Russia’s New Anti-Terror ‘Yarovaya’ Law has Evangelical Christians Up in Arms

A new anti-terror bill that was signed into law in July 2016 by Russian President Vladimir Putin is sparking concerns and fears among Evangelical Christians over its impact on missionary work.

The anti-terrorist package of bills termed the ‘Yarovaya Law’ (under the last name of one of its creators—Irina Yarovaya) was drafted in April 2016 by a group of lower house lawmakers, who described it as a response to the bombing of an A-231 jet liner in Egypt in October 2015 and the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of that year.

The law requires missionaries to have permits through a registered religious group, makes house churches illegal, and limits religious activity to registered church buildings (no missionary activity in non-religious settings), among other restrictions.

Members of a religious group would also potentially be barred from e-mailing invitations to people interested in services, according to Christianity Today, a Christian web-based news service.

According to Fox News, the following missionaries have faced ‘persecution’ since the new law came into effect –

  • Sergei Zhuravlyov, a Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ representative, was arrested for preaching in St. Petersburg.
  • Ebenezer Tuah of Ghana, the leader of the Christ Embassy church, was arrested and fined 50,000 rubles for conducting baptisms at a sanatorium in the city of Tver.
  • Jim Mulcahy, a 72-year-old American pastor who is the Eastern European coordinator for the U.S.-based Metropolitan Community Church, was arrested and deported under the prohibition of missionary activities at non-religious sites.
  • Christian pastor Donald Ossewaarde, a 55-year-old American and Independent Baptist was charged after he held religious services in his home and posted advertisements for the service on bulletin boards in nearby housing blocks.

New Law Favors Russian Orthodox Church & Roman Catholics, Allege Protestants

Since the breakup of the communist Soviet Union 25 years ago, Russia’s main religious faiths have flourished, with the largest denomination, the Russian Orthodox Church, now awash in money and believers. A law passed in 1997 officially named Orthodox Christianity, along with Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, as the country’s four “traditional” faiths, as per this report.

After Russian Orthodox Church, Muslims make up the second-largest religious group in Russia. Other major Christian denominations like the Roman Catholic Church have also been allowed to operate openly and largely without restrictions, though the Vatican and Russian Orthodox leaders have clashed in the past over ownership of church property dating back to the Bolshevik Revolution.

But denominations with a smaller presence in Russia — Protestants or Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example — have long been viewed with hostility from state officials and religious authorities, and many have long complained the 1997 law set up registration and administrative procedures that were onerous and expensive to comply with.

Russia’s Protestant churches are concerned but not panicked, reports independent journalist and Russian Evangelical Alliance consultant William Yoder. He wrote:

“Russian evangelicals have many decades of experience in dealing with a non-sympathetic state. There have also been frequent run-ins with the state since the mid-1990s.

Konstantin Bendas, deputy head bishop of the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), notes that over a thousand Pentecostal house groups are meeting alone in Moscow. Yet, sadly, a complex legislation of repression is now in place and could be put into practice if ever the need arises. That “need” would arise as a result of greatly-heightened East-West tensions—tensions which are also very much contingent upon Western behaviour. Western citizens can do something about this.”

Another Protestant propaganda site also claimed that ‘Roman Catholicism is on a fast tract to reemergence and is attempting to prohibit evangelism, especially that conducted by Protestants’ in context of the new Russian law.

The concerted way in which this new law and its ramifications are being discussed on Christian sites across the internet shows the formidable missionary machinery at work, and how evangelicals suffer from a ‘Persecution complex’ –  Christian fundamentalists feel ‘persecuted’ or ‘oppressed’ whenever they find someone that doesn’t share their particular worldview or religious beliefs.

Russian national interest

It is safe to conclude that Russia has passed this latest legislation partly to keep evangelical Protestant activity in check, which it sees as inimical to its larger national interests. With rising Russia-US tensions over the Syria war and other issues, Russian fears that the American deep state might use the Protestant missionary machinery, which has its global headquarters in USA’s Bible Belt, to destabilize Russia are well founded.

Despite public exhortations and grandstanding by American leaders in favor of secularism and ‘religious freedom’, it is an open secret that the roots of USA are White AngloSaxon Protestant (WASP) and this social group still wields immense influence on that nation. Interestingly, a recent poll showed that over three quarters of Americans want the next President (Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) to address ‘Christian persecution’ across the world.

Like Russia, China too is wary of evangelical Christian missionaries. In a speech in April this year, China’s president Xi Jinping called on leaders to take the initiative in reasserting Communist Party of China (CPC) control over religion. According to Xi, uniting all Christian believers under CPC leadership is necessary to preserve internal harmony while warding off hostile foreign forces that may use religion to destabilize the regime.

One wonders why self-appointed messiahs of secularism like CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, who breast-beat if any Hindu organization attempts ‘Ghar-wapsi’, stay quiet when communist China acts against evangelical Christians? Do they place ideology (Communism) over national interests?

With Russia & China taking such steps to safeguard their national interests and traditional culture, Bharat too should consider enforcing or enacting legislation to prevent abuse of religious freedom by evangelical missionaries who are spreading hate and falsehoods against indigenous Dharmic paths and luring people to convert through unethical means cloaked in the garb of social justice.