Since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine the Russian propaganda machine has
greatly increased its pressure on Baptists. The truth of what it really means to be a Baptist in
Russia or Ukraine has once again been completely distorted by Kremlin-backed radio,
television, and printed media. Persecution of Baptists began in the 19th century under the
Czars. In the 1930’s, Russian Baptists had to report to “The Commission for the Affairs of
Religious Cults”. Now, just as in past repressions, the name Baptist in Russia has come to be
synonymous with “enemy of the people”, “that American sect”, something entirely foreign and
In America it is natural that names and labels should hold different meanings for different
people. Here some happily call themselves “conservative”, and others are pleased with the
name “liberal”. And so it is here with the name Baptist. But in Russia and especially in Eastern
Ukraine, the very survival of believers is at stake. Before returning to the subject of repression,
let us reflect for a moment on just what it means for you and me to be Baptists.
Many of us are proud to be Baptists because of our belief in the Holy Bible as the inerrant and
sole source of truth. What higher standard could there be for life and for the practice of faith? If
anyone among us does not believe that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of
God,” then let him deny this noble name! Is there any among us who does not believe that
Jesus Christ is God the Son, co-equal in his divinity with the Father and with the Holy Spirit?
Let him think what he will, but let him not have the honor of carrying the venerated name of
Therefore, I am grieved today that the highest authorities in Russia have become the source of
the latest repression against this noble name. I am grieved because of the wonderful friends
we’ve made among the Russians both before and during our missionary journey. Though we
have lived in Ukraine, we have friends among the ethnic Russians who live there. How is it that
the world does not know that a great many of them are patriotic citizens of Ukraine? Our
journey has taken us to Russia, and to many of the republics of the former Soviet Union. In all
of these places we have been honored to make friends among those who proudly call
themselves Baptist, and who hold to our cherished values. Sadly, they are once again
becoming the victims of state-sponsored repression.
In a previous article for the Trumpet I wrote about Alexander Turchynov, the Ukrainian Baptist
minister, who became the interim president of Ukraine when Moscow’s favorite, Victor
Yanukovich, was deposed. Perhaps this fact alone became the stumbling stone which led to
Russia’s targeting of the Baptist name.
Recently, a Ukrainian friend told me about a billboard he had seen near Moscow’s international
airport. Posted there were three portraits and the words: Jimmy Carter is a BAPTIST, Bill
Clinton is a BAPTIST, and Alexander Turchynov is a BAPTIST. Three undeniable innuendos
that lead to two wrong conclusions: First, that America was behind the Maidan revolution which
removed Russia's man and placed America's puppet in the seat of power. Second, the Baptist
faith is American and undermines Russia's national interests. Both of these lies have become
the oft-repeated refrain of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.
What is at stake? I believe the most condemning answer was in two simple words:
“PROPAGANDA KILLS”, carried on the placards of protesters who rallied against the late
February murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
In Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Baptist pastors and church members have been
kidnapped, tortured, and killed because of their faith. Churches have lost their buildings to
Russian-backed fighters who have converted them into field headquarters, gyms, barracks, and
make-shift hospitals. Others have been completely destroyed.
Finally, for us who cherish our defining values, let us pray that the renewed repressions of our
brothers and sisters in Russia and Ukraine will only showcase the surpassing value of their
genuine faith as Baptists: faith in Christ and in his Word! (1 Peter 1:7)