Orthodox Church in America Calls for Moderation in Applying Russia's New Religion Law
The Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America recently issued a response to the controversial new law regulating churches and religious bodies in Russia.
"Since the liberation of Russia from oppressive antireligious policies of communist rule, numerous mission efforts, both Christian and non-Christian, have often been high-profile [and] well- financed, bringing messages new to Russian society. In a country which was a closed, totalitarian society less than ten years ago, these missionary programs and 'new religious movements' have naturally caused tensions and anxieties in Russian society. These tensions and anxieties are exacerbated by the absence of habits, legal precedent, customs, and traditions of religious pluralism and democratic freedom.
"The reaction of Russian society, as expressed in the new legislation on religion, is understandable, given the present situation. It may well be that steps should be taken to bring some order into the chaos of the post-Soviet, post-Communist public arena in Russia. Yet, as American Orthodox Christians, we are concerned that the legislation clearly gives opportunities for over- reaction by Russian society and the Russian state and carries within it the possibility of new suppression of religious liberty in various parts of Russia.
"The Orthodox Church in America sees two dangers in the present situation in Russia. The first is the risk of chaos and deep divisions provoked by insensitive and aggressive methods of religious mission and proselytism. The second is the temptation of suppressive policies on the part of the state and society, which in the long run would have a negative impact also on the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. We hope that in Russia both of these extremes will be avoided by wise and restrained implementation of the new legislation, in compliance with the Russian Constitution and its principles of religious liberty."
Excerpt reprinted with permission from The Orthodox Church 33 (November 1997): 11.
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies