He takes it on the chin from the press. Is religious freedom relative?

Not in 30 years of public ministry has Billy Graham been the center of as much controversy as he was during his six-day visit to the Soviet Union last month. Graham was invited to Moscow to address a Kremlin-approved peace conference (see accompanying story), to speak at a Russian Orthodox church service, and to preach a sermon in Moscow’s only Baptist church.

From a religious point of view, the visit had genuine significance. It brought Russian Orthodox and Evangelical Christian-Baptist leaders together on a spiritual basis, and both sides learned they had much in common. Because of the evangelist’s close contacts with Orthodox leaders, they “accept him as a real servant of Christ,” observed Alexei Bychkov, general secretary of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. This is highly significant in light of any future visit of Graham to the Soviet Union, he explained. Already, a number of Orthodox leaders have invited Graham to preach in their churches if he is able to return for an extended preaching tour. He touched spiritually responsive chords among them. (No official figures are available, but Orthodox strength is estimated in the tens of millions, with about 7,000 churches still open.)

As for the Baptists, Graham’s preaching visit on Sunday, May 9, was “a great event in the history of our church,” commented Bychkov. Many Christians were inspired to witness more boldly for Christ, he added.

Such developments are notable in light of the government’s published policies of the past in which increased zeal among believers and spread of the faith are frowned on.

For years, Soviet Baptist leaders kept bumping into Graham at Baptist World ...

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