Haggard in Charismatic Cold War?

An interesting piece in the Moscow News:

Bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, the head of Russia’s Pentecostalists, believes that the infringement of Protestants’ rights, about which they complain in a number of Russian regions, could be being stoked up from outside in order to achieve some kind of political aim, Interfax reported Tuesday.

“Somebody is deliberately stoking passions in order to set Protestantism against Orthodoxy, in order to make Protestants a ‘fifth column’, an instrument of ‘orange’ revolution,” Bishop Ryakhovsky said in an interview.

The bishop recalled that during the heat of the “orange” revolution in Ukraine he admonished believers who had allowed themselves to get involved in political activities.

Ryakhovsky believes that today certain forces are striving with political aims in mind to deal a blow to the standing of the leadership in Russia and Moscow and are trying to make this standing fall both in the eyes of Russians and the Western public.

As with so much Russian on-line media in English (in my experience, at least), the report tantalises with a lack of detail, leaving us to guess the context. But it seems to me not unlikely that Ryakhovsky is, indirectly, warning the likes of Ted Haggard to butt out. Over to Jeff Sharlet‘s famous piece from May’s Harpers:

[Haggard’s] favorite [example of influence spreading out from his New Life Church in Colorado] was the Ukraine, where, he claimed, a sister church to New Life had led the protests that helped sweep the pro-Western candidate into power. Kiev is, in fact, home to Europe’s largest evangelical church, and over the last dozen years the Ukrainian evangelical population has grown more than tenfold, from 250,000 to 3 million. According to Ted, it was this army of Christian capitalists that took to the streets. “They’re pro-free markets, they’re pro-private property,” he said. “That’s what evangelical stands for.” (1)

So, why would Ryakhovsky prefer Putin over his American co-religionists? Here’s his take:

Russian Protestants are patriots of their country; they are people who have a high respect for Russian authority

That’s maybe fair enough (although the sight of the Russian Chief Rabbis acquiescing to the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and ISKCON last year in the name of patriotism was less than edifying, and did them no favours). However, “Russian authority” has also been good to Ryakhovsky. A 2002 report from the Keston Institute notes that in 1997 Russia passed a law on religion linking legal status with centralisation. This was easy for the Orthodox,

…But for the many Protestant congregations founded as a result of the new freedoms in the early 1990s, there was only one way to retain legal status – to join one of the centralised Protestant church unions. The leaderships of these structures understandably welcomed this development. Interviewed by Russian religious affairs newspaper “Religioznoye Obozreniye” last February [2001], the head of one of the country’s main Pentecostal unions, Sergei Ryakhovsky, described the formation of the huge Protestant associations (his own contains approximately 1,200 congregations) as a “necessary” step towards building new relations with the structures of a new state.

However, speaking recently to Protestant representatives at provincial level in Tatarstan and Mari-El, two republics of the Russian Federation on the Volga River east of Moscow, Keston News Service found considerable resentment at what one interviewee described as “enforced membership of unions due to a discriminatory law”.

Some more details on Ryakhovsky (also spelt as “Sergei Riakhovsky”) can be seen here, and there is an interview here.

(Tipped from Cult News Network)


(1) Actually, I met some Ukrainian scholars of religion when I was recently in Tokyo, and they told me that all sorts of religious groups had been involved in the revolution, including Buddhists. Ukraine is currently home to many religious movements, and the Crimea is becoming “the California of the Ukraine”.