Baku, March 19 – Law enforcement officials in one Russian oblast have suggested that the leaders of religious communities should be given licenses to carry weapons in order to prevent robberies in their facilities, a proposal that some Orthodox priests and Jewish leaders support but that most Muslim mullahs very much oppose.
On Monday, Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper reported that the militia in Kostroma oblast had made this suggestion in response to a growing number of thefts that have hit churches and other religious buildings there and elsewhere in recent years (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=867754).
Not surprisingly, this proposal has sparked controversy, with some religious leaders seeing it as a necessary step toward limiting the number of such crimes and others viewing it as a violation of the basic provisions of their faith and an effort by law enforcement groups to shift responsibility for enforcing the law.
“In order to counter the increasing number of thefts,” Kostroma MVD officials told “Kommersant,” they have urged religious leaders to install a variety of security systems. But those steps are not enough, and so religious leaders should “purchase with their own money [other] means of defense, including firearms.”
To that end, these officials said, the local militia is “ready to offer the Orthodox on an expedited basis licenses to carry weapons.”
One local Orthodox priest, Father Ferapont, told the paper that he “supports this proposal because one cannot particularly count on the militia.” Indeed, he said, “the history of Christianity knows many cases when monks defended their monasteries with arms in their hands.
And Zinoviy Kogan, the president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations, added that the Kostroma MVD proposal was “a very good idea.” Rabbis, he said, unlike some other religious leaders, “can use arms” and thus he personally “with pleasure will ask for an automatic weapon.”
But other religious figures are appalled and said so. Father Vladimir Vigilyanskiy, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said “a priest cannot bear arms, let alone use them.” To do either “contradicts the cannons of the church.” But, he added, other staff members in local churches could use weapons to guard church valuables.
Outspoken Orthodox Deacon Andrei Kurayev went even further. He pointed out that the Patriarchate opposes the drafting of priests into the army and consequently must not allow them to carry arms. “Each must carry out his responsibilities: the militia must guard, and priests must pray” (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=176050).
Protestant ministers are also opposed. Sergey Ryakhovskiy, the head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians and a member of the Social Chamber of the Russian Federation, argued that religious leaders must put their trust in “God and not in arms.”
But the most outspoken opponents of arming the religious so far have been the leaders of Russia’s Muslim community. Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov told Kommersant that he was “categorically against the arming of priests because this contradicts good sense” and is simply part of the militia’s efforts to shift responsibility away from itself.
And yesterday, the Russian Islamic Inheritance portal surveyed the opinions of mullahs and imams across the country. All those with whom it spoke opposed the move, although each expressed his willingness to work with law enforcement bodies in other ways (http://www.islamnasledie.ru/news.php?id=990).
That crime in the Russian Federation has become so serious that police officials there have been driven to propose arming religious leaders is disturbing enough, but that some of the latter are now willing to do so, either because they believe it is their right or because they have no confidence in the authorities, is even more so.