25 September 2006, 10:48
Russian Church urges USA to assess religious situation in Russia proceeding from objective picture, not from heir own ideological cliches
Moscow, September 24, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate sees a positive dynamic in the US Department of States' annual report on freedom of religion in Russia, but says the reports still lacks objectivity.
'Compared with previous years, the US Department of State has become more accurate in assessing facts. But many elements of the report are surprising, especially the allegation that Russia has no large-scale movement promoting interfaith dialogue,' Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, told Interfax.
Furthermore, this allegation is made after the World Religious Summit was held in Moscow and despite the fact that Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States have interfaith councils, 'and local interfaith councils are active in regions, some of them formed in the past 12-18 months and interfaith events are held almost weekly,' he said.
'First and foremost the rapporteurs continue blaming Russia for what is natural for it and what is a norm for Europe, namely, for their selective attitude to religious communities,' the priest said.
Meanwhile, in most European countries, state and society have always been aware and become increasingly aware that some religious organizations have more reasons for claiming special support, while others 'can be deemed destructive and dangerous, depending on their activities and the ideology they profess,' he said.
'Society has the right to judge what is good and what is bad in the religious sphere and to demand that the authorities take these judgments into account. The absolute religious neutrality of a state is not a rule, but an exception, not a norm, but a departure from it, whereas the American vision of such neutrality is not a road into the future but rather an exception from the a practice generally accepted in the world, an unviable exception at that', Father Vsevolod stressed.
He pointed out that America was not a religiously neutral state either; 'it misleads itself and others when it calls itself so'.
Thus, he said, the US embassy has a Catholic and Protestant chaplains on a state payroll and perhaps 'will never have a chaplain from an Arab religious structure based in Saudi Arabia, even if there it has its followers among the embassy staff.'
'American politicians draw a clear distinction between the Al-Qaeda doctrine and moderate Islam. Incidentally, Ms. Condoleezza Rice has made it clear recently that extremism as an ideology of hatred, fanaticism and religious intolerance presents a global threat. This is a clear-cut position,' the Russian priest said.
In a world where ideological contradictions are increasingly aggravated, 'there is no and cannot be a country absolutely neutral religiously, he said. 'The USA will either have to understand and acknowledge this or will have to continue defending, very unconvincingly, the things from which life itself keeps discouraging it,' he said.
Commenting on the rapporteurs' accusation that the Russian authorities 'prohibit the administration of Islamic rites everywhere in the army', Father Vsevolod admitted that the conditions for the Muslims' devotional life just as their access to their religious mentors should be improved in the army, 'but it is impossible to deny flat the existence of such life'. Thus, many mass media reported the other day that both a field church and a field mosque were deployed during the maneuvers in Perm, he reminded.
The priest also noted that the report traditionally paid a 'disproportionately great' attention to the organizations which have a considerable number of influential followers in America, that is, 'to Catholics, Protestants, Jews and new religious movements, with some statistics seeming not quite trustworthy'.
For instance, the document affirms there are over 2 million Protestants in Russia. According to the figures presented to the rapporteurs by leaders of religious communities themselves however, there are 75 thousand Baptists, over 100 thousand Adventists, 180 members of the Russian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), the priest said.
The Pentecostal leaders, he specified, estimate the number of their followers as well as other Evangelicals at 320 thousand, but even if this number does not include Baptists and Adventists, in total there are some 500 thousand Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals plus 100-200 thousand Lutherans, Methodists 'and other, more traditional Protestant communities'.
Father Vsevolod also remarked he was pleasantly surprised that the rapporteurs 'have mentioned at last' the anti-Orthodox acts of vandalism, such as the blowing up of a chapel near Vyazma, the outrage against a church in the Yaroslavl region and a chapel in St. Petersburg. 'But the references made to these incidents, which are actually many more, is negligible in number compared to the account of actions perpetrated against those who have powerful and influential kin structures in America', the priest said.
Besides, he added, the document in no way defends the right of citizens to religious education, which is not implemented in the situation where education is monopolized by state school in which materialism is imposed and the right of a local population to decide which religious facilities are to be built in a particular area and which organizations should be provided with public facilities, such as clubs, etc., for religious meetings, is denied.
In fact, the report has challenged the right to protest against the activity of some religious organizations, to engage in doctrinal polemic with them, to give them a theological assessment, which can describe a particular organization as a sect, Father Vsevolod said.
He recalled as an example that the report considered the theological polemic between Archbishop Vikenty of Yekateringburg and the Jehovah's Witnesses among manifestations of pubic abuse and discrimination. At the same time, Father Vsevolod said, 'you can find in America a lot of books, leaflets and public statements of Christian preachers who declare the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses to be false'.
Referring to the document's passage about the US embassy in Moscow maintaining a wide range of contacts with religious and non-governmental organizations in drafting the report, Father Vsevolod noted that it meant the information 'coming from the organizations financed from abroad, whereas we are visited by US embassy people on very rare occasions'.
'I have not heard about the embassy showing any pro-active interest in such organizations as Union of Orthodox Citizens, Public Committee for Human Rights and other Orthodox public organizations, who have something to say', the priest said.