Vienna, October 21 – Evangelical Christians, the fastest growing denomination in the Russian Federation over the last decade, now fear being seen by the Russian government and other faiths in Russia as “a branch office of Western Protestantism,” a measure of just how much Russian nationalism is now affecting that country’s religious sector.
Last week, the Theological Academy of the Community of Evangelical Christians of Russia, hosted a conference on “Crisis Phenomena in Contemporary Russian Protestantism and the Means of Overcoming Them” which attracted religious and secular leaders from around the country (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=23425).
Among the papers delivered were ones on “The Crisis of Protestantism – The Result of an Aging Paradigm,” “Marginalizing Tendencies in Contemporary Russian Protestantism,” and “Liberal-Humanist Trends in Contemporary Protestantism.” But despite these titles, Blagovest-Info.ru reports, all speakers focused on a common set of issues.
The various speakers called attention to the following aspects of what they described as the crisis of Protestantism in Russia: “the mass historical and cultural nihilism” of most of the members of the churches involved,” the marginal place in society they occupy, and the inability of these churches to carry on dialogue with other confessions.
Father Sergey Popov, the vice president of the Russian Bible Society suggested that the current crisis reflects “the absence among believers of a new creative generation.” Vladimir Oyvin, identified as a Christian publicist, complained about what he said was “the extraordinary politicization of such Protestant leaders as Sergey Ryakhovsky and Aleksandr Semchenko.”
And Nina Taybinova, a student at the Theological Academy, said that in her experience, “present-day Protestantism [in the Russian Federation] is not in a position to effectively oppose the expansion of occultism because it has taken up what can be described as a primarily defensive position” toward such phenomena.
But in the words of Blagovest-Info.ru, one of the most authoritative sources of information on religious life in the Russian Federation, “the speakers expressed the unanimous opinion that ‘Protestantism in Russia must not be a branch office of the Protestantism of the West.”
On the one hand, the suggestion that Protestantism in Russia is in crisis is the kind of remark one could expect from the representatives of denominations who in many regions of that country now have more congregations that even the Orthodox Church but who lack the kind of central organization that can provide social and political leadership for the faithful.
But on the other hand, the statement that the leaders of the Evangelicals in Russia now insist on being identified not as part of the worldwide denominations of which they have been a part and from which they have received so much support is an extraordinarily dangerous sign of the times.
It suggests that pressure from the government authorities to cut ties with outside sources of funding and support is now so large and from the Orthodox Church to restrict the growth of these denominations so great that Russia’s Protestants are now feeling the heat and no not know what they should do.
And their dilemma presents a problem for those in the West who have been their sponsors and remain their friends. Too much attention to the problems the Evangelical Christians now face in Russia will only make their difficulties greater, but no attention at all will guarantee that the powers of the state and of the Moscow Patriarchate will be directed ever more forcefully against them.