During my recent trip to Russia March 12-26, there was a front page article in The Moscow Times about religious freedom. “Russia Calls for National Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses” explained that
The Russian Justice Ministry has formally petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating within Russia.
Officials are calling for the religious group to be disbanded for being an “extremist organization.”
The move would see Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses unable to legally meet or distribute literature.
After reading the article, I had a discussion with the missionary I was working with. John and I both agreed that this was not necessarily a bad thing because the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not proclaim the true gospel. However, we were concerned that if this group was outlawed, who might become the next target for persecution.
Yesterday, The Moscow Times reported, “Russia Outlaws Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The Russian Supreme Court formally banned Jehovah’s Witnesses on Thursday, labeling the group an extremist organization. The religious group in Russia will now be forced to dissolve.
The decision equates Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and makes it illegal for congregations to meet or distribute literature.
The court refused the group’s earlier appeals to recognize the organization as victims of political repression, and declined to hear testimony from witnesses who claimed that the Russian police have falsified evidence against regional religious groups.
In an article in Christianity Today, “Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as Extremists,” the author states,
To human rights and religious freedom advocates around the world, the move comes as a major blow. While ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin have put ongoing scrutiny on all non-Orthodox faiths, this case represents the first time the country has banned a registered religious group.
“If Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, then that means later ‘on the block’ will come other religious movements—for example, Protestant churches,” law professor Anatoly Pchelintcev told Portal-Credo, an Orthodox news site. “For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armageddon has arrived, and the faithful of other religions await the apocalypse.”
Still, some Russian evangelicals see the repression of Witnesses as reason to worry, according to William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance. Some have brought up German pastor Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came For” poem and asked, “How soon will it hit us if we don’t protest?”
Is this the first domino to fall? Which ones are next in line? What impact will this have on evangelical churches? What impact will it have on evangelical missionaries?
Hmmm. Much to pray about.
To be continued …