David Barnes, Irina Kargina, and Mark Elliott
Recently completed field research, primarily among Evangelical Christians-Baptists (ECB) in the former Soviet Union, provides fascinating and sometimes surprising new insights into Protestant church life and beliefs today. Dr. David Barnes, professor of biology at Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, NY, and a missions partner with the Evangelical Christian Temple of Christ Church, Novgorod, Russia, secured funding from Roberts Wesleyan College to underwrite a survey administered by Dr. Irina Kargina, director of research for the Association of Spiritual Renewal, Moscow, the Russian affiliate of U.S.-based Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries.
Population and Questionnaire
During December 2000 and January 2001 survey workers administered a two-part, 96-item questionnaire to 732 subjects. Objective and short essay questions in Part I explored autobiographical and church-related themes. Part II, which was completely anonymous, included questions relating to Christian faith and practice, using multiple choice and Likert (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree) formats. On average, completion of the questionnaire took 75 minutes. Respondents included 604 Russians (from 118 cities and 171 churches), 65 Ukrainians (from 18 cities and 27 churches), and 63 Byelorussians (from 10 cities and 11 churches). The denominational breakdown was 503 Evangelical Christians-Baptists, 90 Seventh-day Adventists, 30 Pentecostals, and 109 other Protestant Christians, including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and members of independent churches. All Ukrainian and Byelorussian respondents were Evangelical Christian-Baptist. Evangelical Christians-Baptists constituted 69 percent of respondents and are the focus of this report.
It should be noted that Russian Evangelical Christian-Baptist answers closely matched those of their Ukrainian and Byelorussian counterparts. Likewise, differences among Protestant pastors, assistant pastors, university students, seminary students, lay leaders, and ordinary church members were seldom significant. University students were somewhat less conservative than others, but the differences were typically small.
Part I: Pastoral and Church Profile
The 82 senior pastors (86 percent Evangelical Christian-Baptist) surveyed were typically married (91 percent), had Christian parents (81 percent), were military veterans (74 percent), had been in their present position for at least three years (54 percent), and became believers prior to 1991 (52 percent). Fifty percent owned approximately 100 Christian books; 46 percent had two or more children; and 31 percent had Internet access.
Church Allegiance and Worship
Forty-eight percent of respondents' churches were founded since 1996. For the 43 ECB churches founded earlier, median membership in 1996 was 48 and median attendance was 30, whereas in 2001, median membership and attendance was 60. Thus, over the five years, median membership in these churches increased 33 percent and median attendance doubled. Fifty-eight percent worshipped in churches or remodeled houses owned by the congregations and 42 percent in rented buildings.
Church Impoverishment and Church Life
Those few pastors willing to divulge their salaries (21 of 82 respondents) received an average of $832 per year from their congregations. While 78 percent of congregations owned hymnals, less than half owned a VCR/TV (42 percent), a tape recorder (40 percent), pictorial flannel graphs (35 percent),a computer (23 percent), a vehicle (22 percent), an overhead projector (21 percent), or a photocopier (18 percent). Despite this material impoverishment, the vast majority of churches conducted Sunday worship (94 percent), held Sunday schools for children (88 percent), possessed a church library (72 percent), and held weekly prayer meetings (63 percent). Lesser percentages of churches sponsored teen summer camps (46 percent), church choirs (43 percent), Sunday evening worship (35 percent), clothing distribution (33 percent), counseling (33 percent), youth choirs (31 percent), programs for teens (27 percent) or single adults (20 percent), adult Sunday schools (18 percent), or food distribution (9 percent). Many churches engaged in outreach to old-age homes at least once a month (59 percent), while fewer than half had monthly ministries to hospitals (40 percent), orphanages (28 percent), or prisons (12 percent).
Part II: Issues of Faith and Practice
Findings in this report for Part II in this report are derived from 375 Russian Evangelical Christians-Baptists widely dispersed across western and central European Russia. (Only four percent of Russians surveyed were from Moscow and nine percent from St. Petersburg.) Between 94 and 100 percent of respondents were familiar with biblical accounts of creation, the flood and Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, the birth of Jesus, the conversion of Saul, and the stoning of Stephen. Ninety-four percent believed the Bible was inspired by God and that every sentence "is completely true as written." Ninety-two percent believed God created the world and all forms of life in six days. Only 14 percent believed that "people from many religious perspectives can have a personal relationship with God."
Respondents, by a surprising majority (answering "strongly agree" or "agree"), believed that Protestants "should try to live peacefully with the Russian Orthodox Church" (87 percent) and that "devout Russian Orthodox believers will go to heaven" (80 percent). Eighty-nine percent believed that those baptized in childhood should be baptized again as adults. Forty-two percent favored a more traditional, rather than contemporary, style of worship. And 23 percent noted that their churches had experienced difficulties with cults.
The Woman's Place
Fifty percent of respondents, answering "strongly agree" or "agree," believed married women should wear head coverings in church. A majority approved of women working in the church as teachers of children (95 percent), teachers of women (90 percent), choir directors (84 percent), missionaries (75 percent), administrators (60 percent), and as members of church councils (55 percent). On the other hand, a majority of respondents opposed women serving in churches as pastors (92 percent), elders (90 percent), teachers of men (86 percent), preachers (80 percent), or deacons (66 percent).
The Church and Society
Regarding Christian interaction with society, a majority of respondents answered "strongly agree" or "agree" when asked if devout believers should feel free to attend university (100 percent), participate in civic organizations (94 percent) or city government (89 percent), serve in the military (66 percent), or become business leaders (69 percent), but fewer believed devout Christians should run for political office (48 percent). A majority approved of expressing opinions in newspapers (91 percent), watching movie videos at home (85 percent), watching TV at home (79 percent), and attending movies in theaters (61 percent).
Politics and Personal Morality
Perhaps reflecting traditional Anabaptist influences upon Russian evangelicals, a majority opposed capital punishment (57 percent) and only 23 percent approved of the war in Chechnya. Regarding the Soviet period, only 16 percent believed "it was not so bad," while 33 percent were neutral on this point, and 50 percent "disagree" or "strongly disagree." No doubt reflecting their pietist roots, a majority of post-Soviet evangelical respondents did not believe devout Christians should engage in homosexual (99 percent) or extramarital sex (98 percent). Nor should they smoke (95 percent), drink alcohol in moderation (83 percent), or participate in modern dance (67 percent). However, over half had no objection to cultural/folk dancing (56 percent). Reflecting noncompliance with traditional pastoral teaching, only 22 percent of respondents considered artificial birth control morally wrong. Only small minorities believed abortion to be acceptable in the first trimester where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother (19 percent) or in cases of rape or incest (nine percent). Eighty-two percent "strongly oppose" or "oppose" euthanasia of the sick, elderly, and severely mentally handicapped. Seventy-eight percent favored church sponsorship of sex education for young people.
The status of Evangelicals in the former Soviet Union today may seem positive compared to the travails they endured in the Soviet and tsarist eras. Or their status may seem troubled compared to the much greater comfort and security of their counterparts in the West. The basis of comparison makes all the difference. In terms of civil liberties, post-Soviet Evangelicals in 1992 were dramatically better off than were their Soviet- or tsarist-era counterparts. And still in 2002 they are appreciably better off than they were under commissars or tsars. But compared to Evangelical material advantages in the West and the legal protections Evangelicals enjoy in North America and Great Britain, post-Soviet Evangelicals appear startlingly impoverished and politically embattled.
The study confirms any number of long-held assumptions, but also reveals sometimes unexpected perspectives and practices of post-Soviet Evangelicals. In perhaps the most encouraging revelation of the study, survey results indicate a 33 percent increase in membership and a doubling in median attendance in ECB churches in existence for the past five years.
Western observers have known that many post-Soviet Evangelical congregations rent church buildings, but it still proves sobering to have documentation indicating that the figure is 42 percent. The survey confirms stark impoverishment in most congregations, with believers possessing few material resources with which to conduct ministry. Furthermore, pastoral salaries are so meager that bivocational ministry is frequently a necessity. Western ministries might be well served to focus on microenterprise development projects and teachings on biblical stewardship in their partnerships with struggling post-Soviet congregations.
Congregational outreach may be hampered by the small average church size, the psychological hangover and lack of experience due to Soviet proscriptions against charity, and renewed obstacles by local officials against Evangelical work, especially in orphanages and prisons. Nevertheless, it is remarkable what typically poor and small church fellowships manage to support in addition to Sunday worship. Readers, likewise, will be impressed with Evangelicals' high level of biblical literacy and their generous and charitable stance towards Russian Orthodox believers, something rarely documented previously.
Survey results indicating a limited role for women in Evangelical churches document what has been widely recognized, though one could argue that approval of women as church administrators (60 percent), and especially as members of church councils (55 percent), indicates some movement towards greater acceptance of women in roles of responsibility.
Given the absolute exclusion of Evangelicals from Soviet society and higher education described by Walter Sawatsky (Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II) and Michael Rowe (Russian Resurrection), the openness of today's Evangelicals to certain forms of interaction with society indicates a dramatic shift in attitude and practice. High positive responses from Evangelicals favoring civic involvement, media acceptance, and participation in business, differ sharply from the Soviet era. Finally, that Evangelicals still adhere to a strict code of personal morality comes as no surprise, though some Western readers may not have realized the degree to which post-Soviet Evangelicals oppose alcohol consumption, the war in Chechnya, capital punishment, and abortion, even when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
In summary, the present study reveals aspects of the beliefs and practices of post-Soviet Evangelicals that are especially valuable since these believers rarely appear on the radar screen of surveys conducted of the general post-Soviet population. A future study comparing Evangelical Christians-Baptists with the burgeoning number of post-Soviet Pentecostals and charismatics and a study comparing Russian Protestants with the proportionately much larger Ukrainian Protestant community would be invaluable in deepening our understanding of Evangelicals in the post-Soviet era.
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© 2002 East-West Church and Ministry Report