Evangelism is a tough sell in Russia, where the Orthodox Church dominates the religious and political landscape. So the Kremlin’s ban on one of evangelicals’ door-to-door competitors for souls—Jehovah’s Witnesses—would seem to be good news for the Good News.
However, Witnesses have historically served as a bellwether for religious freedom for other minority groups. In Russia, that includes evangelicals, who remain hesitant to defend the rights of Witnesses as a fellow non-Orthodox faith.
In April, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the pacifist religious organization an “extremist group” and banned all of its activity. Jehovah’s Witnesses were put in the same category as terrorists.
Yaroslav Sivulsky, spokesman for the Witnesses national headquarters near St. Petersburg, called the move “a disaster for rights and freedoms in our country,” particularly for the 175,000 followers and 2,000 congregations that make Russia one of the faith tradition’s largest strongholds in Europe and Asia.
Leading up to the trial, witnesses fought back. The organization launched a global letter-writing campaign asking the Kremlin to reconsider the ban. Members in Russia filed a counter-suit, claiming political repression. The court dismissed them, saying it did not have the authority to decide either way. Witnesses faced the outcome they feared most, as Russia outlawed their worship and seized all 395 local chapters and their national headquarters.
“If [they] are persecuted, then that means later ‘on the block’ will come other religious movements—for example, Protestant churches,” law professor Anatoly Pchelintsev told Portal-Credo, an Orthodox news ...1