Protestants Deserve Equal Respect
M o s c ow -- Protestants deserve the same respect as all other large religions communities in Russia. Such was the opinion stated by the secular philologist Remir Lopatkin (Moscow), professor at the “Russian Academy for Government Services at the President’s Office”, on April 1 in Moscow on the occasion of the Russian Evangelical Alliance’s third annual conference. During the past 400 years, Czars had repeatedly invited Protestants to Russia where they were actively involved in the creation of a more modern society. In the 19th century, 20% of Russia’s army officers were Protestants – mostly Lutherans. Yet after 1990, according to Lopatkin, the Protestant denominations passed up the rare opportunity to form their own elite capable of influencing society as a whole. “Why did you refrain from doing so?”, the government-sponsored professor asked. “You have the same right as others to be recognised as Russians.” He also criticised the total absence of Protestant literature in larger Russian bookshops. Much resentment towards Protestants is simply due to misinformation among the Orthodox majority. Yet, according to Yuri Sipko (Moscow), Chairman of the Union of Evangelical-Christians Baptists, some Orthodox do support serious inter-denominational relationships. The Orthodox heirarchy – according to Sipko – is also embarrassed by the primitive anti-Protestant agitation of the professors Alexander Dvorkin und Andrei Kurayev.
The Baptist philologist Igor Podbereski, professor at Moscow’s „Academy of Sciences“, complained that the new religion laws cite no Christian denomination other than the Orthodox one. He compared the situation to that of a football match: “The state has joined the Orthodox team at the expense of all other churches and is successfully shooting a substantial number of goals.” Podbereski therefore called for a co-ordinated, cooperative effort among all Protestant confessions. Possible projects could be work among women, the joint creation of websites and theological books as well as a vital encyclopedia of Protestantism. The Lutheran pastor Gottfried Spieth (Moscow) stressed the need for mutual respect and a willingness among churches to learn if they hope to hold high the banner of God’s truth in the present value-starved, post-modern age.
Media concerns were a major topic at this congress of 80 church leaders. The journalist Zoya Bardina (Moscow) asked: “How can we bring up our pastors to treat the media in the proper fashion?” The Protestant theologian Dr. Gennadi Sergienko (Moscow) claimed: „Our heads remain in the clouds. We are refusing to locate a place for our congregations in contemporary society.”
In the face of growing Orthodox resistance speakers appealed for a closing of Protestant ranks. Pastor Ulrich Materne of Wittenberge, the German Alliance’s spokesperson on Eastern Europe, inquired: “Do we feel joy when others succeed, or do we only see our own denomination? Competition among ourselves destroys the Gospel’s credibility. Yet we need each other because we are involved in the very same task.” The representative of a newly-founded regional alliance in Miass in the Ural mountains reported: “We initially met in order to join forces in our fight against Orthodoxy. But we then realised that we needed first of all to become of one mind among ourselves.”
The Russian Alliance hopes for the founding and strengthening of additional regional Alliances during the immediate future. The conference registered with satisfaction the news that a new regional conference had been founded only a few days before in Blagoveshiensk in the Russian Far East. This joining of 18 congregations was attributed to the appearance of the brochure on the Alliance’s prayer week. Approximately 35 denominations and societies were present at the Moscow conference; the Messianic Jews were along for the very first time.
The most pressing national concerns involve the opening of an Alliance office in Moscow and the creation of a website. Chairperson of the Russian Alliance is Dr. Vladimir Ryagusov, Rector of the Baptist “Moscow Theological Institute”.
Dr. William Yoder
Moscow, 5 April 2005
An official press release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, 625 words