Reflections on Escaping From the Ghetto
Russian Baptist academic symposium held in Moscow
M o s c o w – The belief that many persons can be won for faith in Jesus Christ from a position far removed from society is mistaken. That was a general conclusion resulting from an academic symposium in Moscow on 19 and 20 October on the occasion of Russian Baptists´ 140th anniversary. The religion sociologist Professor Remir Lopatkin (Moscow) spoke of a “voluntary-involuntary ghetto, from which not all believers desire to escape for fear of colliding with the realities of life”. Another speaker spoke of the pressing necessity to liberate ourselves “from a complex of social marginalism”.
According to the St. Petersburg-based scientist and Baptist Michael Nievolin, the route out of the ghetto and into society demands a rejection of all extremism – be it liberalistic or fundamentalistic in nature. “Unfortunately, extremism does not appear only among Baptists. It’s a characteristic common to Russian society. We are nearly incapable of dialogue. Yet in the 21st century we should finally become capable of respecting other-minded opinions. And that should be true both within and outside of Baptist circles. But respect for other views does not imply that one must surrender one’s own view. We must learn how to discuss.”
Questions of identity and perspective remained at the forefront. Michael Ivanov, Director of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists` (RUECB) Department for Theology and Catechism criticised a “negative religious identity” growing out of a position of enmity. He mentioned as an example the free church Molokhan movement of the 19th century: its identity had been sustained by animosity towards the Orthodox. The mindset – prevalent not only among Molokhans - was: “We are note like they are.” Yet through the Bolshevist revolution, the Orthodox suddenly became fellow sufferers. A church with nearly a million supporters soon shrivelled to a tiny minority. “We Baptists were more creative,” Ivanov continued. “Initially, we were anti-Orthodox, too, but we soon transformed ourselves into anti-atheists. That saved us. Since the 1990s were are taking an anti-society stance. We have always needed to be against somebody.”
Ivanov noted that Baptists cannot look to Orthodox or Catholics for answers to the complex matter of locating one’s own identity. Baptists are without a body of traditions. They are no ethnic grouping and have no claim to a general, majority – “Catholic” – faith. Baptist identity can therefore only result from its commitment to the Bible.
Nievolin confessed he could not imagine the Baptists ever becoming Russia’s largest confession. “But the perspective that the faith among us grows and emanates ever more influence on society – I certainly can imagine that occurring.”
Russian Baptists ascribe the beginnings of their movement to the adult, believers´ baptism of the first ethnic Russian in Tiflis/Georgia on 20 August 1867. The person baptised was Nikita Voronin (1840-1905).
The RUECB, Russia’s largest unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members meeting in 1.750 local congregations and groups. Its President is Pastor Yuri Sipko.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 23 October 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-41, 477 words.