by David Roach.
Passed by both houses of Russia’s parliament within the past week and awaiting President Vladimir Putin’s signature, the bill has been called “a step toward an Iron Curtain” by an opposition leader, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to Christianity Today, the measure would require that citizens who wish to share their faith obtain government permits and only do evangelism in church buildings and at other religious sites. Online evangelism and witnessing in a private residence both would be restricted.
Foreign visitors who violate the law could face deportation, CT reported. Individual Russian violators could face fines of up to U.S. $780, with groups fined up to $15,500.
The IMB asked believers to pray “that the Lord turns the heart of the president” to reject the measure.
“IMB supports freedom of religion for all people, and this certainly includes our brothers and sisters in Christ who live and worship in Russia,” IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan told Baptist Press in written comments. “In response to the laws proposed in Russia this week, we encourage believers around the world to pray that senior national leadership will intervene so Russian believers will be spared these limitations on an individual’s opportunity to express and share their personal faith.
“To paraphrase Proverbs 21:1,” McGowan said, “President Vladimir Putin’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever he will. We pray in this case that the Lord turns the heart of the president to reject the legal precedent that will hinder the advance of the Gospel and opportunities for Christian discipleship and fellowship in Russia.”
The bill is part of a package of anti-terrorism legislation dubbed the “Yarovaya” law after its lead author Irina Yarovaya and has drawn criticism for encroaching on other civil liberties as well, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported.
According to The Times, the measure would stiffen punishments for acts deemed terrorism or “mass unrest” and for failing to report such crimes. “Justification” of acts deemed “extremism,” including online posts, could result in prison terms of up to seven years.
Sasse, R-Neb., took to the Senate floor Wednesday (June 29) to oppose the Russian bill — especially its restrictions on religious liberty.
“The Russian law would be an affront to free people everywhere, at home and abroad, who believe that rights of conscience — the rights to free speech and to freedom of religion — are pre-political,” Sasse said. “These freedoms do not ebb and flow with history. They do not rise and fall with the political fortunes of a despot. Governments do not give us these rights, and governments cannot take them away. These rights of speech and religion and assembly belong to every man, woman and child because all of us are image-bearers of our Creator.”
Lloyd Harsch, a New Orleans Seminary church history professor of German-Russian descent, told BP the measure harkens back to Soviet-era suppression of religious belief.
“Since the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has steadily constricted its initial openness to evangelical Christianity,” Harsch, professor of church history and Baptist studies, said in written comments. “The proposed laws build upon previous anti-terrorism laws passed in 2002 and 2007 and are another attempt by Vladimir Putin to solidify his grip on power [and] silence his critics, under the guise of promoting public safety and combating terrorism. Anything that challenges his authority can be branded as terrorist activity.”
The law would heavily favor the Russian Orthodox Church and continue to leave Russia’s evangelical minority at a disadvantage, Harsch said.
“These laws reveal the continuing aftereffects of communism, which viewed all religion as the same,” Harsch said. “If Muslims are bombing train stations, then restrict the religious activities of Buddhists and Christians [because] all religion [supposedly] is the same. The proposed restrictions are justified as necessary to counter terrorism and preserve peace, but cast a much wider net to include government critics of all kinds and any religious activity outside the Russian Orthodox Church.”
The bill also has drawn criticism from Muslim, Jewish and Russian Orthodox organizations, The Guardian reported. Protestants in Russia, CT said, have called for prayer and protest.
By Julie McGowan
RICHMOND, Va.—The International Mission Board expects to operate a balanced budget for 2017 due to its 2015-16 organizational reset processes and the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially, IMB President David Platt told the organization’s board of trustees during its February 22-24 meeting in Richmond, Virginia.
“IMB is now in a much healthier financial position,” Platt said. “Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are trending upward.”
Over recent years, IMB has consistently spent more money than it has received — a combined $210 million more since 2010. Though IMB has covered the shortfalls through reserves and global property sales, in August 2015 Platt announced a critical need to balance the organization’s budget. Because 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits and support expenses, leaders determined a need to reduce the total number of personnel by approximately 600-800 people to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.
At that time, Platt outlined a two-phase process for reducing the number of IMB personnel. Phase One involved a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) available to eligible retirement-age personnel, and Phase Two included a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) available to everyone in the IMB.
Platt reported that the VRI and HRO have resulted in 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff transitioning outside the IMB over the past six months. He reported 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the voluntary retirement incentive, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the hand raising opportunity. He noted it is possible the number of missionaries who have taken the HRO may decrease, since missionaries can rescind their decisions through April.
“Even though a more involuntary process would yield more precise and predictable results, IMB chose a voluntary process that would leave as much decision-making as possible in the hands of IMB personnel,” Platt said. “Knowing that such a voluntary process would yield more imprecise and unpredictable results, we believed that we should trust God with this process and every individual within the IMB.”
“This process remained entirely voluntary for all IMB missionaries,” he said. “No IMB missionary has been required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.”
The same voluntary nature of this process has applied to stateside staff with the exception of 30 personnel in IMB’s Richmond communications office, whose positions were eliminated in IMB’s new mobilization structure.
In addition to reducing the total number of personnel over the last six months, IMB has made significant changes to its infrastructures and systems in order to work with greater excellence, effectiveness and efficiency, Platt reported, all with prayerful dependency upon the Holy Spirit.
The future IMB strategy revolves around:
Enabling limitless men and women to participate in global mission through a multiplicity of pathways and opportunities. This involves continuing to support full-time, fully supported personnel as the essential, critical core of our missionary around the world and surrounding these personnel with students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the gospel.
Serving and mobilizing local churches as the primary agent God has promised to bless for the spread of the gospel in the world.
Training and equipping Christians and church leaders, pastors and missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches across cultures.
Engaging and reaching unreached peoples and places through missionary teams who are maximizing opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, church formation, and leadership training from the most populated cities to the most extreme places in the world.
Supporting and strengthening an ever-multiplying mission force through practical services that include everything from logistical help to health care to tax assistance.
“The stage is now set financially, organizationally and spiritually for IMB to work with Southern Baptist churches to create exponentially more opportunities for disciple making and church planting among unreached peoples around the world,” Platt said. “IMB is committed to a future marked by faithful stewardship, operational excellence, wise evaluation, ongoing innovation and joyful devotion to making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached.”
On Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST, IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB.” Platt will cast vision for the days to come and respond to questions or comments that people can submit live via Twitter. For more information, go to IMB.org/live.
For the first time ever, IMB simulcast the service celebrating the appointment of 26 new missionaries who will serve around the world during a live stream event Tuesday, Feb. 23, with an estimated viewership of a few thousand people. During the service, the new missionaries shared brief testimonies about their desire to follow God’s call to a life on mission.
“Many of these are going to the most difficult places in the world,” said John Edie, IMB’s trustee chairman, who is from Springfield, Missouri. Edie noted the personnel would be shown in silhouette during the service for their security and the security of the people with whom they work. Many of the new missionaries’ names cannot be shared publicly.
“These missionaries beckon every single follower of Christ to surrender our lives and say to Him, ‘I will do whatever you want me to do and go wherever you want me to go for the spread of your gospel and your glory among the nations,” Platt said. “This is not extraordinary Christianity only for select missionaries, but ordinary Christianity for every one of us.”
Trustees also expressed appreciation for the life and work of Raymond E. Hodgins, missionary to the Deaf Affinity from 2001-16, who died January 18, 2016, while in service. “The International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, herein expresses deep appreciation for faithful service to God through this board and pledges special prayer support for the family during the days ahead,” the motion read.
The next IMB board of trustees meeting will be May 9-11 in Richmond, and the next missionary appointment service will be livestreamed May 10.
Julie McGowan is public relations leader for IMB.
Ronnie Floyd said at a recent gathering of Southern Baptist Convention leaders it may be time to consider merging the International and North American mission boards into a single “Global Mission Board” overseeing the entire SBC mission enterprise.
We are God’s missionary people, sharing the only hope for this broken world. That is why we send, why we go and why we give — because God is worthy of the worship of all people.
September 4, 2015
Dear SBC Family,
By now many of you may have heard that last week, IMB announced a plan to reduce the total number of our personnel (both here and overseas) by 600-800 people over the next six months. Since the moment this announcement was made, we have sought to communicate the details of this decision as clearly as possible to churches, state conventions, and national entities across the SBC (see this article and this FAQ document, in particular). In the middle of it all, though, I simply want to take a moment to share my heart with you.
Continue reading at the International Mission Board website.