Russian Baptists and the Military Question, 1920-1929

For a short time in the first half of the 1920s people who promoted principles of nonviolence dominated the leadership of the central administration of the Russian Baptist Union. The ascendancy of these men, most of them second generation Baptists, became possible largely because of the success of Vladimir Lenin's political revolution and the Bolsheviks' victory in the civil war following their seizure of state power. The decline of pacifist influence over the administrative and creedal development of Russian Baptists coincided with the emergence of J.V. Stalin's domination of the Soviet Communist party.

The period when religious pacifism dominated the Russian Baptist Union proved to be an anomaly of a little more than five years in the organization's five-decade history. But its brevity does not mean that the pacifist interlude lacked significance. Baptist nonresistance of the 1920s signified the important, if not essential, role that ideas of nonviolence played in the experience of sectarianism in Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Furthermore, the memory that names revered among Russian evangelicals, names like Pavlov, Levindanto, Orlov, Zhidkov, and Karev, were associated with active objection to military combat service endured into the second half of the twentieth century when the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists served as the successor administration to the Russian Baptist Union and the kindred-spirited Union of Evangelical Christians.(1)

The Russian Baptist Union arose in the 1880s to coordinate the activities of evangelical sectarian congregations in the south of Russia that went by various names, including Shtundists, Shtundo-Baptists, and Baptists. Before 1905 the union existed clandestinely and as a result its structure was not well developed. Better organization of Baptist activity became possible following the imperial grant of religious toleration in 1905. Annual congresses of representatives of Baptist congregations met, resulting in the emergence of an executive structure that was responsible for oversight of the missionary activity that expanded the network of Baptist groups and publication of the monthly journal Baptist. For a short time the Baptist movement enjoyed vigorous growth and the Baptist union extended its administrative reach into the northern cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow. But after 1911 the work of the union was devastated, first by reactionary repression of sectarian activity, then by world war, and finally by revolution and the subsequent disintegration of the empire as a result of civil war and foreign intervention.

After Lenin's government settled in Moscow in 1918, the acting minister of the Baptist congregation in that city undertook to reconstruct the Russian Baptist Union throughout territory that was coming under Bolshevik control. He was Pavel Vasil'evich Pavlov (1883-1935), son of one of the most effective agents of the spread of the Baptist movement throughout the Russian empire, V.G. Pavlov.(2) Assisted by Mikhail Danilovich Timoshenko (1884-1935?), Pavlov began to publish a Baptist magazine, Slovo istiny (Word of Truth) , and to prepare for a congress of the union, which eventually convened on 27 May 27 1920. That congress, comprising fewer than three dozen representatives of Baptist congregations, elected Pavlov president of the union's executive board.(3)

The congress formally signaled the beginning of the pacifist interlude in the history of the Russian Baptist Union. Among its decisions, the ten-day congress that reconstituted the union and defined its program for the new conditions in Russia declared that Baptists rejected military service. Specifically, the participants resolved that 'whereas … the participation of Evangelical Christian Baptists in the shedding of human blood under every state system is a crime against conscience and the explicit teaching and spirit of Holy Scripture, and whereas for Evangelical Christian Baptists bearing of arms, or making of such for military purposes of any kind, as well as training in military affairs, would be equivalent to the actual shedding of blood … [we] consider our sacred obligation to be to refuse military service in all of its forms."(4)

That this attitude was not that of the Moscow activists alone, but was shared by Baptists elsewhere, was confirmed by a resolution adopted at the Kuban regional congress at the end of December 1920: 'To declare to all existing authorities and to all mankind that we, Evangelical Christian Baptists, on the basis of our evangelical convictions (Mt. 5.44), cannot participate in war and in all activity connected with it.' The Kuban congress asserted that its position was based solely on scriptural teaching and that no other premises or sources underlay it.(5) By that caveat it appears that the Baptists intended to distance themselves from both the politics of bolshevism and the ideologies of any other movement, like Tolstoianism, that did not focus exclusively upon the religious authority of Christian scriptures as the Baptists claimed to do.

But adherence to principles of nonresistance and nonviolence was not shared by all Russian Baptist leaders. Some of the most influential Baptist union figures of the prerevolutionary years did not participate in the Moscow congress of 1920 and quickly rejected its action. The preceding congress of the union had met in April 1917 in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz. It elected an executive council of ten men and appointed Dei Ivanovich Mazaev (d. 1922) president. Mazaev, a wealthy landowner, had been president of the union most of the years since its organization and imprinted his personality upon it during its formative years, especially before legalization in 1905.(6) Mazaev and seven other council members were not in Moscow in 1920 because most of them were located on territory not controlled by Bolsheviks. Three of those eight absentees circulated an open letter among Baptist congregations following the Moscow congress alleging that it was not valid because it had been called by only two members of the council and without the approval of the president and other members of the administration.(7)

An explanation for the emergence of pacifism to a position of control in the central administration of the Baptist union may be found in an examination of two historical developments. First, the ideas of pacifism held by those who exercised leadership from Moscow represented one of several influences that acted upon the rise of the Baptist movement in Russia. Second, the steps by which the men who took over that leadership did so were facilitated by specific policies of the Bolshevik government affecting sectarian religious groups.

While the confessional position of the Baptist union before World War I had stated: 'We consider ourselves obliged to perform military service when the government demands it of us,'(8) not far below the surface of the official position ran a strong current in favor of pacifism. This propensity within the Baptist movement reflected the influence of the Mennonites and Molokans upon the Baptists in the south of Russia. Since the Mennonites had given aid to the Shtundist movement in Ukraine and the original Baptists of the Caucasus came out of Molokan communities, there were natural conduits through which pacifist sentiments could flow into Baptist ranks. Baptist relations with both Mennonites and Molokans remained close throughout the history of the Baptist union. Pacifist tendencies were strengthened by Tolstoian ideas at the end of the nineteenth century. Some editions of the Baptist Confession of Faith, reflecting the presence of pacifists within the denomination, even inserted a qualification on the official affirmation of military service, noting that Baptists 'can sincerely unite with those who do not share our convictions regarding … military service.'(9) A secret report from a police commander in Tambov, dated 31 December 1913, stated that pacifism was found among Baptists.(10) During World War I a list compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs gave the names of 114 Baptists who refused to enter the imperial army for religious reasons between 1914 and 1917.(11)

The number of Baptist conscientious objectors on the government's list represented only a tiny percentage of all potential Baptist inductees. But if the majority of Baptists were willing to serve in the army in the first years of the war, following the position of leaders of the union and particularly of the president, Mazaev, by the last days of the war pacifist sentiment was bubbling to the surface. In 1918 Slovo istiny ran a series of articles addressing the question: Should a believer participate in military service?

The negative answer to the question dominated the discussion. One writer named Khromov argued that the answer to the question whether a believer could participate in the shedding of blood required first an understanding of the divine perspective on war. While he acknowledged that the Bible contained no clear prohibition of war, Khromov argued that wars in biblical times of which God approved 'always had a divine plan and their purpose was the glorification of the Lord.' Since the wars of modern time were not waged 'for the glory of God, but only for the sake of earthly goals,' under such circumstances 'Christians cannot participate in any kind of shedding of blood, but they should always be at peace with everyone.' Another writer declared 'War is murder and plunder. In no way can this evil be justified, for force remains force.'(12)

Control of the Baptist periodical was in the hands of Pavel Pavlov, as stated earlier, and the discussion mirrored his predilection. At the same time Pavlov played a major role in an organization that united the efforts of pacifist sectarians of various denominations, including Tolstoians, Mennonites, Adventists, and Evangelical Christians, and received favorable attention from the highest levels of the Bolshevik government. The United Council of Religious Societies and Groups (Ob"edinenyi sovet religioznykh obshchestv i grupp, OSROG) was formed in 1918 by Leo Tolstoy's secretary Vladimir G. Chertkov (1854-1936), who held the office of president. Pavlov served as vice-president of OSROG and Timoshenko also joined the council.(13)

In the fall of 1918 OSROG petitioned the government for a decree specifying the right of conscientious objectors to be exempted from military combat and assigned to perform some alternative form of service. At the time, some young sectarians had been excused from military service by appealing to the February 1918 decree separating church from state. While that decree declared that religious views could not be used to justify refusal to perform civic obligations, it provided for 'exceptions in individual cases by decision of a people's court.' But other conscripts had been imprisoned and even executed when they tried to assert their right to be freed from violating their consciences by participation in combat.(14)

In October an order of the Bolshevik Revolutionary War Council signed by Leon Trotsky directed local officials to permit persons who could prove that their religious convictions prohibited military service to substitute medical service for combat duty.(15) But such advice apparently was not sufficient. When five Evangelical Christians were sentenced to death in Vladimir for their refusal to enter the Red Army, government's chief of staff, Vladimir D. Bonch-Bruevich, interceded for them directly with Lenin. As a result, Lenin directed that a law providing for exemption from combat service be drafted for adoption by the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom). Lenin appointed Chertkov a member of the drafting committee.(16)

The law, adopted by Sovnarkom on 4 January 1919, established for persons 'unable to participate in military service because of their religious convictions the right to substitute medical service for such service … on the basis of a decision of a people's court.'(17) Of particular significance for the promotion of pacifists' influence within the Russian Baptist Union, the law specified OSROG official agent to certify for the courts the eligibility of conscientious objectors for alternate service or even, in special cases, for 'complete exemption from military service without any substitution of another civic duty.' OSROG received this assignment to attest the sincerity of the religious convictions of objectors as a result of Chertkov's direct appeal to both Lenin and Trotsky. (18) This assignment did much to advance the prestige of OSROG on territory controlled by the Red army for the remainder of the civil war, especially within congregations of sectarians. Because Baptists played a prominent role in OSROG's fulfillment of its task, Baptist pacifists parlayed OSROG's prestige into control of the Baptist union.(19)

Through a network of member councils throughout the territory held by Reds, OSROG obtained court rulings exempting thousands of young sectarians from military service. One estimate set the number at 40,000 from all sects, though this probably is exaggerated.(20) Agents of the Moscow OSROG were appointed to major cities to serve the surrounding provinces by providing information and support for men of draft age. Most of the 117 agents were Baptists because the geographical distribution of Baptists was considerably greater than that of others sects represented in OSROG.(21) In many cases, the simple fact of membership in a Baptist congregation was sufficient for OSROG to secure a favorable decision on a draftee's request for exemption from combat service, especially in the chief cities.(22) Ordained Baptist clergy generally were exempted without the requirement of alternative service on the basis of a declaration from their congregations that their services were irreplaceable and that 'believers would be deprived of the possibility of collectively satisfying their religious needs' if they were sent off to the army.(23)

From the start there appeared difficulties in the implementation of the provision for legal exemption from combat service that boded ill for the pacifists. The indulgence toward sectarian pacifism that Lenin and Trotsky displayed was not shared by other Bolshevik leaders and especially not by provincial officials.(24) By the end of the summer of 1920 OSROG had compiled a list of sixty-six sectarians who had been executed by local authorities when they refused to serve in the Red army. More than half of these victims was a group of thirty-four Baptists executed in a village of Voronezh province in August 1920.(25) A Baptist from the village of Kalach named Yakovlev reported the repression in a letter to Pavlov. Pavlov took the information to Bonch-Bruevich, who wrote to the Commissariat of Justice on 26 October directing the commissariat to investigate this "completely obvious violation of the decree" on exemption.(26)

The Commissariat of Justice did nothing to correct the injustice. Indeed, personnel of the commissariat had been among the most active opposition to the legal provision for alternate service from the start.(27) Lenin had argued vigorously to coerce a reluctant faction of Sovnarkom to accept the exemption law. Even after its acceptance opponents delayed the law's publication for almost five month while the did much to frustrate its implementation.(28) When, for example, in June 1919 a court in Petrograd reassigned three Baptists, K.Kh. Dunkur, P.F. Freimut, and P.I. Tugov, to noncombat service away from the front, the commissariat demanded a judicial review of the decision. P.A. Krasikov, head of the division of the commissariat responsible for matters pertaining to religion, argued that the court misapplied the decree because it based its decision merely on OSROG's testimony that the men were members of a Baptist congregation. Krasikov asserted that the decree required OSROG to certify the sincerity of objectors individually.(29)

The effectiveness of OSROG did not long survive the end of the civil war. In particular, OSROG's functioning ebbed in parallel with the decline of Lenin's health after 1921. A decree of 14 December 1920 rescinded OSROG's exclusive right to provide expert judgment for the courts regarding the sincerity of the religious convictions of those seeking exemption from military service. Joseph Stalin used his position as head of the party's Orgburo to cripple OSROG by means of a criminal trial of Chertkov's closest associate, Konstantin S. Shokhor-Trotskii (1892-1937).(30) The Orgburo instructed the Cheka to initiate a prosecution of Shokhor-Trotskii on the charge that he acted illegally in the way he presented certification of the sincerity of objectors' convictions. The trial was held 14-18 March 1921.(31) Although the court concluded that Shokhor-Trotskii had violated the law, he was not sentenced to prison. It was sufficiently intimidating to OSROG that the case demonstrated that the pacifist council no longer enjoyed protection from Sovnarkom.

Baptist participation in OSROG lost most of its practical meaning when on 30 August 1921 the Commissariat of Justice issued a circular stating that courts could not grant exemption to men who became Baptists after 1919.(32) This prohibition was based on the suspicion that potential draftees used the Baptist congregations in order to evade conscription. The congress of the Baptist union in December 1921 decided that future cooperation with OSROG was not in the interest of Baptists. (33) A later directive from the Justice commissariat in November 1923 sorely undermined the position of pacifists within the Baptist union. It took the form of instructions for implementing the exemption law but its effect was to nullify the Leninist provision of alternate service. The commissariat told courts that exemption could be granted only to members of sects that had included refusal of military service among their obligatory dogmas prior to the revolution and whose members had been convicted and punished for that refusal by the tsarist government. Such sects included Dukhobors, Mennonites, Molokans and some Old Believers; but Baptists were not among them.(34)

It was followed the next month by a change in the Baptist union's officially stated position on military service. That action culminated about two years of complex interplay between the Baptist union and the Communists in which the latter exerted pressure to force the Baptists to reject pacifism, which they portrayed as a matter of their political reliability.

The public pressure on the Baptists to give up their pacifism was expressed as early as 1921 by a significant voice. Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich charged that the Baptists' unwillingness to serve in the military could not be a matter of their sincere belief; so it must signify their hostility to the Soviet state. Since he had been the one who advocated the pacifists' cause in the inner circle of the government, Bonch-Bruevich's criticism of Baptist pacifism was especially ominous. The greatest vulnerability of the Baptist pacifists was their own Confession of Faith. Quoting the confession, Bonch-Bruevich argued that it was 'completely clear … that antimilitarist, nonresistance attire is entirely unrelated to the very essence of their belief.' He stated that either they should change their Confession of Faith or 'Baptists should fulfill their military obligation now.' Assuming that the Baptists would not revise their belief system, Bonch-Bruevich charged that the Baptists' supposed pacifism veiled their true political views, which were anti-Bolshevik because of the essentially bourgeois nature of the Baptist religion.(35)

In order to defend themselves against the kind of argument that Bonch-Bruevich expressed, the Baptists turned for support from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). The Baptist strategy was to send twenty-four delegates to the congress of BWA in July 1923 with the mandate to convince the congress to adopt a resolution that would 'defend the position, held by Russian Baptists' by declaring the 'refusal by Baptists of all the world to participate in military service in any way.'(36)

This effort came to naught when BWA rejected the Russian proposal. The best that the Russians could salvage out of the congress was a resolution expressing the 'sense of the horror and wickedness of war' which members of BWA felt, but leaving the choice between military service or pacifism to the individual's conscience. With specific reference to the Russian situation, the resolution stated the gratitude of the congress 'that the Russian Soviet government accepts alternative service from those who on conscientious and religious grounds are unable to serve in the army.'(37)

When Pavel Pavlov reported to the international congress about the situation of the Baptists in Russia, he evidently attempted to answer the Communists' charges against the Baptists. He began with the observation that Russia was terra incognita to most foreigners and thus many absurd ideas about conditions there were circulating. Much of what he had heard in Stockholm, he said, in no way corresponded to reality 'and represents tendentious fabrications.' He did not specify the contents of such rumors and said that he did not have the time to refute them.

He then recalled the aid that Baptists of the world had sent to Russia during the famine in response to the appeal from Russian Baptists, despite the attempts of many 'enemies of Soviet Russia' to prevent it. The aid had saved many from starvation and, because of it, the name of the Baptists was appreciated and remembered with respect by the Russian people. Pavlov thus implied an answer to the Communist charge that the Baptists were hostile to the Soviet regime. They actually had resisted those who were hostile and served the interests of the Bolsheviks.

Pavlov then went to the heart of the charge that the Baptists were bourgeois and therefore servants of capitalist enemies of the Communist government. The Russian Baptist movement, he declared, was indigenous and self-sustaining. It grew up out of the 'depths of Russian sectarianism.' It was not some 'exotic growth, transplanted … from abroad to Russian soil, but an original Russian phenomenon … appearing as a protest against political and religious oppression.' This was the argument that Bonch-Bruevich himself had used years earlier to demonstrate that the sectarians were sympathetic with socialism.(38) Pavlov concluded that the Baptists should not be accused of serving any foreign interests. Nor should they be charged with being essentially bourgeois and, therefore, inevitably hostile to socialism. 'The founders of Russian Baptism came out of this environment [i.e., of Russian sectarianism] that was ninety-five percent peasant in social composition.' The present economic condition of Baptist preachers showed that they still were part of the poor, laboring class who 'know all the needs and grief of their brothers.'

Stating that 'under Soviet rule full religious freedom has been declared,' Pavlov took special note of the decree concerning exemption from military service. It was, he said, 'an act overwhelming in its significance in the area of religious freedom.'(39) Pavlov seems to have been challenging the Communists to continue to demonstrate their profession of guaranteeing liberty of conscience.

It was a commendable performance under the circumstances. By presenting an unqualified favorable view of the Soviet government as respecting freedom of conscience and a picture of the Russian Baptists as natural supporters of that state, Pavlov acted boldly in his attempt to retain for Baptists their right to remain pacifists and to continue to conduct their religious activity freely. But if Pavlov dared to entertain the hope that the Communists would relent in their attempt to force the Baptists to abandon pacifism and declare unconditional submission to the Soviet regime, he was relieved of his illusions soon after his return home.

For a full two years, since October 1921, the government had refused to grant Baptists permission to hold a congress of their union. Although the Baptist system envisioned annual congresses, the Baptists had not been permitted to convene one in 1922. The Baptist union rescinded their call for a congress on 8 July 1923 just before the Baptist delegation departed for the BWA congress.(40) The reason that the authorities withheld approval for a congress was suggested in September when the chief antireligious writer announced the price the Communists assessed for a congress. In an article titled 'What Will the Baptists Say?' Emil'ian Yaroslavskii declared: 'The first task of a congress of Baptists will be to express itself on the question of their attitude toward the Soviet state and its protector, the Red Army. All evasions on this question are inappropriate.'(41) It seems that the Baptists could not meet in congress until the Communists were assured that the union would abandon its pacifism.

The congress convened in December. Delegates debated the military question with intensity. The resolution finally adopted was an evident compromise that abandoned the firm pacifist stance of the 1920 congress but did not return fully to the Baptists' earlier recognition of military service: 'With respect to attitude toward military obligation and the means of its fulfillment, unity of views among Baptists has not been achieved. Recognizing war as the greatest evil and greeting the peaceful policy of the Soviet state and its call to the peoples of the world for universal disarmament, the congress leaves the determination of his own attitude toward the means of fulfilling his military obligation to the individual conscience of each Baptists. Nevertheless, considering the chief groupings, the congress established that Baptists may fulfill their military obligation (1) by substituting public work, (2) by medical service in the army, and (3) by performance in the army of duties compatible with the convictions of each Baptist.' The congress also condemned the conduct of any 'antimilitarist propaganda with the goal of weakening the Red Army' and stipulated that any person who was guilty of doing such 'thereby excludes himself from membership in the Baptist brotherhood and stands alone before the law.' The resolution concluded with the assertion that Baptists had no intention of causing 'any kind of harm to the Soviet state and the Red Army.'(42)

With this action the period of official pacifism in the Baptist union ended. It apparently reflected the leadership's calculation that the change was a practical necessity for the good of the Baptist union, namely to win from the Communist rulers permission to practice their religion openly. Some of the delegates still refused to compromise their pacifism. Twelve of them were arrested by the GPU.(43)

The compromise reached by the congress and administrative pressures did not eliminate disagreement within the Baptist union regarding the military question. For a few more months pacifists continued to occupy influential positions in the union. In that time two factions within the Baptist union were clearly identified. They came to be designated as the 'New Baptists' and the 'Old Baptists.'(44) Both sides accepted the union's official statement of support for the Soviet state: 'The congress affirms the unfailingly loyal attitude of Baptists to the Soviet government.… and, recognizing that it really strives sincerely to protect the interests of the working people, considers it inadmissible for Baptists to participate in unions and organizations which pursue the overthrow of existing authority.'(45) The New Baptists, headed by Pavlov and Timoshenko, continued to argue that believers should not participate in combat and that Baptists should, individually, take advantage of the law providing them exemption. The Old Baptists, headed by Pavel Ivanov-Klyshnikov (1886-1941), maintained that Baptists doctrine always had correctly required believers to serve in the army when called. These three men made up the executive board of the union elected by the 1923 congress.(46)

In February 1924 the council of the union issued a circular letter to Baptists of the Soviet Union. The careful wording of the letter showed that the New Baptists still held a slight edge over the Old Baptists in union leadership. The letter acknowledged that Christians were instructed by the Word of God 'to fulfill their obligations with respect to the state, including military service.' But since 'Baptists are sons of freedom,' no Baptist organization had the authority to determine how individual believers might fulfill those obligations. Consequently the union should not declare that Baptists will serve in the army, nor should it adopt a pacifist position, especially since the latter case involved serious problems for Baptists in their relations with surrounding society. Therefore the council acknowledged that the state acted correctly when it examined closely every person who called himself a Baptist when he applied for alternative service.(47)

This letter, like the congress, showed signs of compromise between the two factions. Some of the Old Baptists on the council, from the south of Russia where this faction appears to have been the strongest, registered their dissent from the text when they signed the letter. A regional congress of Baptists held in Tsaritsyn in February emphatically rejected 'that indefinite line' adopted by the leadership of the union and 'advocated full performance of military service by Baptists of the USSR.'(48)

The state apparently continued to intervene in the dispute, weakening further the position of the New Baptists in the union. Throughout 1924 the Baptists failed to receive from the government permission either to publish a journal or to convene a congress, two things which they very much desired. At the end of the year the plenum of the council met in Moscow and carried out what Sergei Belousov called a 'revolution' within the union. It abolished the executive board appointed by the congress a year earlier, thus removing Pavlov from the office of president of the board. In place of the board the council appointed a president. In the resolution executing this change, adopted by a vote of twenty-eight to five, the plenum stated: 'In view of the changed conditions and for greater fruitfulness in our spiritual work, the plenum considers it necessary, and itself competent, to return to the former system of administration in the form of a president with two assistants.'(49)

As president of the union the council selected Il'ia Andreevich Goliaev (1859-1942), who had been president of the union for one year under tsarism in 1910. Pavlov and Nikolai V. Odintsov (1870-1935) were named assistants to the president. Three of Pavlov's colleagues, Timoshenko, Levindanto, and Shilov, were arrested and sentenced to a year in exile.(50)

The effect of the change in leadership was the make the influence of the two factions nearly equal at the center. Odintsov was an Old Baptist. Goliaev, who was the oldest member of the council at sixty-five, appears to have been a compromise choice. It is not difficult to identify evidence of state pressure behind the action of the council. Immediately after Goliaev had been appointed president permission to begin publishing a Baptist magazine arrived while the council was still meeting.

During 1925 the New Baptists made several attempts to argue their case against the Old Baptists and defend themselves before the state. The Baptist journal printed a long memo, written during the war by a governor of Astrakhan and marked 'top secret,' instructing the police to observe Baptists closely. The writer alleged that Baptists were the sect that was 'most harmful for the political and religious life of the country' because they rejected military service. He quoted the Russian Baptist journal as saying in 1911: 'War for us is a crime.'(51) This letter's publication in 1925 serve the New Baptists' cause by demonstrating that pacifism was not a novel, postrevolutionary phenomenon among Baptists, implying that Baptists who were pacifists were not counterrevolutionary. In fact, the political and economic views of New Baptists were more sympathetic to socialism and hostile to capitalism than those of the Old Baptists. In June, at a conference of the Siberian section of the Baptist union, the president, A.S. Anan'in, reflected the New Baptist position when he said that Baptists must obey all the law of the government including 'the substitution of socially useful work for the military obligation, in accordance with existing laws on this subject.'(52)

To support the position of the New Baptists, Pavlov participated in the release of a document composed by a Tolstoian writer named Tregubov, which argued that sectarians who opposed military service were not enemies of the Communists, but 'some of the best coworkers in soviet-communist construction.' Echoing the Baptist circular letter, the article welcomed a careful review of each claim for exemption to ascertain the sincerity of the objector. The loyalty to the Soviet regime of those sincere sectarians who requested exemption was demonstrated, the document affirmed, by their rejection of private property and 'readiness to be builders of the new soviet-communist life.'(53)

The New Baptists sought to demonstrate that Baptists who were pacifist for religious reasons should not be suspected of oppositionist attitudes toward the Soviet government. They willingly submitted to its laws, including that which gave them the right to be exempted from combat duty.

But the government apparently did not want to have advocates of pacifism in the leadership of the Baptist union. No permission for a congress was forthcoming in 1925. At the end of the year Pavlov was forced from office. At the plenum of the council in December he resigned 'for reasons of health.' A year later Odintsov acknowledged that health was not the real reason for the change. Nor, he added, did Pavlov have disagreements in principle with President Goliaev.(54)

Goliaev, himself, seems to have displeased the authorities. Whereas the council decided to convoke a congress in October 1926, permission for this was not obtained. The state eventually approved a congress for December only after Goliaev had been removed from office. At the September 1926 session of the council, he was relieved of his responsibilities 'on account of disability,' and succeeded by Odintsov. In this case as well, Odintsov later reported, disability was not the reason. Goliaev was removed because of a 'situation that did not correspond to the needs of our work.'(55) It seems probable that this 'situation' was that he did not give the state assurances that when the Baptist union met in congress it would issue an unqualified rejection of pacifism.

With Goliaev removed, the Baptist union met in December for what proved to be the last congress of the union that the state would permit. Of course, the Baptists did not know at the time that no more congresses would be permitted and that the state would crush their union in the 1930s. The military question occupied the minds of congress participants. Pavel Datsko wrote that wherever a group of them gathered, the conversation focused on this 'burning issue.' All delegates, he said, had a desire 'to settle this tormenting question somehow, in order never again to return to it.'(56)

In his presidential address on the second day Odintsov went straight to the issue on everyone's mind. Recalling the decision of the 1923 congress that stated the loyalty of the union to the Soviet state and rejecting antimilitarist propaganda, he declared that if any delegate comported himself in such a way as to contradict either 'the spirit or letter' of that decision, he would be considered a provocateur, intent upon disrupting the work of God in Russia and 'the unity of the people of God.'(57)

In contrast to 1923, Old Baptists clearly dominated the congress. Ivanov-Klyshnikov made the principal presentation on the military question. He observed that disagreement on this matter had become so acute that many 'brothers and sisters' could not bear even to hear the words 'military service.' Some considered those who became soldiers 'traitors and apostates.' This was strange, he said, since as recently as ten years previously Baptists had entered the army and engaged in battle. Ivanov-Klyshnikov traced the steps by which pacifism rose to the dominant position in the Baptist union, treating it as an aberration in Baptist history produced by revulsion against horrors of the civil war and the political decision of Lenin's government to accommodate pacifist inclinations among sectarians. But pacifism, he said, was not a Baptist principle in that it comported neither with the 'Word of God nor the views and past practice of the brotherhood of Baptists.'

As long as the Baptists presented themselves as a pacifist sect, Ivanov-Klyshnikov asserted, they were 'in a completely impossible position with respect to society and the government.' In the interest of retaining for the Baptist union its freedom of activity it was necessary for the congress to reject pacifism forthrightly. Ivanov-Klyshnikov then delivered an exposition of his view of biblical teaching concerning war, arguing that since God had commanded people to fight wars it could not be a sin to be a soldier. 'I call all of you,' he concluded, 'returning under the old and tested banner of Baptism, to stand on … the firm and stable foundation of the Word of God.'

Yakov Vins (1874-1944) delivered a major address supporting the Old Baptist position. Then general discussion followed. Twenty delegates reserved time to speak to the issue, forcing the discussion into a second day. The debate was vigorous. One delegate reported that the body divided into two almost equal parts. It often seemed that the question would not be settled. 'At such a time the heart was terror struck and it feared for the general work which in such moments seemed to be concentrated on this one ill-fated question.' Datsko told of one Baptist, V.V. Skaldin, who sat throughout the congress in a 'modest place at the entrance,' who walked to the front of the hall during the controversy and declared, 'brothers, we must bury this military question here.'(58)

The breakthrough came when one delegate asked for the relevant article of the Baptist confession to be read. Someone then suggested that the congress merely reaffirm the article as it stood. This suggestion was accepted almost immediately. A resolution was drawn up: 'Having discussed the question concerning the relationship to the state and to military service, and taking into consideration (1) that the resolutions of the congress of Baptists in recent years (beginning from 1920) brought to this question unclarity and indefiniteness and a direction alien to the views of Baptists, which has led to the fact that anarchistic elements have appeared within the ranks of Baptists; (2) that the Soviet government has implemented in its legislation full freedom of belief, guaranteeing the free fulfillment of the requirements of our Christian faith, which obligates us to have a precise and clear definition of our attitude toward this power and toward the fulfillment of all civic duties; and (3) that among these duties Baptists always have recognized, and now recognize, the performance of military service on an equal basis with all citizens, which is expressed in the thirteenth article of our Confession of Faith, published in 1906; therefore the 26th All-Union Congress of Baptists of the USSR resolves: In abrogation of the resolutions of the all-Russian congresses of Baptists in 1920 and 1923, and all explanations apropos the attitude of Baptists toward the government and military obligation made before this time, to adopt the Thirteenth Article of the Confession of Faith of Baptists, published in 1906.'(59)

The resolution then quoted the entire article. When the vote was taken, only nine out of the 230 votes cast were negative. Datsko later reported that most Baptists were satisfied with the outcome because the issue had been decided 'not by any new interpretation but, on the contrary, by a rejection of all new resolutions on this question and a return to the former Baptist understanding.'(60) The 'new resolutions' to which Datsko referred here included the position that the Old Baptists proposed.(61) Most member of both factions could agree on the formulation of their predecessors that was sanctified in their memories by the sufferings they had endured together under the autocracy. Still some rejected the change and withdrew from the union, creating a separate pacifist Baptist sect called 'Red Gate Groups,' so named because it was in the Red Gate section of Moscow that they organized.(62)

The 1926 congress made a substantial change in the structure of the Baptist union, replacing a centralized administration with a federated structure. The new constitution for the union provided for the creation of 'independent and equal' local unions of Baptists, united voluntarily in the Federated Union of Baptists of the USSR. Initially the federation comprised eight regional unions.(63) The new federated union never held a congress in the nine years up to the time the state destroyed it in 1935.

Congresses of regional unions, as they met throughout 1927 to reorganize under the new structure, confirmed the position on military service taken by the 1926 congress.(64) New Baptists, led by Pavlov, tried to organize a regional union centered upon Moscow, but they had problems doing so.(65) To lay the foundation of the 'Union of Baptist Congregations of the Central Provinces of Russia,' a temporary committee of the region convened a conference in June 1927. Pavlov, Timoshenko, Dovgoliuk, and Skaldin presented reports dealing with a complex of political and social questions. The result of their discussion was the adoption of a 'Declaration Concerning the Establishment and Defense of a Just Social Order.' In order to acquit themselves of the charge that Baptist pacifists were motivated by hostility to the Soviet system when they refused to bear arms, the declaration used strong words to advocate socialism as 'that form of human society that most corresponds to evangelical ideals.' It called the Soviet government 'the most honest and steadfast champion' of the socialist order, and said Baptists should support it. Even more, they should defend it by all means consistent with the dictates of conscience against 'the anti-God beast arising out of the abyss, called Capitalism in our era, which is armed with a warmaking machine, called Militarism.'(66)

The conference designated Timoshenko president of the regional union. But the council of the Federated Union of Baptists, meeting in August 1927, declined permission for him to participate as a voting member of the council. While the council conceded that the position taken by the New Baptists on military service did not differ significantly from that of the 1926 congress, it said that the rationale for the declaration 'expressed views alien and contradictory to the Word of God and the doctrine of Baptists of all countries.'(67)

Although the New Baptists were more forthright than Old Baptists in their advocacy of socialism, they were the first to suffer when the storm of repression of religion instigated by Stalin broke out. In early 1928 the newspaper Labor (Trud) charged that Pavlov was a Menshevik and Timoshenko an anarchist.(68) Soon afterward Pavlov was arrested and exiled. His family was deprived of its apartment in Moscow. In 1936 he was killed in exile.(69) Timoshenko also was arrested. He was released to work briefly with Odintsov in the Moscow office of the union in 1930, but soon was sent into exile, and he never returned.(70)

The distinct period when pacifist views dominated the administration of the Russian Baptist Union coincided with a time of extraordinary numerical growth in participation in the Baptist movement. From fewer than 100,000 adherents in 1917, that quantity increased to about 250,000 in 1922, and approximately a half million by 1926.(71)It is impossible to establish a causal relationship between Baptist pacifism and the movement's expansion. But it is understandable that the Baptists' success in attracting into their communities a remarkable number of the ordinary people of Soviet Russia would impel the government, concerned about its military requirements, to ensure that the network of Baptist congregations would not serve as a haven for a growing number of young men avoiding service in the Red army. As a result, the young Baptist leaders who advocated both pacifism and socialism and to whom events gave temporary control of the Baptist union surrendered their positions in the union and quickly lost their personal freedom.

Lenin and Trotsky allowed the evangelical sectarians to exercise their pacifist convictions, calculating that thereby they could win sectarian support for the Bolshevik cause, when it was under threat from the White armies in the civil war. In this calculation they seemed justified. But when the terms of the contest changed, and the Baptists' success in mobilizing the masses challenged the totalitarian pretensions of the Bolsheviks who exercised power after Lenin and Trotsky, the pacifists were doomed to oblivion. The pacifist domination of the Baptist union proved to be little more than a revolutionary interlude.


A major part of the research for this article was made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers.

1. In 1971 the principal Soviet antireligious journal published an article specifically responding to contemporary appeals among Baptists to the precedents of conscientious objection to military service from the early 1920s. Z. Kalinicheva, 'Baptizm i voennaia sluzhba,[Baptism and Military Service]' Nauka i religiia, no. 2 (1971), 18-20. Walter Sawatsky, Soviet Evangelicals since World War II, (Scotdale, Penn., 1981), 120, gives information about conscientious objectors among Baptists in the 1970s.

2. P.V. Pavlov,' Bratskii vestnik, no. 5 (1983), 54

3. The other four members of the board included Timoshenko, Pavlov's father, I.N. Shilov, and P. Melis. Slovo istiny, no. 5-6 (1920), 43; no. 1-2, 1921; 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov RSFSR, March 18, 1922 [Minutes of the session of the collegium of the council of Baptists of the RSFSR],' Southern Baptist Historical Commission, 'Historical Papers of Mrs. Neprash Concerning Religion in Russia' (microfilm); Bratskii vestnik, no. 1 (1945), 25

4.'Otchet vserossiiskogo s"ezda evangel'skikh khristian-baptistov [Account of the all-Russian congress of Evangelical Christians-Baptists],' 24, quoted in Z. Kalinicheva, Sotsial’naia sushchnost’ baptizma [The Social Essence of Baptism], Leningrad, 1972), 56

5. Slovo istiny, no. 1-2 (1921), 12

6. N.A. Levindanto, 'Pamiati Deia Ivanovicha Mazaeva [In memory of Dei Ivanovich Mazaev],' Bratskii vestnik, no. 2-3 (1953), 95

7. 'Kratkii otchet o vserossiiskom s"ezde baptistov [Brief account about the all-Russian congress of Baptists],' Slovo istiny, no. 5-6 (1921), 38; Pervyi svobodnyi s"ezd russkikh baptistov vsei Rossii [The first free congress of Russian Baptists of all Russia] Baku, 1917), 3

8. Confession of Faith, Article XIII, Baptist, no. 8 (1908), 1-2

9. Quoted in Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’, Vol. 4 (Moscow, 1911), col. 610

10. A.I. Klibanov, 'Sovremennoe sektantstvo v tambovskoi oblasti [Contemporary sectarianism in Tambov region],' Voprosy istorii religii i ateizma, Vol. 8 (1960), 81, citing Tambovskii oblastnoi istoricheskii arkhiv

11. F.M. Putintsev, Politicheskaia rol' i taktika sekt [The political role and tactics of sects] (Moscow, 1935), 97

12. S. Khromov, 'Khristianstvo i voennaia sluzhba [Christianity and military service],' Slovo istiny, no. 9-12 (1918), 88-89; V. Mamontov, 'Otnoshenie khristian k voine [The attitude of Christians toward war],' Slovo istiny, no. 14 (1918), 102

13. Otdel rukopisei Rossisskoi gosudarstvennoi biblioteki (ORRGB). f. 435 k. 61 ed. 10; Chertkov's mother was a patroness of the Baptists in St. Petersburg

14. V.M. Martsinkovskii, Zapiski veruiushchego [Notes of a believer] (Prague, 1929), 92; Waldemar Gutsche, Religion und Evangelium in Sowjetrussland (Kassel, 1959), 26

15. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF), f. 130, op. 3, ed. 765, l. 10

16. V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, 'O tom, kak sozdalsia dekret ob osvobozhdenii ot voinskoi povinovesti po religioznam ubezhdeniam [How the decree concerning exemption from military obligation on the basis of religious convictions was created],' 4 May 1933, ORRGB, f. 369, k. 37, d. 2, l. 32-34; Leninskii sbornik, Vol. 24 (Moscow, 1933), 187; V.G. Chertkov, 'Zapiska o neobkhodimosti otmeny tsirkuliara narkomiusta ot 5 noia. 1923 "O poriadke razbora dlia osvobozhdenii ot voennoi sluzhby po rel. ubezh." [Note concerning the necessity of change of the Narkomiust circular of 5 Nov. 1923, Procedure for investigation for exemption from military service on the basis of religious convictions],' 9 June 1924, ORRGB, f. 435, k. 78, ed. 50

17. Sobranie uzakonenii i rasporiazhenii raboche-krestianskogo pravitel’stva, [Collected decrees and directives of the workers' and peasants' government] 1919 (Petrograd, 1920), 109; English translation of the law is in 'Conscientious Objection, Leninist Decree Providing for,' Paul D. Steeves, ed., Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and the Soviet Union, Vol. 5, (Gulf Breeze, Florida, 1993), 223-6

18. Tsentralnyi gosudarstvenyi arkhiv (TsGA), f. 353, op. 3, ed. 780, l. 25

19. P. Ivanov-Klyshnikov, 'Ob otnoshenii k gosudarstvu i voennoi sluzhbe[On relations with the state and military service],' 26-oi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd baptistov SSSR [26th allunion congress of Baptists of the USSR] Moscow, 1927), 103-4; I.V. Dovgoliuk, 'Baptisty i sotsial’noe neravenstvo [Baptists and social inequality],' 3, in 'Historical Papers of Mrs. Neprash on Religion in Russia'

20. A.I. Klibanov, Sektantstvo i sovremennost' [Sectarianism and the present] (Moscow, 1969); 203; cf. R.M. Iliukhina, Rossiiskii patsifizm vchera i segodnia [Russian pacifism past and present] (Moscow, 1992), 33; M.I. Gorbunov-Posadov, ed., Vospominaniia kresti'ian-tolstovtsev, 1910-1930-e gody [Memoirs of peasant Tolstoians, 1910-1930] (Moscow, 1989), 465-7

21. The Baptists who worked as OSROG agents included the following: Petrograd, Ivan Shilov; Novgorod, Yakov Dubel'zar and Karl Bravinsky; Kazan', Fedor Belousov; Astrakhan, Mikhail Shishkin; Tsaritsyn, Timofei Reztsov (he worked with Yakov Zhidkov, who was to become the first president of the postwar Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists); Samara, Nikolai Levindanto; Pskov, Karl Grigorovich, Nikolai Morgunov; Tula, Nikolai Odintsov; Tambov, Pavel Malin; Penza, Klausnits; Saratov, Grigory Morokov; Orenburg, Waldemar Gutsche; Orsk district, Ivan Dovgoliuk, Novokhopersk district, Vasily Stepanov; Voronezh, Ivan Shishkin; Gomel;, Mina Kravchenko; Kiev, Dementy Pravoverov; Ekaterinoslav, Vasily Skaldin; Omsk, Grigory Ostapets; Piatigorsk, Vasily Martynov. ORRGB, f. 435 k. 61, ed. 13

22. 'Protokoly s"ezda 6-8 iunia 1920 [Protocols of the congress of 6-8 June 1920],' ORRGB, f. 435, k. 62, ed. 6, l. 3; P.V. Gidulianov, ed., Otdelenie tserkvi ot gosudarstva v SSSR [The separation of church from state in USSR] (Moscow, 1926), 383; Z.V. Kalinicheva, Sotsial'naia sushchnost', 54

23. Slovo istiny, no. 5-6 (1921), 45

24. P. Pavlov, 'Svoboda sovesti na mestakh [Freedom of conscience in the provinces],' Slovo istiny, no. 5-6 (1920), 41

25. TsGA, f. 353, op. 3, ed. 780, l. 29-44

26. TsGA, f. 353, op. 3, ed. 780, l. 11, 79

27. Chertkov, 'Zapiska…,' l. 12

28. 'Protokoly malogo soveta narodnykh komissarov i material k nym [Protocols of the small council of people's commissars and material regarding them],' GARF, f. 130, op. 3, ed. 765; Bonch-Bruevich, 'Kak sozdalsia,' 38-40; 'Ob otnoshenii V.I. Lenina k sektantskomu dvizheniiu [On the attitude of V.I. Lenin toward the sectarian movement],' ORRGB, f. 435, k. 67, ed. 28, l. 1; Mark Popovskii, Russkie muzhiki rasskazyvaut [Russian martyrs speak] (London, 1983), 71

29. TsGA, f. 353, op. 3, ed. 783, l. 30

30. TsGA, f. 353, op. 4, ed. 414, l. 13

31. 'Materialy sudebnogo razbiratel'stva po delu K.S. Shokhor-Trotskogo [Materials of the judicial investigation of the case of K.S. Shokhor-Trotskii],' protokol no. 31, ORRGB, f. 435, k. 89, ed. 11, l. 1-15

32. ORRGB, f. 435, k. 78, ed. 20, l. 8

33. Slovo istiny, no. 5-6 (1921), 45

34. Circular of NKIu, no. 237, 5 November 1923, ORRGB, f. 435, k. 78, ed. 20, l. 11; Gidulianov, 387; the commissariat's action effectively terminated the activity of OSROG; letter of Chertkov to Institute of V.I. Lenin, ORRGB, f. 369, k. 363, ed. 17, l. 28; Chertkov, 'Zapiska...,' 17

35. V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, 'Krivoe zerkalo sektantstva [The crooked mirror of sectarianism],' Izbrannye ateisticheskie proizvedeniia [Collected atheist works] (Moscow, 1973, 293.

36. 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov RSFSR', no. 45, 14 September 1922; no. 73, 16 May 1923

37. W.T. Whitley, ed., Third Baptist World Congress (London, 1923), xxx-xxxi

38. V.D. Bonch-Burievich, 'Raskol i sektantstvo v Rossii [The schism and sectarianism in Russia],' Izbrannye sochineniia (Moscow, 1959), Vol. 1, 174-5, 185-8

39. 'Doklad Pavlova [Pavlov's report],' Baptist, no. 3 (1925), 7

40. 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov RSFSR,' no. 73 (16 May 1923), no. 74 (13 June 1923); a congress planned for September 1922 also was canceled; 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov RSFSR,' no. 27 (22 March 1922), no. 42, (14 September, 1922)

41. E. Iaroslavskii, 'Chto skazhut baptisty? [What will the Baptists say]' O religii (Moscow, 1957), 44-5

42. Izvestiia, 9 December 1923, 4

43. Gutsche, Religion und Evangelium, 46, 116

44. Dovgoliuk, 3

45. Pravda, 9 December 1923, 3

46. 'Sendschrieben des allrussischen Baptistenbundes,' in Gutsche, 124; Dovgoliuk, 3

47. 'Sendschrieben …,' 123

48.Pravda, 10 February 1924, 4 50. 'Protokol zasedaniia plenuma soveta soiuza baptistov SSSR, 5 Dekabria 1925 goda v Moskve [Protocol of the session of the plenum of the council of the union of Baptists of the USSR, 5 December 1925 in Moscow],' Southern Baptist Historical Commission, 'Historical Papers of Waldemar Gutsche on Religion in Russia and Poland' (microfilm)

51. 'Iz proshlogo [Out of the past],' Baptist, no. 4-5 (1925), 56-7

52. S.V. Belousov, 'Pervyi nazidatel’nyi s"ezd baptistov v Omske [The first edification congress of Baptists in Omsk],' Baptist, no. 6-7, 1925, 39

53. Bezbozhnik, (6 December 1925), 2, quoted in Putintsev, 358-9

54. 'Protokol ..5 Dekabria 1925,' 1-3; N.V. Odintsov, 'Otchet pravleniia soiuza baptistov SSSR [Account of the administration of the union of Baptists of the USSR],' 26-oi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd, 29

55. Odintsov, 29.

56. P.Ia. Datsko, '26-i vsesoiuznyi s"ezd baptistov v Moskve [26th allunion congress of Baptists in Moscow],' Baptist ukrainy, no. 2 (1927), 47

57. Odintsov, 'Otchet,' 28-30

58. Datsko, 49

59. 26-oi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd, 13-5

60. Datsko, 49

61. Dovgoliuk, 3

62. Putintsev, 355

63. 26-oi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd, 93-7

64. Baptist, no. 8 (1927), 27; no. 9 (1927), 21, 25

65. 'Zapis' zasedanii soveta federativnogo soiuza baptistov SSSR,' Baptist, no. 8 (1927), 24

66. 'Deklaratsiia ob ustanovlenii i zashchite spravedlivogo obshchestvennogo stroia [Declaration concerning the establishment and defense of a just social order],' 'Historical Papers of Mrs. Neprash'

67. 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov SSSR [Minutes of the session of the collegium of the council of Baptists of the USSR],' no. 14 (August 10-12, 1927)

68. Reprinted in Maiak, no. 5 (1928), 6-7; German translation in Gutsche, Religion und Evangelium, 125-8

69. 'V.V. Pavlova,' Bratskii vestnik, no. 3 (1991), 76

70. W. Gutsche, 'Aufzeichnungen über meine Reise nach der Union der soz. Sowjet Republiken,' 9, Historical Papers of Waldemar Gutsche; Gutsche, Religion und Evangelium, 27, 89

71. 'Zapis' zasedaniia kollegii soveta baptistov RSFSR, no. 19 24 February 1922;' Baptist, no. 1-2 (1926), 11; no. 1 (1927), 21; A.A. Rudenko, 'Evangel'skie khristiane-baptisty i perestroika v SSSR [Evangelical Christians-Baptists and perestroika in the USSR], D.E. Furman, Mark Smirnovk, ed., Na puti k svobode sovesti [On the way to freedom of conscience] (Moscow, 1989), 345.

Paul D. Steeves

Stetson University

January 1996