Prophets & Patriots: Russian Pentecostal Social Doctrine
"We are patriots for Russia, which should become a leading world state," said Sergei Riakhovsky in July 2004. Head of one of Russia's largest Pentecostal denominations (the Russian United Fellowship of Christians of Evangelical Faith, RUFCEF), and advisor to President Putin's Council on Cooperation with Religious Associations, Riakhovsky is, for many, the face of Russian Protestantism. In 2002, he and other Protestants drafted what became the basis for the Evangelical statement on social doctrine reviewed by this author in the previous issue of the East West Church and Ministry Report 12 (Fall 2004): 3-5. Now, a separate Pentecostal social doctrine statement underscores Russian Orthodox influence and the potential dilemma Russian Evangelicals face in seeking to serve their homeland prophetically and patriotically.
Theologically, the Reformation doctrines of sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide distinguish the Pentecostal statement from the earlier Orthodox one, just as its teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit separates it slightly from the Evangelical position. Throughout, the Pentecostal statement gleans the lengthier Orthodox work for structure, premises, and language. Sections on the mutual concerns of church and state, the theoretical basis for Christian ethics and law, and the demographic crisis are drawn almost whole cloth from the Orthodox document, something recently acknowledged by Riakhovsky. He stressed that the denomination's social activism accounts for its appeal among young professionals, who may not recognize that its social doctrine is drawn "in many points" from that of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Readers of the Pentecostal statement will also recognize traces of the Russian Orthodox conception of church and state. Assertions about individual rights seem muted when compared to the Evangelical statement, and the Pentecostal document is more deferential to state power – odd since this community was so persecuted and so adversarial in its relations with Soviet authorities. The statement encourages participation in government as an aspect of Christian patriotism, but equivocates when it comes to civil disobedience. Pentecostal social initiatives include charity, extensive work among orphans, rehabilitation centers for at-risk groups, education to promote confessional tolerance, and detailed (now realized) plans for work among prisoners and members of the armed forces.
As in the other two statements, sections on Christian ethics reflect a deep concern about the moral state of Russian society. Abortion, cloning, euthanasia, and homosexuality are condemned. Sections on the economy and labor seek to promote free market competition, while education is seen as a means to effect a broad cultural rebirth of Christian values. All three statements argue the need to find a prophetic voice to articulate the moral demands of the moment, and to act to meet them. They also place a premium on patriotism, with the Pentecostal statement as vigorous on this point as the others. Could this become a problem? Recent pro-Putin comments by Riakhovsky suggest that the line between advice and advocacy can be a tricky one, something not unique to Russian Pentecostals as they fashion a social ministry that is relevant and effective.
Scott Lingenfelter is a doctoral candidate in Russian history at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
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