Religious freedom advocates should be worried over the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ situation in Russia.

Jesus left the disciples with The Great Commission, a mandate to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To “witness” is part and parcel of being a Christian, which means to tell other people about your faith and share the good news of the Gospel. What good is light if you keep it hidden? Jesus called Christians to be salt and light, like he is the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Jesus did not promise that it would be easy, however. He spoke time and again about the inevitable persecution of Christians. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Jehovah’s Witnesses truly give justice to their name. A big part of how they live out their faith is “witnessing,” which is known by many through the way they knock on doors to distribute literature and tell people about Jesus. As foreshadowed by the scriptures, this kind of bold communication of what they believe in may attract negative reactions, and worse, government-level persecution. As known to many by now, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned by the Russian government in April of this year, their literature being labeled as “extremist.” The claim submitted by the Ministry of Justice was approved in order “to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and 395 Local Organizations used by Witnesses throughout Russia,” according to a press release from the Jehovah’s Witnesses World Headquarters.

Whether one is religious, non-religious, Christian or of another faith, this should worry and concern everyone who values all kinds of freedom. Religious freedom is under heavy attack in Russia, a country where religious activity is heavily controlled by the government. In a related story, Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness, was arrested on May 25, 2017 for “extremist activity” because he was suspected to be a member of the Oryol Local Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Christensen is actually not a member of the group. The police disrupted the congregation’s midweek religious service in a raid. On June 21, 2017 Christensen lost the appeal hearing and remains in pretrial detention.

The situation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is extremely unfortunate, but Christians can only take solace in God’s Word. In Matthew 5:10, he says “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” However, this should not stop us from taking the first step towards change, which is to share awareness of these kinds of acts against Christians, and be more inspired and vigilant in living out our respective faiths. The real test of the faithful is whether they would be willing to come in harm’s way for their faith, and keep the same strength of belief. Heavy attacks from the opponents of religious freedom should fan the flame of faith, and not put it out. 

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