Religious Freedom is Decreasing

Legal Nihilism is Russia’s Greatest Problem


Yuri Sipko laments the failure of a worthy dictatorship


M o s c o w -- In an interview with his own Baptist press service on 4 May, Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist (RUECB) President Yuri Sipko portrayed his church as the champion of state constitutionality. He lamented the total failure of a worthy dictatorship proclaimed by President Vladimir Putin early in his presidency: the dictatorship of the law. Sipko also agreed heartily with the assessment of Dimitry Medvedev, the present President, that legal nihilism is the Russian society’s greatest problem. In contrast to Orthodox claim that the Russian nation is - at least potentially - morally superior to its Western counterparts, Sipko surmised that Russia, in view of the arbitrary nature of its judicial system, might be a 1.000 years behind. But he did suggest in this context that the Marxist heritage be sent back from whence it came: to Western Europe.


According to the Baptist leader, the downward spiral began with the passing of the “Law on Religion and Freedom of Conscience” by the Duma in June 1997. It had set a dangerous precedent by installing a hierarchy among Russia’s hundreds of religious groupings. It made the “traditional” religions – primarily Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - more worthy of state recognition than others. He pointed out that this law is in itself already unconstitutional, for it destroys the constitutionally-anchored equality of all Russian religious communities.


Sipko described the Justice Department’s creation of a “Commission for the Implementation of State Expertise on Religious Science” in March of this year as a logical consequence of nihilism and the legislation of 1997. This highly-controversial committee responsibility for assessment of the religious community consists primarily of rabidly pro-Moscow Patriarchate laity and is headed by Alexander Dvorkin, a firebrand Orthodox cleric and self-proclaimed specialist on the cults.


As a partial solution to legal anarchy, the Baptist President proposed that Russia’s civil servants be returned to the school bench to become acquainted with the constitution they are called on to defend. The scholars would need to include Alexander Konovalov, an Orthodox cleric and, since May 2008, Russia’s Minister of Justice. Sipko believes every higher-level politician should be required to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution: “Everyone is called to serve the Fatherland – not one’s own boss.”


The RUECB’s President compared the worthy government to the ethic of medical doctors. When a patient falls ill, the doctor does not interpret the patient’s complaints as an attack on his professional authority. Instead, the doctor will do all he can to quickly alleviate the suffering of his patients. In the same sense, state authorities “should react immediately to restore a citizen’s freedom and human rights. Only unworthy politicians regard protest as an attack on their authority.” He added: We Russians “must learn how to respect, uphold and love each other”. Russia has so few people. “People with a free conscience are the true bearers of Russian sovereignty.”


Pointing to its survival during the decades of massive repression, Yuri Sipko does not regard the forward surge of Orthodoxy as a real danger to the Baptist movement. “I believe the present campaign to reduce our country to a sole faith will only stimulate the longing of our people to be civil citizens and free. In such circumstances, Baptists supporting freedom of conscience for all will receive major reinforcement. Thanks be to God!”


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Kiev/Moscow, 15 May 2009


A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #09-15, 574 words, 3.656 keystrokes and spaces.


Note from October 2020: In a later conversation, Alexander Dvorkin assured the author that he was not a cleric. It is also unjust to describe him as a "self-proclaimed" specialist on the cults. Dvorkin himself claims that the late Patriarch Alexey II had bestowed on him the title of "Professor".