Nationalism May Stall Christian Outreach in Russia

While the re-election of Boris Yeltsin as president likely ensures protection of religious freedom in Russia, a growing nationalist sentiment is fueling new initiatives to control Western-financed missions outreach.
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One week before the July 3 presidential runoff, newly appointed security chief Alexander Lebed unleashed a barrage against "Western cultural expansion" and "Western preachers," calling attention to sentiments already expressed by reactionary political and religious camps.

During the past three years, the Russian Orthodox Church has advocated special privileges and support for Russian Orthodoxy. Other so-called minority religions would be allowed to exist, but without privileges or support.

Lebed, in an earlier attack on Western influence, specifically denounced the Mormon Church. "There is no place for them on our land. They should be outlawed." Lebed called Mormons "mold and filth which have come to destroy the state." There are around 300 Mormon missionaries in Russia.

Lebed later apologized, saying he did not mean to "offend anyone," yet he reiterated that he is "categorically against" any "strangers on our territory."

"It is not known how much power Lebed will have in Yeltsin's new government," says Peter Deyneka of the Wheaton, Illinois-based Russian Ministries. "However, he is very nationalistic and clearly represents rising anti-Western sentiment."

RESTRICTIONS IN the WORKS: Some form of restrictions on religion appear inevitable. The freedom of religion law enacted in 1990 and currently part of the Russian Constitution allows for complete freedom. But the state Duma is considering new legislation to enhance state oversight of religious activity.

Lev Levinson, assistant to the deputy director of the Duma's committee on religion, insists there is "nothing dangerous" in the draft law. Foreign religious organizations will still have the right to open offices and carry out activities. "But they must get registered," he says. ...

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