In 1989, Russia turned away from 70 years of totalitarian communism and toward Western-style democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. It did not last long. Russia’s twenty-year experiment with Western-style freedoms has come to an end.
For more than a decade, former KGB officer Vladimir Putin has been gathering all real power into his own hands. Russia has descended into neo-Czarism. There is no freedom for the press, and as of July 20th, there is very little freedom of religion.
The new law passed on July 8th, signed by Putin on July 12th, and effective July 20th, outlaws all forms of public and private evangelism, except for evangelism occurring within the walls of a registered, officially recognized church. Public crusades are outlawed, home churches are outlawed, person-to-person evangelism is outlawed, door-to-door evangelism is outlawed, passing out flyers and literature is outlawed, even evangelism through email and other forms of electronic communication is outlawed. The law even purports to outlaw private evangelistic conversations within one’s own home.
This new law puts evangelism in Russia back where it was under the atheistic communists in 1929. But Vladimir Putin is not motivated by the atheistic ideology of Marxism. Even though he served the communist government in the secret police, he has since acknowledged that communism was a “dead end” leading to poverty and isolation from the modern world.
The real impetus for this law comes from the Russian Orthodox Church, which considers all Russia to be its exclusive domain, and deeply resents evangelism by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Putin’s mother was devoutly Russian Orthodox, and had the infant Vladimir secretly christened. Putin experienced a religious awakening after his wife was involved in an automobile accident in 1993, and their dacha was destroyed in a fire in August 1996. Shortly before an official visit to Israel, Putin's mother gave him his baptismal cross, telling him to get it blessed. Putin states, "I did as she said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.” Reportedly, Putin’s Russian Orthodox confessor is Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, author of the bestselling, “Everyday Saints, and other stories.”
The law is part of an “anti-terrorism” measure, but terrorism and evangelism are not related. Muslim Jihadists normally do not try to convert people to Islam, at least not as Christians understand religious conversion. Rather, the jihadists’ goal is to impose sharia law, public law that, among many other things, enshrines the superiority of Islam and the inferior status of other peoples and religions. Once “man-made law” is uprooted and Allah’s law, sharia law, substituted for it, conversion to Islam can take place at leisure, or not at all, on an individual basis. This was the view of Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qtub and, through the Brotherhood or “Ikhwan,” it is the view of most contemporary jihadists.
Hence, terrorism is transparently a pretext for the anti-evangelism law; the real motive is the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to protect its turf.
We can be very grateful that several independent ministries, chief among them John Carter and his “Carter Report,” understood that the window of Russian evangelism would be open only temporarily, and took full advantage of the brief time of religious freedom.