The CoMission was a consortium of 83 evangelical organizations that worked together with the Russian Ministry of Education to provide biblically based moral and ethical education in the public schools of Russia and a handful of other neighboring countries. From 1992-97, the CoMission raised more than $60 million to send over 1,500 short-term missionary educators to Russia and its surroundings. What is most noteworthy about the CoMission, however, is the fact that it was a partnership not between Western Evangelicals and indigenous Protestant believers (as one might expect) but between Western Evangelicals and a secular government. This partnership eventually dissolved as the tension between the Westerners’ evangelistic goals and the Russian state’s educational goals began to mount and as the Russian Orthodox Church (at first favorable toward the CoMission) began to voice its opposition to the Western infringement on its historical territory.
Tension existed between the way the CoMission depicted itself to Western Evangelicals who constituted its prayer and financial base and the way it described itself to the Russian Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education stipulated that the Christian ethical instruction brought by the International Schools Project (the precursor to the CoMission) be voluntary (that is, not a part of the required school curriculum) and inter-confessional. Western Evangelicals were initially successful in meeting these requirements to the satisfaction of both the Ministry of Education and the Russian Orthodox Church.
The CoMission billed itself to its Russian partners as a provider of a Christian-based morality and ethics curriculum. However, providing moral education was far from the only goal of the CoMission. The major purpose was to engage in evangelism and discipleship and, in fact, the overall thrust of the Christian ethics curriculum was that in order to live by Christian morality, one needed to receive Christ as Savior. Moreover, the CoMission continually depicted itself to its Western constituencies as the largest evangelistic outreach in history, one in which anyone (educator or not) could participate. This tension between the two visions of CoMission’s purpose eventually drew the fire of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose officials believed that the Westerners sought to pull people out of Orthodoxy and make them Protestants.
Far too often the CoMission has either been portrayed in glowing terms as one of God’s most extraordinary works in hist ory or derided as a clumsy and ill-thought-out act of American religious imperialism. In actual fact, much good has come of the CoMission. Surely it has helped in bringing Christian morality to Russian students, and unquestionably it has brought many people into close contact with the message of Christ. But this good has come at a high cost, including questions of integrity raised by different ways of depicting the project to different audiences, the angry reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the CoMission’s tragic act of ignoring the three million indigenous Protestants in the former Soviet Union.
Donald Fairbairn, Review of Perry L. Glanzer, The Quest for Russia’s Soul: Evangelicals and Moral Education in Post-Communist Russia (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2002) in Religion in Eastern Europe 23 (October 2003), 51.
Edited excerpt from the summary section of the book review published with permission.
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