By CLIFFORD J. LEVY, Published: April 24, 2008, NYT
It was not long after a Methodist church put down roots here that the troubles began...
First came visits from agents of the F.S.B., a successor to the K.G.B., who evidently saw a threat in a few dozen searching souls who liked to huddle in cramped apartments to read the Bible and, perhaps, drink a little tea. Local officials then labeled the church a “sect.” Finally, last month, they shut it down.
There was a time after the fall of Communism when small Protestant congregations blossomed here in southwestern Russia, when a church was almost as easy to set up as a general store. Today, this industrial region has become emblematic of the suppression of religious freedom under President Vladimir V. Putin.
Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshipers. They have all but banned proselytizing by Protestants and discouraged Protestant worship through a variety of harassing measures, according to dozens of interviews with government officials and religious leaders across Russia.
Sincere Christians looking for unity and truth often get frustrated at the seeming chaos of the American religious landscape ... and then stories like these remind us of the dangers when the interests of a particular religion and the state seem too intertwined.
No one should have the right, even in the name of "true religion" or "true church", to interfere with the spiritual pursuits of others, the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to worship with people of like mind and tastes. When the disciples of Christ attempted to forbid a certain man from casting out demons in Jesus name because he was "not one of us", the Lord himself forbade them from doing such a thing declaring that "he who is not against us is for us".
It seems we his disciples often forget this example and while claiming to adhere to absolute truth utterly defy the precepts He laid down for us. In His name we forbid, reject, demonize, set a stumbling block for others and appear in the eyes of the world more like the religious, the pharisees of Jesus's day than the disciples of He who was called meek and humble of heart, friend of sinners and publicans, a doctor for the infirm, who came to save and not condemm.
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.