Conversation with businessman Alexander Semchenko
M o s c o w – In the course of the many years in which “Protestants were persecuted and repressed, we have earned the right to be regarded as one of Russia`s traditional churches”. Alexander Semchenko (Moscow), a Baptist businessman and philanthropist, made this claim in a conversation with church workers in Moscow on 15 August. Semchenko, who represents the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) in the “Advisory Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations at the Seat of the President of the Russian Federation”, added that Baptists had in the course of their 140 years on Russian soil gained a solid place within society. “Our constitution declares Russia to be a secular state and guarantees every citizen religious freedom.” Yet the religious legislation of 1997 had determined that only “traditional” religious communites would be tolerated in Russia.
Forming the background for the conversation was the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France in late July in favor of a Baptist congregation in Chekhov/Moscow region. After the congregation`s chapel (house of prayer) was burnt in 2001, its members were forbidden to worship under the open sky. The Court sentenced the Russian government to a fine of 6.000 euros.
In a further instance, Vladimir Kalinin, a Baptist pastor in the village of Kaspilya/ Smolensk region and highly-decorated former army officer, addressed President Vladimir Putin in an open letter. Persons who had repeatedly come to his services were threatened with having their throats slit. A burning of their house of prayer was regularly forecast.
Semchenko is highly disappointed that the Chekhov congregation only found favour with a foreign court. “But it was not a ruling against Russia.” It was rather a ruling against ”government officials ignorant and uncaring about religious affairs. Yet the majority of government officials act according to Russian law and do not simply do as they like”. It makes sense to appeal to Russian officials and courts. He attributed the drastic wrongdoing to new, lay Orthodox believers without knowledge of historical developments. The guilty were attemping in their overeagerness to go beyond the instructions of their spiritual teachers. “Generally, the relationship of our church to the Orthodox is positive.”
This businessman speaks out against the ghetto-like existence of the past and appeals for the Protestant minority to approach society with an open mind and ready hands. He calls the open letter from Kaspilya one indication for the growth of a civil, Russian society. He closes his remarks with the sentences: “God calls all of us to serve our country. It is impossible to be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom without simultaneously being a good citizen of our earthly home.”
Alexander Semchenko is also publisher of the Moscow weekly “Protestant”, one of the RUECB’s official papers. He has worked closely with Union leadership for more than 20 years.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 16 August 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-27, 467 words.
Note from March 2021: Alexander Semchenko became a bishop among the Evangelical-Christians and "VSEKh" in 2008.