Expert: Mayoral Election in Russia Showcases Religious Bias Against Evangelicals

A recent mayoral campaign in Russia showcased the religious bias against evangelical Christians, observes a human rights expert.

Josh Rubenstein, Amnesty International USA Northeast regional director and an expert on Russian affairs, told The Christian Post that Russia has a long-standing religious bias against Protestant groups.

"The Russian Orthodox Church of course does not like the competition of Protestant groups like evangelicals," said Rubenstein. "So from time to time you have incidents involving these other Protestant groups that the Russian Orthodox Church feels nervous about."

Rubenstein's assessment comes a couple weeks after a major city in Russia elected an opposition candidate for mayor that was an evangelical Protestant.

Sergey Andreyev won a run-off election against a Vladimir Putin-backed candidate for mayor of Tolyatti, a major auto industry centered city. During the campaigns, Andreyev's Protestant Christian beliefs were used against him by the pro-Putin "United Russia" party.

"He did align himself with an anti-Putin group which in ordinary terms is perfectly normal," said Rubenstein. "It is in line with this wariness of non-Orthodox Christians."

According to Rubenstein, since the fall of the Soviet Union, religions like the Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism all received a high level of religious tolerance, mainly because most Russians see these faiths as having "had a place in the country."

Religious freedom for these traditional religions, which have had a considerable history in the nation, include freedoms on charity, mobility, founding of schools, and other items that did not exist decades earlier.

But they remain wary, he said, of Christian sects like evangelicals.

Nicholas A Ohotin, communications director for the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, told CP that he believed evangelicals were taking advantage of the spiritual situation in Russia.

"There is a broad sense that Protestant and other religious groups have taken unfair advantage of the spiritual vacuum created by the brutal Soviet regime," said Ohotin.

"Although legal in a free country such as Russia, the actions of proselytizers of other creeds and faiths have sowed confusion within many unfortunate souls who were poorly versed in the truth and treasures of the Orthodox Christian faith."

"If he had been a Russian Orthodox Christian, otherwise running as part of an opposition movement, I suppose they would have found something else," said Rubenstein. "In this instance they found it convenient to use his faith and that is what's unfortunate."

Andreyev is a member of the Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians, a small evangelical group comprised of 25 congregations in Russia and the Ukraine.

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