For the first time since 2011, the Russian Federation joins murderous nations like North Korea and Iran on the 2019 Open Doors World Watch List—the only comprehensive annual ranking of the 50 countries most dangerous for Christians.
This startling regression is due in no small part to legislation squelching proselytization and basic religious freedoms in the country and in Russian-occupied areas for Protestants and Evangelicals, as the country favors the Russian Orthodox Church.
With more than 81 percent of Russia’s 144 million residents considering themselves Christian, this uptick in adverse actions against Christians may at first seem counterintuitive. The next biggest religious group in Russia is Muslims—mostly Sunnis. Even though they only make up 12.2 percent of the population, most of the persecution of Christians in Russia comes from the Muslim environment. Among the more conservative Muslims living in Russia’s Northern Caucasus region, a strong, radical Islamic culture exerts enormous adverse pressure and violent outbursts against Christians who have converted from a Muslim background. In many parts of this region, Islam is the dominant religion, and Christians are the minority.
Though radical Islam is largely to blame for Russia’s poor standing in how Christians are treated within its borders, the Russian legislation is unfairly applied to non-Russian Orthodox Christians as new laws and restrictions are constantly being imposed. Russian Orthodox churches experience fewer problems with the government, whereas unregistered churches active in evangelism may face obstructions in the form of surveillance and interrogation. The Russian Orthodox Church often considers Protestant groups as sects who are teaching heresy. The state often regards these groups as un-Russian, Western spies.
Since 2012, the Russian Duma has passed a number of laws that impose restrictions on society, including religion. For example, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Jehovah Witness national headquarters and all local organizations to be extremists, banning all activity and ordering its property be seized by the state. In response, the Russia Catholic Church condemned the ban and said the ruling was a threat to religious freedom. In stark contrast, the Russian Orthodox Church agreed with the ruling.
Though the impetus for these laws is usually political or to curb extremism, local authorities in Russia have a reputation of using secular legislation to restrict non-Russian Orthodox Christian activities. The government’s approach—and the interpreatation of that approach at the local level—to non-Orthodox churches has begun to adversely affect Christians in many ways, such as:
- A so-called “anti-missionary” amendment that has been used to punish churches
- An immigration law, which has been used to target and expel expatriates who used social media to share evangelical messages
- Unregistered churches active in evangelism facing obstructions of surveillance and interrogation
As the country’s ties to Western countries are becoming more strained, the Russian Federation may become increasingly isolated. This will particularly affect those Christians who belong to denominations regarded as Western.
Today’s Russia is certainly lightyears better for Christians than the days behind the Iron Curtain, Yet for non-Russian Orthodox Christians in Russia, every move by the government to squelch religious freedom is another step toward making Russia an increasingly difficult place to live, especially for those Christians who are also already experiencing aggression in areas dominated by Islam.David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA
Persecution in Russia Summarized
- Islamic oppression: Islamic militants are fighting against the Russian army to establish a Muslim emirate in the Caucasus region. Islam is also becoming increasingly influential in Tatarstan and threatening church life.
- Dictatorial paranoia: Though Russia has a parliament (with elections), it is completely dominated by the United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The government is constantly restricting existing legislation and imposing new restrictions. This results in policies that favor the Russian Orthodox Church at the expense of other Christian groups.
- Denominational protectionism: Outreach activities by non-Orthodox denominations are looked upon with suspicion. These Christian groups are regarded as being alien to Russia
In its 27th year, the Open Doors World Watch List—which is the world’s definitive assessment of religious persecution based on in-depth, rigorous analysis of on-the-ground, first-person research—remains a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization.
Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape, and even death, as a result of their faith.
The Open Doors World Watch List is the only comprehensive, annual survey of the state of religious liberty for Christians around the world. From Nov. 1, 2017, to Oct. 31, 2018, researchers measured the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life—private, family, community, national and church, plus a sixth category measuring the degree of violence. Points are given for each incident of persecution, and the total points provide the ranking for each country. For more information on the methodology of the Open Doors World Watch List, please visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.
About Open Doors USA
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s