Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
The Prospects for Religious Liberty in Russia--And How Western Missions Can Enhance Them
by Mark Elliott
Russia's communist-era Parliament passed laws on July 14 and August
27 that would have seriously curtailed the free expression of
faith. In both instances, Yeltsin refused to sign. In its
last gasp, a rump Parliament overrode Yeltsin's objections and a
make-believe "President" Rutskoi signed the restrictive legislation
before his arrest.
While Yeltsin's disbanding of Parliament has short-circuited
infringements on religious liberty for now, it would be surprising if
the next twelve months did not witness renewed efforts in Russia to put
limitations on freedom of conscience.
Orthodox Church support for restrictions on what it defines as
"non-traditional" religions stems in part from Evangelical efforts in
Russia that have been culturally insensitive. At this point, many
ministries have ample room to make amends. Speaking specifically,
winsome witnesses should:
Begin language study before going to Russia.
Study the history of Russia, which will of necessity include the history of the Orthodox Church.
- Study Russian literature and art. On the one hand,
Dostoevsky and icons, for example, open great windows for understanding
the Russian people and their culture. On the other hand, not
being conversant on such subjects as Dostoevsky and icons will be taken
as an insult, or at best, as a legitimate sign of Western ignorance.
Stress long-term discipleship programs over hit-and-run evangelism.
Emphasize universal Christian teachings and de-emphasize Western cultural trappings.
Encourage Western missionaries to appreciate the sacrifice, travail,
and martyrdom that Orthodox as well as Evangelical Christians have
endured this century at the hands of communism.
- Determine to your own satisfaction the degree to which Evangelical
and Orthodox Christians occupy common ground concerning the Bible, the
Trinity, Christ as wholly divine and wholly human, and Christ's virgin
birth, miracles, sacrificial death, and resurrection.
Invite Orthodox to share their own understanding of their faith and
history with Western ministries working in Russia, even though,
realistically, Orthodox opposition to Evangelical presence there is
often so strong that such invitations will not always be accepted.
Be sure that receipt in Russia of any material assistance is not
contingent upon theological agreement with Evangelical donors.
Consider including the Orthodox, for example, in gifts of Bibles,
Sunday school literature, and relief.
Review the four short articles on Evangelical-Orthodox relations in issue three of the East-West Church & Ministry Report (by Kishkovsky, Hill, Elliott, and Triggs) and write the Report for study questions on these pieces for use in missionary orientation and field seminars.
Western church and parachurch leaders carry especially heavy burdens as
they determine how much and what types of orientation are essential
before ministry workers embark for Russia or other parts of the former
Soviet Bloc. In particular, it behooves church mission
committees, denominational mission departments, and parachurch
organizations to reevaluate the all-too-frequent practice of setting
departure dates for missionary candidates before it is clear how long,
not only fundraising will take, but how long given individuals will
need to complete a proper program of study and orientation.
Finally, all of the above deserve consideration not because of any
presumed political or tactical advantage they might provide, but
because they would appear to be the charitable and gracious things to
Note: While this editorial addresses recent legislative
attempts to restrict religious liberties in Russia, both the threats to
freedom of conscience and the recommendations for greater cultural
sensitivity have ready application in many of Europe's post-communist
states, where Orthodox, Catholics, and Lutherans (in Latvia and
Estonia) once enjoyed a greater or lesser degree of privileged status
as state churches.
Mark Elliott, "The Prospects for Religious Liberty in Russia--And How Western Missions Can Enhance Them," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Fall 1993), 16.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
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