- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

MOSCOW The Salvation Army may have to retreat from Moscow this month after running afoul of Russian red tape and facing growing hostility to foreign Christian organizations.

Its Moscow corps has been informed by a court in the Russian capital that, as a "militarized" body taking orders from abroad, it had no right to register with the local authorities.

Its lack of official status threatens to force the closing of its Moscow mission after Dec. 31, the deadline imposed by a Russian law requiring religious organizations to re-register with the Justice Ministry.

The Salvation Army was last hounded out of Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1922, but its officers, in their distinctive uniforms and caps, have been a regular sight on the streets of Moscow since 1992, when the organization was last officially registered.

It now operates in 14 Russian cities, delivering meals, running soup kitchens, visiting hospitals, prisons and orphanages and holding Bible studies.

"There is a lot going on here," said Maj. Marcia Vanover, head of its Moscow operations. "But there would be even more going on if we had any support from the government."

The Salvation Army's efforts to re-register in compliance with the law have already taken two years and cost more than $14,000 in legal fees. After the latest setback, it must now decide whether to take its case to the Supreme Court.

"The most troubling aspect of all this is that we want to preach our ministry to ordinary people," said Col. Kenneth Baillie, the Salvation Army's commander in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. "Instead, we are spending time and money in paper chases and lawsuits."

It is not clear what will happen to the Salvation Army in Moscow in the new year if its status is not clarified before the deadline expires. But, unregistered, it will be vulnerable to pressure from any bureaucrat who wants to make trouble.

"We will pull out at whatever stage we decide that the Moscow city authorities are resolute in trying to liquidate us," said Col. Baillie.

Founded by British preacher William Booth in the 19th century, the Salvation Army, with its record of fighting poverty in big cities, would seem ideally suited to help the needy and distressed in post-communist Russia.

However, after energetic lobbying from the Orthodox Church, Russia has enacted draconian legislation restricting the activities of foreign missionaries and protecting "native" faiths, such as Orthodoxy and Islam.

Only a successful appeal to the Supreme Court or a ruling that the Salvation Army can be registered nationally, rather than in individual cities, can now save its Moscow operations.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide