“Criminal News”: “the terrible Baptist sect”

JP: We need to both thank the Lord for the religious liberties we enjoy and pray for our brothers and sisters who experience persecution.

Scriptural perspective:

  1. I Timothy 2:1,2, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
  2. The Apostle Paul: “Remember my chains” (Colossians 4:18)

RUSSIA: Unregistered Baptists pressured

Baptist communities in different corners of Russia have experienced state harassment in recent months, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This has included interrogation by the FSB security service, defamatory state television coverage, a warning for home worship and a fine for preaching in public.

The congregations concerned all belong to the Baptist Council of Churches, which broke away from the Soviet-recognised Baptist Union in 1961 in protest at regulations preventing missionary activity and religious instruction to children. Its communities refuse on principle to register with the authorities in post-Soviet countries.

In the town of Yurgamysh (Kurgan Region, approximately 1,800 km or 1,120 miles east of Moscow), a congregation of 18 adults and some 50 children is alarmed by recent state intrusion detailed in a 27 August statement. Two officers from Kurgan municipal FSB security service – as they introduced themselves – separately questioned church members Marina Kondakova and Galina Smetanina for four hours about internal church matters on 9 July, the Baptists report. That same evening, the FSB officers attended worship at the church’s prayer house – a private home – where they placed their bags on a bench: “As it turned out, the service was secretly filmed.”

On 23 July, congregation members spoke with a television crew outside the prayer house, but refused to allow them to film a service, “even though they were insistent”. Then, repeated on regional state television over three days in late August, a programme called “Criminal News” portrayed the Yurgamysh church “in a completely distorted light.” According to the Baptists, a local head teacher spoke indignantly about how their children are “retarded, downtrodden, dress differently from other pupils and often have to repeat the year.” An elderly woman was shown in tears, moaning that her children “have ended up in the terrible Baptist sect. They beat their children, and when I try to intervene, they beat me!” The pastor of a registered Protestant church suggested that the Yurgamysh Baptists “distort the Bible and refuse to follow the law regarding registration.” Between these statements, excerpts from the secretly filmed service were shown, the Baptists say, while the narrator claimed that instead of working, church members live off illegal business. “How long can this go on?” the programme concluded. “Something must be done!”

There was no secret recording of the Baptists’ service by either the FSB or state television on the “Criminal News” programme, Kurgan Region’s senior religious affairs official, Vladimir Ufimtsev, insisted to Forum 18 on 16 September. “There was only footage of a conversation with the head of the congregation – probably without his prior agreement – but it wasn’t secret.” A local school teacher did voice her opinion about how the Baptists’ children are not smartly dressed and fall behind other pupils, he added, maintaining that this was because they choose not to attend sports or computer lessons on religious grounds.

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