Russian Religious Freedoms Have Been Attacked

So, I came across an article from a friend about Russia.  It
completely threw me for a loop. I knew Russia was not the easiest
country to share the love of Christ in.  However, it was a far cry from
where the country was when I was a child. Soviet-era Russia was no place
to be a missionary in. Yet people risked their lives preaching the Good
News.

So when I read this article, I was floored.  I
had heard no mumblings leading up to this.  Yet the reaches of this law
are profound and can bring back the shadows of Communist Russia.

So what was done?

Signed
into law at the beginning of this month, new anti-terrorism laws will
go into effect at the end of this month.  Anti-terrorism laws… so
what?  Well, buried in these anti-terrorism laws (which in themselves
are incredibly egregious) are new laws about religious freedoms. The
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned
the law in a news release Friday, calling it a “guise”
that authorizes “sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties.”  These
laws seem to apply to everyone, except the Russian Orthodox Church,
which is politically aligned with the government.  Protestants,
evangelicals, and all non-Christian religions are facing severe
persecution in the days to come. 

For missionaries,
they can be fined up to $15,000 for doing their work – preaching,
handing out materials, praying – even if it is in a private residence.
And it’s not just the missionaries.

No one is allowed
to proselytize.  In no way can you invite a friend to church, hand them
some information, share a Bible, tell them about your faith, pray for
them, etc.. It is now illegal to do so and could cost you $780. It won’t
just cost you either.  The church you belong to will also be held
accountable for your actions and can be fined up to $15,000.

Should
you decide you want to do this legally, you must file for a permit.  If
that permit is granted, you may only do these activities in a religious
institution that has been registered with the government. So even with a
permit, you can barely do squat.

And just in case you
thought you would bypass the government by doing things online, …
nope.  There are laws making it illegal to even send an email invite to
your friend.  We are talking complete shut down.

But we aren’t done.

You
also cannot congregate in your house. Any religious group that does not
own their property will be forcibly disbanded. So, in essence, all
non-registered churches will now be illegal.

Christianity Today posted this story from a Pentecostal Russian:

Last month, “the local police officer came to a home where a group of
Pentecostals meet each Sunday,” Konstantin Bendas, deputy bishop of the
Pentecostal Union, told Forum 18. “With a contented expression he told
them: ‘Now they’re adopting the law I’ll drive you all out of here.’ I
reckon we should now fear such zealous enforcement.”

Well
at least families can teach their children, you may say.  The answer
is, not really.  If there are any unbelievers in the house, there can be
no discussion of faith, no prayers, nothing. In fact, there is even
some wiggle room to prosecute someone who answers a religious question
asked by another person.

Does this throw you back to
the USSR?  Up until the fall of the USSR, laws outlawing religious
activity outside of Sunday services in registered
churches and banning parents from teaching faith to their kids were
still on the books.

This law even extends past citizens
of Russia. Any foreigner engaging in these now-illegal activities faces
fines and deportation.

And these laws go even
further. No Christian radio, no Christian TV stations, no brochures, no
tracts, … nothing is allowed. If you aren’t physically IN the registered church, you can’t say, write or read a word about your faith.

Can
the government really monitor all of this, you ask?  Well, considering
it is Russia, yes.  Take into account that the actual terrorism part of
these laws included wide surveillance of online activity with the
permission to decrypt any coding, that their anti-extremism laws allow
for “Extremism” charges to include the peaceful promotion of “the
superiority of one’s own religion,” and that the FSB is now allowed to
look into any and all information gathered from cell phones, internet,
etc…, I would say it is a definite given. After all, Putin is former
KGB, and the KGB was known for its obsessive monitoring of people. So,
allowing for the return of KGB-style monitoring is not a big step for
the man.

Appeals are being made, on behalf of religious minorities.  It remains to be seen if they will even be heard.  Their letters to Putin were largely ignored.  It also remains to be seen how much enforcement will be done.  The laws are vague enough to allow for harsh enforcement. And as we saw in the above story, it seems that many are ready to take it to the furthest extent. 

Starting July 20th, Christians cannot
pray, preach, evangelize, hand out information, or even speak of God
outside of a registered church.  They face imprisonment, fines, and
deportation should they violate these new laws.  As the world watches,
Christians need to be on their knees for this country. 

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