Political and economic turmoil in the Soviet Union prompts fears that the winds of religious change are turning chilly.

Last month—at about the same time President Mikhail Gorbachev called a good-will meeting with a diverse group of religious leaders—Soviet customs officials detained a shipment of Christian literature being imported from the West. And while Trans World Radio dedicated a new Christian broadcasting facility in the Byelorussian city of Brest, Soviet communications officials suspended Robert Schuller’s Sunday night religious television program that had been running since last year.

American observers of the Soviet Union say the recent mixed signals on religious freedom are symptomatic of the overall confusion that seems to dominate the political and economic realms there. Yet many caution against writing glasnost’s obituary. “Things are not very clear at the moment in terms of long-term implications,” says Peter Deyneka, Jr., of the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA). In the midst of the confusion, Christians continue to press forward in unprecedented opportunities for ministry.

Recent visitors to the Soviet Union say the glasnost that Gorbachev unleashed has made virtually every sector of society open to religion and morality. In February, a delegation of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), and Catholic University Law School met with Soviet educators, legal scholars, and politicians to discuss how Christian values can be linked to law, human rights, and democracy.

Still Wide Open

IRD executive director Kent Hill says most of the discussions centered on how Christianity can fill a moral vacuum in society. “I was struck by their own ...

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