Staunton, Sept. 22 – On October 3, a new Russian law goes into effect that will allow the Russian authorities to close down almost all Protestant groups in Russia and threaten other denominations as well, according to Bishop Konstant Bendas, the president of the Foundation for the Support of Christian Culture, Science and Education.
The law passed in April requires that anyone who conducts religious services of any kind be trained in Russia or, if trained abroad, be recertified by a Russian educational institution, something that will affect not only the clergy but members of choirs and Sunday school teachers, Bendas says (ng.ru/kartblansh/2021-09-22/3_8258_kartblansh.html).
The breadth of its application is so sweeping that its defenders are already suggesting that it won’t be enforced, he says; but like the gun above the fireplace in the first act of a play, its presence almost ensures that it will eventually be used and even used to lethal effect. All religious groups and those who care about religious freedom need to be concerned.
This represents a radical change in Russia’s approach to religious practice. The bishop notes that he has long suggested that the 1997 Russian law on freedom of conscience and religious organization is “one of the most democratic in Eurasia” and that religious people must learn it and realize all the possibilities that it offers.
But the April law that goes into effect the week after next, he continues, destroys much of the earlier measure’s provisions and puts Protestant groups at particular risk, opening the way for the Russian state to move against any or all of them as it already has against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Because that is so, Bendas continues, he now tells religious leaders with whom he works that they need to study the new law not so that they will be able to take advantage of its provisions but rather so that they will “know their enemy” because clearly that is what the Russian state has become.
In addition to the requirement that all who engage in religious instruction have Russian training or certification, the new measure also substitutes the term “member of a religious organization” for “participant,” without defining what that means. Apparently, anyone who attends even a single meeting falls under that term, significantly broadening the law’s reach.
According to the bishop, Russia is now entering a period which was first described in the Book of Daniel. First, the followers of Yahweh were “practically forbidden to pray, then everyone was ordered to worship not their own God but only the idol that the state had determined for them.”
That is what “the concept of state-confessional relations” is set to become in Vladimir Putin’s Russia today.