BIBLE ON TRIAL. WISH TO CHECK NEW TESTAMENT AND PSALTER FOR EXTREMISM
by Roman Lunkin
Religiia i Pravo, 2 November 2016
On 16 November 2016, hearings will be held in the Vyborg city court on a case concerning examination of the books of the New Testament and Psalter in order to determine whether they are extremist literature. Back in July 2016 the Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians, which is well known in the Christian world, wanted to import into Russia the New Testament and Psalter, which it has distributed throughout the country for many years now. However the Vyborg customs demanded that a "psycho-linguistic expert analysis of the printed work," that is, the biblical books, be conducted. All other rules of transportation of books had been complied with by the mission.
On 13 July 2016 the chief of the Brusnichnoe customs post, Sergei Lenin, explained the refusal to release the New Testament by the fact that "information has not been presented to the effect that the printed materials being transported do not contain information falling under the specifications contained in part 1 of article 1 of the federal law 'On combating extremist activity.'"
As the attorney representing the interests of the Gideons mission, Anatoly Pchelintsev, notes, customs completely ignored the amendments to the federal law "On combating extremist activity." In 2015, on the initiative of Russian President V.V. Putin and the head of Chechnya, R. Kadyrov, provisions were introduced into the law to the effect that the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, and Kangyur, their contents, and quotations from them may not be ruled to be extremist materials (article 3.1 of the aforementioned law). This means that in principle questions should not arise at customs regarding the Christian literature, which is a part of the Bible.
In addition, the Gideons mission submitted to the chief of customs an expert conclusion of the department of religious studies of the A.I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University, which provides a complete rationale for the fact that the books of the New Testament and Psalter are parts of the Bible. That conclusion was made several years ago.
Customs officials turned out, for unknown reasons, to be deaf to the arguments of the Christian mission. Considering that customs demanded additional documents, it is strange that the conclusion of the religious studies expert was ignored. In the end, the parking of the cars with the books cost the mission rather dearly. Twenty thousand books were ruined because of moisture while lying in the cars and the printed edition had to be sent back to Finland. Representatives of the mission and attorneys got the impression that it was this result that representatives of Vyborg customs were trying to get.
It is difficult to explain what happened as coincidental. Over the course of 12 years the Gideons mission has printed the New Testament and Psalter in the publishing house of Saint Michael of the Christian Mission Gideons International (in Mikkeli, Finland).
The small books of the New Testament and Psalter in blue covers are well known to the majority of believers, and tens of thousands of people of various confessions have free publications of the Gideons mission in their homes. In the main, this mission works with churches of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, which in 2016, along with Orthodox persons, ceremoniously observed the 140th anniversary of the Synodal Translation of the Bible. At the present time, in violation of common sense and Russian legislation, it is essentially forbidden to import into Russia the New Testament published abroad.
One can ascribe such events to the ignorance of bureaucrats, police, customs personnel, and individual abuses. But that is an oversimplification and does not explain the situation, inasmuch as the chief of customs certainly knows what the New Testament is, but he also knows that everything religious (congregations, literature, preaching) is under suspicion in Russia because of the toughening of legislation. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 November 2016)
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