Our Expectations were Not Fulfilled
Baptist Reponse to the Moscow visit of Barack Obama
M o s c o w -- “Our expectations were not fulfilled.” That was the response of Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) following the first official visit of Barack Obama as US-President to Russia on 6 and 7 July. Despite conversations in the days prior to the visit, the US-President did not meet with any representative of Russia’s roughly one million Protestants. Obama did meet with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate. His spouse, Michelle Obama, was hosted by an Orthodox nursing order, the “Saint Dimitry Sisters of Compassion”. Yet in the area of substance abuse for ex., Protestants play a significant role in Russia.
“It’s strange that President Obama would meet with the political opposition, but not with us,” added Vlasenko. “We certainly are not a political opposition, but we are a vital segment of Russian reality. Any view of Russia is lopsided if it ignores our country’s many non-Orthodox faiths.”
Richard Nixon broadcast important signals by participating in a worship service at Moscow’s historic Central Baptist Church on 28 May 1972 during his sole visit to Russia as US-President. A case could be made for the claim that “”important signals“ would now also have been in order. In a statement from Istanbul on 7 July, the President’s final day in Russia, Patriarch Kirill admonished foreign religious organisations active in Russia to respect and obey Russian law. He thereby addressed not only his local Muslim listeners: “In 1990, literally entire regiments of missionaries from America, Western Europe and South Korea appeared in Russia intending to teach our people how to pray. But we responded that we already know how to pray to God. For a thousand years, Orthodox Christians and Muslims have been practicing that.”
“But the day is not over,” Rev. Vlasenko added. “We have hopes that the US-President will visit us Protestants next time. We remain deeply convinced of the need for greater understanding between East and West and are glad that Dr. Obama was here. We sincerely pray for good relations between our two countries.”
Baptist to serve on government commission
Rarely are all developments on the church scene negative: On 23 June, Vitaly Vlasenko was cordially hosted by Marina Belogubova in the Moscow offices of the “Central Federal District” (TsFO), a large administrative region outside of Moscow city limits. Ms. Belogubova is head of the TsFO’s Department of Management. Vlasenko reported that significant headway was made in resolving points of contention. One involved the painful conflict of last August, when local officials attempted to close the Protestant “Little Creek” children’s camp west of Moscow just as the RUECB’s biannual conference was beginning. (See our release 8-34 from 2 August 2008.)
Towards the end of the session, Ms. Belogubova even invited the Baptist pastor to serve as an expert within the TsFO’s “Commission on Interethnic and Interconfessional Relations”: As a regional body, its work does not have the overarching significance of a federal government ministry. Yet Vlasenko is willing to serve this commission as needed.
The Russian population of 142 million includes 20 million Muslims and 275.000 Jews.
The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups. Its President is Yuri Sipko.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 09 July 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #09-21, 542 words, 3.451 keystrokes and spaces.