for a provocation”. Church leaders such as these could still limit international damage.

 

It’s difficult to accuse Bishop Dröge and his colleagues of evil intentions. They rely on their mass media. They have little free time and, after all, how many of them know Russian?

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 17 November 2012

A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, yet it does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #12-28, 1.502 words, 9.412 keystrokes and spaces.

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The Start Has Been Made

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Russia finally has a Presbyterian General Assembly

 

M o s c o w -- “Our numbers are smaller than we had anticipated, but the start has been made!” That was the opinion of Dr. Vladimir Li, Pastor of “Moscow Presbyterian Church”, following the founding of Russia’s first Presbyterian General Assembly in Moscow on 4 October. Twenty-nine delegates from Presbyterian congregations stretching from Moscow to Sakhalin Island, 6.600 km (4.400 miles) to the east attended the founding of the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of Russia”. “Everything begins from a small seed”, Li added. “The main thing is that the seed falls into good ground.”

 

The General Assembly will be meeting every two years. President for the initial two-year period is Vladimir Li, a medical doctor with a Masters degree in theology from California. His deputy is Ahn Soon-Cheol, a long-term Moscow missionary from Korea. “There would be less interest if we only met again in four years”, Li explained. “We chose to meet in two years so that those still on the outside can join sooner.” The next Assembly is to be held in 2014 on oil- and gas-rich Sachalin Island, home to many Korea-founded and –sponsored Presbyterian congregations

 

One immediate task involves obtaining government registration. This will allow congregations to join a genuine Presbyterian denomination. In order to achieve legality, Presbyterian congregations have been forced over the past 20 years to manage under a variety of interdenominational umbrellas.

 

Another task involves the development of a faculty of Reformed theology. The start was made in September when five students began their studies under the auspices of “Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary” and its rector, the Baptist Alexander Tsutserov. The initial general courses are attended by all students. Later, special courses will be held by various denominations for their own students. Li explained: “This is an interdenominational seminary, even if it is more Arminian than Calvinist. It will give us a good legal basis for our work.” Other small Presbyterian seminaries include licensed ones in Vladivostok and two more in St. Petersburg. A second one in Moscow is run by the independently-minded Korean businessman Lee Hong Rae.

 

Other new tasks will involve the development of guidelines for ordination and the training of laypeople. Coordination between the four regional sections of the General Assembly (Central, Siberia, Far East and Sakhalin) will be required. It will allow, among other things, for more substantial children’s camps in the summer.

 

Membership numbers are non-existent: Rev. Ahn Soon-Cheol claims that over half of Russia’s Presbyterians are already represented by the Assembly. Yet only 70 congregations were represented by the delegates at this initial General Assembly. Li’s own denomination has 20 congregations.

 

It can be claimed that a General Assembly became possible only after leadership passed into Russian hands. South Korea’s eight million Presbyterians are divided into no less than 112 independent denominations and Li laments that missionaries have exported their many divisions to Russia. The initial Russian conference intending to form a General Assembly was held in 2009 on the 100th anniversary of the Korean Presbyterian presence in the Russian Far East. Yet Rev. Li, a native-born Russian of Korean ancestry, reported with a smile that this initial meeting was organised strictly by expatriate missionaries. “We Russians heard about this gathering last!” When it became apparent that an Assembly would not be forming, “the six-or-so sponsoring denominations in Korea simply lost interest”. The Moscow gathering of May 2011 then gave most head positions to Russians. Now, in October, all voting positions were allotted to Russian citizens – Russian law no longer permits any other option. The President reported: “We have decided that Russians will carry the ball and that Koreans are welcome in a supporting role.” This development is still being resisted by some from Korea.

 

One of the St. Petersburg groups, the Louisville/Mississippi-based “Slavic Reformation Society”, finds itself on the other end of the spectrum. It relates neither to expatriate Korean missionaries nor to the new General Assembly. Its American head is Blake Purcell, an ordained minister in the “Presbyterian Church of America” and supporter of the “Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches” (CREC). A missionary to Russia since 1990, he is an elder of the “Reformed Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg” and supports its “Biblical Theological Seminary”. This school is known for pushing the “Christian Reconstructionism” of R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001). “Wikipedia” describes it as a movement of the radical right calling for the creation of a Christian state with draconic, Old Testament-style punishment for transgressors. Rushdoony was a founder of America’s homeschooling movement. The Coloradan Scott Davidson, a father of eight, is promoting it in St. Petersburg region.

 

Pastor Valerian Ten, another Moscow Russian of Korean ethnicity, faults Purcell for introducing the “Federal Vision” to Russia, which is regarded by some as an offshoot of Reconstructionism. One sore point is the Vision’s support of infant communion, which administers communion to infants as soon as they can chew – a practice adhered to by Eastern Orthodoxy. Ten regards Purcell’s Reformed-Presbyterian position as heretical.

 

A second Presbyterian group in St. Petersburg headed by Viktor Kazansky has demanded that the new General Assembly officially distance itself from the ordination of women – while permitting in writing the usage of alcohol and tobacco. For both of these reasons, his group has not joined the Assembly. “Why mention alcohol and tobacco at all in our documents?” asked Dr. Li. “Mentioning it sounded too much like promotion.”

 

Presbyterian versus Reformed

Valerian Ten prefers the term “Reformed” and has formed his own “Union of Evangelical-Reformed Churches of Russia” consisting of ten congregations. Though his group has not joined the Assembly, Ten is cooperating fully on the Moscow seminary project. The “Presbyterians” of Russia tend to be Korean and relatively large in number; the “Reformed” are American or European in origin and small.

 

Ten’s reasons for insisting on the term “Reformed” sound more political than theological – Vladimir Li assures that the theological differences among the Presbyterian and Reformed of Russia are miniscule. Much as the Lutherans, the Reformed can boast of a long tradition on Russian soil. When Czar Peter the Great invited Western European engineers and intellectuals to help modernize Russia, Reformed were among the takers. Russia still has public places named after the Reformed generals Franz Lefort (1655-1699) of Geneva and the Scot James Daniel Bruce (1670-1735). Ten reports in a study that Lefort was a close associate of Peter. In 1717, the first Reformed congregation was founded in St. Petersburg; Odessa (now Ukraine) soon followed. The Petersburg congregation existed until it was closed by the Communists in 1927. By verifying their long history on Russian soil, the small Reformed movement would conceivably qualify along with the Lutherans as one of Russia’s traditional religions.

 

Contacts with Korea remain strong, yet Rev. Li decries the fact that the General Assembly’s Western connections are limited to Korean groups located there. “We need literature and theological information,” he stated. “Who could help us develop and structure our new theological faculty? We need lecturers willing to come here and teach our students for short periods. That would be a very concrete form of aid.”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 8 November 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-27, 1.183 words, 7.693 keystrokes and spaces.

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“We cannot believe the charges”

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Dmitry Lotov and the organ in a Moscow cathedral

 

M o s c o w – On the evening of 4 September a group of independent Lutherans headed by Dmitry Lotov shoved their way into Moscow’s St. Peter- and-Paul-Cathedral. A cohort of Lotov shinnied up into the balcony. After removing the foot pedals (“foot keyboard”) from the organ, videos show the person jumping back down and returning to the entrance of the church. The group scuffled with Peter-and-Paul staff as they escaped with their prize. The organ was otherwise undamaged.

 

Lotov explains on his Peter-and-Paul webpage (“peterpaul.ru”), his group had “visited the cathedral in order to fulfil our responsibilities to inspect and protect the organ”. After finding it “in sad shape from overusage”, the group „took the measures necessary to stop the frequent usage of the organ for concerts”. The closing paragraph sounds threatening: “Our congregation will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve the organ as a historical and cultural monument.” Germany’s „Gustav-Adolf-Werk“ (GAW) reported on 10 September of “vandalism”, “crime” and the organ’s “destruction”. GAW added that it hopes along with others to fund the organ’s return to operation within the upcoming two to three months.

 

Usage and access rights to the instrument are unclear: According to a ruling from March 1996, both the Peter-and-Paul-congregation as well as the overarching “Evangelical-Lutheran Church – European Russia” (ELCER) possess access to the state-owned organ.

 

Lotov took the majority of the congregation with him when he was forced to pull out of Peter-and-Paul in Fall 2010. Consequently, his group still claims to be the legitimate and lawful Peter-and-Paul congregation. Lotov attributes police reluctance to act now to the city’s belief that his congregation is the organ’s rightful owner: “Items (the keyboard) cannot be stolen by their rightful owners”, he claims on his website. Peter-and-Paul-staff add that financial interests are also involved: Lotov no longer has access to the funds collected from organ concerts.

 

Dmitry Lotov, himself a passionate organist, has a special relationship with the organ. Built by the German firm W. Sauer in 1898, it was rescued from Moscow’s St. Michael’s Church just before the building’s demolition by the Bolsheviks in 1928. Lotov and others were able to retrieve it from a Moscow crematorium in 1996 and bring it to Peter-and-Paul. But funding was insufficient and the instrument was not ready until December 2005, when it was played on the occasion of the cathedral’s 100th birthday. Lotov called its restoration “the fruits of a 12-year-long struggle”.

 

Lotov, who became pastor of the Russian-speaking section of Peter-and-Paul’s congregation in 1997, was not popular in non-Lutheran circles because of his very conservative, high-church convictions. Accused of improper behaviour with the opposite sex, Lotov was sacked by ELCR-Bishop Dietrich Brauer. Lotov was then defrocked by the ELCER synod in March 2011. Despite these developments, Arri Kugappi (St. Petersburg), the bishop of Russia’s 2nd-largest Lutheran confession, the strongly-Finnish “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia” (ELCIR), has refused to break with Lotov. On 17 October he stated in an interview: “We have known Dmitry Lotov for a long time and we cannot believe the charges brought against him.  These charges were never brought up in court and nothing at all has been proven.”

 

Lotov’s congregation, now meeting on factory grounds in Moscow, would like nothing more than to become a member of Ingria and describes Kugappi on its website as “our bishop”. Kugappi assured: “We have accepted the congregation in which Lotov has worked into our spiritual care. But nothing has been decided conclusively. One of the reasons for this is that Bishop Brauer has absolutely no desire to consult with us regarding the matter. But we hope it will yet become possible to negotiate seriously with the Bishop. We would like to find a common position on the matter. We are cooperating warmly with Lotov’s congregation.“

 

Lotov’s acceptance by Ingria would go a long way in bringing about his rehabilitation. An entire Lutheran congregation is a rare and precious treat in Russia. Lotov’s congregation is attended by as many as 70 persons and Ingria is eager to accept it into its fold. But Ingria’s acceptance of Lotov would strain relations with ELCER. Should the acceptance by Ingria not happen, this congregation would then be in danger of degrading into a one-man sect.

 

“World Lutheranism” in the form of Germany’s “United Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany” (VELKD) and the US’ „Evangelical Lutheran Church in America“ (ELCA) remains very much in Brauer’s camp. Twenty-nine-year-old Dietrich Brauer’s election in September as acting archbishop of ELCR – the St. Petersburg based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia” - for the next two years is an indication of his strong backing within Russia. Superintendent Manfred Brockmann from Vladivostok remarked: “I am amazed by Brauer’s bravery. He is very young and already he has endured so much.”

 

Since Brauer’s election as bishop in 2010, ELCER has moved much more clearly into the camp of Germany’s “Evangelical Church in Germany” (EKD) and the “Lutheran World Federation” (LWF). That furrows brows among those within ELCER who have reservations regarding Germany’s frequently very liberal EKD. Yet Brauer also has sympathies for the pietistic movement and is held in high regards by the “Russian Evangelical Alliance”.

 

A note on the destruction of a church

On 7 September, Germany’s “IDEA” reported in a single article on “serious damage” to the organ and the bulldozing of a Pentecostal church in Novokosino in eastern Moscow. Three days later, Vsevolod Chaplin, a press spokesman for Patriarch Kirill, demanded that the city government get the highly-questionable behaviour of Novokosino’s municipal and business groups under control. “We Orthodox face many of the same dangers from business circles at other locations,” a leading priest claimed in mid-October.

 

IDEA’s article was entitled “Attacks on Evangelical Churches”. Dmitry Lotov was irritated because it placed the church bulldozing and his own actions in the same light. He responded with a protest on his website: “We are deeply revolted and disturbed by the destruction of the evangelical Sacred Trinity church in Novokosino.” But Lotov has never been known as a friend of Pentecostals.

 

A well-informed observer writes: “Jurisprudence remains a highly cumbersome endeavour in Russia. When a party feels itself sufficiently strong, it simply resorts to vigilantism. Lotov too uses the space he still has to get physical. That clearly places him outside the codes of civil behaviour which supposedly are upheld by churches across the globe. He apparently believes he is acting in self-defence against ELCER’s leadership, which he views as acting illegally. But both sides are playing hardball.”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 04 November 2012

Release #12-26, 1.069 words, 6.868 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Moscow’s “Russian-American Institute” is Up for Sale

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Negotiations with the buyer are in their final stages

 

M o s c o w -- After a stressful construction period lasting nearly a decade, „Russian-American Institute’s” (RAI) new edifice in northeastern Moscow is up for sale. A buyer has been found and President John Bernbaum (Wheaton/USA) predicted on 5 October that the sale would be finalized “in two or three months”. At its dedication on 27 May 2010, the magnificent glass-and-brick structure at 40 Menzhinskogo Street had been described as the most beautiful and representative building in all of Russian Protestantism.

 

The impending sale awakened the concern of Alexander Semchenko (Moscow), Russia’s wealthiest Protestant businessman and bishop of the small “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians” (STsEC). On 26 July he stated: “We are afraid this sale will mean the liquidation of RAI as we know it.” Bernbaum has assured the skeleton staff still working in a portion of the building that classes will be guaranteed at another location if the building is sold. Yet Semchenko, who was imprisoned in the early 1980s for engaging in illegal Christian printing, fears the roughly four million US-dollar profit from the sale would only cover the costs of instruction for a limited period. According to him, the heady dream born in 1990 of a Christian liberal-arts university in Russia’s capital would then suffer its final demise. RAI opened for business in 1995 and began its journey through four different rental locations in Moscow before ending at its present address.

 

The debt on the building is put at $7.8 million US. On 11 May, Semchenko offered to take over this debt if the building were officially given to STsEC. The businessman places its present, unconfirmed selling price at $17 million. Yet, after taxes, he estimates that only $4 million of that profit would remain if sold at this price. Since Semchenko only offered 46% of the actual market value, it is obviously more profitable to sell to a well-endowed, outside party. The entrepreneur had planned to pay off the $7.8 million debt with loans from three Russian banks.

 

As part of the sale, Semchenko’s STsEC intended to guarantee continued Christian instruction in a portion of the existing building. The businessman would also restore its original name: “Russian-American Christian University (called “Institute” in Russia). Russian observers were mystified when the original RACU name was dropped in 2009.

 

The impending sale has ruffled only a few feathers within Russia. The tepid, long-term response among Russia’s Protestants can be attributed in part to their lack of interest in liberal-arts Christian education. One Russian Protestant leader also observes: “We have tended to view RAI as a free-floating, foreign entity located somewhere between the Orthodox and Protestant worlds.” Semchenko stresses that he would be very concerned about remaking it into a clearly Russian Protestant one.

 

All RAI-board members are tight-lipped; they are according to one of its members “sworn to secrecy”. Yet one serious, non-board source claims the buyer is the 15-million-member “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Mormons). When confronted with this information, President Bernbaum did not refute it. Only after the sale will it be possible to confirm details.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 13 October 2012

 

A journalistic release appearing only in the name of its author. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any single institution. Release #12-23, 507 words, 3.214 keystrokes and spaces.

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A Patrol for Protecting Church Property

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Joint Orthodox-Pentecostal patrols proposed

 

M o s c o w – On 27 August, Russia’s largest and busiest Protestant union, the 400.000-member-strong “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), lofted the unusual proposal that inter-confessional patrols guard church property. In mid-August, radical leftists, rightists and feminists had sawed down or felled outdoor Orthodox crucifixes in Russia and Ukraine. That aroused the emphatically-Orthodox “Holy Rus” organisation, which proposed creating volunteer, Orthodox patrols to guard sacred Orthodox sites and church dignitaries.

 

That in turn brought the non-Orthodox to their feet. The aged human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of Moscow’s Helsinki Group, complained that strictly-Orthodox patrols would cause very negative reactions. “Muslim, Jewish and atheist patrols would then also need to be instigated.” Alexei Mayorov, the Director of the Office for Regional Security in Moscow, added: “This is an incorrect starting point, for it would split society.”

 

Bishop Konstantin Bendas, number two in ROSKhVE’s hierarchy, then responded with the proposal that inter-confessional, unarmed patrols be created. “How should Orthodox guards react if someone attacks a synagogue in a neighbouring street? Would they just stand by and watch?”

 

ROSKhVE and its head bishop, Sergey Ryakhovsky, wrap themselves in the flag and call repeatedly for Russians to struggle jointly for the common good. They are committed to bringing Russia “back to its feet”. Its press service noted on 25 August that a congregation in Penza called “Living Faith” had participated once again in a flag day three days previous. Church members had decorated their cars with flags and slogans and joined other local firms and organisations in forming a column of honking vehicles which paraded through the city. This holiday, created in 1994, was organised in Penza by “Young Guard”, the youth organisation of the “United Russia” state party. Church pastor Sergey Kireyev explained: “Protestants are patriots in our country. History reports of very many Protestants who became famous scientists and government leaders. We want to prolong that tradition. . . We regard Russia to be a strong country with a terrific future. Protestants therefore pray for their country and desire that it might bloom and grow.”

 

Since 2006, a Protestant delegation has been permitted to lay wreaths at the Kremlin Wall in honour of the war dead every year on 8 May. ROSKhVE always appears in the front row on such occasions.

 

ROSKhVE and its head bishop respond quickly to national developments – a recent example involves the patrols. In a practice usually reserved for the Patriarch, Ryakhovsky issues statements of condolence when airplanes crash and natural catastrophes occur. The only other Protestant group which manages to stay in the race with him for the public eye are the news agency, magazine and webpage of the Evangelical-Christian bishop and construction czar Alexander Semchenko.

 

Semchenko, a former Baptist, also seeks the blessings of the highest government circles. In February 2012 agencies reported that he was the primary financier and builder of two new Orthodox churches on the outskirts of Moscow. This effort was interpreted as an expression of good will vis à vis the Moscow Patriarchate and resulted in Patriarch Kirill offering a public expression of appreciation. The businessman explained his actions by citing the fact that his staff includes Orthodox believers.

 

Yet “slower” Protestant circles (Baptists and Lutherans in particular) are unwilling to sanction Ryakhovsky’s and Semchenko’s  thrust into the public arena. In recent years, both bishops have pushed for a “sobor”, a conference of all evangelical confessions under their own leadership. Yet the less-nimble unions and churches refuse to participate. Orthodox circles are also highly-reluctant to view these two bishops as the vanguard of the Protestant movement. Until roughly a year ago, the Moscow Patriarchate was pushing for “traditional” Protestants – mostly Baptists and Lutherans – to officially distance themselves from the “untraditional” Pentecostals and Charismatics. Yet the “traditional” proved unwilling to cooperate – that would indeed have brought too much estrangement into the Protestant scene.

 

Commentary – The politics of incremental change

One could claim that Bishop Ryakhovsky is aiming to cut a deal with state auspices: He is offering political loyalty, constancy and hard work for the common good. In return, he expects a commitment to complete religious freedom and the ending of all discrimination. Moscow’s “Slavic Legal Centre”, which is supported heavily by US-Charismatics, struggles mightily for the rights of Russia’s non-Orthodox. This strategy seems dialectical (contradictory): Though (or because!) churches under the ROSKhVE-umbrella have received massive support in finance and content from Western sources, it is second to none in its support of the present Russian government. 

 

Despite the many skirmishes on competency and jurisdiction, Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists and Adventists also support the policy of gradual, incremental change. Among them, the sweeping, systemic opposition of Yuri Sipko is viewed as embarrassing and disruptive. (The evangelist Sipko was until 2010 president of the largest Baptist union, the RUECB.) Their discomfort is understandable: How is one to expect concessions from politicians by appealing to their humanity when colleagues elsewhere are calling them “thieves and liars”? If there are no prospects for deposing the administration and forcing it to exile itself to London, then there is no alternative to a policy of continual, small steps. Fundamental massive opposition may have made sense for a short, interim period following 1989.

 

Orthodox-Pentecostal patrols are illusory. But the proposal was nevertheless a clever move – it jumbled the usual lines of Christian-Christian confrontation.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 04 September 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-22, 885 words, 5.946 keystrokes and spaces.

 

All persons mentioned live in Moscow except for the pastor in Penza.

 

Though clearly-Charismatic churches form a major part of ROSKhVE, this union rejects the label “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal”. In the future I will probably therefore need to call them “non-traditional Pentecostals” in order to distinguish them from the older, traditional Pentecostal union now headed by Eduard Grabovenko.

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A New Icon to Whom Liberals Can Pray

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The Russian Protestant response to P*Riot

 

Commentary

M o s c o w – Russian Protestants are united in condemning the two-year prison sentence dished out to the punk group “P*Riot”. Yet the church fathers are motivated not only by humanitarian concerns – they also have no desire to supply the group with a global stage. (It is incidentally permissible to reject the vulgar name the world’s most famous “girl band” has picked out for us to use when referring to them. Both they and the Ukrainian group FEMEN have utilised nudity and scandal to achieve notice in the public arena.)

 

The Charismatic Sergey Ryakhovsky, Bishop of the major “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), told the news agency “Protestant”: “One should have sentenced the ladies to a half year picking up refuse around ‘Christ the Saviour’ cathedral. But this sentence has transformed them into an ‘icon’ to which certain liberal forces will pray.” He also expressed a deep desire that the Moscow Patriarchate might put in a good word in favour of pardoning the “girls”.  

 

Baptist pastor Leonid Kartavenko, a cohort of the evangelical businessman Alexander Semchenko, added: “The ladies’ behaviour can only be condemned. Yet the harshness of the penalty has created a scandal and presents the band with the undeserved aura of martyrs and prisoners of conscience. To whom is this of any use?”

 

These leading Protestants regard the imprisoned as adversaries – by no means as allies in the struggle for separation between Orthodoxy and the state. They regard the brief concert on 21 February as an attack by liberal-secularist circles on the traditional family values upheld jointly by Protestants and the Orthodox. Ryakhovsky alluded to sinister masterminds in the background and assured: “I do not hesitate to call these people enemies of the Russian people and church.”

 

The loyal news agency „Interfax“ was quick to report questionable news from Germany claiming that imitators of P*Riot who had disrupted a service in Cologne Cathedral on 19 August were facing sentences of up to three years in prison.

 

The evangelist Yuri Sipko chose once again to swim against the current. Since completing his term as president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) in March 2010, he has transitioned to labelling government leaders a self-enriching band of “hypocrites and liars”. His vocabulary is not unlike that of the well-known dissident Alexey Navalny. In the news agency “Portal-Credo” on 23 August, Sipko described the band members as prisoners of conscience. It was not they who needed to repent, but rather the Moscow Patriarchate. They had justifiably protested against the “symphony” of church and state. The ladies “did not want to live in a loo”, he concluded. “The forest (the motherland) is in flames. Poisonous smoke is engulfing more-and-more territory. Survival is becoming impossible; people are fleeing. Yet these girls refused to wriggle free and instead screamed: ‘SOS!´.”  But no other leading Protestants would attribute such lofty motives to the group; “Much ado about nothing” is the prevalent Protestant reaction.

 

Protestants are not easily disturbed at present – Vladimir Putin is not exactly an unknown entity. The Evangelical-Christian Sergey Andreyev has been active successfully as the mayor of a major Russian city (Tolyatti) since March. Russia has joined the WTO; the simplified Russian-American visa regulations scheduled for implementation on 9 September are also no indication of a worsening East-West political climate. Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB’s Director for External Church Affairs, assures: „The economies of the East and West are so strongly intertwined that I can no longer envision Russia uncoupling itself from the West.” Yet the world powers Russia and China have no intention of joining Western alliances (EU and NATO) as junior partners. One will need to make do on a global scale for the time being without that kind of major rapprochement.

 

Protestant circles remain equally relaxed about new legislation limiting the work of Russian NGOs scheduled to come into force in November. Humanitarian, religious and educational organisations have been explicitly exempted from the upcoming regulations. Yet they do affect secular associations created to support religious ones. The “Slavic Legal Centre” defends Protestant bodies in most court cases and reaps strong appreciation from nearly all Protestant circles. It is also the Moscow branch of Washington’s “American Center for Law and Justice” (ACLC) founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson. Yet the SLC will know how to go about defending its interests: Its director, the Baptist Anatoly Pchelintsev, is a shrewd, one-time military prosecutor. (His co-director, Vladimir Ryakhovsky, is the brother of ROSKhVE’s bishop.)

 

Russia is probably facing a new bureaucratic nightmare. Politically-active NGOs will be attempting to take cover under the umbrellas of humanitarian and religious organisations. A similar battle occurred in 1997 when all religious organisations were required to re-register. But today it remains possible for even the smallest religious organisations to achieve registration – the process has simply become more expensive and laborious. Also in this present instance, those being targeted will most likely find means for carving loopholes into the new legislation.

 

The campaign for human rights

The West’s campaign for human rights within Russia suffers from a major handicap. Bishop Ryakhovsky makes his assessment amply clear: There is no selfless longing for noble human ideals lurking behind this Western push – only the very concrete political and economic interests of a superpower and its West European cohorts. The Western campaign for P*Riot is generally interpreted as an attempt to weaken the Russian position on Syria. The catchword is “encirclement”.

 

The East European fear of Western-sponsored NGO’s is not unfounded. Even „Wikipedia“ reports that billionaire George Soros contributed $42 mill. to organizations intent upon toppling Eduard Shevardnadze as president of Georgia in 2003. Soros had contributed previously to similar efforts in Serbia. In more than a few Russian minds, the trauma of Western collaboration during Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” has not been overcome. Of course, the democracies of the West would also not take kindly to sweeping “subversive” activities engineered by foreign agencies.

 

The political dissonance between East and West is caused partly by the conflicting criteria for judging political systems. One result is the fact that the prevalent verdicts on the politicians Gorbachev and Yeltsin are diametrically opposite in East and West. The West campaigns for the human rights of the individual; the East concentrates on more basic issues. A further example involves Alexander Lukashenko, the long-term president of Belarus. Among the Protestant rank-and-file across Eastern Europe, the Belarusians are envied for their society’s order and stability.

 

A Belarusian working at Harvard University recently described the issue accurately.  In “Belarus Digest” on 1 August Volha Charnysh wrote: “People in (failed) post-Soviet countries are looking (for) leaders who can restore law and order. Stability for them comes before democracy and freedom of speech. Unlike a typical Western European, many citizens of post-Soviet states have actually been to Belarus. . . . They hear that the President takes care of the pensioners and the working class. It is not that the visitors are unaware of the political prisoners or have not heard about rigged elections, but they accept (that as) the price paid for law and order. . . . Moldovan economist Galina Selari called Belarus ‘the only post-Soviet country where the state fulfils its functions´. Ultimately, a president (needs to) be loved by the domestic, not by the foreign electorate.”

 

The peoples of post-Soviet countries continue to long for governments who take the tasks of labour, shelter, medicine and education seriously - and do not simply line their own pockets. The remaining issues come in second.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 28 August 2012

 

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-21, 1.229 words, 7.997 keystrokes and spaces.

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Will New Language Legislation Destroy Ukraine?

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Ukrainian churches send a protest letter to the State President

 

M o s c o w – Following a shoving match between members of the Ukrainian parliament on 3 July, the heads of nine religious communities responded with a letter to President Viktor Yanukovich the next day. It was signed by two Pentecostals as well as Baptist Vyacheslav Nesteruk, President of the largest Baptist union, and one of his predecessors. Grigory Komendant is today President of the Ukrainian Bible Society. In this letter they demanded of Yanukovich that he cancel his plans for installing Russian as the country’s secondary official language. “We feel called to inform you that the present route will lead us into the abyss, to national unrest and the demise of our governmental system”, they wrote. We are convinced this route „deepens social division, strengthens political resistance and undermines the foundations of the Ukrainian state“.

 

The President’s followers spot the seed of division in precisely the opposite camp: in the camp of those who demand the retention of Ukrainian as the country’s sole official language. Baptists and Pentecostals were nearly unanimous in their support of the now-imprisoned, former president Yulia Timoshenko.

 

For obvious reasons, Filaret, Patriarch of the autonomous, remote-from-Moscow “Ukrainian Orthodox Church”, stood at the top of the list of signers. Noticeable is the lack of Charismatic churches. The confessionalist “Ukrainian Lutheran Church”, which is allied with America’s Wisconsin Synod, signed. But the larger, Odessa-based “German Evangelical-Lutheran Church of the Ukraine” did not.

 

Commentary

Foreign observers have no easy time following the logic of this protest note. How can the partial acceptance of Russian as a secondary, official tongue (also the only one understood by all 46 million Ukrainians) split the country? Will the new legislation do anything more than give both fractions a portion of what they are demanding? The supporters of Ukrainian believe their language must replace Russian as the all-embracing national tongue. But according to at least one survey, 53% of the populace continues to prefer Russian.

 

If Russian were dropped as the cross-tribal and cross-national idiom, only the remote language of English would remain as a possible “lingua franca”. Some are willing to pay the price. There are Ukrainians who insist on answering questions stated in Russian in their broken English. The states of the former USSR do need a lingua franca – it will in any case never be Ukrainian.

 

A Baptist member of the Belarusian opposition explained the issue on her own terms: “We reject Kievan Rus.” This refers to the concept of a particularly close affinity between the three Eastern Slavic nations stemming from the early medieval period. “We Belarusians are no more Russian than are the Poles.” Here language serves as the guarantor of an independent national identity. This again leads to astonished reactions among Westerners who have noticed that Australians, New Zealanders, British, Canadians and US-Americans are very much capable of retaining a distinct national identity despite a common tongue.

 

Foreign tourists weak on Russian – or even just the Cyrillic alphabet – are left out in the cold in Belarus and Ukraine. Belarusian maps are published in Russian and therefore do not coincide with the names one will find on street and public signs. City maps call a major tube station in Minsk „Oktyabrskaya“ (October). Yet if one arrives at that station on the train in person, the signs on the platform will read “Kastrychnitskaya“ – in Cyrillic letters, of course.

 

Ukrainian Railways‘ webpage can presently only be understood by speakers of Ukrainian. The same is true for the webpage of the Ukrainian Baptist Union (see “ecbua.info”). At least for now, getting understood outside of Ukraine is not a priority.

 

Even natives can feel overpowered by the demands being placed on them. Will a respectful, politically-correct Ukrainian from Belarus need to be conversant in all three Eastern Slavic tongues? Ukrainians from Kazakhstan or Latvia are confronted with the same issue. Those needing to flee the Babylonian confusion escape to Russia for recovery – or at least as far as its Internet.

 

But in Belarus („Belorussya“ in Russian) the linguistic state of emergency is unique. According to most reports, Belarusian is declining, limited mostly to farmers and the dissident, urban intelligentsia. Barely 10% of the populace regularly speak Belarusian. In Belarus, the unique national idiom has no chance of becoming the country’s sole official language, as is the case in Ukraine.

 

In the face of linguistic upheaval, the unfazed Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church proceeds down its well-trodden path and continues to celebrate Kievan Rus and the Russian language without bothering to halt even at the borders of the three Baltic states. The Protestant communities outside of Russia proper cannot demonstrate that kind of courage - depending on politics, it could also be called obstinance.

 

On the other hand, the continuing popularity of the “Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” can be attributed to its retention of Russian. This is where for ex. the Russian minority from the Baltics still feels cosy. This loose gathering of unions can be defined as successor to the once-mighty “All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” scuttled soon after 1991.

 

Commentary – The historical heritage

The real issue behind this unresolved controversy involves the interpretation of the Soviet and Russian heritage. The violence directed at Russian football (soccer) fans in Warsaw on the occasion of the European championship match on 12 June made obvious to all that Russians are now also on the receiving end of ethnic hatred. An advertisement in Moscow’s metro a year ago stated: “Visit Lithuania! The people love us and are waiting for us.” The placard makers were joking, of course.

 

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the three Baltic states have been celebrating the military struggle against the Red Army during and after World War II. These have been above all national units belonging to Germany’s “Waffen-SS” as well as the “forest brethren”. The second grouping kept the partisan, underground battle against the Soviet army alive until around 1957 – death totals hit roughly 50.000. Their struggle had been nourished by the hope for Western military intervention.

 

To the horror not only of Russians and Jews, Archbishop Jānis Vanags has for the past 10 years been holding a memorial service in Riga’s Lutheran cathedral every year on 16 March honouring the veterans of the Latvian “Waffen-SS”. This year, he offered a reconciling hand to the other side. He stated in his sermon that one must in the name of reconciliation also recognise the antifascist struggle under Red Army auspices. “It is perhaps necessary for us Latvians to view the aged bearers of war medals who commemorate their victory on 9 May with greater understanding. Perhaps they did not fight for Stalin and his empire, but only against those who had brought such untold suffering on them and their families.”

 

Addressing the veterans present Vanags added: „Those fighting under German flags . . . did not struggle for the glory and victory of Greater Germany und against Europe. They struggled so that the greatest evil of all, the red Bolsheviki and their Chekist murderers, would not again invade Latvia.”

 

Yet these sentences do not cover the motivation of all who fought the Red Army: Latvian units were also involved in the nearly total extermination of Baltic Judaism. This complicity was mentioned in the Archbishop’s homily. He stated that it is very important to the survivors of the Holocaust that “the crimes directed at their families are not justified and forgotten”.

 

How can Christians foster the cause of reconciliation? Vanags wants to concede to both sides the right to rationalise their deeds. But does not the Biblical model see remorse and repentance as the real road to lasting peace?

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 11 July 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. Release #12-17, 1.268 words, 7.992 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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April 20 – An Ideal Time for Relaxing at Home

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Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy reports on incidents of racial hatred

 

M o s c o w – After a break of a year-and-a-half, “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy’s" 11-year-old “Racial Task Force” (RTF) is back in business. Its first two quarterly reports for 2012 listing incidents of racially-based, physical and verbal abuse in Moscow were released on 5 July. These reports indicate that if you are a person of colour in Russia, 19-21 April of every year is an ideal time to stay at home. The 20th of April is the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The reports list the fact that one 30-year-old male from Congo had a rough day in Moscow on 21 April 2012: He was attacked three times.

 

On 18 February 2012, a 42-year-old Nigerian had his face sprayed with gasoline by rowdies shouting racial epithets, seriously irritating skin and eyes. He died on 21 April following a stroke. Since he is no longer able to send money home, MPC is supporting his desperately poor family in Nigeria for an interim period.

 

The RTF readily concedes that its limited, largely-volunteer forces can only document a tiny percentage of all racially-motivated incidents. The first two reports for 2012 describe 10 attacks and four instances of serious verbal harassment. One of this year’s victims has been physically attacked four times over a ten-year period; another twice during a three-year stay. A man from the Congo has been attacked five times within a two-and-a-half year period and says he is “verbally harassed on a daily basis”.

 

In one incident on a streetcar this year, an elderly woman weak in both demographics and history shouted: “You monkeys are overrunning our country! What are you doing here? Stalin would have dealt with you. Russia is for Russians!” (Joseph Stalin was a Georgian, qualifying him as a “black” in current Russian racist terminology.)

 

A major problem is that persons of colour cannot count on protection from bystanders and police. In more than one instance, casual, coincidental onlookers have been seen filming attacks on people of colour. Civil and moral courage are sadly lacking. During the night of 18 May, a 38-year-old Ghanaian male was beaten seriously while sleeping in the flat of African friends. Five Russian burglars had broken down the door in order to enter. Afterward, the Russian landlord demanded the Ghanaian pay for the door, for his skin colour had been the source of the problem. The matter ended with the landlord asking the renters to move out: “The landlord does not want to have this kind of problem.”

 

Because of the miniscule number of Africans in Russia, their best chance for protection appears to be the presence of Caucasian or Central Asian men in larger numbers. These minorities feel the brunt of Russian racial hatred – several million of them reside both legally and otherwise in the vicinity of Moscow. Their lot is comparable to that of the undocumented Hispanics moving into the United States.

 

A source on Yahoo lists 0,12% as the percentage of blacks in Russia: a bit over 170.000. The “Metis Foundation” estimates there are 40.000 Russians of mixed, partially-African race. There have nevertheless been Africans in Russia since the 17th century. Indeed, the great-grandfather of national poet laureate Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) came from the region of today’s Eritrea.

 

The Russian police are still more of a hindrance than an aid to Africans in their plight. On 8 June, an African was taken to a forest and robbed by Moscow policemen. In only one of the 14 incidents listed in the two reports is a court case expected. The very weak legal support of Africans is compounded by the fact that many of them lack sufficient visa documentation and are for that reason highly reluctant to contact police.

 

Another serious problem is insufficient medical insurance. After being beaten on 15 April, a 17-year-old Congolese youth spent a month at Moscow’s Butkin hospital on food and water. Released with his arm still broken and dislocated, a nurse at MPC’s medical clinic was able to obtain hospital access and the required operation. MPC secured funds for the treatment and the patient is now recovering. The RTF reports this was the second physical attack the victim had suffered during his first six months in the country.

 

MPC’s mostly-voluntary clinic, called “Medical Advice Centre”, has proven to be a bastion of hope and final resort for more than a few needy Africans. It recently moved to the renovated basement of a major Protestant church. It enjoys strong support from Moscow’s “Agape Medical Centre” headed by the US-American Baptist physician Bill Becknell.

 

MPC’s pastor, the United Methodist Matthew Laferty, states: "We believe that our faith in Jesus Christ speaks powerfully to welcoming strangers in a foreign land. We are compelled to provide hospitality to all people regardless of colour or nationality. As an American, I do not point fingers or seek to shame Russians. My country continues to grapple with racism. Our goal is to help strengthen Russia by celebrating its achievements and progress on race issues and struggling with Russians on lingering concerns of racism and race-motivated violence."

 

Small inroads have been made. This service reported on the Baptist “Moscow City Church’s" commemoration of Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-Day on 15 January 2012. This modest event was the first known commemoration of this holiday ever by Russian Protestants and received worldwide attention. More importantly, it was also widely covered by Russian Protestant media.

 

Last year, a Cameroonian physician from France, Olivier Akaa, got nowhere in his attempt to be elected mayor of the South Russian city of Lipetsk. But this incredibly upbeat citizen of Russia is running a successful humanitarian organisation, called “City of Light”, dedicated to serving the homeless. Fascinated Russian media have been reporting warmly on his efforts.

 

Besides reporting on incidents and supporting attack victims, the RTF lists the building of a support community for Africans and a new website in English and Russian as two more of its objectives for 2012. Cooperation with Russian civil rights initiatives is also on the list; one of them is the secular NGO “SOVA”. Moscow’s small Quaker community is involved in a project on training Russian police to communicate better with people of colour.

 

The highly-international, English-speaking “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy” was founded in 1962 and is supported jointly by five US denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, the American Baptist Churches, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The MPC’s present website is found at: “www.mpcrussia.org”. The RTF’s coordinator, Jennifer Voecks, can be reached at “mpctaskforce@gmail.com”.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 11 July 2012 

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-16, 1.034 words, 6.298 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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The Gospel is the Issue – Not Denominations

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Interview with Alexey Smirnov, President of the RUECB

 

M o s c o w – “Baptists do not preach the Baptist confession; Baptists preach the Gospel. Nowhere do we give out calls to accept the Baptist faith.” That was one of many claims made by Alexey Smirnov, President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, in an interview published on his church’s website on 21 May. The interview referred primarily to the Moscow meeting of Smirnov and John Upton, President of the “Baptist World Alliance”, with Kirill I, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, on 29 March. This had been the first meeting between the heads of the Russian Baptist and Orthodox churches since the deceased Alexey II met with then-President Yuri Sipko and Neville Callam, General-Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, in Moscow on 18 June 2008.

 

Russia’s head Baptist could again envision Baptists and Orthodox evangelizing jointly – as occurred on occasion two decades ago. Yet the agenda of the Orthodox partner must be the preaching of the Gospel – not superfluous history or church tradition. “We invite people to our churches, but we do not pressure those who attend an Orthodox church and have found God there. Salvation does not come from our denomination, but rather through personal faith in Jesus Christ.” He added: “The Orthodox church too is changing. The Patriarch (he also mentioned Metropolitan Ilarion, Director of the Orthodox office for external affairs) is preaching the Gospel. We could help and accompany each other along the way.”

 

The Baptist President also spoke of natural affinities between all of Russia’s believers, stating: “Russian Baptists understand Orthodox Christianity better than Western Protestantism does.” Smirnov supported his view by claiming that both Russian Baptist and Orthodox theologies are “less practical and more mystical” that their Western counterparts. Both Russian confessions understand the Scriptures “more allegorically” than does the West. The Patriarch has used the term “Orthodox Baptists” as an expression of his sympathies, yet in this interview Smirnov limited Orthodox influence on Baptists to historical and cultural aspects.

 

But Smirnov also cited strong theological commonalities with the Orthodox: Both “strive for the preservation of traditional family values”. He continued: “Neither Orthodox nor Baptists ordain women – and we have no plans to reconsider this standpoint. We also jointly oppose secular support for unlimited personal freedom, including the freedom to engage in (sexual) perversions. We both oppose liberalism, which is the rejection of the Scriptures as God’s Word.” The RUECB’s President stressed that he considers the Patriarch a fellow believer and added: “I hope very much that he also recognizes me as a Christian.”

 

As members of the same team, Smirnov does not gloat over failures attributed to the Patriarch. “When I read in the news about questionable financial dealings, I pray for him in all sincerity.” He added: “No one is perfect. Everyone is capable of mistakes and yielding to temptation.“ He cited “power and material benefits” as two of the strongest human enticements.

 

Smirnov noted that a new joint committee has been formed to resolve conflicts between Orthodox and Baptist circles. This committee has not yet met, but “once critical situations arise, we can gather under the auspices of this committee and consult on the issue”.

 

Yet the RUECB’s President warned of undue optimism: “Political practices in our country remain unchanged.” He called the dramatic election of the Evangelical Christian Sergey Andreyev as mayor of Tolyatti on 18 March untypical and “not the result of a deliberate plan, but only of circumstances. People voted not so much for Andreyev as against the other candidate.” Smirnov can for the time being only conceive of Baptists effecting significant change at the workplace or on the communal level. “The greater political power a person becomes, the less he will remain independent. He will then become more-and-more subject to players with convictions and principles foreign to his own.”

 

Pastor Smirnov warned of placing undue trust in a sensationalist and partisan mass media. “The gossip and squabbles propagated by the media are no basis for judging anything at all. Before courts make any decision, I will withhold judgement. We are called on to pray for and bless each other.”

 

This official RUECB position differs in style from views expressed by Pastor Yuri Sipko in interviews published during the past year and reported by this service. In those statements Sipko, who served as RUECB-President from 2002 to 2010, criticized both the state and Orthodoxy.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 28 June 2012

This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-14, 724 words, 4.609 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Remarkable Success in the Face of Division

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Russia’s Presbyterians are forming a General Assembly

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w -- Dr. Vladimir Li, Pastor of “Moscow Presbyterian Church”, predicts that Russia`s very first Presbyterian umbrella, a General Assembly, will be formed in October. A working group was created in January 2010 for the purpose of launching a “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of Russia”. Li reports that the first larger gathering in 2010 was premature: “We had too much dissonance, too many divisions and unresolved problems.” Yet Li, a medical doctor with an additional degree from El Monte/California’s “International Theological Seminary”, sees the human factor, not theological issues, as the source of continuing disunity. “We have corrected initial mistakes,” he added. The original working committee had consisted strictly of missionaries from South Korea. Li, a non-Korean-speaking ethnic Korean from Russia, is now spokesperson for Russians on this committee. Co-chair on the other side is Thomas Kang (Moscow), a Korean missionary from California. The vast majority of Russia’s Presbyterians are Korean or of Korean ethnicity. Indeed, Russian nationalists have decried the Presbyterian movement as a “Korean sect”.

 

When the requirement for state registration appeared in 1997, Presbyterians were without any central body. Consequently, the Presbyterians of Russia are now spread across no less than five denominational umbrellas. Some groups are registered with the Charismatic “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” headed by Sergey Ryakhovsky; others are allied with largely-Baptist or nondenominational umbrellas.

 

Only theological-conservative Korean Presbyterians have sent missionaries to Russia and Pastor Li believes Presbyterians barely differ in their theological views. All adhere to the “five points” of Calvinism and to scriptural inerrancy. He explains: “There may have been reasons for their separations in Korea, but they are not known here. In Russia, the reasons are usually personal ambition. Nearly every congregation is independent; beholden only to the founding missionary and his mission agency.” Li reports that some pastors do not even know the name of the church umbrella under which their congregation is registered. “We hear there is a rather large group of Presbyterians in the Caucasus region”, he adds. “But we do not have any contact.” There could be as many as 300 Presbyterian congregations in all of Russia, mostly in the Far East.

 

It is already clear that not all groups will be joining the General Assembly. Those not joining will include Moscow businessman Lee Hong Rae – his efforts include a small seminary on Dubrovka Street attended by a significant percentage of Pentecostals. Pastor Valerian Ten, another Moscow Russian of Korean ethnicity, rejects the term “Presbyterian” and has formed his own “Union of Evangelical-Reformed Churches of Russia” involving several congregations. A Presbyterian group in St. Petersburg headed by Viktor Kazansky demands that the new General Assembly distance itself from the ordination of women. Pastor Li, whose grouping of 20 congregations has no female pastors, nevertheless regards the issue as divisive and worthy of postponement. “If we start out with this issue,” he warns, “we will never get around to forming a unified organization. We cannot wait until all are ready.”

 

Present efforts are the first real attempt to form a Presbyterian umbrella. The “Association of Churches of Evangelical Christians” headed by Pastor Ten was originally founded in 1999 as a central legal umbrella which local Presbyterian congregations could join. Yet membership was never restricted to Presbyterians and now only 30% of its 85 member congregations are Presbyterian or Reformed. The planned General Assembly intends to apply for legal standing, allowing it to register congregations. “We hope our new union will attract additional Presbyterian congregation,” Li states. “Some do not feel comfortable in a Charismatic union.”

 

Yet it is probably erroneous to claim that Russia features the world’s most atomized (divided) Christian movement. South Korea’s nearly eight million Presbyterians form no less than 112 independent denominations. One could claim that Korean – and North American – missions have simply exported their many divisions to Russia.

 

Reasons for success

The Korean Presbyterian movement is any case an example of astounding, relative success despite its atomized, decentralized nature. Not founded in Korea until 1884, Korean Presbyterian missionaries were active for two decades in the Russian Far East beginning in 1910. Thanks to the brutal deportation of ethnic Koreans to Kazakhstan and neighbouring republics in 1937, their religious imprint soon popped up far to the west of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk.

 

Today, roughly 30% of South Korea’s population is Christian. Though South Korea reportedly sent only 93 missionaries abroad during 1980, it now has over 20.000 serving in foreign settings. That number is exceeded only by the USA’s roughly 46,000 foreign missionaries.

 

Early-morning prayer meetings are a frequent feature of Korean evangelicalism. It is known for its fervour, discipline, directness - and lack of political finesse. Koreans do nothing half-way, and their successes in evangelism are undoubtedly due to the extremely high level of lay, grass-roots involvement. One negative outcome of strong lay activity are innumerable church splits. Where the laity is largely passive – for ex. in the state churches of Western Europe – few splits occur.

 

Russian Methodists – a second denomination with strong Korean connections – are now pushing for a pastorship consisting strictly of local citizens. Yet Presbyterians have taken another route and are now very likely the Russian confession with the highest percentage of expatriate church pastors. This is partly due to the readiness of South Koreans to liberally interpret the rules on Russia`s restrictive work visas. Vladimir Li laments that nearly all Presbyterian congregations in the Far East are headed by foreign missionaries and that they “are not particularly interested in being replaced by Russian citizens. So when the missionary moves on, the congregation usually dies.”

 

But Koreans and ethnic-Koreans living in Russia are reaching out to the millions of illegal and semi-legal Chinese among them. One could claim that the future of foreign mission in Russia will be largely Korean and Chinese. The churches of these two nations have the demographics along with the required drive and financial wallop. At least east of the Urals, Korean missionaries already far outnumber those from the West. Korean missionaries are very active as students and businesspeople in the once-Soviet Muslim republics of Central Asia. Their readiness to work unofficially has made them particularly suited for efforts in the Muslim-dominated “10/40 Window”.

 

The policies of Presbyterian agencies elsewhere have contributed to the heavily-Korean slant on Russian Presbyterianism. In an incredible show of tolerance and positive ecumenism, the Louisville-based “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” (PC USA) refrains from planting new congregations and is instead supporting existing Baptist, Lutheran and Orthodox ones. The much smaller and more conservative “Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has taken a similar course and is supporting RANETs, the independent-Baptist, 46-congregation-strong “Russian Association of Independent Evangelical Churches” headed by Moscow’s Peter Sautov. Los Angeles’ non-denominational, heavily-Korean “Oriental Mission Church” funded a Moscow seminary run by the Baptist theologian Gennadi Sergienko until its closing in 2009. Rev. Li knows of only one Presbyterian congregation founded by North Americans.

 

The downside of such largesse is a sense of abandonment among local Presbyterians. Of course, Koreans from the USA are involved in Russian church planting.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 26 June 2012

A journalistic release sponsored by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-13, 1.170 words, 7.882 keystrokes and spaces.

 

Belarus

Last October, we reported that the 54-bed Baptist “House of Mercy” centre for senior citizens in Kobrin/Belarus’ was still without residents. It was dedicated exactly two years ago on 26 June 2010. Its Baptist supporters from Missouri/USA now report with relief that the first six residents moved in just this month – June 2012. New administrator for the centre is Igor Miklyaev, succeeding Stepan Trubchik.

 

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Back from the Brink

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Moscow’s „Russian-American Institute“ is growing once again

 

M o s c o w – Today, the mighty, modernistic structure’s facade is plastered with advertising for an in-house fitness club and the stucco is peeling, but northern Moscow’s endangered “Russian-American Institute” is still in business. That quickly became evident in a talk with its dynamic dean and only full-time employee, Dr. Ruslan Nadyuk, on 12 May. Since the closing of RAI’s undergraduate, liberal-arts programme in December 2010, he and colleagues have developed a new “School of Social Work and Counseling” presently attended by 28 students.

 

Nadyuk and roughly 10 part-time instructors are offering a five-year bachelors programme leading to a degree in social work and family counselling as well as a two-year graduate diploma. An additional 130 students attend courses on topics such as addiction and rehabilitation. Other courses cover how to teach life skills to teenagers just “graduated” from orphanages, or how to coach adults in the skills required of successful adoptive parents. The students are no longer graduates fresh out of high school, but rather older, employed persons. All study part-time; the Russian-language courses are offered on evenings and weekends. English is also being taught, but not as part of the academic programme.

 

Nadyuk, a candidate for the professor’s title (habilitation) in psychology at the „State Linguistics University of Nizhny Novgorod”, has also served as a Baptist pastor for 13 years. He explains: “The goal of our program is the practical application of Christian faith. How can those who are already converted put their faith to work?” RAI is searching for niches not filled by the Russian educational system; it wants to offer programmes and serve people in ways in which secular institutions cannot. The grave social, spiritual and psychological needs of the masses are of course also evident in Russia.

 

This new programme stresses the integration of sociology and psychology – a common characteristic of social work programmes. The programme cooperates closely with Oklahoma’s “Oral Roberts University” (ORU) and Professor Lanny Endicott, the head of its Department for Social Work. Though the programme has a license for teaching, its current programme has not been accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education. Nevertheless, certain courses can be transferred to ORU for credit. Nadyuk points out that the lack of accreditation could be a blessing in disguise. The process of accreditation would “limit the healthy process of integrating both Christian and professional components within the programme, which is our priority”. He adds: “It is no secret that the USA has extensive experience in the preparation of counsellors, and we need to adopt the best of those traditions for our own purposes.” In contrast to many Russian evangelicals, RAI has no qualms about integrating the discoveries of psychology into its programme.

 

RAI is proud that the academic programme of its new School of Social Work may achieve financial self-sufficiency as early as 2013. Nadyuk notes that students care most about their studies when they are also personally responsible for payment. On 12 May, Associate Dean Mark Currie, a pastor from Virginia long serving in a non-denominational Moscow congregation, reported on a student who had just received a special grant to cover a portion of her tuition. “Terrific!” the woman exclaimed. “Now I can return to the pawn shop and buy back my jewellery!” Initially, at this early stage of the programme’s development, the majority of students stem from Moscow’s largest Protestant congregation: Matts-Ola Ishoel’s 4.000-member and Charismatic “Word of Life” congregation.

 

Wheaton/Maryland’s Dr. John Bernbaum remains RAI’s president. He is its founding father and was president when the original “Russian-American Christian University” (RACU) opened its doors in 1995. The name change followed in 2009. RACU/RAI is still affiliated with the Washington, D.C.-based, mainstream-evangelical “Council for Christian Colleges and Universities” (CCCU).

 

RAI’s magnificent new edifice was dedicated on 27 May 2010. But due to the lack of state accreditation, it was forced to drop its traditional, full-time programme only seven months later. Currently, seven-eighth of the building is rented to outside firms. Nadyuk explains that the unjust, heavy taxation on non-state education leaves no other option for the present.

 

Initially, RAI’s campus was not welcomed by its neighbours – over 10 public demonstrations occurred at the site during the five-year construction period. A monument warning of foreign influences still stands 50 metres away. Ironically, a national fraternal association of police officers is now a renter on 4th floor, which could be regarded as a sign of increasing understanding.

 

Further information is available on two sites: “www.rainstitute.ru” (Russian) and “russian-american-institute.org” (English).

 

St. Petersburg Christian University has a New Rector

In festive ceremonies on 19 May, Vasily Ryzhov, a professor of psychology, replaced Alexander Negrov as rector of “St. Petersburg Christian University” (SPbCU).

 

Ryzhov, who is above the age of retirement, began teaching mathematics at a high school in Boksitogorsk (Leningrad region) in 1965. He received a doctorate in psychology from Moscow State University in 1980 and his post-graduate degree as professor from Novosibirsk State University in 1995. He comes to St. Petersburg from the „State Linguistics University of Nizhny Novgorod”, where he began teaching in the psychology department in 1975. He had served there most recently as department head. A diligent writer, Professor Ryzhov has authored, co-authored or edited 263 publications, including 68 books. A convert to Protestantism two decades ago, colleagues in Nizhny Novgorod report that he is known as a particularly vehement defender of Christian-Protestant theology and its worldview. The professor was the initial supervisor for Dr. Ruslan Nadyuk’s post-graduate studies. Ryzhov also served as deacon in a Baptist congregation.

 

Dr. Negrov, a New Testament scholar who had served as rector since June 2005, will be spending his sabbatical year as Visiting Fellow at “California Baptist University’s” business school in Riverside. (CBU is the alma mater of Rick Warren.) Negrov will remain chair of SPbCU’s “Graduate School of Leadership”.

 

This event also served as the graduation ceremony for 50 new graduates. Guest speakers included George Baier, Director of the Board for Abbotsford, British Columbia-based “Logos Canada”. “Logos Canada”, which enjoys strong support from the Mennonite Brethren church, has been the primary supporter of SPbCU since its inception in 1990. The Canadian Mennonite Brethren are also strong supporters of thriving, English-speaking “LCC International University” in Klaipeda/Lithuania. Another speaker was Pastor Pavel Kolesnikov (Zelenograd), President of the “All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical Christians” (VSECh) initiated by Moscow businessman Alexander Semchenko.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 31 May 2012

A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. It may be reprinted free-of-charge. Release #12-12, 1.050 words, 7.013 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

Baptist Leaders meet Patriarch Kirill

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John Upton and Hans Guderian visited Moscow

 

M o s c o w -- From March 28-31, 2012 the President of the Baptist World Alliance, Pastor John Upton, (Virginia/USA) and the President of the European Baptist Federation, Pastor Hans Guderian (Berlin/Germany), took part in the annual conference of the Euro-Asiatic Federation of Unions of Evangelical-Christians-Baptists in Moscow. There was also a meeting with the Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church on March 29, 2012.

 

Participating in that meeting in the Moscow residence of the Patriarch (which had served until 1941 as the private domicile of the German ambassador) were among others: the President of the Baptist World Alliance, John Upton, the President of the European Baptist Federation, Hans Guderian, the President of the Baptist Unions of Russia, Aleksey Smirnov, Ukraine, Vyacheslav Nesteruk, and Belarus, Victor Krutko. Those participating from the side of the Russian Orthodox Church were Patriarch Kirill, Abbot Filaret and Archpriest Dimitry Sizonenko.

 

In his opening words, the Patriarch spoke of his concern regarding the questioning of fundamental moral values in the life of the individual and society regarding marriage and the family. Whereas secularisation originally had the goal of liberation from oppression and the struggle for religious freedom and human rights, we today experience a serious questioning of all values and an extensive total relativism which will not accept any kind of normative truth. In this context, the Patriarch then mentioned positively that in spite of all significant theological differences, today’s position of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Baptist communities appear close on a variety of basic anthropological issues.

 

In his response, Pastor John Upton thanked the Patriarch for his firm position on the unalterable truth of the Gospel. He noted in addition that in a world in which fundamental principles are subjected to erosion to the extent that even absolute truths become relative, the trusted Biblical witness of good and evil, of Christian hope and of marriage and family must be affirmed in order to resist the proliferation of abortion and various social afflictions.

 

John Upton and Hans Guderian expressed their hope that the conversation between Baptist and Orthodox believers in Russia might be continued in the form of an extended dialogue between the Baptist World Alliance and the Russian Orthodox Church.

 

The conversation in the Moscow Patriarchate took place in a cordial atmosphere and lasted over an hour - much longer than originally planned. At the end of the meeting, both sides exchanged presents as gifts of remembrance.

 

During their visit to Moscow, John Upton and Hans Guderian took part in a number of further meetings and encounters. On the morning of March 29, the 12th National Prayer Breakfast took place in the “Hotel President” with about 200 participants from politics, economics and church life. That gathering also focused on the continued support and defence of fundamental Christian values in marriage and the family.  

 

On March 30, the international guests took part in the 20th annual conference of the Euro-Asiatic Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Moscow’s Baptist seminary. The 60 participants from the Baptist unions of the countries of the former Soviet Union reported on their missionary activities. Despite difficulties caused by the authorities, many possibilities for doing children’s and youth work remain in Turkmenistan. A former mullah is now serving as a Baptist church pastor. In Uzbekistan, Christians are experiencing strong pressure from the government. But the 20 registered and eight non-registered churches with their 2,600 members nevertheless reach out to people from many different nationalities, including Tatars, Kazakhs and Tajiks.

 

Baptists from the Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation reported on the many open doors for their witness and testimony. But there are also problems associated with the fact that many congregations are no longer growing. Thus the number of church members in Russia continues to decline slightly. At the end of 2011, there had been 72.500 Baptists in nearly 1.800 congregations and groups

 

On March 31, another ecumenical meeting took place between Hans Guderian and the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in European Russia, Pastor Dietrich Brauer. The conversation occurred in Moscow’s Peter-and-Paul Cathedral, which has only been repaired in recent years. The church now serves as sanctuary and conference centre for the approximately 25.000 Lutherans within the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia” (ELCROS).

 

John Upton and Hans Guderian both expressed their gratitude for the manifold meetings, conversations and worship services during their stay in Moscow. They cordially invited the assembled leaders of the Euro-Asiatic Federation of Unions of Evangelical-Christians-Baptists to become involved in a much stronger fashion in the life of the Baptist community worldwide, and specifically to participate in the next General Council of the European Baptist Federation. It will take place in Elstal near Berlin from September 25-29, 2012.

 

Hans Guderian

Berlin, 2 April 2012

 

Composed for the European Baptist Press Service; this version edited by William Yoder and may be distributed freely. Yoder’s release #12-09a, 782 words, 5.152 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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A Protestant has been Elected Mayor of a Major Russian City

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Sergey Andreyev defeated the candidate of “United Russia”

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w – For the first time ever since the days of the Czars, a Protestant has been elected mayor of a major Russian city. In run-off elections in the auto-making city of Tolyatti/Volga on 18 March, the Evangelical Christian and political independent Sergey Andreyev trounced “United Russia’s” candidate, Alexander Shakhov. Andreyev won nearly 57% of the vote, the candidate of Vladimir Putin’s party, 40%. The English-language “Moscow Times” reports that the upset occurred despite the national government having poured billions into the city to bail out AvtoVAZ, the city’s largest employer.

 

But once again, the nation’s ruling party, “United Russia”, was unable to resist the temptation to retain its hold on power by stirring up sentiment against the country’s religious minorities. In Tolyatti it portrayed itself as the fatherland’s saviour from sinister and ominous foreign powers. In the two weeks prior to the run-off elections, placards and billboards had popped up portraying Tolyatti’s Orthodox cathedral awash in bright colours besides the local Baptist church in dark greys, resting below a hovering black raven.

 

In a statement on 15 March, Moscow headquarters of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) protested the anonymous placarding vehemently as well as the municipal authorities’ silence. Appealing to Article 19 of the Russian Constitution, RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov accused those responsible of “religious racism” and complacency regarding the “kindling of inter-confessional hatred”. He appealed for an end to the misuse of elections for the broadcasting of “confessional differences within a sole Christian tradition”. He added: “All seems fair when it comes to rescuing a city from the ‘evangelical plague’.”

 

In February 2009, a forged Baptist newspaper in Smolensk (near Belarus) had branded a candidate for city mayor as a Baptist bent upon turning the city into a hotbed of foreign Baptist activity. (See our press release of 23 February 2009.) Yet the “accused” candidate, Sergey Maslakov, had no ties to Baptist circles. Both candidates lost: United Russia’s candidate, who was responsible for the smear campaign, came in third. The fake paper’s prediction that an opposition candidate would “become the first Baptist mayor in Russia” has indeed come to pass in Tolyatti.

 

Yet to be precise, Andreyev, a 39-year-old father of four, is not a Baptist. In a recent interview he stated categorically: “I am neither Scientologist, Baptist nor Hare Krishna. I am an Evangelical Christian.” The incoming mayor is a member of the tiny “Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians” boasting 12 congregations in Russia and an additional 13 in Ukraine. Its Russian President is Sergey Guts of Ulyanovsk/Volga. The group could best be described as an ally of the Krasnodar-based “Evangelical Christian Missionary Union” or the Moscow-based “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians” headed by Alexander Semchenko. All three of them are members of the Baptist-related umbrella known as the “United Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” now led by Peter Sautov (Moscow). Andreyev indeed was trained as a lay preacher in St. Petersburg’s Baptist “New Life” congregation before moving to Tolyatti as a 20-year-old school teacher in 1993. The youth organisation “Living Word”, which he founded in Tolyatti 19 years ago, is still described as a Baptist one. Andreyev obviously is one of not a few Baptists who did not fare well within RUECB confines and has chosen to serve Christ elsewhere.

 

Though he did not campaign as a Protestant believer, he made no attempt to hide his religious connections and ran his campaign from the church offices of “Divine Fire”, a local Full-Gospel charismatic congregation. One can fault that in the name of political fairness - Baptists would protest if Orthodox political candidates installed their campaign offices in churches. But Protestant candidates also have fewer choices on housing.

 

It would also be inaccurate to describe Sergey Andreyev as a true political independent. He has ties to a recent presidential candidate: Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third-wealthiest oligarch. Interestingly, they both chose to leave the “Just Cause” party last September, opening the door for Andreyev to join Prokhorov’s promised, future party. It is claimed that the “tacit approval” of Vladimir Artyakov, “United Russia’s” governor in Samara region, played a vital role in Andreyev’s victory. Lyudmila Kuzmina, head of the Tolyatti branch of “Golos”, an election-monitoring NGO, stated in “Moscow Times” that Andreyev was “not entirely independent. The power vertical doesn't allow it.” Yet she praised Andreyev for his willingness to cooperate with her organisation – a rarity among Russian politicians.

 

The Dallas-based “Slavic Voice” points out that the US-presidential candidacy of the Mormon Mitt Romney is turning up the heat on his fellow believers in Russia. The Mormon faith is known to be one of the most profoundly American religious faiths. If Russia’s Mormons can weather the present US-presidential campaign relatively unscathed, that, and the remarkable election victory in Tolyatti will be clear indicators for the growth of religious tolerance in Russia.

 

Tolyatti (population 720.000) was called “Stavropol-on-Volga” until renamed in honour of the Italian communist leader Palmiro Togliatti in 1964. Tolyatti’s car manufacturer, once known as “Lada”, was founded in collaboration with the Italian firm “Fiat”.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 25 March 2012

A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. It may be reprinted free-of-charge. Release #12-08, 837 words, 5.507 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Portraying Christendom as One Single Family

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The Russian Evangelical Alliance’s annual conference has taken place

 

M o s c o w – In a word of greeting at the Russian Evangelical Alliance’s (REA) national conference in a Moscow church of the Seventh-Day Adventists on 15 March, the Baptist traveling evangelist Yuri Sipko criticised sharply the past of his own Protestant movement. He attributed the slow improvement in inter-denominational relations to “not only a spirit of competition, but also a malicious and hateful condemnation of each other” arising from the demise of the USSR. The Alliance’s primary task since then has been “to portray all of Christ and all of Christendom to society as a single, non-competitive family”. Sipko, until March 2010 President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, has become known since last autumn as a proponent of dialogue with the Charismatic movement.

 

Only 35 persons attended this year’s national conference, but offshoots of reconciliation are sprouting within the country’s regional Alliances. Regional conferences are taking place for ex. in Kemerovo, Perm, Voronesh and Nizhny Novgorod. On 18 March 2012 a first-ever regional conference with foreign participation took place in Krasnodar. Pastor Ulrich Materne (Wittenberge), East European Consultant for the German Evangelical Alliance, and Vladimir Ryaguzov (Krasnodar), theology lecturer and the REA’s President, were present. The conversations from 18 March are to be continued in April. Ryaguzov reports that the southern Russian region of Krasnodar has suffered from a particularly viral confrontation between Baptists and Charismatics.

 

Relations with the Orthodox are also accompanied by frequent small signs of hope. Last November, an Orthodox congregation held a concert in the Moscow church of Baptist pastor Alexander Fedichkin, the REA’s Vice-President. Only 13 days later, on 19 November, the Baptists were invited to a baptismal talk in the unnamed Orthodox congregation. That conversation lasted until after midnight. The Russian news service “Word for You” reported afterwards: “Gatherings of this type destroy the conventional wisdom that friendship between Orthodox and Protestants is impossible. It all depends on the degree of openness present on both sides. Only together can we make headway in the struggle against anti-religious, global secularism.”

 

The topic for this year’s Moscow conference was based on James 1:25: “The perfect law is the law of freedom”.  The gathering was very much influenced by the new Russian-language commentary on James written by the German Lutheran theology and retired bishop, Gerhard Maier. It was released jointly in late 2011 by the REA and the publishing house of Moscow’s “St. Andrew’s Biblical-Theological Institute” in an initial edition of 1.000 copies. Moscow’s Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer is convinced of the book’s success. In a private conversation he assured: “Commentaries of this quality are in very high demand.” The book is to become part of a series; as soon as sufficient funds are found, the translation of Hans F. Bayer’s German-language commentary on Mark is to begin. The joint production of Bible commentaries by Protestants and Orthodox is a completely new development for Russia.

 

Dates

It is now planned to hold the annual Moscow conference on the first Friday of March – which would be 1 March 2013. The national committee intends to meet quarterly.

 

The German Evangelical Alliance’s annual conference will take place from 1 to 5 August – as always in Bad Blankenburg/Thuringia. The youth conference will begin on 25 July. Over 60 guests from Eastern Europe attended last year. Those from Russia wishing to attend should contact the Alliance’s English-speaking Moscow office manager, Svetlana Pochtovik, immediately (+7 916 152 8089 or „rea@pochta.ru“). The Alliance’s next worldwide week of prayer is scheduled for 13 - 20 January 2013. Further information can be found in English on the Russian Alliance’s website: „rea-moskva.org“.

News service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

Moscow, 20 March 2012

“rea.org@mail.ru” or “kant50@gmx.de”

Webpage „rea-moskva.org“

--wy

 

An official news release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. Release #12-07, 594 words, 3.905 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Vladimir Putin – a Stabilizing Factor in a Period of Political Transition?

 

Despite Vladimir Putin’s resounding electoral victory on March 4, observers remain convinced that political developments within post-Soviet Russia have transitioned into a decidedly new phase. The Moscow paper “Protestant” concluded: “Today we talk about politics at the marketplaces and on the street – they are no longer limited to the kitchen or television screen.” Yet other sources cautioned: A new learning process is still in its beginning stages. The old order has been discredited, yet it is too early for any alternative to Putin to spread its wings.

 

The oligarch and Evangelical-Christian Bishop Alexander Semchenko concluded recently: ”Our biggest need is the lack of an ideology.” He regards Putin’s Party, “United Russia”, as no exception and sees therein the seed of its future undoing. “We only had one single ideology for 70 years” – a new one therefore cannot establish itself in one fell swoop. According to Semchenko, the same applies to the economic realm: The USA needed no less than 150 years to overcome the “revolver capitalism” of the American West. “But in contrast to us, that ill-gained capital stayed within the country and contributed to its economic growth. Here we still stand at the very beginning.” This major entrepreneur views the victorious Putin as a stabilizing factor during the coming period of political transition and therefore wishes him no less than 12 additional years (two electoral terms) as the nation’s President.

 

Russian conservatives remain committed to devising a political system morally superior to the Western model. Valerian Ten, President of the small “Evangelical-Reformed Church of Russia”, reports on the “moral degradation” of Western society. One of his recent interviews struck the deepest chords of Russian conservatism: “When politicians from the USA and European Union get upset about the banning of gay parades on Russian soil, then we can do no other than protest. We should bless our nation’s leaders for having the courage to ignore the opinions of other countries.” He continued: “When tolerance, political correctness and human rights become absolutes, they get in a single line with the enemies of God.”

 

The somehow democratic uprising of December 2011 nevertheless remains a hopeful sign. Its stress on diversity and freedom of discussion cannot help but improve the lot of the country’s Protestants. Semchenko assured that conditions for Protestants will not worsen under Putin’s rule. He blamed past negative incidents on overzealous backwoods politicians “intent on forming a state religion”. For him, the government’s preferential treatment of the national Orthodox church is unproblematic: “Whom otherwise should the state be supporting?” The Protestant Semchenko, who qualified as a Baptist until 2008, is serving as primary sponsor for the construction of two new Orthodox churches in Moscow region.

 

Moscow’s Orthodox patriarchate has since December appealed for honest elections and adherence to the rules of democratic fair play. On February 22, Moscow’s “Patriarchal Council” glibly assured: “The Church is willing to help the government listen to the voice of its people.” Yet the political preferences of Patriarch Kirill became more than a little obvious following a meeting with Putin on February 9: “Putin is preparing for a third term in office – and God loves the Trinity.”

 

Yet Vladimir Putin’s personal faith seems to consist more of appearance than content. A survey done by the “Pravoslavie i Mir“ website on the candidates‘ faith quotes Putin as responding: “I have faith in people.” He has stated elsewhere that he was baptized in secret at the age of 18 months without the knowledge of his father.

 

Only two of the five presidential candidates confessed Christian faith in the course of the survey: the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who placed fourth in the voting, and the Social Democrat Sergey Mironov, who finished last. Zhirinovsky is reported to have had Baptist connections during his youth.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow and Orsha/Belarus, 5 March 2012

Article 12-04, 625 words or 3,996 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Racism – a Daily Issue for Many

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Russian Protestants Commemorate Martin-Luther-King-Day for the first time

 

M o s c o w – Probably for the first time ever, Russian Protestants have commemorated Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-Day. This occurred on 15 January in a worship service held by “Moscow City Church” (MCC) at Hotel Milan in the south of the city and attended by 70 mostly young people. The actual holiday, first celebrated in the USA in 1986, takes place on the third Monday of every year.

 

Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” and one of MCC’s pastors, stated that many Russians believe racism to be a distant and foreign issue. A report at the service by Daniel Ekat, a citizen of Cameroon, made clear that such a view can only be held by the white residents of Russia. Ekat, an engineer, has been beaten up twice during his ten-year stay in Russia. He reported: “My friends are often afraid to go out into the street. When a person covered with blood is brought into our dormitory, it leaves many of my friends aghast and uncertain as to whether they should continue their studies or return home immediately. Russians think only hooligans are involved in such practices, but that is only part of the truth. We are beaten on by all those who regard us as dark-skinned monkeys.”

 

In an interview, another speaker at the event, the US-American Methodist Matthew Laferty, pastor of the partially-African “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy” (MPC), insisted: “My people are confronted daily with the problem of racism.” Vlasenko added that although discrimination may appear latent to some, it dare not be ignored in Russia and elsewhere. The real issue is God’s truths, not Martin Luther King: “As with all of us humans, King was deficient in some areas of his life.”

 

All speakers were adamant in their insistent that all human beings are created by God and of equal worth in his eyes – that any other opinion on this issue is sin. Galatians 3,28 was quoted more than once: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

 

MCC hopes Martin-Luther-King-Day can become a traditional, annual event not only in their congregation. They are considering the creation of an annual Martin-Luther-King-award to be presented to a person active in the fostering of human rights for all. Vlasenko says his church is committed to serving Moscow’s people by helping to change their way of thinking on moral issues.

 

MPC is very active in serving needy people of colour as well as Russians. Pastor Vlasenko expresses the deep hope that MCC-MPC relations might „be strengthened and developed“ during the coming years. MPC desires greater contact with Russian congregations - its social service projects are very much in need of further assistance. MPC’s “Racial Task Force” has been documenting violent acts committed against people of colour over the past five years. As soon as additional funding and personnel are available, this documentation should be appearing in Russian. One can find the English-language documentation under  “www.mpcrussia.org”. Click on “Social Ministries”.

 

Moscow City Church is a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 22 January 2012

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #12-02, 519 words, 3.150 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

We Need an Honest Talk

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Itinerant preacher Yuri Sipko stays on course

 

M o s c o w – On 14 and 15 October 2011, Yuri Sipko, the colourful president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) from 2002 to March 2010, held two sermons at a large local congregation in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk belonging to the Charismatic New Generation movement. Although a few RUECB-pastors do speak in Charismatic or Pentecostal churches on occasion, it was precisely this instance which caused a strong negative reaction. (We reported on this on 14 December.) More than a few observers labelled these two appearances a mistake. In a follow-up interview in Dallas’ Russian-language “Slavic Voice” news service on 19 December, the unrepentant Ex-President conceded that reactions had been “mixed”. Yet other reactions were very positive and “strengthened me in my conviction that we need a serious and honest spiritual talk”.

 

Despite his lectures in the Far East, Sipko assured that the condemnations expressed in the Baptist film “Kharismatiya” of 2005 are still in force. He was referring thereby to phenomena such as the “Toronto Blessing”, holy laughter and the Prosperity Gospel. But he stressed that the simple church member dare not be blamed for all of the extremist teachings propagated by the Riga-based “New Generation”. A “condemnation of teaching and practice” should not lead to a condemnation of people.

 

Regarding the complaint that he had addressed Charismatics as „brothers“, Sipko responded that he also addresses unbelieving listeners in prisons and concert halls as „brothers and sisters“. This is a part of his own personal style. He also noted that in the sermon of Peter at Pentecost he had addressed some of those responsible for the death of Christ a few weeks earlier as “men and brethren” (Acts 2,29 and 3,15). Sipko mourned the fact that “some Baptists do not regard other Baptists as brothers. You know whom I mean. They see the rejection of others as a sign of their own godliness.”

 

He continued: „We cause damage when we claim to love the sinner, but not his sin. But we honestly do not love those who think differently than we do. We hate those who do not act as we do. We are not attempting to return them to the proper path. We instead are crushing and destroying them.” Christ’s Great Commission calls on us to “go forth and teach all nations”. Yet we have modified this to read: „Take a seat and condemn others.“ In this follow-up interview the Ex-President assured: “I do not want to be a Pharisee.”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 22 January 2012

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #12-01, 411 words, 2.464 keystrokes and space

 

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If Your Brother Sins Against You

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Yuri Sipko at a Charismatic conference in the Russian Far East

 

M o s c o w -- On 14 October Yuri Kirillovich Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) until 2010, paid a large “New Generation”-Charismatic congregation in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk a surprise visit. Video reports of the conference in the city bordering China followed on Charismatic, Russian-language websites. But only a month later, after a video commenting on the event popped up on the Dallas-based “Slavic Voice” website, was the Russian-speaking Baptist world suddenly up-in-arms. The videos portray a highly-amiable atmosphere in which Sipko and the Charismatic pastor Mikhail Darbinyan embrace each other under frenzied applause. Without any official clearance from his church, the ex-President celebrated in his speech the dawn of a new era in Baptist-Charismatic relations. He exclaimed: “I am so happy, so thrilled, brothers and sisters, that we are united and can express our emotions without shame.” Darbinyan responded with strong approval from Sipko that “we are somehow ONE church. We will be together throughout all of Russia.” And further: “This is only the beginning of our cooperation in God’s vineyard.” Sipko was accompanied by a delegation of local Baptists including the regional superintendent Pavel Svetlov.

 

Slavic Baptists were more than a little perplex, for Sipko had played a major role in a video made in 2005 (“Kharismatiya”) warning of Charismatic influence and teaching. One blogger noted: “New Generation’s teachers display all the errors and excesses which this film condemns.” Andrey Iskorostensky of Kiev asked: “When was Sipko being honest: When he made the film on the Charismatics, or when he sang praises to the leaders of New Generation? Logic does not permit one to have it both ways.” In general, Baptist pastors still go to great lengths to “protect” their young from the Charismatic movement and often refuse to participate in inter-confessional events when Pentecostals and Charismatics are present.

 

Puzzling for observers is also the fact that Sipko chose the radical fringe of the Charismatic movement for the start of his reconciliation efforts. The New-Generation movement is headed by Darbinyan’s mentor - the Riga-based Alexander Ledyaev, a Kazakh-born Ukrainian of Baptist origin (See our press release from 25 July 2011). In a radio interview from Sacramento/California in late November, Moscow businessman and Evangelical-Christian bishop Alexander Semchenko noted that the mainline “ROSKhVE” Charismatic union and its leader Sergey Ryakhovsky as well as many Pentecostals long ago distanced themselves from Ledyaev.

 

The appearance of Pavel Starikov

In an hour-long video on the Semchenko-sponsored, “Slavic Voice” website (www.slavicvoice.org), Pavel Starikov of Portland/Oregon combined snippets of Sipko’s greeting in Blagoveshchensk with excerpts from the anti-Charismatic film and shocking, barely non-violent scenes from New Generation services in Riga and the USA. The resulting mix appears capable of doing serious damage to Yuri Sipko’s reputation. These ingredients also supplied the film with its title: “Yuri Sipko, Former Head of the Russian Baptists, has been Accused of a Double Standard and is being Called to Repentance”. The subtitle asks: “What are the RUECB’s leaders doing among the pseudo-apostles and false teachers of the last days?” Starikov, an ex-Charismatic from Ukraine, belongs to an initiative entitled “Heresy – No Way!”

 

In a letter accompanying the film and addressed to RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov, Starikov, a non-Baptist, demands that Sipko confess his failures and break all ties with the Charismatic movement. The RUECB must refrain from calling its leaders “brothers”, apologise to local pastors for the confusion caused and demand from Charismatic websites that they remove all footage of the speech in Blagoveshchensk.

 

The reactions of Baptist intellectuals to Starikov’s film were largely negative. Kiev’s Konstantin Teteryatnikov described it as lacking all objectivity and quality; St. Petersburg’s Mikhail Nevolin placed it on par with Russia’s most sensationalist TV stations. A woman from Albany/New York wrote: “One could tear any given verse out of the Bible and make one’s own doctrine from it. It’s a form of libel.” Ivan Kunderenko from Kiev’s “Centre for Apologetics Research” remarked in a blog: “The argumentation is really weak. It smells like the IUCECB (the un-registered Baptist union). This is a great pity.”

 

Those most pleased with Starikov’s efforts included a number of fundamentalists. Dmitri Walger from Berlin for ex. asked if Sipko had criticised Calvinist teaching at the Baptist preacher’s school in Samara/Volga simply because they happen to be opposed to the Charismatics. Albert Isakov in Brooks/Alberta claimed in a blog that Yuri’s older brother, Alexander, the Spokane-based head of the „Northwest Association of Slavic Baptist Churches“, “has distanced himself sharply from his brother’s participation in a gathering of blasphemers”.

 

Alexander Semchenko’s reaction was unique. In the afore-mentioned radio interview he assured that he had nothing against “kissing and embracing” Charismatics. Yet during that service, both Sipko and Darbinyan had “attacked Putin”. In Blagoveshchensk the ex-President had stated: “I have heard our singing and now I understand why the Public Prosecutor’s office has been repressing and sentencing you mercilessly for so many years. But I do not believe they will ever succeed because Satan’s intentions are going to be destroyed. God rules – he is the ruler! The Lord is our Czar! Amen, Hallelujah!” Semchenko complained in Sacramento: “Yuri Kirillovich always resorts to some form of anti-government rhetoric. It’s his favourite kick.” As a major businessman, Semchenko and his church projects have much to lose through confrontations with the powerful.

 

A moderate regarding the Charismatics, the oligarch stressed that one must clearly distinguish between Ledyaev and those thousands of sincere lay brothers and sisters visiting his congregations. He added that Ryakhovsky and his umbrella of Charismatic associations have mellowed in behaviour and thinking since the 1990s. “I’m optimistic regarding these developments.”

 

Alexander Kuznetsov, head of the Charismatic, ex-Baptist congregation in Moscow-Tushino, continues to make overtures to Baptist circles. He admitted in a blog on Blagoveshchensk that “we too have very serious qualms regarding the Charismatic fringe.” He cited its teachings on demonology and the gifts of the Spirit. He even expressed understanding for the fact that the RUECB hat excommunicated his congregation in April 2003 (when Sipko was President). “The brethren probably acted correctly at that time” – we do not harbour any resentment. “I am happy that Yuri Kirillovich is a sincere person and that his views on the church of Jesus Christ are in transition. Not everything is black-and-white. We will pray for him – he is in a predicament.”

 

Weariness regarding the never-ending struggle between fundamentalist-evangelicals and Charismatics was apparent in more than a few blogs. Yuri Lubovoi called the division into enemy camps “silly and senseless”. He described it as reckless to hold either Baptists or Charismatics for closer to the Gospel truth – all of us are still part of the process of becoming a more perfect church. “Refusing to listen to one another is not from God, but from Satan.” Another quoted from the Bible: “How can we claim that we are in Christ when we hate our brother?” Daniel Marchenko of Washington State adapted another verse: “If your brother sins against you, go record a video and show it to all the world. Is that what Matthew 18,15-17 commands?” In such statements, the desire for more constructive forms of exchange is highly evident.

 

Evident is also the fact that Russian and Ukrainian émigrés – as well as their church unions - remain perfectly willing and capable of influencing church affairs back in the distant home. Portland is located 18 time zones west of Blagoveshchensk.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 14 December 2011

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-26, 1.225 words, 8.048 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Launching into the Mainstream

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“Forum 20” was held in Ukraine

 

M o s c o w / I r p e n – At church conferences in Eastern Europe two decades ago, foreign guests and their interpreters did most of the speaking – locals listened. But the tables were turned at “Forum 20”, which convened in Irpen near Kiev on 18 and 19 November. All of the approximately 28 speakers were native to the former USSR; only of few of them were older than 40. “This is so exciting!” exclaimed Sergey Rakhuba, President of the hosting, US-based „Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries” and its field affiliate, the “Association for Spiritual Renewal” (Dukhovnoe Vozdrozhenie). “Young, bright, gifted leaders are now taking the leading role in planning and strategizing for the future. This is the main strategic focus of our ministry – to equip the next generation of Christian leaders.”

 

Leaving a stuffy subculture and launching into the mainstream of society – that was the Forum’s primary message. Most of the 170 theologians and church workers present believe that a “reformation” of this type is taking shape in the lands of the former Soviet Union. The generation of parents and grandparents will always be credited with persevering until the arrival of religious freedom. Yet the forced requirements of that time – existence on the fringe of society – had evolved into a virtue which believers were no longer willing to do without once religious liberty came. It was stated that coming generations will therefore be required to launch forth alone into the midst of secular society.

 

Rakhuba added: “It is the old subculture which is hindering church growth. When tradition means more to us than Biblical truth, we have a problem.” A lecturer at the conference added: “Tradition (clothes for women and styles of music, for ex.) means adding ingredients to the Gospel which do not belong there. Observers from ‘the outside’ cannot understand such practices.” Traditionalists tend to define their faith negatively: “Churches then know only what they are not, not, what they are.” In his entertaining lecture, the Evangelical Christian and Muscovite Pavel Begichev claimed: “I came to the faith in a very conservative Baptist congregation. They were confused when I informed them that I had not smoked even prior to conversion and asked: ‘How are we to determine whether you have truly been converted?’”

 

At the outset of the conference, Irpen’s Mikhail Cherenkov, Vice-President of the Association for Spiritual Renewal, gave cues on how to engage in meaningful conversation: “The more honest our questions and answers are, the more helpful and useful they will be.” Each person is to speak only for him/herself. Sergey Golovin, an Evangelical Christian from Simferopol, pointed to the broad-ranging consequences of financial dependency: “Tell me which doctrine you adhere to, and I’ll tell you which sponsor you have!” A participant admitted in private conversation that as many as 80% of the conference’s participants may still be receiving a portion of their salaries from the West.

 

Dialogue

Dialogue was celebrated as the motor of progress. Johann Matthies, a Russian-German guest from Korntal/Germany and mission spokesperson for the Mennonite-Brethren, claimed that “theology happens only through dialogue”. He added: “Without the right to take initiative, progress cannot occur.” An official lecturer stated that “cadre factories” need to be done away with. We instead need a kind of laboratory to test our theological findings.

 

The theologian and writer Ales Dubrovsky (Minsk) made one of the most daring claims: “The more different the other person is, the more I need him/her for theological discussion.” Church unity can only be expressed through diversity.

 

Mikhail Nevolin, a Baptist from St. Petersburg, called it a major step when evangelical circles “can analyse their own mistakes without fear of aiding and abetting the adversary”. Rakhuba spoke of the synergetic effect of dialogue and assured that a usable strategy for the future is impossible without a discussion of past failures.

 

Cherenkov noted at the end of the conference that human insights are only piecemeal: “There never was a golden age; there have always been crises. We never were perfect and our evangelical movement will never be perfect.”

 

Criticisms

More than a few criticisms were audible at this second Forum (Russian Ministries held its first Forum three years ago). It was asked more than once where the masses who had accepted the evangelical faith in the years immediately after 1990 had gone. Back then, a barely-educated church had jointly with foreign missionaries approached a searching but hardly uneducated national populace. It was asked whether someone is now ready and capable to gather anew the frustrated and disappointed.

 

Nevolin reported that the educational level of Protestant pastors remains lamentable – the number of reputable Protestant institutions of higher learning could be counted on one hand. In Russia, theological degrees are passed out in an inflationary manner without serious academic standards: “It is too early to call our institutions ‘universities’.”

 

The Baptist journalist Yelena Mokrenchuk (Kiev) made the rarely-heard claim that PR should never be mixed with or mistaken for journalism. Both forms are legitimate, yet only PR can expect financial support from churches. No topic should be off-limits for true journalism. Mikhail Nevolin noted that number of Christian websites far exceeds the amount of available Russian-language text. The same, usually free press releases appear on a wide variety of Christian websites.

 

According to Nevolin, church leadership structures remain highly inadequate. Partially for bureaucratic reasons, many initiatives – and real estate – are officially owned by private individuals. That makes leadership changes nearly impossible; structures remain essentially hierarchal and authoritarian. One conclusion stated: “Our media will only change once our churches also change.” Another person commented: “Without transformed thinking in our congregations, nothing will change.”

 

Someone added that even churches are placing much too much blame on homosexuals and Muslim immigrants. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted for additional support: “Germany does not have too many Muslims – only too few Christians.”

 

But positive proposals also abounded. Christian deserve to get involved in politics, it was stated. And they need to be concerned about the common good – not just the specific needs of the small Protestant minority. Evangelical support for the religious liberty of non-Christian faiths should be a matter of course.

 

Not for the first time, Mikhail Nevolin criticised the Protestant preference for missionary work among the lowest social classes. According to him, 90% of converts from outside the Baptist fold are veterans of the drug or alcohol scene. He surmised that the reasons for this include the reticence of such persons to ask us believers embarrassing questions. Yet Nevolin does not intend to question the legitimacy of these successful mission efforts – they are questionable only if they exist at the expense of work among the middle class.

 

Alexander Negrov, Rector der „St. Petersburg Christian University”, answered his own question regarding the right of women to attain leadership roles in churches with the retort: “What kind of question is that? They are already in such positions!” Yet the fact that less than 10 women were registered for the Forum leaves a clear message. His statement indicates at least that Negrov is not opposed to such a development. 

 

Speakers consistently spoke of Catholics and the Orthodox as legitimate and equal partners in the faith. Theologians such as Andrey Puzynin (Donetsk) spoke of ecumenical “unity in diversity”.

 

One could claim these young theologians are simply reiterating the views prevalent at the evangelical mainstream’s institutions of higher learning in the West. Rakhuba spoke of the need for contextualisation, of “global concepts that need to be adapted locally. Young people will then be transforming the church from within.”

 

Internal evangelical relations

Sergey Rakhuba stressed that all Protestant circles had been invited to attend the Forum – but not all chose to attend. Charismatic and independent churches were overrepresented; the Baptists unions and Lutherans were underrepresented. Yet the Belarusian Baptist Union was strongly-represented; Methodists also chose to attend. Irpen’s Baptist seminary, which functions as a branch of John MacArthur’s “Masters University” in California, was not represented. Yet the Forum refused to criticise persons or organisations by name; not even in private conversation was Rakhuba willing to comment on specific leaders. He explained: “There is a long history of troubled relationships. It is difficult for some leaders to cross over the line and seek unity.” He lamented that Moscow’s Lausanne conference on 6 and 7 December will need to be held primarily under the auspices of the Charismatic Bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky and the Evangelical-Christian Bishop and businessman Alexander Semchenko. He admitted: “Official circles and hierarchies tend to protect their territories - that hampers cross-denominational debate. Lausanne is a global evangelical movement and prefers to work with those groups most active in promoting evangelism.”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 27 November 2011

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-25, 1.427 words, 9.296 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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Another Kind of Liberation
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A German intends to help liberate Ukraine from hand-outs

 

M o s c o w – Sometimes a choice exists between good and better. On the issue of humanitarian aid, Dieter Staudt, an agricultural advisor in Lebedin (Sumy region of north-eastern Ukraine) writes: “It is of course laudable when clothes and other daily needs are gathered and sent off to the post-Soviet countries. But this has been going on for 20 years now and has improved little or nothing. That kind of aid should be given for only a limited period and dare not become usual fare. Yet the exact opposite has occurred: “People are sitting around waiting for the next relief shipment. We’re ‘Africanising” people; personal initiatives and creativity are on the way out. The powerful are left to wheel-and-deal solely as they see fit.” Yet this Lutheran, who has been active in Eastern Europe since 2001, admits: “This sounds brutal and must injure those who have invested much in humanitarian work. But the world’s eager helpers must begin to reconsider.”
 
Staudt is deeply convinced of Ukraine’s agricultural potential. “Ukraine (population 46 mill.) could produce enough food for 300 mill. people – who would dare to claim that this is not wealth!” Yet the populace continues to depend to a large extent on expensive food imports. Production levels remain in the basement: Ukraine is producing 3,5 metric tons of wheat per hectare (2,47 acres) – in Germany that amount is as high as eight metric tons.
 
Pricing issues are also involved. According to Staudt, no price competition exists between the middlemen purchasing agricultural products from farmers – farmers remain at the mercy of mafia-controlled structures. This is one of the reasons why farms are usually in the red. The leasing fees which large farmers need to pay smaller ones for usage of their land are usually not paid. The landowners therefore receive no income from their land and have no means of purchasing modern farming equipment.
 
Staudt, who was a businessman in Germany for over 25 years, has since June been turning out feasibility studies for a farm project near Lebedin (population 28.700). He’s planning for the production of vegetables, salads, potatoes and strawberries. He also wants to aid others in starting up small firms producing honey, geese and firewood for export to Germany. Instead of the usual wheat, rye, corn, soybeans or sunflower, this new firm is to cultivate crops which are labour-intensive and offer a larger margin of profit. A major goal is to offer properly-paid work and training to the unemployed. The German intends to start with no fewer than 100 employees – one worker per hectare. The goal is to farming 1.000 hectares within a five-year period.
 
Potatoes are to be cultivated only after storage room for up to six months has been located. It would then be possible to wait for higher sale prices the following spring. Most of the produce is to be marketed by the farm itself – that would create additional jobs and insure more just pricing. Small shops and sales stands are to encompass not only the Sumy region; exporting to Russia – only 80 km away – is also envisioned. Russia is also importing most of its foods – and the megapolis of Moscow is only 700 km away.
 
Social institutions such as nurseries are to be supported once the firm begins to turn a profit.
 
What has already been achieved
The leasing of fields as well as the transfer of buildings and a part of the machinery of a former collective farm have been arranged; sufficient workers are available. “Lebedin has three Protestant congregations and their members are longing to be involved in a project like this one.”
 
Dieter Staudt has already taken care of political, economic and academic arrangements. The German agricultural universities in Nürtingen and Weihenstephan (Freising near Munich) have supplied contacts to the University of Sumy. Already, this university has inquired about   training for its students and promised political support.
 
A team of Ukrainian consultants is in place – only the necessary foreign specialists are still missing. Whirlwind visits and gift packages will not do – future-oriented support will demand more from helpers. Staudt explains: “We will need to do more than simply jump-start our partners financially. We will need to accompany them, train and teach them sales tactics one-on-one.” Needed are above all machinery experts and horticulturalists; “it would be great if a number of believers feel called”.
 
This native of Wiesbaden is not modest when it comes to start-up capital for his new company, „Nadezhda“ (Hope): Gifts and credits of no less than 700.000 Euros ($980.000 US) are expected. Needed are also a greenhouse, washing and packaging machinery for potatoes, refrigeration for strawberries, seed and a machine for sawing and splitting firewood. The strategist behind the project assures: “The calculations on our innovative business plan assure potential investors that they can count on substantial profit.”
 
The recent past
The experiences of this 61-year-old businessman have led him to conclude that the financial ethics of East European investors – including the Christian ones – are less-than-satisfactory. He has needed to come to terms with significant disappointments. His St. Petersburg firm marketing kitchen utensils was initially a solid success. After a Moscow fair in 2007, sales tripled. But during a sojourn in Germany, Staudt’s partner emptied the firm’s Russian bank account; the firm was not able to recover from that blow. Today he states in retrospect: “Actually, the project was a success – it was only wrecked in the end by the vagaries of its key players.”
 
In late 2007 he also joined a project involving two former collective farms in the region of Pskov near the Estonian border. As chief planner he saw to it that extensive technical and economic strategies were developed. Today he reports: “Unfortunately, some of the owners’ numbers were dishonest. That gave the entire enterprise unsolid footing and led to debts not being repaid.”
 
This German remains convinced that if we believers intend to get close to our claims of being salt and light, then we “dare not contribute to the deformations of post-socialist capitalism. We need to steer clear of everything that reeks even the slightest of corruption – even if that costs us something. We need to be honest and open with each other and not see those coming from the West as ‘piggy banks worthy of immediate slaughter’.”
 
Staudt offers an example for such „premature slaughter“: „In St. Petersburg I asked a Baptist contractor for a quote on a renovation I was planning. Once I had it on the table, I could not believe my eyes. His price was four times more than I had estimated. When the contractor noticed my irritation, he suggested doing the job ‘unofficially’ by skipping all taxes. He of course did not get the job.”
 
Why is Dieter Staudt back at it after a two-year recess? He responds: “It was not my idea to come to Ukraine. Because of my negative experiences, I was by no means keen on Ukraine. But one kept on asking me. What keeps me going is my belief in the Risen Lord. He chose me without me ever having earned it. Serving him with the talents he has given me is simply an expression of my gratitude. These include involvement in economic pioneer work in difficult settings.”
 
He concludes: „We would dry up if we had no dreams. Of course, not all dreams are fulfilled, but without dreams, nothing happens.” I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than “cooperating with brave people possessing dreams and daring plans”. Among these “brave people” are for him more than just a few East Europeans.
 
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 08 November 2011
A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-23, 1.273 words, 7.594 keystrokes and spaces.

 

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A Voice from the Wilderness and a Voice from the Kremlin?
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On the debate between the Evangelical Christian-Baptists Yuri Sipko und Alexander Semchenko

 

M o s c o w – The businessman Alexander Semchenko and the leadership of the „Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“ parted ways in February 2008. The RUECB is still coming to terms with that development. After Semchenko mobilised the security forces of his “Teplotechnik” construction firm to disperse an impromptu camp put up by “greens” protesting the destruction of a forest (see our release from 18.8.2010), the personal dispute between him and Yuri Sipko, until March 2010 President of the RUECB, became public. On 8 October 2010 in the dissident-Orthodox news service “Portal-Credo”, the Ex-President labelled it “nonsense” that an industrialist could serve simultaneously as bishop. (Semchenko has served as bishop of the small “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians” since 2008.) Regarding Semchenko’s church staff Sipko stated at that time: “Dozens of sanctified teachers of the Gospel are feeding from his hand. The rattle of money drowns out conscience. This black stain burdens the proclaimers of the Gospel.“ Sipko followed up with two interviews in Portal-Credo on 16 and 28 September 2011; Semchenko responded critically in print for the first time in an interview with this news agency on 6 October 2011.
 
Many of Russia’s dissatisfied regard Yuri Sipko as a fearless and prophetic voice. Portal-Credo stated in its interview with Semchenko on 6 October: “Russian society is still awaiting statements of truth, morality and political maturity from its religious leaders. Pastor Sipko is expressing himself in precisely such a prophetic manner.” Yet Semchenko, who may be Russia’s only Protestant oligarch, retorted: “All of his speeches reveal only one thing: resentment.” He regards himself to be “the great leader of a great Protestant union”, yet government authorities have “refrained from seeking contact with him”. Sipko himself admitted to being no confidant of the mighty and stated in one of his interviews: “I observe political developments a bit from home.”
 
The position of fundamental opposition, which Sipko represents, is evident in his interview from 28 September four days after Vladimir Putin had made public his intention to candidate anew for the position of State President.´ He slammed the competition between Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as pre-arranged collusion and “theatre” and concluded: “For Putin and Medvedev, untruth is a fundamental means of state governance.” He continued: “A person without values has no right to lead a state. Both of these guys in tandem have forfeited all rightful claims to power.”
 
In the interview a year ago Sipko had maintained: “Those who are wealthy in Russia are also thieves. Russia’s wealthy are dishonest; they are fraudsters and liars. One thief fights another thief; one criminal protects himself from other criminals. This is true for all of Russia’s wealthy – also for those who claim to represent the nation’s spirit, honour and conscience.” Regarding the disenfranchised he claimed a year later: “Those who don’t die, emigrate.” But the former president also appeals to the spiritual as a solution for the national crisis: “All of us are in need of conversion. I believe in God’s mercy.”
 
Semchenko’s response
Semchenko’s rejoinder on 6 October sounded statesmanlike. The entrepreneur claimed to be incapable of responding to accusations such as „political theatre“. He also saw charges of “lying” as an unacceptable generalisation. After all, politicians of consequence can only more-or-less express the naked truth. Accusing a politician of lying is usually a “very, very subjective” claim.
 
Sipko listed in his statements the respected opposition politicians who have been neutralised by Putin’s ruling party. But Semchenko responded by claiming the Duma hosts no opposition party palatable to Protestants, describing the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and communist party boss Gennady Zyuganov as “horrible”. Semchenko saw Boris Yeltsin as a sympathetic person, “who nevertheless proved weak as a politician” and nearly cost the Russians their country. Semchenko added one more point in his interview of 6 October: “I view Putin as a great blessing for Russia. He is a symbol of stability and progress.”
 
This church philanthropist expects little good from the current opposition forces: “The opposition is united above all by its rejection and hatred of government structures.” Protestants are themselves co-responsible for their poor relationship with state offices. In contrast to the Orthodox, they have „failed to formulate their relationship to the state“. The industrialist added that one could “hardly accuse me inactivity, for I above all others have engaged the state the most frequently and most concretely”. He often supports his claim to not being an opportunist by pointing out the fact that he had been imprisoned – in contrast to Sipko – during the Soviet period (1982).
 
He and the Charismatic Sergey Ryakhovsky, Bishop of the 2.000-congregation-strong “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evange­lical-Pentecostal Faith”, see it as their task to woo state circles for the benefit for the country’s small and barely-visible Protestant movement. “We are leading a great movement for unification among Russian Protestants.” Protestant churches should become attractive and constructive partners for government circles. “But that does not mean that we simply succumb to state authority and fulfil all of its quirks and demands.”
 
The businessman concluded: „Our government does not intend to liquidate Protestantism.” The primary problem are fresh, overly-eager converts to Orthodoxy who believe they can best serve the church by “roughing up the physiology of a Protestant pastor”. They seem incapable of more complex approaches. On the differences within Protestant circles and their relationship to society he stated: “Unfortunately, in Russia the culture of dialogue is still strongly underdeveloped. We must therefore begin to listen to and comprehend one another.”
 
The current RUECB-leadership, which is headed by Alexey Smirnov, operates more tactfully than either of these two rivals. Senior Vice-President Evegeny Bakhmutsky has called repeatedly for abstinence on political statements. Vitaly Vlasenko, its Director for External Church Relations, states: “We desire to continue our efforts to build bridges to government and Orthodox circles.”
 
Semchenko´s most recent projects
Months ago, the Moscow Patriarchate announced its plan to construct 600 new churches in Moscow region. Following vehement local protests and government misgivings, the number was reduced to 200. At present, the hammers are resounding at 18 new building sites. On 4 October, the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill thanked the “Teplotechnik” firm for “being not only the primary building contractor, but also the primary sponsor of the new church building in Veshnyaki”. The entrepreneur Semchenko is undoubtedly attempting to construct new bridges in ways which only he can muster.
 
Despite financial squeezes among his own church staff, Semchenko has also made a substantial contribution to Portal-Credo. Until now, this news agency has been allied much more closely with the political position of Ex-President Sipko.
 
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 31 October 2011
A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-22, 1.092 words, 7.184 keystrokes and spaces.
 
A further note
The “Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (EAF) voted at its annual conference in Kiev on 18-19 October to accept a new Baptist union from Georgia as member. It consists of 24 congregations; its official, founding convention is to take place on Georgian soil in November 2012. Georgia already has the long-time “Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia”, which is headed by Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili and consists of 75 congregations. This new union intends to be more traditional and Slavic than its counterpart. For now, it appears that one Georgian union will be belonging to the EAF, the other, the church of Songulashvili, is a part of the Prague-based “European Baptist Federation”. (The primary Baptist unions of Ukraine and Russia belong to both.)
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Down but Not Out..

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Hopes for Kobrin’s “Baptist House of Mercy” are far from dead

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w / K o b r i n – Sixteen months after its official opening, Eastern Europe’s largest Protestant-run home for the aged is still waiting on its first resident. On 26 June 2010, the “Baptist House of Mercy” had been officially dedicated in the village of Imenin near Kobrin/Belarus. Supporters of a network of Baptist retirement homes in Missouri had spent over $400.000 for the construction of a magnificent retirement centre with room for 54 residents. Present at the dedication were 52 of those US-supporters.

 

Local government officials are anxious to see the home opened. In a meeting with a delegation from Missouri on 3 October 2011, Valentin Trubchik, responsible for religious affairs in Kobrin region, insisted: “Please let us know how we could be of help. If your waiting list is too short, then we can supply you with a list of our own.“ He assured that local authorities have given clearance for the House of Mercy to use as much as 90% of its residents’ pensions towards the costs of care.

 

A bakery funded by Germans and opened next-door in early 2011 is no longer wafting warm smells into the early morning air. Its temporary closure is attributed to the cost of flour. The socialist government of Belarus controls the price of bread and private bakers cannot compete. The “mastermind” behind both the home for the aged and the bakery, the Baptist builder Stepan Trubchik (not related to Valentin), assured: “We can restart baking as soon as we find free or nearly-free flour in a reasonable location.” In general, the 1995-founded “Zhemchuzhinka” (Little Pearl) children’s camp, on whose territory both the home and bakery are located, is not faring well. Both its agricultural production and the number of camp sessions are down.

 

During the early-October meetings in Kobrin, Steven Jones (Ironton), the President of “Missouri Baptist Home”, stated: “I believe that management issues have been the primary cause for this delay.” He and Roger Hatfield, President of the Jefferson City/Missouri-based “Future Leadership Foundation”, expressed the conviction that the establishment of a strong board of directors would lighten the load of “Zhemchuzhinka’s” camp director, Rev. Vladimir Vandich. “It is not fair if all the responsibility for sensitive programme decisions rests on the shoulders of Brother Vandich,” Jones added. “The Board must carry the primary responsibility.”

 

During meetings in Minsk on 4 October, Board Chair Yosef Rakhkovsky, a Vice-President of the Belarus Baptist Union, and Nikolay Sinkovets, this Union’s General-Secretary, confirmed their support for the House of Mercy project. Jones reported later: “Both agreed that not fulfilling the House’s mission would have serious consequences for the Belarusian Baptist Union in its desire to gain support for future projects both within and outside of the country. In addition, Christians have a Biblical mandate to take care of the neediest of older adults, especially those who have neither family nor resources.”

 

The political will of Baptist circles to get involved in social-diaconic projects has been weak at times. A major concern is that social projects may occur at the expense of evangelistic efforts. On 28 June for ex., the website of Moscow’s “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” published an interview critical of church social work entitled “The Road to Nowhere?”. RUECB-historian Alexander Sinichkin expressed the fear that successful Baptist social work among mostly lower-class drug addicts has cut into Baptist efforts to reach Russia’s emerging middle class.

 

Over the past two decades, East Europeans have tended to agree quickly to Western-proposed projects without tallying the total costs. An example for this was the explosion of seminary openings in the 1990s. A Belarusian example of this could be the House of Mercy. But since its dedication over a year ago, cost projections have become more realistic. One had then assumed that costs could be covered by the residents’ pensions. Home leadership now assumes costs of $9 US per day per resident – only a third of which would be covered by an average pension. This would mean an annual shortfall of $80.000 for 35 residents. But Jones is convinced that financial and material donation capacities among the Baptists of Western Belarus are far from exhausted: 40% of Belarus Baptist Union’s 13.900 members reside in Brest region, to which Kobrin also belongs.

 

Missouri leadership believes Stepan Trubchik, who also serves as the House of Mercy’s director, has proven to be a genius at cutting costs. A Roman-Catholic home for the aged with room for 40 residents in Logishin near Pinsk in southwestern Belarus is reported to have cost well over $2 million. Opened in June of this year, this institution claims to be Belarus’ first non-government home for the aged.

 

Jones, who visited Logishin at the outset of October, believes the delayed opening of the Baptist centre is no cause for undue concern. Leadership of the Logishin centre reported that it had required more than four years to take the necessary bureaucratic hurdles. Stepan Trubchik now believes that Kobrin will be up-and-running no later than May 2012 – other leaders are reckoning with no more than three or four more months.

 

The Future Leadership Foundation’s efforts in the realm of Christian care for the aged are not limited to Belarus. It is now also helping to develop a Masters programme specialising in senior adult ministries at „Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary“ in Borislav (Western Ukraine). This is to occur in cooperation with this seminary’s Academic Dean, Slavic Ryzh. Ryzh is presently involved in doctoral studies at „Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary“ in Dallas/Texas.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 10 October 2011

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-20, 907 words, 5.714 keystrokes and spaces.

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Following Your Ears to Church

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Comparing three of Moscow’s newest Baptist congregations

 

Report

 

M o s c o w -- Russia is famous for doing without signs or route pointers. That’s especially true (voluntarily or otherwise) of Protestant meeting places.

 

1. One very young Moscow congregation has solved the problem in a unique fashion. All it takes to locate “Moscow City Church” (MCC) is to follow one’s ears into Hotel Milan in south Moscow. At 11,00 on a Sunday morning the music will be resonating from the second floor – one simply takes the steps upward and opens the door where the beat sounds loudest. It will open to reveal a small auditorium with stage. Roughly 60 persons will be in attendance – hardly anyone over the age of 35. This congregation is only a year old and matters such as acoustic volume appear to be left to the discretion of the bandleader. The band’s leader, the keyboarder, also plays a terrific sax. On the Sunday I was there, Communion was served at the outset of the service to the sound of very lively music.

 

The preacher of the day delivered his sermon sans tie and in jeans. His question-and-answer sermon was punctured with “Amens” and raised hands. This is one of the very few Baptist churches of Russia which watch the clock. The one-and-only sermon lasted 31 minutes and the final song was over 80 minutes after the start of the service. (Perhaps the price of hotel space contributes to that brevity.)

 

This youthful congregation is an outgrowth of the Campus Crusade for Christ’s student ministry. (But the graduates of a drug-rehab programme form an important second segment.) Campus has been active in Russia since 1991; Vitaly Vlasenko, head of the pastoral team, spent more than a decade with that organization. This congregation takes to heart a teaching propagated by Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church: “The bait must be tasty to the fish, not the fisherman.” It’s not the tastes of the old-time churchgoers that matter most.

 

2. Events are more staid at the three-year-old “Your Church” congregation meeting at the RUECB’s (Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist) “Moscow Theological Seminary” in the east of the city. The music is contemporary, but its musicians still believe in three- and four-part harmony. The worship team consists primarily of members of the Ukrainian “Zhivaya Kaplya” (Living Drop) music group. When Yevgeny Goncharenko’s classical-church music courses are in session at Second Baptist Church, its semi-professional musicians do guest appearances.

 

Things are more festive here: Head Pastor Leonid Kartavenko may wear a ministerial collar and white sash. At least one of Your Church’s two-or-so sermons will be conversational in nature – Rev. Kartavenko is a gifted communicator. All generations are present, but Pastor Kartavenko insists: “We are a church mostly for the middle-aged.” The theology is inclusive. “We do not necessarily rebaptise those who believe they were sincere when they were initially baptised, say, as Orthodox.” He notes that in old times, unregistered Baptists even rebaptised those who had arrived from other Baptist quarters.

 

“Growing is hard work”, the Head Pastor adds. Membership is around 80 and increasing slowly. But I noted during a recent visit that the congregation sported many new faces: Some of those who had come from Second Baptist Church to help get things started have apparently felt free to return to their home congregation. Your Church appears in full operation. Of the three congregations listed here, only Kartavenko is able to serve nearly full-time as a pastor.

 

3. A third congregation also sports Second Baptist roots: Yevgeny Bakhmutsky’s “Russian Bible Church” (RBC), now meeting in the RUECB’s central offices on Varshavskoe Shosse. A cello replaces the brass instruments here; the music is contemporary, but subdued. Again roughly 80 members, but many more participants and guests. The congregation may have the youngest average age – few persons are over the age of 30 with more than a few children. But one active member, insists: “We are in no way trying to avoid older people.” Bakhmutsky, who was until recently Director of the RUECB’s national youth division, recruited many of his primary staff through his youth contacts.

 

Strong emphasis is placed on the spoken word; expository preaching is the order of the day. At least one of the two sermons lasts from 50 to 60 minutes; services take at least two hours. Much in the style of groups such as “Calvary Chapel”, books of the Bible are preached through from beginning to end, chapter-by-chapter. The Bible is regarded as infallible on all topics, including science. Here the “sufficiency” of Scripture is a key theological term.

 

A great rarity: The congregation has more male than female members. The congregation stresses male leadership and has four ordained, male pastors. A member recalls: “Before the congregation was founded two years ago, Bakhmutsky spent a year discipling a core group of young men and women.” Stress is placed on thorough planning and organisation; every active participant is asked to find his/her personal ministry and task.

 

The services devote time to prayer – prayer for the nation and its leaders coupled with the prayers for one’s own circle of acquaintances and family members.

 

How the three groups compare

Despite their many commonalities, these three congregations differ in flavour and style. The music is loudest at MCC, calmest at RBC. Your Church offers women the greatest opportunities for leadership; RBC stresses male authority. Leonid Kartavenko believes his congregation has horizontal leadership structures; RBC stresses leadership by a team of male elders.

 

All three groups are adamantly evangelical, yet it is a matter of debate as to which group most resembles traditional Russian-Baptist theology. Though aspects of RBC reflect the historical Russian model – its decidedly, non-charismatic orientation for ex. -, its Calvinist theology veers from the classical model. RBC is at least the most traditional in form.

 

All three groups stress a “professional”, well-prepared worship service. Electronics, AV and the Internet are taken seriously. Kartavenko reports that the majority of those watching his congregation’s services do so via the Internet (www.yourchurch.ru). RBC (www.rbcerkov.ru) offers its sermons as downloadable mp3-files. MCC’s site (Church24.ru) needs the most work – but they are also the youngest of the three congregations.

 

In all three cases, the gathering is far from over following the final “Amen”. Great stress is placed on getting acquainted. The “snack” offered at Your Church following the service usually suffices for both lunch and supper. All three take the business of fishing seriously. Winning persons “off the street” and not weaning believers away from other congregations is stressed. More than a few new members have Orthodox connections. Street evangelism is still somewhat possible in Russia: In the course of a week beginning on 4 September 2011, RBC recited the entire Bible in Moscow’s pedestrian zone “Arbat”. All three groups feature attractive excursions for the young including boat cruises, summer camps, English camps and picnics. One Your Church excursion even included parachute-jumping.

 

Last but not least: None of these three congregations have the word “Baptist” in their names. Yet all assure that they are not ashamed of the word “Baptist”. These congregations desire to be inclusive: They all desire to win and include those who do not want to describe themselves as Baptist. Balkmutsky explains that his congregation also wants to partner with newer congregations who have never called themselves “Baptist”. Nevertheless, all three congregations are led by past or present department heads at the RUECB’s Moscow headquarters. Vlasenko heads the RUECB’s Department for External Church Affairs; Bakhmutsky is the Union’s Senior Vice-President. Kartavenko headed its Missions Department until February 2008 and is now allied with the ex-Baptist, Evangelical-Christian businessman Alexander Semchenko. Yet Your Church remains a RUECB-member.

 

Many of the practices these congregations are attempting to implement were first introduced by Russia’s Charismatic movement in the 1990’s: a contemporary style of worship, youth orientation and decentralized leadership. A fourth, very large Charismatic congregation, “Tushino Evangelical Church”, retains strong past (and future?) Baptist ties. (See our press release of 16 October 2009.)

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 20 September 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-18, 1.315 words, 8.404 keystrokes and spaces.

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13 August – A Day of Multiple Commemorations

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Regarding the Russian “Initiativniki’s” anniversary

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w -- Two separations significant for World Christendom commemorated their 50th birthdays on 13 August: the construction of the Berlin Wall and the splitting up of the “All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”. On 18 August, in one of two major Russian-language commentaries on the second event, Kiev’s Mikhail Cherenkov celebrated in the news service “Protestant” the maverick and courageous spirit of the underground, “Initiativniki” Baptist movement. He described them as a “mighty spiritual” and “radical reformist” movement and exclaimed: No one could have expected that an “anti-church directive” put out by the All-Union Council could “invoke such massive resistance on the local-church level”. Who would have reckoned that “simple, uneducated, inexperienced pastors from the most remote of provinces could organise a resistance movement capable of engulfing the entire Soviet Union?” Cherenkov compares its martyrs to the early church fathers who died with “For Christ alone!” on their lips. The Initiativniki were in any case also part of the “down with Moscow” sentiment still alive in the wide expanses of Russia.

 

But it must be remembered that the Initiativniki movement also fought other Baptists. Andreas Patz reported in Germany’s Russian-language “International Christian Newspaper” on 11 August that the Initiativniki front began to unravel only two years after its founding. Initiativniki non-cooperation at an all-Union “synod” in 1963 and ugly scenes in congregations thereafter prompted many to leave its ranks. An autonomous Baptist movement apart from both the Baptist Union and the Initiativniki – Patz calls it an “opposition to the opposition” - appeared. Today, the Protestant scene in not a few Russian towns - Stary Oskol and Dedovsk (near Moscow) for ex. - consists primarily of such autonomous Baptist groupings.

 

A blogger noted that despite Gennady Kryuchkov’s warnings, lower-level “fraternisation” between registered and non-registered Baptists never ceased, especially in the realm of underground “Samizdat” printing. Kryuchkov (1926-2007) headed the Initiativniki in Russia proper from 1965 until his death 42 years later. His “underground church” was initially known as the “Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”. After massive emigration, it was renamed the "International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists" (IUCECB). It recently reported a global membership of 78.015 – roughly 20.000 of them still residing on Russian soil. During its heyday (1966), the movement claimed as many as 155.000 members.

 

Patz’ commentary describes well the pain and price of division. He reports that after 1961, roughly 1.500 Baptists (these would include registered and unregistered Pentecostals and Mennonites) were sentenced to a total of 5.000 years in prison. This works out to an average sentence of 3,33 years; thirty of these persons also died in jail.

 

The Initiativniki are an impressive testimony to the stalwartness of the human spirit in the face of incredible odds. But wars, including religious ones, also cause collateral damage – among children, for ex. The patriarch Kryuchkov lived underground on the run from Soviet authorities from 1970 to 1990. Even IUECB-circles admit today that none of his nine children are in the Christian fold.

 

The anti-semite Alexander Prokhanov, perhaps Russia’s most prominent far-right writer, is chief editor of the ultra-nationalist „Zavtra“ magazine. “Wikipedia” reports that he and a colleague invited the US-Nazi Donald Duke to Russia in 1999. Alexander is the grandson of Ivan Prokhanov, a leading father of Russia’s Baptist and Evangelical-Christian communities. But Alexander’s convictions cannot be blamed on Ivan, for Grandpa died in 1935, three years prior to the grandson’s birth. But this aside is one indication of the fact that “once-Baptist-always-Baptist” does not reflect Soviet and Russian reality. More than a few of today’s Russian intellectuals and politicians have one-time Baptist connections.

 

Patz reports that the Great Division of 1961 turned long-time friends and relatives into „irreconcilable enemies“. Married couples suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of the fence, their children confused as to with whom they should attend church. “At home, children were subjected to the constant quarrelling of their parents. Disappointed, they went out into the world once they were grown. And how many of these families were driven into divorce and destruction?”

 

The current situation

Today, the IUECB’s adherents, the majority of whom now live in Germany and the US’ Pacific Northwest, appear to reflect a movement frozen in time. The demise of the aggressive, Soviet adversary has condemned them to insignificance in the public arena. Yet much like their cousins, the Russian Orthodox Old Believers, who broke with the majority church in 1666, they insist on an aged agenda of minimal interest to today’s secular societies. Yet biology will keep the movement going as long as at least of few of its many offspring continue to uphold the faith. Much like the North American Amish of Mennonite tradition, they will be of interest primarily to ethnologists and curiosity-seeking tourists. Few outsiders will consider them worthy of emulation. Non-Russian, North American missions present in Russia during the past two decades dismissed them entirely.

 

Resistance to authority is at the core of their belief. To accept a conciliatory position would destroy their reason to exist as a separate entity. Patz reports that the IUECB’s “Historical-Analytical Department”, now run by those too young to ever “have sat” or “been betrayed”, has retained the methods, accusations - and mistakes - of the past. Consequently, the gulf of the past half-century is on the increase.

 

Patz cites a speech by Gennady Kryuchkov at the IUECB’s major Tula gathering of 5-6 October 2005, in which he described the registered Baptists (today’s “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” – RUECB) as the “broad way”, and the way of his movement as the narrow one. He added: “And these two parallel paths will never cross even in eternity.” Kryuchkov was apparently claiming there would be only one kind of Russian Baptist in paradise – not, that the division of 1961 would extend into heaven.

 

Cherenkov, though heaping the Initiativniki with praise at the outset of his article, admits later that the movement has lost its positive passion. It has now turned to “solidifying its structures of control and its nearly canonical traditions with its own gallery of heroic fathers and an iconostasis of martyrs”. It has surrounded all of this with “a protective iron curtain”. The “absence of inter-church dialogue” has kept the movement from updating its convictions to confront the dangers of the present; the course of the Initiativniki has consequently ended in a dead-end street. “It’s an irony of history that a reforming impulse very rarely springs from the same source twice.”

 

Mikhail Cherenkov portrays the IUECB as a progressive movement turned reactionary. I would prefer to describe the Initiativniki of 1961 as a “conservative resurgence” akin to the movement within America’s “Southern Baptist Convention” two decades later. The Initiativniki did not uphold progressive values, but were instead intent on restoring the past. It could be argued that they did not even uphold the banner of religious freedom when it involved those not of their own particular brand of faith.

 

The tragedy

Even the best of intentions can lead to the saddest of outcomes – the Initiativniki movement could therefore be described as a tragic one. They believed in their love of Christ and his Word – yet their actions have been interpreted as evidence of hatred by others. One’s desire for purity and steadfastness can be understood as contempt of other positions. The Initiativniki’s witness hit a low point when a Ukrainian couple in Salem, Oregon/USA was imprisoned in late 2009 for physical abuse of its children. The IUECB chose to decry the sentence as religious persecution.

 

It is important to understand why Germany’s émigré-German-Russian church community is strewn across the landscape. “Idea” magazine’s Helmut Matthies has described each tiny grouping of congregations as beholden only to itself. Cooperation on a larger scale appears impossible. The Initiativniki have proven strong on remaining true to their convictions; they are much less skilled in living alongside those who think differently. They sin differently than we Westerners do, for they have been shaped by a very different past.

 

The Cold-War West tended to portray the Initiativniki as spiritual giants – at least until they emigrated westward. Yet they have proven to be mere mortals; it is a myth that repression automatically makes believers more angelic. Perhaps it is pride combined with fear that has forced their witness to self-destruct. In Norway a century ago, an Arctic balloonist and explorer was determined not to renege on any of his boasts. He chose instead to float northward toward a certain and frigid death. On occasion, groups are not humble enough to save their own skins. Tragically, pride may have cost the Initiativniki the fruits of their courage and suffering: “Pride cometh before the fall” (Proverbs 16,18).

 

Walls and divisions are a product of human sin; only a spirit of forgiveness could turn things around. A church division caused by state repression and internal sin smashed Humpty’s egg. Only forgiveness could restore that egg. Limiting sin to others, to other specific groups, places and times, is always a dead-end. The Initiativniki too are mere humans.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 31 August 2011

 

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content. He intends to inform and does not claim to speak for any specific organisation in this instance. Release #11-16, 1.495 words, 9.682 keystrokes and spaces.

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Searching for a Peaceful Graveyard

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For Kyrgyz Protestants, the future remains full of questions

 

Bad Blankenburg/Germany – No ethnic-Kyrgyz Christian has been a believer for more than two decades, yet already 20% of the country’s Baptists are Kyrgyz. But where are these new believers in Christ to be buried? The nation’s customs dictate that the deceased be buried in the vicinity of their relatives. Yet those confessing Christ are as a rule disowned by their families and stripped of their ancestral home and place of burial. In several instances, the bodies of deceased believers have needed to be reburied or even buried in secret. At this year’s annual conference of the German Evangelical Alliance in Bad Blankenburg, a representative of the Kyrgyz Alliance assured that his organisation has taken on this unusual task: “We are in negotiations with the government about obtaining a piece of property on which Protestant believers can be buried.”

 

Kyrgyz Protestants are anticipating the elections set for 30 October with fear and trembling. The guest in Bad Blankenburg explained: “If the election victor is not clear already before the elections, then the possibility of resolving the issue by force is high.” Both Russia and the USA hold military bases in this strategically vital country – Kyrgyzstan’s political future could well be determined by the upcoming foreign-policy decisions of its leaders.

 

In Blankenburg, this Kyrgyz citizen of Korean nationality assured that his country’s official president, Rosa Otunbayeva, was only a symbolic figure without political power. He described her as “uneducated” and stated flatly: “I do not respect her as a politician.” Dr. Otunbayeva is a friend of Oslo/Norway’s Lutheran Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stalsett. It was therefore possible for the „European Council of Religious Leaders“, which Stalsett heads, to visit the country in January and begin efforts to create an inter-religious council. Even the Kyrgyz Baptist Union was won over to the cause, yet the Alliance representative visiting Germany regards the effort as hopeless. “Both Muslims and the Orthodox see themselves as the country’s Number One – they will not reach agreement among themselves. They also will not tolerate a third Protestant power bloc beyond their own.”

 

Lofty ideals are not a factor, the guest assured. Since the revolution of April 2010 brought down the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the mafia has moved into the limelight. “Prices are skyrocketing; the economy is weakening; everything can be purchased for a price; everyone deals with his own form of chaos.” State officials are now demanding payment for services – the registration of a congregation for ex. – that are free-of-charge according to the constitution. Yet the autonomous, evangelical church which the Alliance representative heads refuses to pay bribes: “We don’t pay any taxes either,” he added. “According to the constitution, churches are separate from the state and consequently tax-free.” Yet this consequent position is repeatedly undercut by missionaries from South Korea, who attempt to further their missionary work by paying bribes. “This causes the mafia to conclude that all Protestants are financially capable of paying.” After these missionaries have returned home, local Protestants are forced to deal with the increased expectations of the bribe-takers. The Alliance’s representative described the solution as follows: “Only missionaries with a religious visa should plant congregations. Those entering Kyrgyzstan on a student or business visa should restrict themselves to their official tasks.”

 

The guest in Germany described his country’s religious legislation, passed in late 2008, as the most radical in all of Central Asia. It makes the registration of new congregations virtually impossible; juveniles and children are to be kept away from all religious meetings. Yet the country’s political instability has distracted its politicians – there were always matters more important than repressing the small Protestant denominations with a total membership of no more than 10.000. “We don’t yet have any experience with these new laws,” the Alliance representative explained.  “They are only now beginning to enforce this legislation.” Being that ever more bureaucratic hurdles multiply the opportunities for state bureaucrats to demand bribes, this new law should open the floodgates to corruption in all of its many forms.

 

Remaining in a country where one is not welcome is no easy task. That is one of the reasons why Protestant congregations are also suffering from the massive exodus. Only a fraction of the country’s ethnic Koreans (now numbering roughly 15.000) remain – they formed a major part of Kyrgyzstan’s intellectual elite. Since 1987, the number of Baptists has dived from 13.000 to less than 3.000. “We cannot tell our people that they must stay,” the guest from Bishkek assured. “I do not feel myself in a position to contradict them when they claim that God is instructing them to leave.“ Once, 45% of Kyrgyzstan’s population was Russian – that number is now down to 9,1%. Sixty-nine percent of the population of 5,48 million is ethnic Kyrgyz. Half of the Uzbeks residing in the southern region of Osh have emigrated. An ethnic civil war engulfed that area in the summer of 2010.

 

Regarding the Alliance

Kyrgyzstan’s Evangelical Alliance, which was founded in November 2006, can be understood as the administrative arm of the even broader “Association”. The Alliance enjoys the services of a professional barrister and goes to bat for the rights of Protestants as needed. The guest explained: “We help churches to get registered with the state. We also see to it that their documentation in order.” Only the Alliance is officially registered.

 

The country’s small remnant Lutheran church belongs only to the Association. The traditional Pentecostal union is a member of both, but the largest Charismatic congregation in the capital city of Bishkek, the “Church of Jesus Christ”, was expelled from the two organisations because of moral infractions.

 

When thinking about the future, Kyrgyz Protestants feel they can rely strictly on the grace of God. “We’re praying for a miracle,” the friendly young pastor from Bishkek concluded.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 23 August 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-15, 959 words, 6.138 keystrokes and spaces.

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Penicillin or Cyanide?

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A commentary on Slavic, anti-gay activities in the USA and Russia

 

M o s c o w -- Russia's Christians are up in arms about the European Union's demand of equal rights for sexual minorities. In a statement on 22 June, the ever-vocal Sergey Ryakhovsky, Senior Bishop of the Charismatic "Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith (ROSKhVE), asserted that the rights of sexual minorities are not covered by the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" passed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. He described these minority rights as "the right to perversion and criminal immorality". The statement on 22 June emphatically affirmed a paper by the Russian Orthodox Church entitled "On the Right to Critically Assess and Legally Limit Homosexuality" made public only the previous day. Regarding Russian state backing, Ryakhovsky wrote: "We are proud of our government for refusing to support the European Union's perverse and vile handiwork. Our culture has never given sexual perversion any space." He also denounced Western pressure on Russian mayors and legislators to permit gay parades and formulate laws favourable to sexual minorities.

 

Ryakhovsky's issued his statement jointly with his deputy, Bishop Konstantin Bendas, who signed on as "President of the public movement 'For a Future without Homosexuality'". Especially in Western Europe, the title of this roughly two-year-old organization awakens the most frightening of associations. It is common knowledge whom the Nazis attempted to extinguish along with the Jews and Roma. Eliminating homosexuality simply by switching homosexuals into heterosexuals and leaving all alive is unrealistic. Homosexuality has been with us nearly as long as Adam.

 

The Russian public has needed to endure some of the cruellest and most vulgar of statements. Obviously, homophobia (irrational fear and hatred) and xenophobia stem from the vilest and darkest corners of human nature - from the cauldron that fascism also sprang. So is the Holy Spirit driving the anti-gay movement, or is it instead an expression of the vilest depths of human nature? Or could it be driven by both - by two completely separate and independent streams? The border between the two appears both thin and porous. In ethical terms, anti-gay Christian activists are treading on very thin ice.

 

In late May, "RIA-Novosti" fired its Moscow commentator Nikolay Troitsky after he called for the development of "a powerful bomb which kills only gays". On Western society, Troitsky wrote: "I don't need that kind of freedom and democracy. If all these perverts were finished off, then the earth would be much purer." Sadly, Troitsky's firing proved to be a highly-divisive issue. An earlier survey done by ROSKhVE indicated that Russian rejection of the gay lifestyle and public displays of "gayness" (gay parades) was virtually universal. A liberal periodical in the US remarked dryly in another context that "Russia does not need much encouragement along these lines".

 

The border between theological conviction and hatred has been clearly crossed by Slavic immigrants in the USA's Pacific Northwest. On 1 July 2007 at a lake near Sacramento, two Slavs claiming to be evangelicals brutally beat a homosexual from Fiji named Satender Singh. He died several days later from his injuries. US-media claimed that "the Slavic men bragged about belonging to a Russian evangelical church and told Singh that he should go to a 'good church' like theirs".

 

Evangelical immigrants from the lands of the former Soviet Union are moving into the forefront of the public struggle against gays in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps by coincidence, these immigrants chose to move precisely into regions known for their gay-inspired subcultures: Sacramento, Seattle and Portland. Vlad Kusakin, a Russian-speaking radio host and publisher, claimed in 2007 that God has "made an injection" of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally-tolerant West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God has made a divine penicillin." Native media report on demonstrations featuring hundreds of Russian-speaking teens wearing "Sodomy is a Sin" T-shirts and placard-waving babushkas in scarves.

 

Clashes between the two cultures have been less than peaceful. Darrel Steinberg, a state senator from Sacramento, reported in 2006 that he was shocked by the behaviour of "Slavic fundamentalist" counter-demonstrators: "Their words are vile, and words may give them the implicit license to take the next step and hurt people." In Riga/ Latvia it is claimed that evangelical demonstrators have pelted gays and lesbians with bags of excrement. California journalist Casey Sanchez reports that "anti-gay talk radio hosts and fundamentalist preachers routinely deliver hateful speeches on the airwaves and from the pulpit in their native tongue. Were they delivered in English, they would be a source of nationwide controversy."

 

Alexey Ledyaev

Gay-rights activists blame Singh's death on what they call the "U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate." This is a reference to Alexey Ledyaev, head of the Riga-based "New Generation" Charismatic denomination and a major player in the West´s Slavic, anti-gay movement. Ledyaev, an ethnic Ukrainian born into a Baptist family in Alma-Ata/Kazakhstan in 1956, moved to Latvia in the 1980's and formed New Generation as a break-off from the traditionalist Pentecostal union in 1989.

 

Yet even in EU-member Latvia, this denomination is largely Russian and Ukrainian in orientation; 110 of its roughly 200 congregations are located in Ukraine - another 60 are in Russia. Other congregations stretch from Argentina to the USA, Israel, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The denomination is allied closely with the right-wing and clerical "Latvia First Party" originally founded in 2002.

 

Together with the American anti-gay activist Scott Lively, Ledyaev founded the Riga-based "Watchmen on the Walls" organisation with the intent of defending "Christian morals and values in society". Other leading members include the black, Seattle-based pastor Kenneth Hutcherson and the afore-mentioned Vlad Kusakin.

 

Lively, who is now serving a heavily-Slavic New Generation congregation in Springfield/Massachusetts, was reputed to be the brain behind Uganda's stiff anti-gay legislation of 2009 demanding lengthy prison terms or the death penalty for that country's homosexuals. Lively, who has been branded a holocaust revisionist, published "The Pink Swastika", a book attributing the holocaust to homosexuals, in 1995. Ledyaev saw to it that a Russian version appeared three years later. Though Ledyaev himself can only get Russian visas with difficulty, Lively reported that the translation's publication led to a deluge of speaking offers. Casey Sanchez claimed in 2007 that Lively "frequently speaks about the book and his broader anti-gay agenda in churches, police academies and television news studios throughout the former Soviet Union". Yet Professor Stephen Feinstein from the University of Minnesota, one of the book's many detractors, describes it as being "as correct as flat earth theory". Ledyaev was received in the Bush White House in February 2007.

 

Ledyaev pushes a profoundly political agenda. In 2002, he published his political treatise, "The New World Order", which calls for the wealthy and powerful to create theocratic states run according to Christian principles. The book borrows heavily from R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001), the founder of Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism and its mouthpiece, the Chalcedon Report, call for a kind of Old Testament-Christian Sharia law allowing for liberal usage of the death penalty. Described as an extreme Calvinist with anti-democratic convictions, Rushdoony defended white supremacy and even slavery.

 

Essentially, Ledyaev's book is an expression of the ideological struggle between a pluralistic and secularist West and the dream of a monolithic, authoritarian and white Christian state. What Ledyaev envisions is comparable to Spain's Falangist movement or the Apartheid regime of South Africa. Ledyaev's future battle plan is clear: "The first devastating wave of homosexuality prepares the way for the second and more dangerous wave of Islamization." Homosexuals will destroy Western fertility; Muslims will then move in to suffocate the West with their sky-high birth rates.

 

Articles in the US have been entitled "From Russia - or Latvia - with Hate". The Alabama-based "Southern Poverty Law Center" includes "Watchmen on the Walls", the "Chalcedon Foundation" and Lively's "American Family Association" on its list of 925+ hate groups. This is of course no scientifically-neutral designation, for some on the other side of the ideological barricades are also capable of hatred.

 

ROSKhVE hits the brakes

In 2004, two years after the appearance of "The New World Order", Ulf Ekman, the founder of Sweden's "New Life" movement and one of Ledyaev's long-time mentors, distanced himself from New Generation. Ryakhovsky followed suit a year later, calling the book heretical and an unacceptable mixture of church and state. Nevertheless, Kiev's "Invictory", the world's primary Russian-language Protestant (and Charismatic) news service, named Ledyaev its "Reformer of the Year" in 2005. New Generation may be down but not out in Russia: It's most recent Moscow church plant occurred in July 2011.

 

That longevity could be attributed to the fact that the themes of the Christian anti-gay movement reach far beyond the confines of the Charismatic movement. The low white birth rate, the Muslim threat, the rejection of multiculturalism and Western-style tolerance are national concerns in Russia. Rightest Christians see the separation of church and state as a liberal ploy intended to rob Christians of their freedom. Lively's long-time call to make any public advocacy of homosexuality illegal has wide support, also among Russian Baptists. A prominent Russian Baptist pastor from the Pacific Northwest called in Ukraine in 2009 for the deportation of homosexuals to a lonely and distant isle. It is worrisome that the Christian far-right and the Russian mainstream often have similar objectives - the differences are ones of degree.

 

My opinion

It is difficult to believe that protection of the family is the real concern driving the anti-gay struggle. Since the number of substance-abusing parents and AWOL fathers in Russia outnumbers the gays by at last 100 to 1, it would appear that a defender of the family caught up in the struggle against homosexuality has chosen the wrong battle. Would not a programme of marriage counselling be of much greater benefit to society? Nearly non-existent gay parades are not a problem in Russia - rejection of minorities is.

 

In a ROSKhVE statement from 10 June 2010, Bishop Ryakhovsky made a small step by conceding that his congregations were open to persons committing the sin of homosexuality or struggling with it. "We are willing to pray for them and offer counselling aid in hopes of freeing them from this spiritual dependency." In short: Gays are worthy and capable of conversion to the Christian faith. Perhaps this is almost a start, but we straights will not get very far if our only concern is to convert and change gays. It will take much more effort and caring than that. One also cannot convert the adherents of other religions by assuring them how right we are and how wrong they are. One starts by searching respectfully for a common basis.

 

I personally believe the homosexual lifestyle cannot be defended on the basis of the Bible. But this "no" must be combined with clear affirmation of that person as God's precious creation. Despite that person’s sexual preferences, he or she is a human being loved by God. Those who believe A, must also do B. I don't see that Russian Protestants have yet gotten to point B. Indeed, I have never yet seen a church statement in Russia decrying the hatred of homosexuals. The churches are very vocal regarding gay parades, but they have responded to Nikolay Troitsky's outrage until now with silence.

 

We have no room at all to offend gays and lesbians unduly - those for whom Christ also died. See Jesus' statement on the millstone in Matthew 18,6. There are rules of behaviour to be followed. Until they reach a balance between A and B, the evangelicals of Russia will be more like cyanide than penicillin on the issue of homosexuality.

 

I believe the Presbyterian C. Everett Koop (born 1916), Surgeon-General during the administration of Ronald Reagan, was on the right track. Though personally opposed to the practice of homosexuality, he did everything in his power to preserve the lives of gays. The same is true for the anti-AIDS campaign of Rick Warren's "Saddleback Church" in California. The evangelical struggle against AIDS sends the proper signal: Gays also have the right to a long life.

 

It's OK to decry homosexuality as sin - but the ice gets thin quickly. The dragons are lurking just below the surface.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 25 July 2011

 

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content. He intends to inform and does not claim to speak for any specific organisation in this instance. Release #11-14, 1.997 words, 12.827 keystrokes and spaces.

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What Kinds of Stereotypes Exist?

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A Belarusian Charismatic in conversation with the KGB

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w – Ears perked when Sergey Lukanin reported in a press release on his conversation after being summoned to the Belarusian KGB on 3 June. Lukanin (born 1970) is a professional barrister, advocate and press speaker for Minsk’s 1.000+-member Charismatic “New Life” congregation. In the next-to-last paragraph of his press release of 6 June (see „www.newlife.by“), Lukanin asks the KGB when it will stop treating the Charismatics as enemies. The KGB-representative responded: “It is possible that in the current situation negative stereotypes predominate on both sides.” He proposed thereby that negotiations led by a nationally-known mediator trusted by both parties could lead to a significant release of tension. I was therefore eager to hear from Lukanin on 19 June how he describes the stereotypes prevalent on the Charismatic end. Was it conceivable that both parties were finally willing to push the Obama administration’s famous “reset” button?

 

Lukanin noted in an elaborate response that his congregation was still restricted to an island existence. New Life, which holds its services in a refurbished, 2002-purchased cowshed on the Western edge of the city, is still forced to produce its own power and heat. Its bank account remains frozen. The city’s first eviction order arrived in 2005; municipal authorities and the church have been locked in combat ever since.

 

This church, which was founded by 22-year-old Vyacheslav Goncharenko in 1992, had split off from the country’s Pentecostal union. This Neo-Pentecostal or Charismatic denomination now has a network of nearly 10 congregations throughout the country and calls itself “Full-Gospel Fellowship”. It claims to have no closer partner in the West; it is in any case theologically allied with the Riga/Latvia-based “New Generation” denomination headed by the politically-rightist Alexey Ladyaev and the Texas-based “Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International”.

 

Lukanin reports that relations between the state and the Charismatic movement have recovered somewhat from their low point in 2007-2008. No Protestant pastors are presently jailed; some property taxes have been dropped for churches and the state’s ban on public advertising for sorcery is interpreted as a gesture of good will. Yet the barrister sees no progress on the fundamental issues involving New Life; “Nothing has changed since the conversation with the KGB.”

 

Arguments in defence of the church

In our conversation, Lukanin could not describe any stereotype harboured by his church regarding representatives of the Belarusian government – but he could list a stereotypical view held by the other side. Orthodox church and government circles frequently claim New Life has sought conflict with the state for the sake of obtaining international renown and funding.

 

Yet the church’s speaker insists that his church is only responding to government provocations. The church conducts itself strictly in a defensive and non-political fashion; it itself does not initiate anti-government activities. The state acts – his church only reacts. This negates the theory that conflict situations can consist of an endless chain and spiral of reactions by which both sides egg each other on to ever greater “deeds of misfortune”.

 

According to Lukanin, the conflict only began after the state initiated attempts to wrest the church from its hard-won real estate: “We only criticise the state if it infringes upon our constitutional rights.” He reported that his church has denounced the subservience of the courts to political offices. “But that is simply an undisputable fact, a long-term status,” he insisted. “We are only claiming that which is already totally clear.”

 

Matters of dispute are spiritualised. Lukanin stated for ex.: “We were motivated by the desire to defend out property, to defend that which God had presented to us.” When God decrees, non-compliance can only be interpreted as religious disobedience. In this fashion, Charismatics and many other believers remove themselves from the debate on the pros and cons of their actions.

 

The claim to passive behaviour is also evident in the matter of coalition partners. I made the claim that seeking the support of Minsk’s Western embassies only confirmed the suspicion that this church was an entity of Western origin alien to Belarusian turf. The barrister responded that his body did not actively select its friends. “We are open to all persons of good will,” he insisted. The ambassadors of Western governments had visited New Life repeatedly simply “because God had moved their hearts”. In one instance, a delegation from the state-allied BSRM (Belarusian Republican Youth Union) movement paid the unique church building a visit. Sergey Lukanin is a charming person – he quickly won the sympathy of his guests. For the sake of his church’s work, Lukanin accepted the gift of $20 US they offered him.

 

Matters more active than reactive

The gathering of protest signatures, the church’s hunger strike in October 2006 and Lukanin’s highly-public appearances at international forums (OSCE in Romania, EU in Brussels, Christian-Democratic summit in Helsinki for ex.) seem to indicate a politically active stance. Indeed, New Life is the leading Protestant voice of opposition in the country. It does not restrict itself to its own immediate concerns when addressing the public. In the conversation on 19 June Lukanin assured: “If the state acts contrary to God’s laws, if it uses violence against the people, if it acts unjustly - then God calls on the church to reveal and denounce both the sin and the sinner.”

 

Last October, public figures signed an appeal supporting New Life in its legal struggle with the state. Lukanin claims that his church is neither member nor participant of the “Belarusian Christian Democracy”. Yet three of the seven signing this appeal are leaders within this party. Lukanin is a close friend of one of them: Party President Vitaly Rymashevsky, who was imprisoned after the elections on 19 December. “I support him and he is a friend of our family.”

 

Some statements made by these Christian Democrats could be interpreted as theocratic. In an interview with a Ukrainian, Charismatic news agency, the Protestant dissident Andrey Kim predicted: “Belarus will be a country in which not the human being, but rather God, will be the highest good. The law, namely God’s law, will rule – not arbitrariness.”

 

In great contrast to the country’s registered Baptists, who prefer to settle their differences with the state behind closed doors, New Life is not afraid to act confrontationally. On 19 June Lukanin even reported on a transfer of power: The threatened seizure of its property by the militia has never taken place – even though the congregation would not attempt to defend itself by force. For years, the congregation has been able to sustain its decision to deny entry into its building to any representative of the state arriving under state orders. “We conclude that God has taken away their power and given it to us. We have power, for we know that justice is on our side. The truth is on our side.” Who could prevail against such a force?

 

More than a few Orthodox observers give New Life a more modest rating. One Minsk scholar claimed that the seven persons signing the October appeal in support of the church had thereby spoiled all chances of ever again obtaining Orthodox votes. The signers included the leading oppositional politician Andrei Sannikov, who has been imprisoned since 19 December. But such an assessment is probably also an overstatement of Protestant significance – they make up no more than 1% of the Belarusian populace.

 

I assume that if it remains impossible for the still-unnamed mediator to reach the “reset” button, the process of egging each other on to “misdeeds” of ever greater consequence will continue indefinitely. If attempts to stop and reboot the computer do not succeed, then a possible process of mutual learning is far from imminent.

 

Incidentally:

Though more than a few of Belarus’ church buildings and religious gatherings are technically illegal, they are nevertheless tolerated. At least one of Minsk’s technically-illegal churches is marked on a popular city map. In Russia, not even long-time Protestant churches – Moscow’s famous “Central Baptist Church” for ex. – show up on city maps. But there might be an occasional exception in Russia.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 28 June 2011
kant50@gmx.de

New mobile number for Yoder when in Moscow: +7 916 381 2273

 

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content. He intends to inform and does not claim to speak for any specific organisation in this instance. Release #11-12, 1.338 words, 8.409 keystrokes and spaces.

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Putting an End to Orphanages

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Regarding the efforts of Ukrainian pastor Gennady Mokhnenko

 

M o s c o w – Eastern European people of good will usually support the retention and improvement of orphanages. But the Ukrainian pastor Gennady Mokhnenko expects the exact opposite: He wants them eliminated. In a recent interview this Charismatic pastor described his “mega-dream”: “The ceremonial closure of the last orphanage on the terrain of the former USSR.” They are to be replaced by caring, Christian families willing to accept orphans and abandoned children into their homes. He wrote in an open letter of 24 February 2011: “If every (Protestant) congregation finds between three and five families ready to accept foster children, then we could empty all of our country’s orphanages in short order. The statistics prove that this is possible. All we really need, is to do it!” Ukraine has 102.000 orphans and abandoned children; in Russia that number exceeds 1,5 million.

 

Mokhnenko reappeared in the headlines in late May when „Makarenko from Mariupol“, a film featuring his work, was named the year’s best film on the issue of children by the national “Open Ukraine” competition. The film reports on the lives of drug-addicted and neglected children that the pastor and his congregation had gathered from the city’s basements and gutters. (Anton Makarenko was the Soviet Union’s best-known educator.)

 

Today, „Pilgrim Republic“(Respublika Piligrim), which was founded by Pastor Mokhnenko, is Ukraine’s largest Protestant children’s centre. The centre is presently home to 400 minors; 2.500 children have transitioned through this home since its inception in 2001. More than half of them are now living with families or in boarding schools. Others are living lives which cause concern to their one-time supervisors – but these adults believe that good seed has been sown. “We have also buried many children,” the centre’s head concedes. This home is today part of a network of 32 rehab centres for children in Ukraine and Russia, many of which were founded by Mokhnenko. Adults are now also being served in some centres.

 

Gennady Mokhnenko was born into a violent and alcoholic family in the port city of Mariupol in the south-eastern corner of the country in 1968. In 1992, he planted a congregation known as “The Church of Positive Changes” in his native city. The city was teeming with street urchins early in the 1990s. In 1998, members of his congregation began to bring warm meals to children squatting in basements and other hideaways.

 

This mission reports that 20% of its young clients are HIV-positive; it has consequently made rehabilitation work among drug and glue addicts a priority. Basic school training is also vital; many of them are still illiterate. Its primary objectives include the “domestication” of children, acclimating them to family-style living and regular school work. Yet spiritual issues are not neglected. In an interview the effort’s founder assured: “All our experiences show that without a deep spiritual conversion, that without a true rebirth, even the grandest pedagogical concepts do not work.” 

 

Mokhnenko himself is not only a gifted manager – he attempts to practice what he preaches. In addition to three children of their own, he and his wife Yelena have adopted 21 more. Between 11 and 13 of them are presently living under one roof with the couple. He assures that some of them are now as close to him as his own biological children: “I cannot imagine living without them any more.”

 

Obviously, an effort of this size cannot succeed without the robust aid of partners. A major contributor to this work is Sacramento/California’s “House of Bread”. This Charismatic congregation consists primarily of Slavic immigrants and is headed by the 37-year-old Ukrainian Alexander Shevchenko. Baptists are also cooperating: Mokhnenko notes that an entire container of humanitarian aid donated by a Baptist congregation in the USA has been of major assistance.

 

Gennady Mokhnenko sits on the board of the initiatives „Ukraine without Orphans“ and „You Will be Found“. The 2010-founded campaign „Ukraine without Orphans“ intends to get the country “orphan-free” by 2015. It is supported for ex. by Pat Robertson’s “Christian Broacasting Network”, “CoMission”, „Compassion International“ and the Baptist-allied „Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries”. “You Will be Found” has very similar goals and is supported by similar Western agencies.

 

Despite initial resistance, the city fathers of Mariupol are also on-board. They are now paying for heat and power at the centre’s primary building. Its director assures that relations with the city are “very good”.

 

Equal rights for gay couples

“Pilgrim Republic” combines its practical aid for individual children with socio-political efforts expressed in part through public rallies and bicycle tours. When the Ukrainian parliament ratified the “European Convention on the Adoption of Children” last February, major protests from the above-mentioned initiatives resulted. Peter Dudink, a Charismatic pastor from Slavyansk, described it as a plus that Ukrainian orphans could now be more easily adopted by Western European families. „But it is certainly a minus that unisex families will be able to adopt Ukrainian orphans.“

 

In Gennady Mokhnenko’s open letter from 24 February mentioned above, he appealed for a “radical, national strategy of adoption” as the simplest way to “prevent a national disgrace”. Mass Protestant applications for adoption would push unisex couples from Western Europe to the back of long waiting lines. Offering all orphans a family would destroy the chances of gay couples. 

 

In this letter he calls for putting aside all confessional disputes in order to prevail in the struggle against the legal upgrading of unisex relationships. “We must make clear to politicians that public opinion will not accept this abomination in silence.” He continued: “If we do not wake up soon and jointly confront this evil, then a curse will fall upon our land and our children. They will then need to live in a complete different society 10 to 15 years from now.”

 

Commentary

This reaction could be described, among other things, as a simple overreaction. The revised Convention of 27 November 2008 leaves it up to the member state to decide whether or not to permit unisex couples to adopt. The Convention does not force any state to give equal legal status to homosexual unions.

 

The pastor from Mariupol can be thanked for many wonderful initiatives. The demographic crisis present in the former Soviet states could also be softened by awakening the reserves slumbering in the now-living adults and children subsisting on the fringe of society. All of us would profit from the mobilisation of those reserves. How the world’s sexual minorities could also profit from the love of Christ – that issue is deserving of additional reflection not only in Western Europe.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 15 June 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-11, 1.083 words, 6.826 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

Supporting All in Their Search for God

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“Liberal secular humanist” holds riveting speech on Orthodox turf

 

M o s c o w – On 25 May, the Russian Orthodox Church caused a sensation when it invited one of its long-time critics, a “liberal, secular humanist”, to speak at the “World Russian People's Council”’s annual session in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Describing himself as an atheist of Jewish ancestry, the politician Leonid Gozman came out sounding very evangelical. Addressing Patriarch Kirill at the outset of his speech, he stated: The mere fact that you have asked someone such as I to speak, “is convincing evidence of your desire to unify our nation irregardless of ethnicity or one’s relationship to religion”.

 

Citing ethnic conflicts and the mutilation of army recruits, Gozman launched into an appeal for Orthodoxy to side with the oppressed in their struggle against the “cruelty and injustice of the government machine”. Those struggling to survive should know for certain “that the entire church, from the local priest all the way up to the Patriarch, is for them – and not against them.” He asked the Patriarch point-blank: “How does the church view the innumerable palaces and yachts of top-level officials?”

 

The politician lofted the dream of a selfless church fighting not for itself, but for the freedom of all. Instead of struggling to defend its own historical, canonical territory, the church should be defending freedom of conscience. He desires that the church ”stop distinguishing between traditional and non-traditional religions, but rather support all persons en route to God irrespective of the temple door at which that search will end”.

 

Orthodoxy enjoys major authority among Russians and Gozman believes it can afford to remain far removed from all appearances of self-serving servility to the government. If the church authorities “really believed in God instead of just representing the faith, then they would not thank government officials for all the restored churches returned to them”. They would instead “denounce corruption and luxury, hypocrisy and untruth”.

 

Only if Orthodoxy is free from the state, can an individual’s choice for or against a belief be truly voluntary and meaningful. He stressed his abhorrence of government religion and government-sponsored ideology. He nevertheless stressed “evangelical principles” – a highly unusual term in Russian society – as a longtime “moral foundation for both believers and unbelievers”.

 

Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” was present at this top-level event. He was delighted by Gozman’s speech: “It was by far the most impressive speech given”. Though this opposition politician’s expectations may be utopian, it is nevertheless “an encouraging sign of pluralism that the ROC allows such a person to speak at one of its major events”.

 

Leonid Gozman (born 1950) may himself be endangered by the lure of power and wealth. His middle-class, pro-capitalist party, the 2009-founded “Right Cause”, may soon be joined by the billionaire industrialist Mikhail Prokhorov.

 

Though not mentioned by name, Russian Protestants play a part in the government scenario as portrayed by Gozman. The politician lashed out against government measures being taken against green environmentalists protesting the destruction of Khimki Forest just to the north of Moscow. As we reported last August, that forest is being leveled for the construction of a toll road by the firm of the Evangelical-Christian and ex-Baptist Alexander Semchenko. Semchenko’s own security personnel have along with government forces been engaged in low-scale warfare with the environmentalists.

 

The “World Russian People's Council” was founded in 1993 and regards itself as a platform for top-level exchange regarding the state and future of Russian society. Gozman’s speech is featured on its Russian-language website: “vrns.ru”.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Berlin, 30 May 2011

 

A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #11-10, 587 words, 3.846 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

Boosting Fertility

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Moscow’s CIAC holds its first public meeting in years

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w -- The topic was demographics as the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) convened on 13 May in the headquarters of Moscow’s Roman-Catholic “Mother of God Archdiocese” for its first public session in 10 years. Yet according to Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, the Protestant representative on the CIAC’s Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant triumvirate leadership committee, the issue for Protestants is not only one of demographics – it is also one of acceptance. It matters to Protestants that they be accepted as a native and positive contributor to the well-being of Russian society. He assured: “The most important matter for us is whether the evangelical churches, which indeed are an integral part of Russian society, can make their own unique contribution in this very complicated realm.” Vlasenko added that the efforts of Russia’s Christian confessions can only succeed if they “learn to speak with a single voice. Otherwise, our proclamations will exist only on paper.”

 

Speakers mentioned most of the causes of population decline: poor medical care and substance abuse cause the low life expectancy of Russian males, the unwillingness or incapability of the state to support young families, high abortion rates, career orientation and consumerism. Orthodox speakers such as Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeyev), head of the Department for External Affairs in the “Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate”, called for the creation of very large – Christian - families. Yet in view of skyrocketing costs in Russia’s larger cities, it would appear to me that only a budding oligarch could afford a 10-member family. Children are expensive and consistently endanger the purchase of a new car or a vacation in visa-free Turkey.

 

Wikipedia reports that the Russian population is hovering at 142,9 million – up slightly in 2009. In 1991 it had peaked at 148,7 million. The current birth rate is 12,6 births per 1.000 population per year; the death rate is 14.3 per 1.000. In 1929, during the heyday of the communist movement, the birth rate was at 49,6; the death rate, 28.6.

 

Moral appeals were the order of the day on 13 May, yet it is my belief that appeals to patriotism and conscience can have only limited success. Christian circles – and not just the Orthodox – are pushing for a Christian consensus as the ideological and religious foundation of Russian society. But on the matter of demographics, social insecurity and the all-pervasive goals of the consumer society will remain much weightier factors. In today’s highly-mobile world, the masses will gravitate to where the quality of life is highest. Liberal immigration, a relative high quality of life entailing economic stability and the rule of law, a broad distribution of national wealth and opportunities for advancement in career and business – these factors would solve the problem for Russia automatically. Until Russia meets these criteria, the downward slide will continue. Russia does not have an aggressive, binding ideology as it did in 1929.

 

Immigration

The developed, burgeoning  societies of Western Europe, North America and Australia have not solved the demographic problem simply by offering a high quality of life. The financial incentive alone did not result in more babies. They have needed to combine that with a liberal position on immigration allowing many foreigners to resettle within their own borders. That is succeeding in Canada, for the arriving masses have included skilled workers and specialists. Canada, a country with geographic and climactic conditions similar to Russia’s, had only 13,7 million residents in 1950. In 1991, the number was 27,9 million. Present population is estimated to be 34,3 million, an increase of 19% over the last two decades. Yet Canada’s birth rate is significantly lower than Russia’s: only 10,28 births per 1.000 in 2009. But its death rate was only half as high: 7,74 deaths.

 

In his lecture, Metropolitan Ilarion called for “the total mobilisation of all healthy forces in society” in solving the demographic crisis. The sticky point is the word “healthy”. A question not posed at that gathering needs to be asked: Would Russian society accept the impoverished Muslim peoples of Central Asia, the Chinese or the blacks of Sub-Saharan Africa as “healthy forces”? North America, Western Europe and Australia have embraced immigration as a solution for demographic problems even if it meant their once-white societies would become “browner” or “more yellow”.

 

There is not yet any indication that Russian society is willing to bite that bullet, to solve the demographic crisis by becoming “browner” - even if that only means integrating more Russian-speaking Central Asians. Japan is another country reluctant to permit immigration, and the population of that wealthy, densely-populated, non-White country (126,8 million in 2010) is decreasing slowly. It does in any case appear that a majority-White society unwilling to accept immigrants of colour cannot grow.

 

Looking at the issue globally, there obviously are sufficient people – and money – to cover the basic needs of all countries. The real problem is one of distribution. The cynical and uncaring could claim that the “wrong” children are being born: children of colour in the impoverished nations of the developing world. For no obvious reason, they are being absorbed most readily by the densely-populated nations of Western Europe as well as North America.

 

The Christians of Russia need to start considering many more factors. Attempting to boost fertility will not help if other basic social and political issues are not addressed – see the positive example of Canada.

 

CIAC

The CIAC was created in 1993 to ease communication between churches in the countries of the former USSR and held major conferences in 1994, 1996 and 1999. Yet its activities were suspended by the Orthodox in February 2002 and not reactivated until October 2008.

 

The CIAC is oriented towards work within the countries of the former USSR – not in the outside world. Perhaps for that reason, its present status is wobbly among the Orthodox. It does not appear to be an important priority for them. Some of its leaders must remain unsure regarding the best way to further ROC interests.

 

The third member of CIAC leadership (along with Ilarion and Vlasenko) is the Italian Pavel Pezzi, the Roman-Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Diocese.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 25 May 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-09, 1.013 words, 6.424 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

Church Life Never Disappeared

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Book on Baptist history in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad publshed

 

M o s c o w – Very likely the first Russian-language book dealing with Baptist life in the once-German Soviet enclave of Kaliningrad (German East Prussia) after 1945 appeared recently. Its author is Anatoly Krikun, the current Baptist Bishop (called “Starshy Presbyter”) of Kaliningrad/Königsberg. Publisher is the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”’ “Moscow Theological Seminary”. The book is part of the Bishop’s work on a Master’s degree.

 

Intended to be a model zone for the socialist experiment, the newly-annexed region of Kaliningrad was to be denied any visible church life. Yet Krikun makes clear that despite persecution, church life on this once German turf never did disappear. The initial two-thirds of the book describes the German period up until 1945 and offers nothing new of substance to the German-language reader. But the description of the Soviet period from a Russian Baptist perspective indeed does break new ground. But the booklet’s title is confusing: “History of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists in East Prussia and Kaliningrad Region” (Istoria evangeliskikh khristian-baptistow w Wostotschnoi Prussi i Kaliningradskoi oblasti). German East Prussia never did sport a Russian Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregation.

 

In no way does the author gloss over the existential hardships and vandalism of some Soviet citizens during the initial years. Hunger occurred not only in the Russian “motherland” immediately after the War. Krikun notes that 51% of the settlers who arrived during the period from 1948 to 1953 chose not to stay. Being that only 7.000 new settlers had arrived by November 1945 and more than 100.000 Germans remained, church life was very much in hands of Germans until their final deportion. Without regard for anyone’s denominational loyalties, Germans and Soviet citizens gathered at first under the spiritual leadership of Germans to worship. German clerics were highly-respected: “Generally speaking, relations between the two groups were positive.” (p. 81). The lack of any Orthodox church structures made it particularly easy for Baptists to evangelise on their own terms. In Kaliningrad, a 60-member Baptist congregation headed by the German pastor Heinrich Fenner was granted state registration in 1947. Yet that congregation did not survive the deportation of the final Germans.

 

Baptist settlers first appear in the Soviet archives from 1947. The departure of the final Germans a year later nearly rang down the curtain on church life. That indeed appeared to occur among the Lutherans. Krikun does not mention that anyone wanting to attend a Lutheran service in the four decades after 1948 needed to travel to Lithuania. The Lutheran church in Silute (Heydekrug) in the Memel border region never was shut down by the Soviet authorities.

 

The arrival of ever-new settlers from Western Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus repeatedly restocked the meagre Baptist ranks. In March 1947, the double-amputated preacher M. P. Reitusky arrived from Zaporozhe in Ukaine. Until 1954, he served as the leading Baptist clergyman for the entire region. In 1950, his Kaliningrad congregation had 40 members; 30 more attended one in Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg). Other house fellowships were located in Gusev (Gumbinnen) and Sovietsk (Tilsit). One-hundred-thirty of the faithful attended a feast in 1961; Krikun reports on 70 “activists” at that time.

 

Beginning in 1964, ethnic German families from Kyrgyzstan with abundant numbers of children began to arrive. The arrival of these Germans furnished the Baptist movement with its first heyday lasting from 1976 until about 1989. Pavel Meissner already arrived from Kyrgyzstan in 1963; he headed the Baptist church of the region from 1965 until his emigration to Germany in 1976. In the years from 1966 until 1976, the Kaliningrad congegation usually gathered for worship at his house in the village of Pervomaiskaya near the former Bladiau far to the south of Kaliningrad. Thirty-percent of the region’s Baptists were of German ethnicity in the mid-70s – a fact which heightened the suspicions of state authorities. Krikun reports that government pressures forced Meisser to emigrate – his departure was followed by a wave of Germany-bound emigration. Today, only a tiny handful of ethnic Germans remain. In 1976, just before that initial exodus, the Kaliningrad congregation had 220 members.

 

A turbulant chuch life

Baptist church life did not remain free of divisions and strife. Pentecostals began to arrive from Western Belarus in 1951. After worshiping together for a year, Pentecostals decided to go their own way – taking a number of Baptist families with them. The primary issue of content was speaking in tongues.

 

Krikun reports that massive state pressure around 1959 – also in the public media – caused major discord among Baptists. Personal misconduct forced Pastors Reiutski and A.A. Mogila to terminate their leadership. Divergent opinions on how best to react to the government – and its KGB infiltrators – nearly finished off the Baptist movement. Pastoral authority was undermined: “Some of the less-stalwart left the church never to return.” (p. 101)

 

Yet the church was able to regain its footing and decided to ordain two additional men in 1965. New members were in need of additional care. Yet Moscow’s All-Union Council of Baptists refused to ordain, citing the fact that the Kaliningrad congregation remained unregistered. Church leadership therefore approached a non-registered congregation of the “Initiativniki” in Brest/Belarus. During the visit of a small delegation from Brest in Kaliningrad, the guests made clear they would only be of assistance if the Kaliningrad group halted all cooperation with the USSR’s registered churches. The hosts decided not to accept the offer; unauthorized ordinations without outside sanction followed. One other result of these contacts was the formation of a group of “Initiativniki” in Kaliningrad. The Master’s thesis of the Russian-German Alex Breitkreuz, which appeared in 2006, states that this unregistered group had a respectable membership of 300 in 2004.

 

Government repression appeared in waves. Krikun lists 1954, 1958, 1964, 1971, 1981 and 1984 as the years in which state pressure was the strongest. (p. 108)

 

Since the region’s congregations were unregistered and consequently illegal, it was impossible for them to open chapels of worship. All attempts after 1948 to achieve legality were repulsed. Yet a dramatic breakthrough occurred in May 1967: The Baptists were legally registered as the region’s first religious group. That can be seen on the webpage of Kaliningrad’s Baptist church („mir-kld.ru“). Yet Krikun writes in his book that Baptists were only “one of the first religious organisations” registered within the region. (p. 106) Significant in any case is the fact that this registration occurred long before registration of the Orthodox, which did not occur until April 1985. The Catholics and Lutherans were registered there in 1991.

 

Closely tied to registration issues was the matter of real estate. Only on the third try was it possible to dedicate with major festivities a small, brand-new house of prayer on 12 August 1979. It was located at Krylova Street 38 on the northern edge of Kaliningrad far removed from any means of public transportation. Even the region’s Secretary for Religious Affairs, Y. Y. Makhobaisky attended. A trusting relationship had developed between him and the church. Krikun describes Makhobaisky as an “honest and intelligent person”. “When it was called for, he would defend the rights of the believers.” (p. 114) The very early registration of the Baptists was very likely due to this special relationship.

 

Private houses had been obtained in 1965 and 1973 with the intention of remaking them into houses of worship. In the first case, the house was quickly confiscated by the state. In the second instance, after many months of official foot-dragging, the nearly completed building was torched by supposed arsons and leveled in 1975.

 

Following Messner’s departure in 1976, the chauffeur Viktor Shumeyev was appointed “Senior Pastor”. He had arrived in the region as a 10-year-old with his parents in 1950 from Belgorod region in Western Russia. He retired as a pastor in January of this year.

 

The 1946-born engineer Anatoly Krikun hails from Berdichev in Zhitomir region not far from Kiev, where his father Ivan had served as a lay minister. He arrived in Kaliningrad region in 1967 and replaced Shumeyev as Church Secretary in 1973. Krikun was ordained a deacon in 1993 and became a pastor a year later. He was officially named the Senior Pastor (Bishop) in 1996.

 

Krikun’s book suddenly ends with 1985 and Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascent to power. Krikun’s own naming as Senior Pastor is not mentioned. Also unmentioned is his congregation’s move to an impressive new structure at Gagarina Street 18 in the east of the city. A church centre with space for 500 worshippers was dedicated there on 23 August 1998. The event’s 700 guests included 100 from Germany. The Germans contributed most of the funding (500.000 German marks) for the building of the structure – many donors had been residents of long-gone Eastern Prussia. Breitkreuz reports that this Kaliningrad congregation had a membership of 318 in 2004; the entire enclave had 426 registered Baptists. Church life has remained stable; in 1999 a “Bible college” now enjoying state recognition was opened. That institution relates to the Germany “Bible Seminary Bonn”, which is run by German emigres from Russia.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 19 May 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-08, 1.489 words, 9.560 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

The Big Gap in the Middle

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Is it money that keeps VSEKh afloat?

 

Commentary

M o s c o w – Is more than money keeping the „All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical-Christians” (VSEKh) afloat? Is it more than the brainchild of a single ambitious person? Will the Fellowship survive the death of its benefactor – or at least the death of his bank account? Such questions were abuzz among observers of its second national conference, held from 26 to 28 April in Moscow’s “Izmailovo Hotel”. The industrialist Alexander Semchenko (born 1948) sank hundreds of thousand of dollars into this congress and its 800 participants. By now, the 2008-founded VSEKh (BCEX) claims to represent 21 small church unions consisting of 665 local congregations.

 

Its detractors describe the Fellowship as a totally artificial creation. In an interview just prior to the Congress, Alexey Smirnov, President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB), claimed that VSEKh was attempting to split that which long ago had melted into one. “They call themselves ‘Evangelical-Christians’. For them, we Evangelical Christians-Baptists are suddenly only ‘Baptists’. We cannot serve jointly with the person (Semchenko) who started this until he repents from the splitting and destruction of fellowship he has caused. This is for us a spiritual issue and matter of principle.” The RUECB-President called the new movement “unbiblical”, for it is only an “outgrowth of resentments”.

 

Clear in any case is that VSEKh has been fishing without prior agreement for personnel in the ponds of other churches. Until 2008, Leonid Kartavenko, Simon Borodin (both from the Missions Department) and even Alexander Semchenko himself had been leaders under RUECB-auspices. Two years later, Pavel Kolesnikov (Baptist pastor in Zelenograd near Moscow) und Irina Metrofanova from the RUECB’s Catechism Department followed suit.

 

The rejoinder

The Congress itself featured passionate supporters of VSEKh. Not a few of its adherents interpret the new Fellowship as a protest against the hierarchic “nomenclature” of the Soviet era, known for making major issues out of minor ones (styles of baptism, clothing and music for ex.). Precisely this “old guard” has championed the Baptist subculture with its long, unwritten lists of rules and regulations. In contrast, VSEKh’s annual Easter concert offers an amazing mixture of party, sound and show. Leonid Kartavenko wrote: „Evangelical-Christians are more open to society, to new people and to methods of bringing the Gospel to them.”

 

In one conversation, a seasoned guest from the West attacked the fund-centered thinking of recent decades: “One was out to get donations – not to become a partner. One took all the funding one could, but otherwise let it be known that ‘we want to remain as we are’.” Nevertheless, the Unions were so concerned about pleasing Western sponsors that they “lost sight of the internal forces arising at home”. Addressing the absent traditionalists, the guest said: “As soon as the money sources here dry up, you’re off to America. No one believes any more that you really care about Russia. Who can still count on you? The West is fed up with this.“

 

The big gap in the middle

Russian Protestantism sports a big gap in the middle between „traditionalists“ and the Charismatics. The non-Charismatic VSEKh intends to place itself in that gap between traditional Protestant culture and the Charismatic world. A Western European guest admitted: “The platform for dialogue which Semchenko’s money has created is indeed an artificial one. It’s only a stage. But the concern propping it up is a very real one.”

 

Alexander Fedichkin, a RUECB-pastor in southern Moscow, cannot accept the claim of artificial creation. He reported that his own longing for an inter-denominational and open evangelistic movement has been around since the 1990s. Since Semchenko does not veer from the essentials of evangelical faith, Fedichkin described his thinking as “very biblical”. This longing, and not Semchenko’s spare cash, is the driving force behind the movement. The Baptist Anatoly Kaluzhny, Senior Pastor of a non-Union, non-Charismatic congregation of 1.500 in Kiev, said it even more clearly: “VSEKh – that’s what I am. It represents precisely that which I also want.”

 

Those camped on the wide turf between the fronts appeal for a relaxed position on the heated questions dividing Russia’s evangelicals. One observer explained: “As soon as someone speaks about the gifts of the Spirit, he is disqualified as a Pentecostal. But that’s unacceptable: In the long run, we cannot restrict ourselves to anti-Charismatic positions. A serious discussion is OK. We otherwise create aggressiveness and end up losing our young people.”

 

Though the large, once-Baptist congregation in Tushino (northwest Moscow) belongs to Sergey Ryakhovsky’s Charismatic union, it is participating in VSEKh. One person concluded: ”Congregations such as this one have not found a true home among the Charismatics – in their hearts they remain Baptists.” Is a new, left-wing of the Russian Baptist movement in the making?

 

For those in the gap, traditional Baptist struggles on the proper form of Baptism have no appeal. Baptism without immersion is par for the course in VSEKh congregations; those baptised as infants are usually accepted as members without rebaptism. Joint evangelistic efforts with the Orthodox are not ruled out.

 

Some of VSEKh’s member unions regard themselves as Calvinist, but they appear to welcome discussion. One visitor explained: “Even those who think in Calvinist terms do not define themselves by citing their adversaries. In this country, we have in the past always defined ourselves by naming our enemies. But this movement wants to describe itself as being for something. That gives us a new kind of Russian identity.”

 

A Western observer claimed it was the “old nomenclature” which has hampered inter-denominational efforts such as the Evangelical Alliance, the Lausanne movement and initiatives of Christian businessmen. Yet VSEKh is nearly without Soviet-era leaders.

 

This observer added that he had attended a Congress meeting dedicated to foreign mission at which the assembled expressed their willingness to fund 30 missionaries for Africa. “Those are fully new tunes!”, he exclaimed. „These people have a completely new level of self-confidence on mission. Things like that have a future because the West will support initiatives such as this one.”

 

The dangers

The „All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, one of Europe’s largest Baptist unions, is regarded as a citadel of traditionalism. Its membership peaked a few years ago at 135.000. It was claimed in Moscow that membership is now dropping at the rate of 3.000 per year. Quotes on RUECB-membership range from 72.000 to 80.000 – tendency apparently downward.

 

Anatoly Kaluzhny prophesied in Moscow: “The Baptist Unions are going to have a hard time. Choices abound – a congregation is now free to choose the union it likes best.” But due to the long-term presence of multiple confessions, the presence of choices is hardly new – new is only the potential size of the VSEKh-alternative.

 

VSEKh-adherents claim to register an exodus of younger, educated and „innovative“ persons from the RUECB. “Regional associations have been formed by leaders who couldn’t adjust to the administrative style of the old unions. And the old unions never did understand how to keep the innovative forces under their wing.” That person added: “If this experiment VSEKh flies, then a lot will be leaving Evangelical Christian-Baptist circles. The force of innovation supporting these groups is enormous.”

 

Yet one should not assume that VSEKh plans to manage without Western connections. Southern Baptists from Georgia made a special trip to attend the Moscow congress. Leading representatives of the “Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism”, the „International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches“ (IFFEC) and the German mission “Light in the East” were also present. Missions such as “Wycliffe”, “Radio Teos” and the Latvian “Baznica” also attended. One observer concluded regarding the appearance of Lausanne: “The came because they see this new group as having a future.”

 

One foreign participant predicted: “The ‘Free Evangelical Churches’, the ‘Evangelical Covenant Church’ as well as the ‚Christian and Missionary Alliance’ invested significant amounts of cash in Russia. That was usually routed through the Baptist Union and they all decided against forming their own denomination. But if VSEKh ever turns into a church, then the temptation to join up will be too strong to resist. They will finally have something very concrete to show for their efforts.”

 

The future

The observers all seemed to agree in Hotel Izmailovo: For now, VSEKh is only a network and not a church. At present, it is only a conglomerate without clear profile. It consists among others of Baptists, Evangelical-Christians, Charismatics, Messianic Jews, Calvinists and Arminians. The Presbyterian and Five-Point-Calvinist Valerian Ten hopes to turn VSEKh into a church, yet his theology has insufficient support. But many others are also convinced that within time the network will become a church. In the strict sense, Evangelical-Christians have already formed their own small denominations.

 

A major factor for Russia’s Protestant landscape is whether the RUECB intends to compete with VSEKh for control of the wide turf between Baptist subculture and the Charismatic world. Will RUECB congregations on the grassroots level be flexible enough? Will they be able to concentrate on the true essence of the Gospel? In Moscow it was stated: “If the RUECB chooses to uphold tradition, then it will be inviting a powerful competitor – VSEKh – into its own house.” But there indeed are signs that some youthful Baptist pastors are aiming for the gap in the middle.

 

The historical Baptist Union – the RUECB – remains the largest, unified Protestant church in today’s Russia. There indeed are indications that it can integrate middle-of-the-road forces. It is also likely that the advocates of VSEKh exaggerate their own strength as well as the weakness of the other side. VSEKh is also managed in a hierarchic fashion – unavoidable in view of the massive monetary gap between top and bottom.

 

A competitive struggle is emerging between VSEKh and the Charismatics on one hand vis a vis the RUECB and its allies on the other. VSEKh intends to put an end to the RUECB’s long-term role as the first among equals in Protestant relations with government and Orthodoxy. But this conflict sheds negative light on the public reputation of Protestants. Western churches and missions should therefore not use their words and finances to deepen this internal Baptist split. Some still cherish the hope that Alexander Semchenko and his many projects might find their way back into the RUECB’s fold. They are needed there badly, and the differences are much more of style than of content. For that to occur, heavy portions of flexibility, patience and endurance would be needed on all sides.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 11 May 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content. He intends to inform and does not claim to speak for any specific organisation in this instance. Release #11-07, 1.727 words, 11.047 keystrokes and spaces.

 

Head Start or Crisis?

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The Russian Longing for the Christian State

 

M o s c o w – Russia is „even now the best part of Europe and we offer it the most positive future”. The well-known Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Chairman of the Orthodox “Synod Office for Mutual Relations between Church and Society”, stated this in early April on television network “Rossiya I”’s programme “Duell”. Chaplin is convinced that the West, including the USA, no longer qualifiies as Christian. The West indeed represents the most godless system of all. Both commujnsm and Bolshevism were brought down by their godlessness; “capitalism will fare no better”. Only Russia can become that which the West once was.

 

At a Moscow conference of the „Christian Responsibility for the Earthly Fatherland” on 8 April, Chaplin added that the Christian nation of Russia is obtaining a “unique moral mission” which reveals itself in a “call to national modesty, self-restraint and the rejection of consumption”. Russia already has a head start on the Western nations: Already a third of the Russian populace are “practicing (Orthodox) Christians”; the majority is driven by lofty and supernatural ideals. Fruits of the new Christian upbringing are already manifest: A significant majority “reject money and selfish interests” as their personal goals.

 

Chaplin is convinced that the past vision of a Christian Russia is returning: “It is obvious today that the nation and church are one.” “The Russian people will again become a Christian nation, a Holy (Kievan) Rus, even if this does not please everybody.” Another speaker at this Moscow conference spoke of the possibility of a “theocentric” society.

 

This „theocentric“ orientation can also be sensed in socially-open Protestant circles (Charismatics and some Baptists for ex.), who see in the struggle for “traditional Christian values” a common cause for cooperation with the Orthodox. The Orthodox and these Protestants also sympathise with something akin to “civil religion” – the cooperation of Christians, Jews and Muslims in the defense of proven moral values.

 

Yet the views of Protestants and conservative Orthodox on the interpretation of the Russian past and present are far apart. In a lecture at a Moscow gymnasium on 11 April, Yuri Sipko, ex-President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, spoke, not of a moral superiority, but instead of a deep crisis in Russian society.

 

The Soviet past has not been sufficiently processed, Sipko stated. “We therefore have no clear understanding of who we really are.” In contrast to Chaplin, this Baptist described Russian society as “immature”. The country’s ethnic groupings have “no sense of consolidation, no mutual values and objectives”. The ethnic nations have “no common understanding – we are economically and socially stratified.”

 

He also described the role of the country’s majority church as highly problematic: “Christianity’s tragedy is evident in the fact that it has permitted untruth to reign in our society.” This results in the general impression “that we are only playing Christianity and church”. This leads to mistrust and cynicism among our children. Yet a renewal can only occur “once we admit to ourselves that we are sick”.

 

Alexander Negrov, Rector of the Protestant “St. Petersburg Christian University”, responded to Chaplin’s statements: “I of course agree that without real faith in Christ there is no hope of a bright future either for the individual or the nation.” But he rejected Chaplin’s projection that Moscow might again become the “Third Rome” (after Rome and Constantinople). “I do not share Father Chaplin’s optimism about Russian becoming the best part of Europe - one can only claim that for reasons of propaganda.”

 

The conference on 8 April was also attended by three Christian-Democratic politicians from the Netherlands. Orthodox, as well as some Charismatic forces and the Evangelical-Christian Bishop Alexander Semchenko, seek contact with Christian-Democratic circles in Western Europe. The Moscow barrister Katya Smyslova, one of this conference’s primary organisers, transferred her membership from the Baptist to the Orthodox church in early 2010.

 

Additional, unrelated information

The Charismatic Igor Tumash, a member of Minsk/Belarus’ large “New Life” congregation, miraculously survived the bombing of the subway station “Oktyabrskaja” on 11 April. That attack injured many and cost the lives of 13 persons. He reported: “I was only five metres away from the detonation and felt the entire blast. I was covered with blood, but I later discovered that it was only the blood of others.” His congregation is incidentally also concerned about Christian-Democratic policies – Tumash was enroute to a church meeting entitled “We are saving the nation.” Sergey Lukanin, the barrister of this congregation (which meets in a massive, renovated cattle barn), had been on that subway platform along with his family only 15 minutes prior to the explosion.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 18 April 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-06, 809 words, 5.182 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

The EAU is Up-and-Coming

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A major convention is planned for this year

 

M o s c o w – The „Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“ (EAF) in the area of the former Soviet Union is up-and-coming. It is presently organising a major convention scheduled to take place in Kiev on 28 and 29 October 2011. This was made official during a press conference at the Moscow seminary of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” on 25 March.

 

According to Alexander Firisiuk from the Belarusian Union in Minsk, the EAF was formed at the USSR’s demise “in order to preserve our dialogue and unity of Spirit. We indeed have remained one family in Christ.” The EAF is also the entity which reminds one most readily of the giant, Soviet-era All-Union Council of Baptists. Vyacheslav Nesteruk, President of the Ukrainian Union, added: “Conversing with one another is a very pleasant matter. When I travel to Moscow and meet the brethren, I feel as if I have returned home.”

 

During the press gathering, the Federation’s spokespersons stressed their positive relations with the Prague-based “European Baptist Federation” (EBF) – most ex-Soviet unions belong to both federations. But it was added that the EAF regards itself to be more conservative. RUECB-President Alexey Smirnow noted: “It is very important that we demonstrate our unity in Christ to the world. Liberalism attacks not only the mind, it also divides the world into factions and subjects people to all kinds of convictions and opinions.”

 

One speaks English in the EBF, but Russian remains the EAF’s lingua franca. The unions of 15 countries now form the EAF – the primary unions of the three Baltic states and Georgia are no longer members. But these countries also possess groups of Russian-speaking Baptists who count themselves a part of the EAF. The Baltic states for ex. have a significant number of Ukrainian Baptist residents. In contrast to the EBF, the EAF, which is headed by the Muscovite Yuri Apatov, has no legal status.

 

It was actually a cross-border work among youth led by parlamentarian Pavel Unguryan (Kiev) and Pastor Yevgeny Bakhmutsky (Moscow) which revived the EAF from its slumber. In August 2008, an impressive youth conference with nearly 3.000 participants from 19 countries was held near Odessa. Each year in February, a working conference for youth leaders takes place near Moscow under EAF auspices. In August 2009, immediately after the Amsterdam conference commemorating the 400th anniversary of the European Baptist movement, a similar, Russian-language conference was held in Kiev with 1.700 adults in attendance.

 

This year’s conference in October is to be held under the motto of Philippians 3,13: „Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead.” One leading speaker is to be John MacArthur from Sun Valley/California – he has been active in the countries of the former USSR for more than 20 years and is well-known in Eastern Europe. “The Master’s Academy International“, which he heads, now has branches for ex. in Samara/Volga and in Irpin near Kiev (the Baptist “Irpin Biblical Seminary”).

 

The EAF’s return to the scene is also supported by the fact that Russia’s inter-confessional bodies have lost their momentum. The EAF offers Baptist unions once again the opportunity to form coalitions beyond the boundaries of their own union. Russian Orthodoxy and the state are already pushing the significance of Kievan Rus, the medieval union of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

 

Additional Developments

On 23 March, Moscow’s venerable „First Baptist Church“ celebrated the graduation of one of the most-experienced classes in the history of European evangelicalism. Sixteen of the RUECB’s superintendents (called “starshy presbyter” in Russian) received a Masters degree from “Moscow Theological Seminary”. Some of these clergymen had no previous academic degree in theology. Over the past three years they had prepared themselves for their final exams mainly through studies by extension. In conjunction with the Union Council, which meets twice annually, they had usually come a week earlier to Moscow in order to attend lectures on campus. Primary guest speaker at this graduation was the Moldovan pastor and politician Valeriu Ghiletchi (Chisinau), the EBF’s current President.

 

Alexey Smirnov has now been President of the RUECB for exactly one year. That was one reason why the Union Council, which lasted until 25 March, was concerned more than ever with numbers. Yevgeny Bakhmutsky, the Union’s Senior Vice President, explained: “We want to obtain a true picture of developments within our brotherhood. We want to discover how things really look among us and where we are headed.” He is concerned above all with the recruitment and preparation of further pastors for congregational work.

 

The webpages of the RUECB’s Missions Department report on two expeditions taking place during February and March. Missionary expeditions even during the coldest times of the year have proven their worth – they have been taking place for a decade. The Russian East then has more ice (better roadways) and fewer flies than in the summer. Both expeditions aimed to visit as many prisons and penal colonies as possible; one travelled primarily in the southwest (for ex. Tambov, Voronesh, Tula and Belgorod), the other in the central Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk, Khakassia and Tuva. The western expedition terminated on 24 March after having visited 21 colonies and 3 rehab centres as well as 15 churches. Since many inmates were or are addicts, not only spiritual literature was distributed. Information on evangelical rehab centres which can be looked up following release from prison was also supplied. The number of listeners at meetings ranged from four to 250; the youngest listeners in special schools were only 10 years old. Employees and administration were frequently also present. The testimonies of missionaries who themselves were once addicted or incarcerated has proven to be particularly effective.

 

The RUECB, Russia´s largest unified Protestant church, represents nearly 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Moscow, 05 April 2011

 

A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #11-5, 959 words, 6.104 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

God Will be With Us

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Decisions reached at the ELCER’s Moscow synod

 

M o s c o w – Rev. Dietrich Brauer was inaugurated as Bishop of the „Evangelical-Lutheran Church in European Russia” (ELCER) in Moscow’s St. Peter-and-Paul- Cathedral on 12 March. At the ELCER’s synod in nearby Pushkino, Brauer had been elected unanimously to serve as the new ELCER Bishop. Superintendent (Propst) Vladimir Provorov of Ulyanovsk/Volga was appointed his deputy. The ELCER is one of the seven regional churches forming the St. Petersburg-based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia” (ELCROS). Provorov is also President of the ELCROS synod. The church’s Archbishop is August Kruse of St. Petersburg.

 

Brauer’s election was a cause for elation and gratitude. At 28 years of age, he is undoubtedly one of Europe’s youngest and most energetic Protestant bishops. Siegfried Springer (born 1930) had served in this position from 1992 to 2007. He was succeeded by another German citizen, Edmund Ratz (born 1933), who served simultaneously as ELCROS-Archbishop until 2010. Brauer began his first term as the Moscow-based Interim Bishop in early Summer 2010. He had served with great success as Pastor in the Gusev/Gumbinnen region in the once-German enclave of Kaliningrad/Königsberg from 2005 to 2010. The service of his spouse, Tatiana Petrenko, who is also ordained, had contributed to the fruits of their efforts in Gusev. (Both of them are from the former USSR.)

 

Yet the new Bishop has had to overcome major difficulties during his first months in Moscow. On 19 August 2010, an unmarried, 26-year-old member of the congregation, Andrey Pautov, took his own life. Pautov, who was incorrectly labelled a pastor by Russian media, had expended considerable effort in recent years to preserve the historic German church structure in Gnadentau (Volgograd region).

 

Accused of personal immorality, Dimitry Lotov (born 1965) and Dietrich von Bülow-Sternbeck (born 1966) were removed from office shortly thereafter. Lotov, known for his high-church, strongly-sacramentalist convictions, had served as pastor of the Russian-speaking congregation in Peter-and-Paul since 1997. Bülow-Sternbeck had served in the same capacity for the German-speaking congregation since Autumn 2009.

 

The synod in Pushkino now confirmed the cancellation of all ordination rights for both men. Now serving in a pastoral capacity for the two congregations at Peter-and-Paul is Andrey Bobylev. Yet Lotov continues to refuse acceptance of the Bishop’s and synod’s verdicts. Due to complaints from congregations, the synod also terminated ELCER’s long-time administrative head, Alexander Zerr.

 

A pastor from the Volga region stated privately at the recent synod: “I think we as a church are going through a period of spiritual testing and maturation. I’m optimistic about the future. God will be with us!”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 29 March 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-03, 430 words, 2.854 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

Becoming a Voice for National Unity

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Moscow’s “National Prayer Breakfast” has a new format

 

M o s c o w -- On 15 March, approximately 200 religious and secular leaders gathered in Moscow’s exclusive “President-Hotel” for the 11th Russian National Prayer Breakfast since its inception in 1995. This year’s gathering, which was entitled “Russia – a Multi-National and Multi-Cultural Country”, was marked by Nikolay Svanidze’s impassioned call for Russian society to address the crying social and economic needs of its young. Svanidze, a prominent TV journalist and head of the state-run “Commission of the Public Chambre for Multi-National Relations and Freedom of Conscience”, decried the aggressive, xenophobic nationalism increasingly prominent among the nation’s young. Millions of youth are suffering from “poverty, crudity, violence and unjust courts and are seeking a release for their aggressive emotions”. He described the state’s propaganda for the young as promoting xenophobia and being “majestically-superfluous and nationalistic in character".

 

Svanidze noted that Russia’s “patriotic” societies and media have described the earthquakes in Japan as just “punishment for encroaching upon our rights to the Kuril Islands” just off the Japanese coast. This is an expression of our total lack of pity for the needy of Japan and elsewhere. He branded this inhumane reaction “a result of our moral isolationism, a post-imperial syndrome”. He consequently appealed for a “national programme teaching respect for one another, something almost completely absent from our country”. “Social escalator” programmes could instil in the young a sense of hope for the future. Russians too must learn that all of us are first-of-all simply human beings without ethnic or confessional boundaries.

 

Unity was the order of the day. Sergey Melnikov, Head Secretary of the “Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the President of the Russian Federation”, cited the terrorist attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on 24 January which killed 37 and injured 180. He remarked that thanks to blood donations, “the blood in the veins of the survivors was merged with the blood of those from differing faiths”. This symbolises Russia’s existence as a united and single organism. Akhmad Garifullin, a deputy of Moscow’s head mufti, noted that the USSR’s victory over fascism was only possible because the nation acted as one organism irrespective of individual confession. Today‘s challenges demand a similar amount of unity: “Prayer is the weapon of the believers. We stand together in the struggle against terror.”

 

As a sidelight, Alexander Torshin, First Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation (Upper House), explained the traditional Russian aversion to the term “tolerance”. Along with the positive connotations of friendship and mutual respect, it is to the Russian mind also associated with undue acceptance of “injustice, crudity and lack of culture”. Tolerance can mean, in English terms, that “anything goes”.

 

The event’s new format

“We Baptists never got to put in a word of our own!” one Baptist worker complained following the event. The Russian Prayer Breakfast has traditionally been a forum largely for the self-presentation of Protestant churches and organisations. So this year’s format, in which the lectures and greetings were limited to politicians as well as one Catholic, Muslim and Jewish representative, was a significant remake. Protestant leaders such as the Charismatic Sergey Ryakhovsky and the Pentecostal Eduard Grabovenko remained silent; the powerful businessman, bishop and ex-Baptist Alexander Semchenko did not even attend. The two Protestants who spoke were Pavel Sautov at the opening and his young deputy, Vyacheslav Starikov, at the close. Both are from the small “Russian Association of Independent Evangelical Churches”. Nearly a year ago, Sautov replaced the Baptist Vitaly Vlasenko as Chairman of the Board for the "National Prayer Breakfast Fund”. Vlasenko is presently the Prayer Breakfast’s deputy head.

 

Thanks to its brand-new format, this smaller and briefer Prayer Breakfast was not without hiccups. In a vast departure from Russian tradition, the audience usually did not rise from their tables for prayer. The prayers from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim speakers seemed to be more read than prayed.

 

Alexander Torshin, a veteran participant at Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast, explained in his short speech the intended future direction of the Russian movement. In agreement with the North American model, the Russian event is intended to become more of a presentation from and for politicians – not clergy. That is something quite different from the past Protestant event attended by a few politicians. Torshin reported that he was impressed by President Barack Obama’s speech at the Washington Prayer Breakfast on 3 February. Leaving politics completely aside, the US-President had spoken about his own personal pilgrimage of faith.

 

Torshin regards Russian politicians publically testifying of their personal faith to be a distant dream, but he does believe that prayer gatherings will begin to take place within the Russian Duma and Parliament in the coming months. (See his Russian-language website: “www.torshin.ru”.) In his speech on 15 March, he described the prayers and gatherings of small groups of believing politicians as a unifying force, as “soft diplomacy promoting the resolution of conflicts” in a highly-contentious society. A friend of Protestants, Torshin had in 2008 invited Western farmers and tradespeople to return and resettle a part of the vast Russian plains.

 

Criticism of the Breakfast’s new format centers on the fear that the event may not remain explicitly Christian. Evgeny Bakhmutsky, Senior Vice-President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, stated in an interview that he missed Christ-centered praying among the Protestant speakers.

 

For the first time in years, not a single Orthodox cleric was visible at the event. The Moscow Patriarchate explains increasingly that the Prayer Breakfast’s format does not sync with Orthodox convictions. In the Orthodox tradition, public prayers need to be prayed by Orthodox clergy, and joint prayer with non-Orthodox Christians is now discouraged. Consequently, the Orthodox are championing their own inter-confessional forum. Its first public sessions may take place as early as Fall 2011.

 

Yet Russia’s National Prayer Breakfast movement is far from dead. A similar Breakfast was held in St. Petersburg on 22 March; another will take place in Krasnoyarsk/Siberia in April. Next year’s Moscow event is scheduled for 13 March.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 21 March 2011

 

This release is informational in character and expresses only the views and assess­ments of its author. Release #11-02, 995, 6.558 keystrokes and spaces.

 

 

"Our Hands are Tied“

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Conditions for youth among the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals

 

Commentary

 

M o s c o w – The government is still the adversary for the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals of the former Soviet Union – but other governments are now involved. Thanks to the 30-year-old emigration wave, most of the government adversaries are now located in Germany and in the USA’s Pacific Northwest. Russia still has roughly 25.000 unregistered, adult Baptists – about 16% of the number present in the USSR in 1966. A good 100.000 Slavic Baptists and Pentecostals are now gathered in the region of Portland/Oregon; a similar number has gravitated towards Sacramento/California. Consequently, unregistered Baptists now call themselves „International Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“.

 

A report out of Portland, which was published by Moscow’s “Portal-Credo” press service on 28 February, describes in harrowing terms the emotional plight of immigrant Russian and Ukrainian parents who now need to come to terms with offspring in a completely different cultural context. This report claims that half to two-thirds of their high schoolers are now leading a double life. Long stints are needed in school bathrooms before and after class to undertake the changes necessary to meet the approval of two very different surroundings.

 

But drugs, prostitution and violent crime are also topics. David Klassen, the pastor of a Slavic congregation in Gresham/Oregon, stated: “Many from the older generation had spent time in Soviet prisons for their faith. But now their children qualify as bandits and are imprisoned for that reason. This of course breaks their parents’ hearts.”

 

The longing for material prosperity lured these people abroad. But primary was also the desire to retain one’s Soviet-inspired faith in new surroundings fully free of atheistic and Orthodox repression. Yet all parties had apparently not been consulted – the offspring for ex. The West’s cultural steamroller now quickly and deftly detaches these children from their parents. One succinct sentence states: “Emigration has increased the gap between the generations.”

 

Having the fortified and united congregation turn back surrounding forces appears much less effective in the North American context. Untrained lay pastors from back home are no match for the challenges of a new society. Yet it would be a disgrace for these mentally-needy families to seek the aid of secular, state-controlled social services. The father and pastor – the patriarchs – are called to take care of affairs. These new arrivals head for construction sites and car repair garages in their search for quick cash; their women are called to take care of the flock of children. There is no space for extensive cultural training.

 

A suffering mother from the Carpathian region of Ukraine complained that her children threatened her with the police when she spoke of possible corporal punishment. In America, children are able to dictate the terms to their parents. A Russian-speaking school social worker claimed: “Some parents don’t even ask their children about the homework out of fear that the state might take away their children.”

 

The court proceedings in Salem

That fear is not groundless. During the second half of 2009, the world was able to witness via Internet (for ex. www.examiner.com) court proceedings in Salem/Oregon which ended with the parents of seven children being sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Following floggings, the three oldest children of Oleksandr and Lyudmila Kozlov had reported affairs to the police. A gut-wrenching spectacle resulted by which the six minors testified against their parents in court. (The seventh child was then only several months old.) One heading in the local media read: “Parents on Trial Use Bible to Justify Child Abuse.” Four near-by immigrant congregations supplied up to 100 protesters to picket the courthouse.

 

Sentences were heightened by the parent’s unwillingness to recognise the apparent folly of their ways. Bible-toting Lyudmila Kozlova compared herself to the Prophet Daniel surrounded by lions and human enemies. The couple refused to respect court etiquette and judge-ordered instructions. Without even the slightest of evidence, the father accused state officials of drugging his children prior to testimony and using Photoshop to digitally worsen the photos of the flogging wounds. A deacon from the couple’s congregation, “First Slavic Church”, assured that he would have refused to report to the police if he personally had discovered any photos of this kind - even if this would have meant his imprisonment.

 

Transatlantic support arrived – also from Russia. A letter on the “International Council’s” website (http://iucecb.com) from 26 August 2009 addressed to US-President Barack Obama vouched for the couple’s complete innocence. This mostly Russian-language site contains an increasing number of protests against measures taken by Western governments against their own members. It also appeals for the rights of those parents campaigning for home-schooling in Germany (where it is still illegal). A letter of 19 February 2011 addressed to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding seven parents jailed for short terms states: “We are very concerned about the persecution of our brothers and sisters in the faith . . . in Salzkotten. They are being persecuted because they desire to bring up their children in the Christian faith and in obedience to God’s word. They have not permitted their children to participate in class instruction on sex and in godless theatre plays.”

 

Conclusion

Events in Salem 2009 and elsewhere have seriously compromised suffering at the hands of Soviet authorities as portrayed by the non-registered. Had these people truly been persecuted for their faith, or had they on occasion confused their own (sub)cultural values with the Christian faith? That would appear to be the case in the USA – and was the situation in the by-gone USSR always entirely different from the present one? Has this mix-up only come into being since 1990?

 

The saga has many tragic elements. Parents have done what they regarded as the best for their children – yet the result was imprisonment. (Though I cannot claim that this was the case in Salem.) Non-registered Baptists and Pentecostals believe they have been motivated by love – yet those on the other side have sometimes interpreted that as contempt. A US-missionary in Russia even claims that relations of the non-registered to other evangelicals are governed “by hate”. Obviously, much distance can accrue between our intentions and their results. „Our hands are tied!“ the suffering mother from the Carpathian mountains moaned. Yet that sentence is pregnant with multiple interpretations. One side can respond with sadness, the other with joy and relief.

 

These developments are not new – reports circulated early in the 1990s about tensions between the differing generations of recent Slavic immigrants in Pennsylvania. But there are also hopeful signs on the horizon. Olga Parker, a therapist for “Lutheran Community Services Northwest”, noted that flexibility could be the key to greater success. “Russian-speaking parents need to understand that rapport with children is much more important than strictness and precision.”

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 16 March 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance

 

A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-01, 1.114 words, 7.214 keystrokes and spaces.

 

A note from Baptist offices:

Ruvim Voloshin, Missions Director for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, has taken a leave of absence which will last not less than one year. Interim Missions Director is Mikhail Zhdan. Voloshin will continue to serve as a pastor in Moscow´s “Second Baptist Church”.

 

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