Russia (MNN/RM) — The Russian Orthodox Church has added its voice to the chorus of opposition that has greeted the passage of Russia’s “Law on Non-Governmental Organizations.”
The law, scheduled to take effect April 15, 2007, would require non-governmental organizations (NGOs)–including churches — to register with special state agencies, supply details of membership, provide sources of funding and provide a record of all meetings.
Church leaders across Orthodox and Protestant denominations are asking the government for an exemption from this cumbersome reporting. Even the Russian Orthodox Church, which has often enjoyed favored status with government officials, points out that the new requirements are reminiscent of the Soviet era.
“Can you imagine that this law prescribes on a monthly basis that [churches] should count donations from different people?” comments Igor Malin, director of distance learning with Russian Minsitries’ “School Without Walls” program. Malin is also a pastor from the city of Nizhny-Novgorod. “This is basically impossible to do because the banking system is not working and people give cash.”
Many NGOs complain that the numerous provisions in the new law are impossible to keep. Another concern for many evangelical churches is the selective application of the law. “The law gives the Federal Registration Service too much leeway to shut down a church or ministry simply because they do not like what it’s doing,” observes Sergey Rakhuba, vice-president of ministries for Russian Ministries.
“This is going back to the authoritarian way of ruling we well remember under the Soviet regime, when the church was not allowed to use its funds or volunteers to help the needy in their communities or support their pastors,” Rakhuba continues. From his perspective, this new law allows officials to single out mission organizations that receive financial support from abroad; then declare that their activities are based on foreign interests that are not supported by the government.
The Salvation Army fell victim to this when Russian officials denied legal status to one of its outposts. Fortunately, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian officials wrongfully denied its status, and a fine was levied.
These are all signs that the current Russian administration is continuing a policy of restrictions and tight control.
“On a positive note, our ministry strategy has proven effective as we equip the Next Generation of church leaders to take up the baton of faithfulness, and continue spreading the Gospel,” says Rakhuba. “Many of our national workers enjoy good relationships with local city officials as they see our ‘School Without Walls’ and other programs as great sources of help to their communities. Our work with orphans and other needy children, especially through our summer camp ministry, has been well received in cities and villages throughout the former Soviet Union.”
In the past two weeks, Russian Ministries’ national workers across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova have handed out gift boxes at Christmas events during Russian Christmas holidays.