RLP 481 | Russia: Proposed Changes to Law Threaten Religious Education

Prayer June 4, 2008

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 481 | Wed 04 Jun 2008

By Anneta Vyssotskaia

Discipleship is an important part of Jesus' Great Commandment and
is a key to further church growth and spread of the Good News
inside any nation and across its borders. A Church completely
obedient to Christ will make training new disciples a priority.
Without a good foundation of the Word it would be open to heresies
and emotionalism. This is especially vital when big numbers of
people without any past experience of Sunday schools or Bible
studies become believers in a spiritual revival. This happened in
the USSR where any form of Christian education had been considered
a crime for over 70 years. Even now, 20 years after Perestroika,
most Russians would have been brought up as atheists. For many, the
Bible remains a closed mysterious book, even for those attending
church. All sorts of superstitions, faith in horoscopes and very
secular thinking are quite common. So teaching the Word of God in
all its fullness to such people will bring God's light and freedom
to those who are still in darkness and the prison of their old
thinking.

Realising the need for proper discipleship, most evangelical
churches in Russia are striving to teach their members in various
ways. Now Bible studies, seminars, conferences, courses, teaching
centres, schools, colleges, institutes, seminaries, universities
and even academies are important instruments for discipleship and
leadership training. From a generation when the majority of church
leaders had no theological training, the Church in Russia is
working towards a new generation with every believer able to get
proper theological teaching for ministry in the Church. However,
there is now a big obstacle to this goal and a threat that even
simple Bible studies could be considered 'illegal educational
activities' if they are not officially registered.

The existing Law on Religion in Russia says that everybody has a
right to religious education in accordance with their preference,
individually or together with others, and that religious
organisations have the right to set up religious educational
institutions. However, a non-Orthodox church trying to register a
Christian educational institution is a tremendously difficult
process with very little prospect of success. For this reason most
churches conduct their believers' instruction without registering.
Sometimes this attracts the attention of Russian Orthodox opponents
and local authorities who then try to stop it. Because the law does
not directly prohibit a church teaching its believers, other
pretexts for banning it are found, not directly related to
education.

There have been a number attempts in recent years to amend the Law
on Religion to increasingly restrict various church activities
ranging from evangelism to social work. However, religious
education has recently received special attention. Two main thrusts
are being attempted: restricting all religious educational
activities even within registered churches; and making 'Foundations
of Orthodox Culture' a compulsory course throughout Russia. (Other
traditional religions like Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are supposed
to be excepted from this in areas of Russia where they are
dominant.)

In mid-April 2008 a bill to amend the Law on Religion was proposed
for consideration in the Russian State Duma, which focused mainly
on the registration of religious organisations and their
educational activities. A special committee is now investigating
and discussing the draft bill. One suggestion is that a religious
organisation running any educational program (for children or
adults) must first register it and, if any changes are made, a new
registration would be required. If such amendments to the Law on
Religion are adopted it could create a huge problem for all the
churches in Russia and put the issue of their registered status
under threat. However, if that happens, the churches in Russia will
look for other ways to continue the teaching activities within
their discipleship ministries.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* all the churches in Russia will have the right to give proper
religious education to all believers and their children in
accordance with their vision.

* the Orthodox Church's 'Foundations of Orthodox Culture' will not
be imposed as a compulsory course on all the Russian population.

'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them
in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching
them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you
always, even to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:19,20 NASB)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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LAW CHANGE WOULD THREATEN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION IN RUSSIA

The Law on Religion in Russia currently allows everybody to receive
religious education in accordance with their preference, and that
religious organisations have the right to set up educational
religious institutions. However, in mid-April 2008 a bill to amend
the Law on Religion was proposed, focusing mainly on the
registration of religious organisations and their educational
activities. One requirement would be that a religious organisation
running a teaching program would first have to register it and a
new registration would be needed if it were changed at all. If such
an amendment is adopted it could create a huge problem for the
churches in Russia and also put the issue of their registered
status under threat. Please pray that the churches will continue to
have full liberty to teach the truths of the Christian faith.

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is working on other assignments.

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