MOSCOW, Soviet Union (NIRR) – “Changes in the religious situation in the Soviet Union are occurring so fast it is difficult to keep abreast,” say reporters for the National and International Religion Report (April 24, 1989). The Council of Religious Affairs (CRA) repealed a series of repressive decrees introduced during an anti-religion campaign of the early 1960s, as reported in a recent edition of Moscow News. The measures, many unpublished to this day, prohibited such things as bell ringing, charitable social work by believers, and all other activity other than that specifically “aimed at satisfying the religious needs of believers.”
Under Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, reformists have been appointed to head the CRA, and churches have been granted much greater freedom in anticipation of a broad new law of conscience that will “legalize” the new freedoms. No longer restricted to their own premises, Soviet leaders report that churches are conducting rallies in stadiums and public halls. A growing number of believers are carrying out ministry in hospitals and among the elderly. Many churches are establishing the equivalent of Sunday Schools for children.
The Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association is sending tons of paper for the printing of lesson materials. And in a recent communication seminar for Baptist leaders in Kiev, SGA representatives from the U.S. helped them launch a newspaper. SGA leader Peter Deynaka, Jr., says he found revival-like conditions in some parts of the Soviet Union, with spiritually hungry non-believers crowding into churches. Other visiting church leaders from the West have issued similar reports.
Moscow News also reported that 1610 new congregations were registered last year, compared with 104 in 1987. These include 1244 Russian Orthodox, 72 Georgian Orthodox, 71 Roman Catholic, and 36 Baptist churches, along with 48 Islamic mosques.
An astonishingly candid commentary published by the paper said that in the past the guarantee of religious freedom in the Soviet constitution had been designed mostly for “foreign consumption,” and the CRA decrees had sharply limited the practice of religion. “We are openly recognizing our mistakes, but we have to go further,” the commentary said. The editorial went on to push for the adoption of the proposed new law of conscience.