Vladimir Putin has proudly claimed and all too many in the West accept at face value that he is a defender of Christianity and its traditional values. In fact, as a new report released by the University of Notre Dame, the Kremlin is among the countries in the world where repression of many denominations of Christianity is an increasing fact of life.
From among the post-Soviet states, the Under Caesar’s Sword project says, only Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan fall into the category of high levels of persecution of Christians. But Russia and all others in the region, except for the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia fall in the moderate persecution one/
“Under Vladimir Putin,” the report says, “relations between the Russian Orthodox church and the Russian state are the closest they have been since tsarists time. As a result, other Christians who form less than five percent of the population of Russia and consist of Protestants of various denominations and Catholics are subject to discrimination.”
The religious discrimination which sometimes rises to the level of persecution “is not as open as in China or Saudi Arabia, federal, regional and local officials in Russia nevertheless are sharply limiting religious freedom,” according to experts at Notre Dame.
Commenting on the situation of religious groups subject to discrimination and persecution around the world, the Under Caesar’s Sword report draws seven key conclusions:
Federal, regional and local officials in Russia are sharply limiting religious freedom
“1. Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies. These strategies include going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes.
2. Strategies of association are the second most common response.
3. Strategies of confrontation are the least common response.
4. Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few
exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism.
5. Theology—in particular, a Christian community’s theology of suffering, church,
and culture—influences the response of that community.
6. Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted
than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, or other Christians
associated with ancient churches. In response to persecution, evangelical and Pentecostal
Christians are more likely to engage in strategies of survival or, on rare occasions,
confrontation. They are less likely, however, to engage in strategies of association.
Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, are more likely
to respond through strategies of association.
7. The intensity of persecution only partly explains Christians’ responses.”
Under Vladimir Putin, the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state is the closest it has been since the Tsarist period… as a result are non-Orthodox Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the Russian population and comprise a wide range of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whereas persecution is not as overt as it is in China or Saudi Arabia, national, regional, and local governments in Russia nevertheless strongly curtail religious freedom. The main objective is to curb the growing numbers and vitality of evangelicals and the support from the West that some enjoy.
One unsettling form of repression is the political uncertainty that comes in the form of selective and uneven protection of Christian communities. A 1997 law made church registration a cult and clamped down on missionary activity, and a 2012 law restricted the receipt of foreign funds. Such legislation is used to prohibit and prosecute religious activities. For instance, in April 2015, a Baptist pastor in Crimea was jailed for street evangelization and released after three days. He was one among many across the country who have been harassed. Other forms of repression consist of state harassment and public vili cation of certain churches.
(Under Caesar’s Sword, In Response to Persecutions, University of Notre Dame)
Paul Goble – political scientist and diplomat. He is an analyst, writer and columnist with expertise on Russia.