Why we ought to be concerned by Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Kremlin, Moscow. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Kremlin, Moscow. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The BBC recently reported that five members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been detained in Russia on “extremism” charges. The religious sect was effectively banned from Russia last year by its Supreme Court. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not an orthodox Christian group (they do not believe in the full divinity of Christ), Russia’s moves against them ought to cause us grave concern.

The detaining of the five members of the group was reported on the BBC on 10 October here.

“The five members of the group were accused of the supposedly heinous crimes of collecting more than 500,000 roubles ($7,500) of funding, organizing religious events, and calling on others to join their organisation.”

According to the BBC article, the five members were accused by Russian authorities of possessing two hand grenades and a landmine — serious charges if true, but I for one find myself skeptical. Besides this, the five members of the group were accused of the supposedly heinous crimes of collecting more than 500,000 roubles ($7,500) of funding, organizing religious events, and calling on others to join their organisation.

Although Christians don’t believe the same things as Jehovah’s Witnesses on key gospel issues — I argued here why their translation of John 1:1, a key text for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, was a mistranslation — nonetheless as Christians these events should concern us deeply.

The crackdown on members of the sect would appear to be part of a wider crackdown on the activity of Christian denominations by Russia, following the passing in 2016 of vague but draconian new ‘anti-terrorism’ laws aimed at restricting evangelism.

“In September 2016 the Barnabas Fund reported that a church pastor in Noyabrsk in Siberia had become the first person to be charged under the new laws. He was charged with “the conducting of missionary activity,” was found guilty and was fined 5,000 roubles.”

In September 2016 the Barnabas Fund reported that a church pastor in Noyabrsk in Siberia had become the first person to be charged under the new laws. The church pastor was charged with “the conducting of missionary activity,” was found guilty and was fined 5,000 roubles.

The article also reported that of six people who had at that time been charged under the new laws, four were Christians, and at the time of writing all the believers who had been charged had been found guilty.

We can be sure that these laws have been used many more times against Christian missionaries and Christian believers since these initial reports.

The laws give special status to Russia’s established church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and effectively outlaw religious or evangelistic activity in the country by other Christian groups.

We commend the BBC for reporting this state action against the five members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as the earlier Supreme Court ruling outlawing the organization.

 

 

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