Legislation which passed the Russian legislature and awaits President Vladimir Putin’s signature could ban private citizens from sharing their faith with others, Christianity Today reported on Wednesday.
Should the new law go into effect, citizens wishing to share their faith will have to “secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites,” according to the evangelical Christian magazine. “The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.”
“If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization,” Christianity Today said. “Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.”
“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,” evangelical leaders warned Mr. Putin in a letter according to Christianity Today. The magazine noted that a mere 1 percent of Russia’s population is believed to be Protestant Christian.
While the law would be theoretically neutral in application, proselytization is a hallmark of evangelical Protestantism whereas the more populous Russian Orthodox Christians do not have a heritage of proselytizing.
Indeed, experts believe the law is aimed at maintaining the political favor of the country’s most dominant religious institution.
“The Russian Orthodox church is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism stirred up by Vladimir Putin,” Christianity Today quoted David Aikman, a former professor at Patrick Henry College, an evangelical Christian institution in Purcellville, Virginia. “Everything that undermines that action is a real threat, whether that’s evangelical Protestant missionaries or anything else.”