A package of new laws being proposed in Russia will prohibit Christians from sharing their faith to others outside of church.
The laws are part of the government’s strategy for surveillance and countering terrorism, yet are widely considered as the country’s most restrictive in post-Soviet history.
The laws were unanimously passed in the upper house on June 24 and in the lower house on Wednesday, June 29.
The Protestant community in Russia is concerned about the issue and is petitioning Vladimir Putin to not approve the new laws.
“Most evangelicals — leaders from all seven denominations — have expressed concerns,” Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia, told Christianity Today. “They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process.”
If the laws are enacted, missionaries will not be able to preach, share the gospel or engage and teach people about the Bible unless they have a permit. Evangelizing will also be limited to certain places, such as church grounds and other places designated for religious activities.
This means believers won’t be able to share their faith even to friends they invite in their homes. The restriction also applies to online activities, which means sending emails or messages meant to evangelize or share one’s faith will not be permitted.
The laws, proposed by Irina Yarovaya of the United Russia party, appear to be directed against religious groups that don’t belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. And because churches will be restricted from spreading their faith to other people, only the Orthodox Church will be able to reach out to the ethnic Russians.
Christians in Russia prayed and fasted this week for the laws to not be approved.
Oleg Goncharov, Seventh-Day Adventist spokesman for its Euro-Asia division, wrote an open letter expressing worry over the legislation.
“If this legislation is approved, the religious situation in the country will grow considerably more complicated and many believers will find themselves in exile and subjected to reprisals because of our faith,” Goncharov wrote.
Human rights activisits also opposed the so-called package of anti-terrorism laws and called for amendments for particular measures that go against international law.
The Kremlin has not given a response to the churches’ appeals.