Protestants in the former Soviet country of Belarus say the government is oppressing churches that arent of the Orthodox denomination and that its using a new restrictive religion law to do it.
Although much of central and eastern Europe threw off the yoke of government totalitarianism [ ] tragically, Belarus did not, according to a recent report by Greg Musselman of CBNs Christian World News (CWNews).
Musselman reported that the regime continues to restrict religious freedom. He also noted that churches that are not Belarussian Orthodox, which includes Evangelical ones, have been specifically targeted.
Under new religious legislation that came into effect in 2002, citizens who are not Orthodox are restricted from meeting in homes to worship, study the Bible, and pray, Musselman stated in the Apr. 15 report.
Also, evangelism beyond the community where churches are registered is not permitted, and churches cannot import and distribute literature without government officials examining and approving them.
The response [from the churches] is somewhat mixed, commented Glenn Penner, Communications Director for the Voice of the Martyrs in Canada.
For those churches that do have buildings to meet in, they havent been particularly affected by laws restricting their activities to church buildings, Penner told CWNews. However, more independent, charismatic churches have difficulty, they are affected, because none of them have been able to own buildings which makes their activities completely illegal.
After going to Belarus to see firsthand how this very restrictive religion law was affecting the church there, the VOM Director said hes very disturbed by it.
Religious liberty is a gift from God, Penner said. Its part of what it means to be created in the image of God. For governments to assume the right to say to Christians, or any religious group, we will give you permission to do these things, thats a case where Caesar is pretending to be God.
Pastor Valery Okhrimuk, who leads a 100-member Baptist church in southwest Belarus near the Polish border, told CWNews, We see now that this regulation, in the future, will have a big influence on the growth of the church. For example, already we have censorship and a lot of literature cant reach Christians here. Local authorities make obstacles for growing churches.
While widespread persecution has yet to hit the Evangelical church of Belarus, according to CWNews, many are saying its just a matter of time.