Russia’s new anti-terrorism laws, which restrict Christians from evangelizing outside of their churches, went into effect.
The “Yarovaya package” requires missionaries to have permits, makes house churches illegal, and limits religious activity to registered church buildings, among other restrictions. Individuals who disobey could be fined up to $780, while organizations could be fined more than $15,000.
Forum 18 offers an analysis of the laws and their ramifications for Protestants and other non-Orthodox believers. World Watch Monitor compiled the worried reactions of Russian evangelical leaders and concerned observers.
The new laws will “create conditions for the repression of all Christians,” wrote Russia’s Baptist Council of Churches in an open letter. “Any person who mentions their religious view or reflections out loud or puts them in writing, without the relevant documents, could be accused of ‘illegal missionary activity.’”
Requiring a permit to evangelize is “not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions,” read another open letter signed by Protestant Churches of Russia leader Sergei Ryakhovsky among other signatories. The law is “the most draconian anti-religion bill to be proposed in Russia since Nikita Khrushchev promised to eliminate Christianity in the Soviet Union.”
The Yarovaya laws also earned censure from those outside Russia. The European Evangelical Alliance stated it was “extremely concerned” about how the law “greatly restricts religious freedom, and urged Christians to “pray that this new law unites Christians in new ways” and “pray that this time of trial will be used by the Lord to strengthen and grow his church.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it “strongly condemns” the measures, which commission chair Thomas J. Reese said would “make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people.”
More than three-quarters of Americans want the next US president to “be committed to addressing the persecution that some Christians face around the world,” according to a poll released this week by Open Doors.
However, how Russia’s new laws will be applied is “a very huge question mark,” Slavic Gospel Association communications manager Joel Griffith told Mission Network News. “Pray that the law will not be enforced or interpreted as strictly as it is written.”
If strictly enforced, the laws could “stop missionary activity to anybody but representatives, registered organizations, and groups,” he said. “It would require every missionary to have documents with specific information proving connections to a registered religious group.”
While the new laws leave the door for Russian evangelism still open, it’s “only slightly ajar” as Russian evangelical churches will soon be “behind a new ‘Iron Curtain,’” stated Mission Eurasia president Sergey Rakhuba in the ministry’s official reaction.