Christian Persecution Jan/Feb 2017

RUSSIA—Christians in Russia now must choose between obeying the law and obeying God because of a new set of Stalinesque “anti-terrorism” laws passed recently that severely restrict evangelism and set the stage for a mass persecution of Russian believers in Christ.

The amendments—considered the country’s most repressive since the collapse of the Soviet Union—prohibit all missionary activity, even in private homes and online. Sergei Ryakhovsky, leader of Protestant Churches of Russia, called the law “the most draconian anti-religion bill to be proposed in Russia since Nikita Khrushchev promised to eliminate Christianity in the Soviet Union.”

ChristianityToday.com reported that a group of lawyers has begun preparing an appeal to Russia’s Constitutional Court, claiming the new law contradicts religious rights guaranteed in the guidelines of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which Russia is a participating country.

The Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ), a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect religious rights in Russia, also has begun reviewing the law in hopes of ensuring the religious liberties of Christians and foreign missionaries there, the Christian Post reported.

The set of amendments, called the “Yarovaya package,” forbids parents to teach their children about the Lord in their homes, allows government surveillance of all online activity, prohibits believers from inviting friends to church, and outlaws all house churches. Individual violators may be fined up to $780, organizations up to $15,000, and foreign violators deported.

The law appears to target Russian Protestant minorities, defining missionary activity as “religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members,” according to ChristianityToday.com. Such a definition excludes the Russian Orthodox Church since it remains an integral aspect of Russian nationalism.

“The Russian Orthodox Church is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism stirred up by Vladimir Putin. Everything that undermines that action is a real threat, whether that’s evangelical Protestant missionaries or anything else,” foreign affairs expert David Aikman told Christianity Today.

The new amendments set the stage for a mass persecution of Russian evangelical believers. In a letter to Putin, Ryakhovsky wrote, “[The law] creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions. Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.”

Since the legislation went into effect on July 20, many have been arrested for sharing their faith. Russian officials charged seven Christians within the first month alone, The Washington Post reported. One of the seven included a Baptist preacher from the United States who was accused of holding church services in his home and promoting the meetings on public bulletin boards, the Post said.

Mission Eurasia President Sergey Rakhuba encouraged Russian believers to continue sharing their faith despite the threat of government persecution: “Believers…need to make a very important choice: whether to obey God or these new Russian ‘laws.’” He told Christianity Today, “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

Compiled from news reports

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