Reasons for Hope in Eastern Ukraine
By William Yoder, Ph.D., January 07, 2019 14:01 PM
A Moscow pastor reports on his visit to Lugansk
Moscow -- During a meeting with Moscow Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko on 14 December, Lugansk Metropolitan Mitrofan stressed that "Evangelical-Christians, Baptists and Pentecostals belong to the traditional confessions within our region". The Orthodox cleric promised to do everything in his power to normalize relations between Protestants and the breakaway "Lugansk People's Republic" (LPR) in war-torn Eastern Ukraine.
Since 15 October, all 48 Protestant congregations within Lugansk region are officially unregistered. None of them had by that date met the LPR's strict requirements for re-registration. Consequently, gas has been cut off from most church buildings and a blockage of electricity may be in the offing. As a consequence, an increasing number of evangelicals are meeting in private quarters. As non-registered entities, visiting orphanages and any other forms of social or public outreach are barely feasible. Fines of 5.000 Russian rubles (currently 67 Euros) have been levied for infractions and repeated infractions can result in detention.
Following the meeting with Mitrofan, the guest from Moscow was also hosted by Dmitry Sidorov, the LPR's youthful "Minister for Culture, Sport and Youth". Sidorov assured the visitor that law-abiding evangelicals had nothing to fear and that they should attempt once again to attain registration. The stipulations for re-registration require the signatures of 30 congregational members having a clean legal record with the LDR's 2014-installed government. According to Vlasenko, only 32 of the region's 48 congregations have the required number of members; the remaining 16 did not even attempt to register during the first go-around. At a meeting between local evangelical leaders, it has been decided to attempt re-registration on as large a scale as possible.
The guest from Moscow describes the LPR's evangelicals as being in a state of despair, trying to find their course "between two fires". Both the local authorities and church leadership across the frontier in far-away Kiev are demanding gestures of loyalty. Concessions to the local government can lead to cries of betrayal from pro-Kiev elements. Church diplomats arriving in Donbass from Russia and attempting to achieve accommodation are accused of interference and meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs. Yet it is only bi-partisan and pro-Kremlin Ukrainians and Russians who possess the chance of achieving an understanding in Lugansk or Donetsk. Only they have ready access to LPR-offices.
Commentary from Yoder
In a response to the Facebook report of December 15th on this visit, a Ukrainian residing in Washington state, USA asked rhetorically how a legal agreement can be reached with an illegal government. The politically-active evangelicals of Kiev do not apply Romans 13:1 - Christians being subject to all governments - to the two break-away governments of Eastern Ukraine. They will justify their stance by pointing to the unconstitutional and therefore illegal creation of these states through military force. Yet the Kiev government also cannot be understood as legal, for it is a result of the violent street protests which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government of Viktor Yanukovich in Feb. 2014.
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