Church Banned

TimeWatch Editorial
May 09, 2017

Andrew Higgins, in the April 20, 2017 New York Times wrote an article entitled “Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calling It an Extremist Group.” To those of you who have been following the direction that Vladimir Putin has been taking in his quest to reestablish Russia’s global dominance, you know that his connection with the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church has been an integral part of his plan. In the recent past he has outlawed same sex marriage, homosexual promotion and has become a favorite of the Evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere. He has also signed into law restrictions regarding worship outside of registered church buildings, which immediately placed an enormous amount of pressure on protestant organizations throughout Russia. Here is how Andrew Higgins begins his article in the New York Times.


“MOSCOW — Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants. The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.” Andrew Higgins, “Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calling It an Extremist Group.” April 20, 2017 New York Times

Elizabeth Clark, writing for the National Review, an ultra conservative journal on May 5, 2017 says the following about the action taken by Russia regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“On April 20, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, a pacifist religious organization it designated “extremist.” The more than 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia can no longer meet without fear of jail, and all church properties will be confiscated. Russia has effectively outlawed an entire religion. President Trump should raise the ban with Putin and take other diplomatic action against it. It is the culmination of several years of low-level government harassment including audits, planted evidence, disruption of religious services, and prosecutions of local organizations.” Elizabeth Clark, “Will Trump Confront Renewed Religious Repression in Russia?” The National Review, May 5, 2017

The National Review article continues to describe the problems that the ban creates for other religious organizations.

“Religious discrimination and persecution have been on the rise under Vladimir Putin’s rule. He has brazenly used religion in service of his nationalism as early as 2000, when his government adopted a policy paper on national security with a chapter on “spiritual security.” There it was warned that “foreign sectarian communities such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . under the cover of religion establish extensive governing structures which they use for gathering socio-political, economic, military, and other information about ongoing events in Russia, indoctrinate the citizens and incite separatist tendencies.” This kind of paranoia and religious discrimination has also affected, to a lesser degree, other “non-historically Russian” minorities such as Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, and Pentecostals as well as Orthodox schismatics and some Muslim groups, including followers of the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi.” Elizabeth Clark, “Will Trump Confront Renewed Religious Repression in Russia?” The National Review, May 5, 2017

There are a number of news sources that have pushed the issue much further. John Burger on the The Aleteia Website, a Catholic based site, wrote an article entitled “Pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Banned in Russia as Extremists.” This is how that article began.

“The pacifistic religious group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses has been declared an “extremist group” in Russia and forbidden to carry out public activities. Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday accepted a request from the justice ministry that the Jehovah’s Witnesses be considered an extremist group and ordered its national headquarters in St. Petersburg and all 395 local churches closed. It banned all their activity immediately, and ordered their property seized by the state.”
John Burger, “Pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Banned in Russia as Extremists” The Aleteia Website, Apr 22, 2017

It was also in this article by John Burger that the point was made that other organizations were negatively affected. The article, quoting Daria Kirjanov-Mueller, who teaches Russian at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, says:

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones affected, she said. The law applies also to Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists, for example. She said that the Orthodox in the south of Russia are generally very religious and see groups such as 7th-Day Adventists as competition. “There have been many examples of people from Christian [sects] going into Orthodox churches and distributing literature or in some way disturbing church services,” she said. “They go door to door…and the Russian Orthodox Church sees them as aggressive because they talk to people very openly, they give out literature, they often say very negative things about the Russian Orthodox Church, they’re very good at debating. … They are being perceived — by a very conservative religion that is in the process of reshaping itself and has been doing so for 25 years after a very long time of atheism — they are being perceived as the guys coming in and taking away our future converts.” John Burger, “Pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Banned in Russia as Extremists” The Aleteia Website, Apr 22, 2017

It is clear that the impact of evangelism carried out by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, was perceived as a threat to the Russian Orthodox Church and indeed Russia at large. This is why the Adventist Review in the April 22, 2017 issue in an article entitled “Adventist Church Ready to Assist Members After Russia Limits Evangelism,” said the following:

“The Euro-Asia Division, which is headquartered in Moscow, earlier appealed to President Vladimir Putin not to sign the law, and Russian believers observed a day of prayer and fasting. The legislation sailed through both houses of Russia’s parliament late last month, and Putin signed it into law on July 7. It came into force on July 20.” Adventist Review, “Adventist Church Ready to Assist Members After Russia Limits Evangelism,” April 22, 2017

The pattern of persecution has begun to clear the path. We should pay close attention as this journey begins. There are those who have already claimed that Adventism has also been banned, and that there are 12 million signatures requesting that the Seventh Day Adventist Church be included in the ban. But we have not been able to substantiate that as yet. When we do we will inform you. 

Cameron A. Bowen

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