There’s good news and there is bad news for faith groups in the former Soviet States Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders learned on Thursday, January 4. During a visit to the world headquarters of the Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, Larry Uzzell reported on the December 31 compulsory deadline for re-registration of religious congregations seeking recognition by their governments. He explained that if a hard line is enforced by the government, no proselytizing will be allowed and no literature can be distributed by a non-registered church.“There can be no church-sponsored education,” said Uzzell. “Even church papers may not be passed out within the congregation.”
The good news for most religious groups is that they met the government requirement. “Only the Salvation Army has suffered so far,” Uzzell said, and explained why he believes their problem effects all religious organizations. “If they can get away with doing this to the Salvation Army, it can be done to anyone. The cause of one religious minority is the cause of all religious minorities.”
Uzzell is considered a specialist in Russian studies and religious freedom in the Soviet Union. He is the director of Keston Institute, a “journalistic and scholarly” news and research organization targeting religious freedoms in Communist and former communist countries. Keston is based in Oxford, United Kingdom.
Uzzell says that he believes “it will get worse before it gets better” in the former Soviet Union and cites Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, where religious persecution has been most prevalent as “lawless societies.” In those states, he said, “The Soviets are militant atheists, directing their aggression against Protestants and Islamics.”
Uzzell tells a compelling story coming out of the tragedy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where the government destroyed the only Seventh-day Adventist house of worship in the country in November 1999. A Catholic priest stood in the ruins of the church with tears streaking his face. He picked up a stone from the rubble and said that he was taking it to his apartments, where he would keep it until his parish obtained permission to construct a new worship center. “This rock will become the cornerstone of our new church,” the priest vowed.
Uzzell said that Keston’s goal is to study and address religious causes in the countries of Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea and China. Meanwhile, Seventh-day Adventist leaders continue their commitment and activities in the cause of religious freedom for all peoples.