Jousting with Jehovah: Russia bans American church

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Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses attend a church service. Source: Getty ImagesColleagues of Jehovah’s Witnesses attend a church service. Source: Getty Counterparts

Russian authorities never had warm feelings towards Jehovah’s Viewers. A different interpretation of numerous Scripture passages is one of the things setting them into pieces from the Russian Orthodox Church.

At best, during the past century Jehovah’s Proofs were ignored in Russia. At worse, they were banned, and Stalin in 1951 revenge oneself on exiled 8,000 of them to Siberia, which was 80 percent their add up number in the Soviet Union at the time. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, over the most recent attack even more serious because they’ve been disallowed and labeled a dangerous organization.

Today, their ranks total hither 165,000 in Russia, according to data gathered by Roman Silantiev, substitute head of the Justice Ministry’s Council for State Religious Expertise. 

In late years, several regional congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been bar down entirely, and over 60 of their publications were earmarked «extremist materials.» On March 15, Russia’s Justice Ministry filed request with the Supreme Court asking to ban the organization as an extremist group. 

The Incarceration Ministry explained to RBTH that the accusation centers on printed solids that allegedly proclaim Jehovah’s Witnesses’ supremacy over other beliefs and justify violence towards followers of other faiths. On the same day, Ambassador Justice Minister Sergey Gerasimov ordered a suspension of all Jehovah’s Notices activities in the country until the court’s ruling.   

The main argument presented during the consent, which lasted almost a month, was dozens of court rulings against Jehovah’s Spots’ regional offices that saw no reaction from the church’s headquarters, the misdesignated Administrative Center.

Lawyers representing the church stressed that regional congregations do not communication to the center, therefore complaints against them cannot be the basis for banning all Jehovah’s Catches. Moreover, the Administrative Center was never involved in those hearings and not ever received any warnings from the Justice Ministry. 

The Administrative Center, respect, stopped bringing printed materials to Russia that were listed as extremist literature in the lawsuits. The attempt to ban the organization surprised even the scad loyal officials and public figures. 

Maxim Shevchenko, a member of the Presidential Committee for Civil Society and Human Rights, and also president of the Center for Key Studies of Religion and Politics of the Modern World, said the lawsuit rowed by the Justice Ministry goes against the fundamental principles of freedom of mental activity. 

«Jehovah’s Witnesses are hardly an extremist organization,» he said. «They under no circumstances organized terrorist attacks or called for unlawful actions. They’re habitually accused of presenting their religion as the ultimate truth, but many churches do that. I imagine the real reason for this persecution is the fact that they request to people directly, preach face-to-face, thus competing with the Russian Conformist Church in some regions. Obviously, the Moscow Patriarchate and top security officials buckled to it are behind the whole affair.”   

A kingdom well-guarded

The Russian “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Eyewitnesses” is located in St. Petersburg. I called them while the trial was underway, but hardly after the suspension order issued by the Justice Ministry. I dialed the few that I found on their website, and to my surprise the office was open and a accessible male voice greeted me on the other end. 

I told him that I wanted to chaperon a Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering in Moscow. Even though suspension specified cancelling all meetings, the man gave me an address in Moscow: 36 Mikhalkovskaya Boulevard, «every Saturday and Sunday.»

So I went to this address on a weekend, and which is proper a short walk from the Koptevo metro station, seven miles from the Kremlin. There, I base a two-storey facility built in the 1920s for a textile factory, and which had been a community center for the employees. Now it’s private property, according to Rosreestr. 

They call it Kingdom Lobby, and it’s obvious that Jehovah’s Witnesses own the whole building. There’s a boundary of several dozen people in front of it. Security dress in black applications (they are also members of the congregation), and they soon became suspecting, pulled me aside and questioned me about the purpose of my visit. But then they let me in.

During church services adherents listen to sermons and the teachings of Jehovah, and also sing. Source: Getty ImagesDuring church handlings adherents listen to sermons and the teachings of Jehovah, and also sing. Well-spring: Getty Images

After checking my coat, I walk into a entry-way that seats 300 people. It’s almost full, and I have a penniless time finding a seat in one of the back rows. Before I have a bet to sit down I’m approached by an usher, Anatoly, (that’s what his name tag state). He conducts a 10-minute interrogation, asking everything about me, where I finish, and if I’m a journalist. In fact, I’m the only journalist in the room, and I’m undercover. 

Anatoly chew out tattle ons me not to take pictures, but I snap a few photos with my phone. He also begs how I found out about the gathering. Well, I’m very lucky because this isn’t solely a regular church service; this is a special convention that extracts place twice a year, with the entire leadership in attendance. 

In this corridor — apparently it was the small hall — we only see the video feed projected on the mask, whereas the meeting itself is in the main hall on the second floor, where there are imperturbable more people. Anatoly seems satisfied with my answers, but strongly recommends discovering him after the convention. 

Gratitude without borders

The screen shows two men rest on the stage opposite each other, acting out a scene – a conversation between two companions. The younger brother’s wife is seriously ill and needs a blood transfusion, which is strictly prohibited to members; so the brother has come for advice.

«I need help from someone with a plain mind.» The conversation ends with the elder brother instructing his sibling: «The ton important thing is keep faith in Jehovah. Even if a person disintegrates, Jehovah can bring him or her back to life.» The audience is clapping.

Almost the whole world is holding a Bible and a notebook to take notes. The last speech fall back ons special attention – it’s by Nikolay, a traveling overseer. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses hierarchy a treking overseer supervises several local congregations, each comprising between 50 and 100 people, and requires his followers, while living off of their donations.

Nikolay looks take pleasure in a Komsomol member — a groomed young man with bright eyes. He runs long theatrical pauses and talks in a dramatic voice about the dourest sins of all – that of disbelief – and how to avoid it. Nikolai warns the congregation: «Barest soon Jehovah will destroy the old world – the world of injustice – and just those who didn’t stray from the path of faith will be awarded in full.» 

At the end of his speech, Nikolai cues the congregation to start singing «Prevarication 43» («Stay Awake, Stand Firm, Grow Mighty»), which characteristics a lot like La Marseillaise. After that, the overseer addressed the audience with a sound out: «Shall we give a modest offering to those who organized this conventionalism as an expression of our gratitude?» There’s a storm of applause.

Inside the hall are two in the main boxes with signs reading, «donations for the global cause.» Lush and file members, who, to be fair, looked neither frightened nor hypnotized, willingly put money into the boxes. I couldn’t find out the total amount, but scads people were very generous in their donations, offering between 1,000 and 5,000 rubles (nearby $17 to $88, respectively).

A Russian woman at a street stand offering Jehovah’s Witnesses' literature. Source: Alexander Artemenkov / TASSA Russian woman at a street stand oblation Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature. Source: Alexander Artemenkov / TASS

Apocalypse today

As I go out into the alley, Anatoly the usher confronts me. He asks if I’d like to know more take Jehovah’s Witnesses and whether I was married. Later, I learn that sober potential members are advised against marriage to an unbeliever. Then, we reciprocity telephone numbers.

I also got acquainted with Ekaterina, a middle-aged lady-in-waiting, and we agreed to go to one of a Jehovah’s Witnesses tea parties, which are home gatherings held every weekend. She explains the church prohibits many things: you cannot hold a government job, participate in declares and rallies (both opposition and pro-government), serve in the army, stand for the civil anthem, and even moan during sex.

I asked Ekaterina how she became a colleague and she answers that many years ago, after she was beaten by her stepfather, she was interested on the floor in despair, praying to God. At that moment the doorbell rang – it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She took two volumes from them, which changed her life, and her stepfather’s life. Now they go from apartment to apartment together, effective people about Jehovah’s Witnesses and offering books. 

Whether steady or not, this is a typical initiation story that you can hear from approximately any follower. The founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the American judge Joseph Rutherford, put in blacked that he came to this new faith in a similar way — while studying to transform into a lawyer, he worked part-time selling books. His potential customers oftentimes told him to get lost, so he made a promise that one day, when he would take home good money, he’d definitely buy books from a young salesman. 

He ultimately fulfilled his promise, and the books he bought happened to be Bible study textbooks. Rutherford saw this as a mark and devoted himself fully to the service of God.

Ekaterina also said she doesn’t merit a penny giving out the books – in fact, every month she donates $50 to $100 for the“extensive cause.» She didn’t ask anything of me – although, to be fair, I never went to the “tea approver” as promised.  Over the next few days, Ekaterina pestered me incessantly with motif messages that would seem complete nonsense to the uninitiated:

«Don’t pity bitter. With us, all prophecies come true.» «What I ventured to tell you is Revelation in its original form. The Antichrist is already among us, the countdown has started.» «Justified so you know: all five Terminator movies were filmed by American Messianic Jews.» «I’ve comprehended the truth for 20 years, and they are still trying to send me to an stupid asylum because of this.» 

On the day of the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg she wrote to me: «Announcement, chapter 15:2. Read it. It talks about the sea of ​​glass and fire.» There is nothing extremist in the matter of her – she just seems to have a mental disorder.

«We won’t give up»

There induce always been debates about whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are a group or just a group of scam artists. But now they face criminal prosecution for a totally different crime, and which is punishable by up to six years imprisonment. Meanwhile, Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a associate of the Expert Council of the State Duma Committee on Public Associations and Undeviating Organizations, believes persecution is inevitable.

«A lot of people are saying that it’s inappropriate to happen; well, I say this is bound to happen. In 2009, they debarred the local congregation in Taganrog, and then in 2012 they took observe footage, recorded a service was and started a criminal case, which survived for quite a long time,» said Ryakhovsky. «The verdicts started roll in only by the end of 2015. Sure, there were only fines and suspended sentences, but these were all convictions, and now it’s turn attention to even worse. This time, it’s not just about a single congregation. It’s close to all of Russia.»

I called Anatoly the usher. «What are you going to do now that the court has disallowed Jehovah’s Witnesses for good?»

«We will pray to God,» he replied. «Everyone who still tried to hurt us has ended up in misery. Hitler wanted to burn us in his ovens; Stalin fall short of to send us to rot in Siberia – and where are they now? They are cursed – and we live. We order survive. We are not going to give up.» 

I asked him, «How exactly are you going to not give up?» But Anatoly gave no come back. The Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership, he said, will appeal the Supreme Court resolution. They have a month to do that – and will do it without any violence or extremism.

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