July 8, 2016
President Vladimir Putin has approved the anti-terrorism laws, making them public in Moscow on the 7th of July. His decision was met with “widespread protests,” according to Forum 18. Many are stunned by the swift drafting and passing of these laws, which will take effect July 20th.
Forum 18 notes that lawyers are already working on an appeal to the Constitutional Court. Additionally, they are “preparing advice to individuals and religious communities on how to abide by the terms of the law.” An extensive description of the laws and how Christians will be affected in Russia can be found in Forum 18’s article on the unsettling development.
Russia’s ruling legislatures, the State Duma and the Federal Assembly, recently passed measures that would severely limit Christians’ ability to evangelize.
While they were passed practically unanimously in the Duma and Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin will need to approve them before they are officially signed into law.
Technically the laws fall under an anti-terrorism effort, proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya. And while the laws don’t claim to target any one Christian group in particular, several missionaries and Protestant evangelical leaders have pointed out that they are likely targeted at the Protestant minority of Christians. According to Christianity Today, the laws would require citizens wishing to share their faith to “secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.”
The majority of religious Russians belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, which “is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism,” according to David Aikman, a history professor and foreign affairs expert. Aikman told Christianity Today that the work of evangelical Protestant missionaries is seen as a threat to the Orthodox Church, and therefore Russian nationalism.
Protestant Evangelical leaders in Russia are calling for believers everywhere to pray, fast and send petitions to President Putin. They are hoping the Lord might work through him to reverse this decision.
Several leaders have already sent President Putin letters, including Sergei Ryakhovsky, who is the head of the Protestant Churches of Russia. In a very poignant part of his letter, he says “Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.”
Other evangelicals have expressed concern over the likelihood that these laws would bring about persecution and the loss of rights for Protestants. Aikman goes so far as to say the laws point to a “creeping totalitarianism” in Russia.
And it’s not just Christians who are concerned. The group Human Rights Watch calls the laws “an attack on freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the right to privacy,” according to The Guardian.
Russia certainly needs our prayers and our encouragement. It is possible for President Putin to reject the laws, however given the sweeping majority with which the laws were passed makes this possibility seem very unlikely. At this point, it seems only an act of God would move President Putin’s heart.