Quick to Listen/Episode 52 | 41 min

What American Christians Can Learn About Religious Freedom from Russia

And where the country's tiny evangelical population fits into its complicated church and state paradigm.
What American Christians Can Learn About Religious Freedom from Russia

Last year, the Russian government passed a number of laws making it harder to share one’s faith.

The legislation required missionaries to have permits, made house churches illegal, and limited religious activity to registered church buildings, effectively restricting Christians from evangelizing outside of their churches. (The jury’s still out on whether the legislation will hold up in court.)

Earlier this year, the Russian government took another step in its decade-long crackdown against Jehovah’s Witnesses. From CT’s report:

The Justice Ministry submitted a Supreme Court case to label the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters an extremist group. This would allow Russia to enact a countrywide ban on its activity, dissolving its organization and criminalizing its worship.

The ban would impact about 175,000 followers in 2,000 congregations nationwide. “Without any exaggeration, it would put us back to the dark days of persecution for faith.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses make up a tiny percentage of the country’s population—but their unpopularity has made it awkward for Russian Protestants who “don’t consider themselves as extreme—or as annoying—as the Witnesses, and they aren’t too eager to speak out against the recent case against them.”

One key group contributing to this complicated environment is the Russian Orthodox Church which staunchly believes that faith should have a “robust communal dimension,”—not confined to a private relationship between a person and God, says Andrey Shirin, who moved to the United States from Russia more than 25 years ago and currently works as an assistant professor of divinity at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.

“The notion that people should be free to exercise their faith or not to exercise any is really uncontroversial,” said Shirin. “It all depends on how this is interpreted.”

Shirin joined Morgan and Mark this week on Quick to Listen to discuss Putin’s popularity among American evangelicals, whether Russia’s evangelicals should be concerned about their future, and how the Orthodox Church kept its credibility after the Communist era.

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