Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Russia bans public evangelism; home churches

Draconian religious freedom laws due to be introduced next week in Russia have prompted prayers for the country's evangelical Christians. The European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) on Monday released a call to prayer, in which the organisation said it is "extremely concerned" about the new anti-terrorism law – known as Yarovaya's Law – passed on July 6.

The law, which will come into force on July 20, will prohibit evangelism anywhere outside a church or religious site – including private homes and online – and those in breach of it will be fined. Only named members of religious organisations will be able to share their faith, and even informal witnessing between individuals is forbidden.

"We ask European Christians to stand with their Russian brothers and sisters in prayer," the EEA said yesterday. "Let us pray for wisdom, hope and courage.

The majority of Russians belong to the Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned with President Vladimir Putin's government. Just one per cent belong to Protestant denominations.

Ahead of Putin signing the legislation into law, Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, wrote with other evangelical leaders to the president, urging him not to do so.

They argued the law "violates human rights and fundamental liberties with regard to religious freedom".

"The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions," the church leaders said.

"Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past."

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