In many countries the door-to-door evangelists have historically served as a bellwether for religious freedom for other minority groups. In Russia, that includes evangelicals, who remain ambivalent over whether to defend the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a fellow non-Orthodox faith.
“Considering that the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is professed by hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, [liquidation] would be a disaster for rights and freedoms in our country,”
said Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters, to Forum 18, looking at the ban which has an impact about 175,000 followers in 2,000 congregations nationwide.
“Without any exaggeration, it would put us back to the dark days of persecution for faith.”
he said last year and came to see that Russia is back into the dark ages where people torture those who are different, like homosexuals.
Russian Protestants don’t consider themselves as extreme — or as annoying — as the Witnesses, and they aren’t too eager to speak out against the recent case against them.
said William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance.
“Protestants do at times succumb to the temptation to accept the common Russian division between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ religions if they themselves happen to be on the right side of the divide.”
The warnings against Jehovah’s Witnesses have stacked up over the past decade in particular, with dozens of regional charges of extremism and more than 80 of its books, pamphlets, and other texts (including its magazine, The Watchtower) banned in Russia, according to The Moscow Times.
Many evangelistic groups at first contented themselves with the prohibition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they are now also being targeted by the Russian Orthodox Church, which sees them as a dangerous rival. The Russian Orthodox Church would like to see other religious groups disappear from the scene and hopes to ban the proclaiming groups by prohibiting them.
Evangelicals say there should be no reason to ban them because they believe in the Trinity and are open to ecumenical services. In Russia, the JW don’t participate in interfaith efforts among minority groups. Plus, according the evangelicals the JW are promoting a competitive theology in a way many evangelicals disagree with.
“Protestants consider the evangelistic activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be excessively intrusive and aggressive,”
said Michael Cherenkov, the Ukraine-based executive field director for Mission Eurasia.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses push their distinct teachings on God and the end times, evangelicals contextualize their sermons to build on Russian familiarity with Christian history and Orthodox culture. Because of their theological and methodological differences,
“Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia appear to be foreign and almost alien,”
The evangelicals should recognise that many of the claims made in court about the Jehovah’s Witnesses practices could also be made of other religious communities practices as well.
Traditional Russian Orthodoxy continues to be increasingly conflated with a sense of Russian patriotism and nationalism, so many believe the government will keep pushing against the freedoms of minority faiths.
“A ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is just the beginning in a series of repressions. Society needs an internal enemy to which the government can point in full cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church,” Cherenkov said. “The silence of Protestants with regard to repressions against Jehovah’s Witnesses will merely unleash a new wave of restrictions and repressions.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also America’s favorite punch line,
says Joel P. Engardio, co-producer of Knocking, a documentary on the 7 million-member sect, which, he says, spends 1.3 billion hours per year knocking on doors.
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