Staunton, September 1 – The Russian Procuracy General has labelled evangelical Protestant churches with links to Latvian and Ukrainian churchmen who themselves have already been banned from coming to Russia has other Russian Protestant denominations worried that they may be targeted for restrictions.
Russian officials say these fears are overblown and that the other Protestant groups have nothing to worry about, but some experts on religious affairs say there are very real dangers that the authorities having launched this attack will find ways to extend it to others in the future, Andrey Melnikov of NG-Religii says (ng.ru/ng_religii/2021-08-31/9_514_protestants.html).
A week ago, the Procuracy labeled the International Christian Movement and Evangelical New Generation Church with ties to religious groups in Latvia and the Spiritual Administration of Evangelical New Generation Church and the New Generation New Generation International Bible College “undesirable organizations.”
These groups will now have to cease operation on Russian territory or seek to restructure and rename themselves so that they can continue to operate, a process that is complicated, lengthy and far from certain of success. But although churches in Russia linked to these groups are few in number, many other evangelical Christians are worried they will be next.
Russian officials and some experts like Sergey Melnikov of the Russian Association of Religious Freedom and Roman Silantyev, head of the World Russian Popular Assembly’s Human Rights Center say there is no reason to expect that the Russian authorities will attack anyone else or to generalize what they have done.
But that has done nothing to calm the concerns of many. Bishop Konstantin Bendas of the Russian United Union of Evangelical Christians says he is worried Moscow will do exactly that, create a precedent with those it has already labelled “undesirable” and then find ways to extend that damning epithet to others.
Roman Lunkin, a leading Russian expert on religion who is deputy director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe agrees that there may be dangers ahead for Protestant groups more generally. This situation is uncertain, and many other Protestant groups in Russia use literature produced by those with Latvian or Ukrainian links.
That may be enough, in the current environment, to lump them all together and use the “undesirable” tag to shut down many Protestant groups.