Tajikistan (MNN) – A Baptist church in Tajikistan was banned after authorities found the congregation meeting in a private home.
On 9 October, a Friday night house meeting was raided by officials. The congregation was warned and written on an official record for meeting without State registration, Forum 18 says. So far, no government official has been able to adequately explain why the group is not allowed to host a peaceful meeting without approval.
The church was recently tried and banned in an official Somoni District Court. According to Forum 18, the court decision accuses the church of violating Housing Code's Article 11 Point 2, which states, "Residential houses and premises shall not be used in detriment to the interests of the state and society." The court refrained from explaining what exactly this means.
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says the somewhat questionable ruling has its roots in a law that went into effect last April.
"A lot of this stems from a harsh new religion law that came into force in April of this past year," says Griffith. "It basically imposes some pretty tight restrictions. For instance, it imposes state censorship on all religious literature.
There's a pretty complicated registration procedure that churches have to go through. State officials are banned from being among the founders of any religious community. State approval is required for invitations of foreigners to make religious visits or for Tajik citizens to travel abroad for religious events. Children's religious activity and education is pretty sharply restricted. So I think a lot of the troubles we're seeing are hand in glove with that harsh new religion law."
Similar restrictions on religious freedoms are popping up all over the former Soviet-Asian republics. "We're seeing this tightening up on evangelical churches, and it certainly is troubling to us," notes Griffith.
The ruling in question involved a church that is part of the Council of Churches Baptists, a group unaffiliated with SGA whose churches do not register with the State on principle. Unfortunately, the effects of the ruling may indeed reach even churches that are registered or wish to register.
The registration process is arduous, and even churches who try to register are sometimes denied, ignored or restricted. "It's a very frustrating process for our brothers and sisters," says Griffith, "even those who are trying to conform with the countries laws as much as they can."
So far, the Gospel does not appear to have been hindered in significant ways, despite such frustrations. Churches in Tajikistan and surrounding countries have been through countless obstacles for the Gospel, especially when under the rule of communism, and have always found a way to keep spreading the Good News.
As religious freedoms continue to tighten, Griffith says the best we can do is pray, and pray again. "Slavic Gospel Association's founder, Peter Deyneka, had a motto. He said, ‘Much prayer, much power. Little prayer, little power. No prayer, no power.'"
Religious restrictions are troubling, but Griffith is certain the Lord is greater. "The Lord's going to continue building His church, no matter what mankind does."