Whilst slightly outside of the world of Interserve, over the last few years any laws passed in the Russian Federation have had wide reaching consequences on neighbouring Central Asian countries. This has been seen in recent times, with the closing down of various NGO organisations in Russia, which was followed by pressure on Central Asia states to follow suit.
Therefore it is concerning to hear of proposed laws in Russia that will seriously limit religious freedom.
Barnabus Fund is reporting that, last Friday, two members of the Russian Duma (parliament) introduced a series of amendments to anti-terrorist legislation.
The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith, even a casual conversation, to have prior authorisation from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. In addition, worship and prayer will only be allowed in a private home if there are no unbelievers present.
Churches will also be held accountable for the activities of their members. For example, if a church member mentions their faith in conversation with a work colleague, not only the church member but also the church itself could be punished, with individuals facing fines of up to 50,000 roubles (£580; USD770; €700).
There are also restrictions on the extent to which churches can have contact with foreigners, for example, any non-Russian citizen attending a church service would be required to have a work visa or face a fine and expulsion from Russia.
The bill appears to be using the excuse of anti-terrorist legislation to clamp down on any churches other than the Russian Orthodox, support for which is closely tied to Russian nationalism. However, even some senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church have voiced concerns about the bill.
If passed, the extent that this law is implemented will depend on local authorities. However, the wording is very vague and ambiguous, and, with a heavily politicised judiciary, could lead to a situation similar to that faced by Christians in the Communist era.
There is also concern that flow-on pressure from Russia could cause Central Asian states to look to adopt similar restrictions on religious freedom.
- Pray for Christians across Russia, as they fast and pray for their country in the light of this bill.
- Pray for protection for Christians in Russia and across Central Asia, as they face ongoing and growing restrictions to their freedom. Pray that they will not be discouraged from meeting together, but continue to find ways to meet, to study God’s word together and worship.
- Pray for the government of Russia and the Central Asian States, that they will allow churches to meet together and Christians to share their faith, and not see these things as a threat to security.
- Pray for this region, for many to have dreams and visions of Jesus and seek His way of life. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move to bring transformation of communities and nations across Central Asia and Russia.
Ephesians 6 vs 12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”