Ukraine (MNN) — “Welcome back to the USSR, to Stalin regime, to 1937.” That’s Michael Cherenkoff with Russian Ministries talking about sweeping anti-protest laws passed in Ukraine that will ultimately affect Christian work.
Late last week, the Ukrainian majority government forced through legislation that not only puts an end to anti-government protests, but also puts pressure on non-governmental organizations who receive funding from outside Ukraine. That includes development organizations and mission groups, many of which left Russia and are now headquartered in Ukraine because of religious freedom.
That’s now over. According to Cherenkoff, organizations receiving money from abroad would be deemed foreign agents. “It’s much like Russia’s laws, but much worse.”
The new law makes slander–which isn’t defined clearly–a criminal offense. Any act of journalism criticizing the government could be considered slander. “This is [a] new page of dictatorship, so we are very afraid. This is a very Soviet approach to the church [and] to society.”
Typically, there is time for input in legislation. However, Cherenkoff says, “Our president signed these documents already. We have no chance to discuss these laws.”
The Ukrainian opposition leaders say these new laws will just inflame protestors, who have been protesting the Viktor Yanukovych since November. Those protests intensified after state police attacked protestors.
Young people are angry, Cherenkoff says. “Young people are oriented to the West, to the world’s standards of life, education, and democracy. But our older people lean more toward the Soviet system.” So, society is divided.
The question is: what will happen to ministries like Russian Ministries?
To try to answer that and other questions, Russian Ministries co-hosted a round-table meeting with church leaders Friday called “Maidan and the Church: Mission and Christian Social Responsibility.” Cherenkoff says, “[We gathered] 150 key evangelical leaders in the center of Kiev. Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, and Reformed said that for the people of Ukraine, the Church is the last bastion of truth.”
Maidan has challenged not only the government, but the Church, too. Searching for answers, people are turning to the Church, but so far it hasn’t been able to give a clear reply. The society is trying to understand: is there a limit for tolerance when human rights and freedoms are brutally violated by president and parliament’s majority? How should we demand justice? How should the society react to the sudden threat of dictatorship arising after more than 20 years of independence? How should we protect our lives and the future of our children in view of the current political situation in Ukraine?
The roundtable “Maidan and the Church: Mission and Social Responsibility of Christians” took place in Kiev on Friday, January 17, 2014. The event was initiated by the young leaders of Evangelical churches of Ukraine. Christian Students Fellowship joined with the Spiritual Renewal Association, and the project helped to implement the initiative.
More than 100 people showed up, and their feedback has been resonating in social media since. The discussion was led by church ministers and missiologists, theologians and scholars, and experts and public figures. They represented the Baptist, Pentecostal, Free Evangelical, Lutheran and Reformed churches of Ukraine.
Cherenkoff says, “All the speakers raised a serious concern about the violence demonstrated regularly by the Ukrainian government within the last two months (all churches condemned the violent use of force by the riot police on November 30, 2013 against the students who stood up peacefully for their rights on Maidan).
The participants also convicted the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine in its illegal threats to the Greek Catholic Church. Finally, they disapproved the adoption of the anti-constitutional laws (already named “Black Thursday” by the Ukrainian people) issued on January 16, 2014. As a result, the legitimacy of the whole government has become questionable, while rights for peaceful protests are banned.”
Nevertheless, according to the opinions, the unprecedented crisis will purify both church and society. “A final ‘de-Sovietization’ of our post-USSR society and the birth of a new generation of leaders is taking place,” said pastor Oleg Magdych an active pastor.
The leaders of the Evangelical community declared their readiness to continue Christian ministry even under a new wave of repression or restrictions against religious freedom. “The January laws signed by the president threaten not only our society, but Christian organizations, too. We shouldn’t be afraid, [but] continue our ministry instead,” said Denis Gorenkov, CCX director.
Cherenkov added: “It’s the Church which is the strongest factor in our civil society today, therefore our responsibility has grown.”
“The barricades of Maidan touched my heart. I saw the birth of a new nation there. People were ready to fight for their freedom and give their lives for the sake of others,” shared Dr. Sergiy Tymchenko, whose testimony impressed many people in the room.
Oles Dmytrenko, author of the book, “Corruption: A Bone in the Throat,” reminded the Church about its role of being “salt and light” to the world, that is, convicting sin plainly in any political context and giving a clear moral verdict on what’s truly happening to society. At the same time, we are to give hope and show the true way of salvation.
At the end, the moderator Andriy Shekhovtsov–the Maidan prayer tent ministry’s coordinator, encouraged the Evangelical Christians to become more active in their mission and support the peaceful protesters by prayer, witnessing, and practical help.
As the result, the Appeal to the Evangelical churches of Ukraine is being made with the purpose to lay a strong Biblical foundation for Christians to be more effective in their mission to reach out to society at what they’re calling, “a critical historical time for the Ukrainian nation.”
In addition to this, Russian Ministries is hosting a briefing on Religious Freedom Issues in Eurasia and the Former Soviet Union in Washington, DC. According to the president of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba, “This briefing will take place on February 5, 2014. The briefing will examine increasing religious restrictions in Eurasia as well as foster constructive dialogue between Eurasian civil, religious, and government leaders in order to develop solutions to this critical global issue. Prominent Christian leaders will present special reports on religious freedom restrictions in their countries of the former Soviet Union/Eurasia.”
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