In Russia the door is only half-open

Posted on May 28, 2007. Filed under: Articles and News (HOP) |

In Russia, the door is only half-openBy Steve Arney
sarney@pantagraph.com

In the Soviet Union, a young person seeking career success would be best off if he showed no interest in churches or religions, said Russia specialist Ron Pope of Normal.

But in today’s Russia, a politician benefits from being seen — and photographed — with popular religious leaders, Pope said.

Above: House of Prayer Apostolic Church of God pastor Joe Jarvis, far right, annouces Vitaly Kisel, far left, of Russia, to the congregation at the Apostolic Church of God in downtown Bloomington Friday night.
Below: During songs at the House of Prayer Apostolic Church of God, on Bloomington’s East Monroe Street at the edge of downtown, churchgoers commonly play tambourines during songs – as is done here by Ruby Price of Normal.

Religious repression has been reduced monumentally, though it has not ended, Pope said.

He heads a private English program in Vladimir, Russia, called Serendipity Russia, and he is an associate professor of politics and government at Illinois State University. Pope has visited the Soviet Union/Russia 40 times.

According to Pope:

Throughout the Soviet period, official churches were monitored, and it was widely known that the KGB infiltrated the Russian Orthodox Church to discourage any anti-government statements. The level of repression varied under the various central leaders and by location.

Some underground churches functioned with government knowledge; they survived by avoiding politics.

Some religious people who held to their beliefs firmly and stood against the Communists paid with imprisonment and death. Pope believes resistance of the religious people helped embolden the society and speeded the collapse of the USSR, which essentially dissolved with President Gorbachev’s resignation on Dec. 25, 1991.

Gorbachev during his administration had lifted some religious repression, and that door opened wider in Russia after the USSR’s collapse. Some repression remains, multiple sources say.

The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports say minority religions such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses are particularly susceptible to government interference.

Apostolic Church of God Minister Roxy Davis embraces a song during the Friday night Mass in downtown Bloomington.

The reports also question some repression of Islam, done in the name of squelching Islamic extremism, and cites examples of anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Christian rulings against groups such as the Salvation Army. Further, the State Department reports that religious freedom isn’t equally enforced, and that states and cities enact restrictions that contradict national law.

The report for 2005, released this spring, summarizes: “The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice; however, the authorities imposed restrictions on some groups. Although the law provides for the equality of all religions before the law and for the separation of church and state, the government did not always respect these provisions in practice.”

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