Baptists - a Dear Christian Sect
Is Alexander Dvorkin experiencing a change of heart?
M o s c o w -- In an interview first published in the December issue of the Protestant paper “Christianin”, Alexander Dvorkin, Russia’s most prominent “cult specialist” and “favourite enemy” of Russian Protestantism, conceded that Baptists had played a significant role in his initial conversion. Soon after emigrating from the Soviet Union as a 21-year-old hippy and dissident in March 1977, Russian Baptists in Italy presented him and a friend with their first Bibles and Christian literature. One brochure contained a simple prayer for someone wishing to accept Christ: “In you, o God, I do not believe, but I want to believe. Give me faith in you.” In the States roughly a year later, it dawned on him that his prayer had been answered. He adds in the above interview that his closest friend, an Orthodox home-schooler now residing in Texas, had once been a Baptist.
Dvorkin has been known for his emotional and confrontational attacks on groups whom he regards as dangerous. In his brochures, the activist accused Krishna, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Moonies of various crimes while labelling them "gangsters, Satanists and charlatans”. The sociologist Sergey Filatov reported on the “hate and slander spouting forth from Dvorkin”. His detractors accuse him of keeping alive the anti-sectarian hysteria of the Communist era.
After accusing Sergey Ryakhovsky, Bishop of the Charismatic “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE) on national TV of preparing a Ukrainian-style “Orange Revolution” on Russian soil, the Bishop took Dvorkin to court. In the case, which was finally decided in Dvorkin’s favour in May 2007, the two adversaries accused each other of sowing national discord and essentially being undercover agents for US-American interests. Dvorkin, who returned to Russia at the end of 1991, had acquired a US-passport in 1984 and now enjoys double citizenship.
Many of Dvorkin’s statements can be interpreted as anti-Western. He has been taken to court for decrying Moscow’s human-rights “Helsinki Watch Group” as a front for the Scientology movement. Typical for contemporary Russia conservatives, he reports in the interview with “Christianin” on the “catastrophical rapidity with which America is destroying itself through the dictatorship of political correctness”.
Two of Dvorkin’s closest associates are West-European Lutherans and highly controversial in their own right. His 1993-founded “Centre for Religion Research of the Holy Irenaeus of Lyons” was reportedly patterned after Denmark’s “International Dialogue Centre” headed by Johannes Aagaard. Another close cohort is Berlin’s anti-cult activist Thomas Gandow.
Despite strong support from the deceased Patriarch Alexey II., Dr. Dvorkin’s work has been largely dismissed by
serious Russian academia. His often inflammatory speeches and writings, his inflated curriculum vitae and self-designation as “Professor”, have damaged his academic reputation.
Dvorkin’s passion in matters of the sects is undoubtedly related to his own biography. Prior to his baptism as an Orthodox believer in 1980, he had gathered considerable experience with the occult and with the Krishna movement. As a profound searcher without religious background, the young Russian emigrant had himself initially been highly-vulnerable “conversion material” for Western cults.
The year 2009
It could be maintained that Russia’s leading cult activist reached the pinnacle of his acclaim in 2009. At its annual conference in St. Petersburg in May, Dvorkin was elected a Vice-President of the “European Federation of Centres for Research and Information on Sectarianism” (FECRIS). More importantly, he had been named Chairman of the Russian Justice Department’s new “Commission for the Implementation of State Expertise on Religious Science” a month before. This and proposed new, anti-missionary legislation led to a major outcry among the non-Orthodox and resulted in formation of the “Inquisition – No!” protest movement. Yet, at the height of his “success”, there are indications that this activist’s bellicosity is breaking down.
Even before the interview with “Christianin”, Dvorkin had begun to distinguish clearly between “classical” and “totalitarian, destructive” sects. The Russian “Wikipedia” quotes him describing Baptists as a “dear Christian sect”. He assures Baptists that he does not intend to offend. He maintains that “sect” as a neutral term, an unavoidable “classical term used in the sociology of religion”. In the above interview, he also includes traditional, Russian Pentecostals among the “classical” sects. Yet the Neo-Pentecostals (Charismatics), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Krishna and Scientology all belong in the category of “destructive”. He thereby describes Adventists and some Pentecostal groups as borderline cases, located in transition between “totalitarian” and “classic”. According to him now, state intervention is only needed in dealing with the destructive cults. In the interview he states: We and the Baptists “can argue harshly, but religious freedom includes the freedom to dispute. Government should not determine where truth is located in these discussions. We can resolve these matters ourselves.”
Yet Dvorkin’s change of heart is likely much more than a simple mellowing with age. After the Moscow Patriarchate dropped cooperation with the “World Council of Churches’” “Conference of European Churches” (CEC), it immediately turned its attention in October 2008 to reviving the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics”. The CIAC had been dormant since early 2002. The regional CIAC, considerably less diverse than the all-European CEC, will require much stronger Orthodox cooperation with the Protestant denominations of Russia.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 9 February 2010
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
Release #10-02, 850 words, 5.785 keystrokes and spaces.
All persons mentioned reside in or near Moscow.
Note: Though Dvorkin did study theology at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood/New York, my past description of him as a “priest” was incorrect.
An ensuing note from 23 Feb. 2010: In my conversations since then with Professor Dvorkin, he has maintained that his thinking is not in a process of transition. He says he always has pointed out the existence of fundamental differences between Baptists and “third-wave” Neo-Charismatics. In addition, he notes that the title “Professor” was bestown on him by the deceased Patriarch Alexey II. --wy