Anti-evangelism law used against simple Christian witness


by Roman Lunkin

Religiia i Pravo, 10 November 2016


In the mid-2000s, when the Russian State Duma and Russian Ministry of Justice were discussing the necessity for control of missionaries, believers of various confessions said that they will be convicted even for a conversation about God in a train. But at the time this seemed to be a figure of speech, a hysteric hypothetical case. Reality has surpassed expectations: Christians have begun fighting with Christians and the possession of a New Testament has become a reason for suspicions on the part of police. The country has once again adopted the soviet rejection of religion, but it does not now know why it has done this.


Eight believers of various protestant churches, carrying New Testaments, were discussing God on an electric train in the Yaroslavl Station on 7 October 2016. While distributing free copies of the New Testament and Psalms, the protestants were arrested by police officers at the instigation of members of the little-known Orthodox Rights Advocacy Analytical Center. Most of the detainees were released without any charges. On 2 November 2016, a police report of an administrative violation of law was composed regarding only one of the distributors of the New Testament—Sergei Korepin. The report was composed by a captain of the railway police directorate in the Moscow-Yaroslavl station, Yu.V. Guseva.


The accusation, based on part 4 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of law of the RF (which appeared as the result of the Yarovaya package) presented to Korepin, was distribution of the New Testament among passengers and dissemination of information about his religious faith. The essence of Korepin's doctrinal conception was not specified, since he had simply told people about the Gospel that he was distributing. The aggravating circumstance in the police report surely is that the missionary belongs to a specific religious organization, the Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians. The point is that the books of the New Testament and Psalms are published by the Gideons evangelical mission, which has for several decades now printed and distributed these books in Russia (In July 2016 thousands of books were seized at Vyborg customs; the customs agents demanded the conduct of an expert analysis of the New Testament; and all books had to be sent back to Finland).


In this case of preachers on electric trains, there appeared a completely new logic and new methods of proving the guilt of a believer. Sergei Korepin did not admit his guilt, since he could distribute Sacred Scripture as a citizen in accordance with the Russian constitution. In addition, he is not a member of the Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians, as the police report noted. Why did police agencies at the time decide for the believer himself which church he attends and to which denomination he belongs?


Sergei Korepin's attorney, Inna Zagrebina, emphasizes that for composing the police report some evidence was needed of the fact that it was illegal missionary activity that was being conducted. Therefore it was necessary to attach the believer to an organization, since when acting in the name of a church, a believer is required to have a document for evangelism. The police had conducted an investigation on the Internet in Sergei Korepin's social networks. On the basis of photographs on the social networks of Korepin attending various churches, including the Gideons mission, the unequivocal conclusion was drawn that he was acting in the name of the organization. The attorney's attempts to say that Korepin attends various congregations, and this is evident from the social networks, were to no avail. Now he awaits a fine.


It is quite possible that the police personnel simply were confused about the incident. Initially they were misled by activists of the Orthodox Rights Advocacy Analysis  Center. It remains unclear why the Orthodox reacted thus to the distribution of books of the New Testament in the Synodal translation and apparently they did not know the text. In addition, the "doctrine" about which the missionaries were talking was the preaching of the Gospel, and the Orthodox also did not understand that this was something Christian. Moreover, in October, when articles in the press began to appear in the name of this Orthodox center, they called the preachers neo-Pentecostals or Jehovah's Witnesses or simply sectarians.


The Orthodox Right Advocacy Center also announced a hunt for the preachers including protestants: "We recall that this legal norm of the administrative code—part 4, article 5.26, of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF—took effect after the adoption of the so-called 'Yarovaya Package.' Before the appearance of these amendments, members of destructive religious cults could be held accountable only for serious criminal violations of law."


In Russia there has developed a certain complex regarding religion, based on an unresolved contradiction. On one hand there is in society the awareness that our country is Orthodox, with its rich spiritual culture, and people living in it are Orthodox in the majority, because we do not have other foundations. On the other hand, there exists a fear of religion and the religious life and of the fact that a church may develop a person with its own "ideology" and force him to change his life. And if there are sectarians around, then nothing needs to change. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 November 2016)


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