Russian citizens may soon have to obtain a permit from a registered religious organization in order to be able to share their faith. Even then, Christians would not be able to evangelize outside of churches or other places of worship, Christianity Today reported.
A set of surveillance and anti-terrorism laws have been passed by the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament) and approved by the State Duma (the parliament’s lower house). The legislation would place severe limits on religious freedom—the most restrictive in post-Soviet Russian history. President Vladimir Putin’s approval is all that stands in the way of these laws becoming official.
A number of Protestant leaders in Russia fasted, prayed, and penned a letter to Putin petitioning him not to allow the “repressive and unconstitutional law to be adopted.” The letter reads, in part:
“The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions.”
“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.”
President of Mission Eurasia and former Moscow church-planter Sergey Rakhuba told Christianity Today:
“Most evangelicals—leaders from all seven denominations—have expressed concerns. They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted his doubts that Putin would side with religious liberty yesterday:
Vladimir Putin has consistently stood up for a thuggish KGB-style authoritarianism, persecuted orphans, and harassed churches. Not a friend.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 30, 2016
The laws would restrict evangelizing both online and within a person’s private home. Those who violate the anti-evangelism law would face individual fines of $780 or organizational fines of $15,500. Foreigners, such as missionaries, would face deportation.
The Moscow Times reported that the anti-terrorism laws would become effective in 2018 if signed by Putin.