Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Protestants Gain Following in Western but Not Eastern North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 4 – Protestant churches are growing rapidly in the western portion of the North Caucasus where they have been accepted by most of the population if not by the republic governments, but they are still facing stiff resistance from both in Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia, according to a new report.

            In an article posted on the Kavpolit.com portal, journalist Nilena Pinatova, there are now numerous Protestant congregations in the west, some with a long history and others the result of the recent efforts of European missionaries, but there are few in the east where Muslims and republic governments view Protestantism as alien (kavpolit.com/reformaciya-kavkaza/).

            Indeed, she says, citing a recent report on Protestantism in the Russian Federation posted on protestant.ru, “as a result of moral pressure from radically inclined Muslims and the threat of physical reprisals [in the east], many Protestants don’t visit services but participate only in house churches or even are secret Christians.”

            In Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkesia, in contrast, Protestantism has deep roots and is growing. The oldest Protestant church in Karachayevo-Cherkessia was found more than a century ago, and Baptist communities have been active there since Soviet times.  According to local people, there are now more than 3000 Protestants in each of these republics.

            The Protestant denominations in these republics include Baptists, Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals, as well as other trends.  The congregations include members of the indigenous nationalities, and there are even some Karachay, Circassian, Balkar, and Kabardinian pastors.

            According to Pinatova, “there are Protestant communities in each city and several major stanitsas” in the two western Caucasus republics, each with its own pastor trained in a Protestant seminary. They range in size from a few dozen to several hundred. And in Prokhladny, the North Caucasus Bible Institute of Evangelical Christian Baptists serves as an intellectual center. 

            The Protestant churches have struggled to obtain meeting places, and some pastors and missionaries complain that despite their good relations with the Muslim and Orthodox clergy in the republics, they are often ignored by republic officials, who fail to include them in groups to which the clergy of the “traditional” faiths are invited.

            Despite this official neglect, the Protestants are active, carrying out social work, helping in hospices and homes for the elderly.  They also are active in rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts, and they help orphans and seek to place them in permanent homes. At present, one Nalchik minister notes, there are 550 drug rehabilitation centers in Russia, all of which are operated by Protestants.

            While missionaries and new converts are viewed somewhat suspiciously, the pastors say, both groups have won approval by their quiet work, although some residents view them as threatening either because of their links to communities outside of Russia or because Protestants are among the most active in speaking up about problems. As one pastor noted, “we are constantly writing letters and appeals to various institutions,” something “not everyone likes.”

            The missionaries often have to defend their presence, pointing out that the West “does not finance” them and that they have come not to live comfortably as they could have done by remaining in Europe but in order to “make the world a better place,” which they say is “after all what a human being should be trying to do.”

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