Near the end of June Christian media outlets, and even a few secular ones, began buzzing about an alarming new bill that had been passed by the Russian Parliament. Dubbed the “Anti-Terrorism” bill, it specifically addressed and restricted certain religious activities such as evangelizing, missions and proselytizing. As the bill sat on President Vladimir Putin’s desk, waiting to be signed, news spread quickly across social media and email. Christians across Russia and around the world prayed and fasted that he would not sign it into law. But on July 7th he did. So what does this mean for the future of the church in Russia?
On the surface this can appear to be a roll back to the days of the Soviet Union. Many who grew up during the days of the Cold War probably remember stories about religious persecution in Russia; pastors taken away in the middle of the night, churches destroyed and believers arrested and sent off to gulags, never to be heard from again. It’s easy to speculate and let our imaginations run wild. Certainly, there is great cause for concern. But it’s important now to step back and look at the facts, pray and trust God’s sovereign hand in all of this.
Russian Christian lawyers have been examining this new law carefully. They have hosted many meetings and webinars with Russian pastors and Christians to look carefully at the specifics of the law and discern its intent. Current and former Russia field workers with InterAct have sifted through summaries of these meetings and have found a number of common points that keep emerging. Here are four important points to keep in mind.
As time goes by there will inevitably be many inconsistencies in the interpretation and enforcement of the law. In some regions of Russia where churches already face resistance from local officials, this law will likely be used to further restrict church work and persecute believers. But in other regions churches may be impacted much less.
What does this mean for InterAct and our ministry in Russia? We are still there! We are committed to making disciples among least-reached peoples across the North Pacific Crescent and that includes Siberia. Since we began sending missionaries to Russia over twenty years ago, most of our ministry has been behind the scenes doing the work of relational evangelism and discipleship. As far as we can tell at this time, this new law will affect our current activities very little.
Another possible “silver lining” is that there is a huge opportunity now to help disciple Russian Christians in what it means to engage more in relational evangelism. Much of the Christian evangelization that was done in the early 90s was on a mass public scale. And many churches that were planted during that period have continued those methods of outreach until today. Facing the restrictions of this new law provides an opportunity for the Russian church to focus more on building trusting, loving relationships with unbelievers with the goal of sharing their faith and having those deep conversations about the gospel, an activity which is still completely legal.