FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE OR FREEDOM WITHOUT CONSCIENCE?
by Mikhail Cherenkov
Cherenkov.blogspot.ru, July 2016
On 20 July, a set of repressive laws, known as the "Yarovaya Package," took effect in Russia.
Despite the protests of religious leaders, the laws were nevertheless signed by President Vladimir Putin. Joint prayers and collective appeals to the president by evangelical Christians were ignored.
A new epoch has begun for Russia and Russian believers, in which, under cover of antiterrorist rhetoric, religious freedom is being destroyed, fear is being sown, and the search for domestic sectarian enemies and the struggle with them are being encouraged.
From now on, not everyone can choose to explain one's faith to a neighbor or to share the gospel with a passer-by. Indeed, monitoring and censorship will reign on the Internet. Unbearably enormous fines threaten both individuals and religious organizations.
We do not know how these laws will be applied. But it is already now clear that they are fulfilling their goal: they are creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in society and they are giving the government the right to effectively restrict freedom—despite the constitution and international norms.
Believers have already been quite quickly faced with a very serious choice—to obey God or the Russian "law," to bow to Christ or to Putin, and the price of this choice will be very high. It is like in Russian fairy tales—the hero stands at a crossroads, but every choice is fraught with threats and there is simply no safety. This is a typically Russian situation: there is a kind of choice, but it is necessary to pay much for it, sometimes with one's conscience and sometimes with one's head.
I recall how Christians did not trust the soviet "perestroika," and then the fall of communism. All the time they were expecting that freedom will cease and persecution will return. Now these alarming expectations are coming true before our eyes. Russia has completed its historical cycle, moving from the thaw and chaos to a harsh dictatorship. For those who value freedom more than bread, and fidelity higher than life, the time of hardships has begun. Freedom of conscience has become extremely precious. Increasingly, remaining at liberty is possible only for those who have sacrificed freedom of conscience and conscience itself.
Actually, Russian evangelical churches find themselves behind a new "iron curtain," which closes off society from the outside world. They need our support. It is especially important to support the new generation of leaders, who are competent and dedicated, daring and bold, free and creative, and ready to minister under any conditions. Simply put, they are those who understand everything but are not afraid. Only they can see in what is happening a new possibility that God is giving. The door for evangelism is still open, or ajar. Therefore the time of active mission is continuing. Pray for Russia, its people and its Christians, for its political and religious leaders. For those who are called in such a difficult time to serve God's mission in this enormous and very troubled country. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 August 2016)
Russian original posted on website of Religiia i Pravo, 29 July 2016
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