The day after the Russia Supreme Court announced a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, JW Broadcasting came out with this video, obviously prepared well in advance. When explaining what the ban means, Stephen Lett of the Governing Body did not speak of the tribulation this will bring upon the 175,000 Witnesses across Russia in the form of police harassment, fines, arrests and even prison sentences. He did not speak of the negative impact this decision could have on the preaching of the Good News as Jehovah’s Witnesses understand it. In fact, the only negative consequence he highlighted was the liquidation of the Organization’s assets and property which will be appropriated by the Government.
After Lett’s introductory words, the video then moves to Russia to show how Governing Body member Mark Sanderson, together with a contingent sent from headquarters, strengthened the resolve of the Russian brothers. Repeated mention is made throughout the video of the letters and prayers offered by the worldwide brotherhood in loving support of the Russian brothers and sisters. One of the Russian brothers is interviewed and he expresses—on behalf of all—appreciation for the support from the brothers from “New York and London.” From start to finish, the video emphasizes the support of the worldwide brotherhood and in particular the backing of the Governing Body on behalf of our afflicted Russian brethren. Notably absent from any discussions involving support, or strengthening of the brothers, or encouragement to endure, is Jesus Christ. He is barely mentioned at all, and never in any role as our leader, nor as the sustainer of those being persecuted, nor as the source of strength and power to endure under tribulation. Really, the only significant mention of our Lord comes at the very end when he is pictured with his angels as an avenger.
While we are utterly against any government imposing bans or restrictions on any peaceful religion, and while we deplore the unjust decision taken by the Supreme Court of Russia, let us see this for what it is. This is not an attack on Christianity, but rather an attack on one particular brand of organized religion. Other brands may soon come under similar attack. This possibility has raised the concerns of people outside of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the course of the video, the brothers mention that they contacted officials from three embassies in Russia, who reportedly expressed concern about this issue of restrictions on freedom of religion. Not mentioned in the video are the concerns of other religions in Christendom. Jehovah’s Witnesses are viewed as “low hanging fruit”, and thus the easiest target for an allegedly democratic government desiring to restrict religious freedom, because Witnesses have little to no political clout in the world, and so have little with which to fight against an all-out ban. It seems that Russia’s concern is with large groups which are outside its control and 175,000 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses who obey an American leadership as if it were the voice of God worry Russian officials. However, to one degree or another, the same can be said for the various other evangelical groups active in Russia.
The Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia claims 76,000 adherents.
According to Wikipedia:
“Protestants in Russia constitute between 0.5 and 1.5% (i.e. 700,000 – 2 million adherents) of the overall population of the country. By 2004, there were 4,435 registered Protestant societies representing 21% of all registered religious organizations, which is second place after Eastern Orthodoxy. By contrast in 1992 the Protestants reportedly had 510 organizations in Russia.”
The Adventist church claims 140,000 members across the 13 countries making up the Euro-Asia Division with 45% of that number found in Ukraine.
All these churches were, together with Jehovah’s Witnesses, banned under the rule of the Soviet Union. Since its fall, many have re-entered the Russian field, and now see their phenomenal growth as proof of God’s blessing. Nevertheless, all of them constitute a threat to the hegemony of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The video ends with inspiring words from Stephen Lett that Jehovah will support his people. What the video portrays is a scenario where Jehovah God is behind everything, Jesus is off to one side, ready to do his Father’s bidding when called upon, and the Governing Body is front and center supporting the needs of the worldwide field. Throughout the video, not a single Witness expressed faith in Jesus Christ, the true leader of the Christian congregation, nor does a single Witness express any gratitude to Jesus for his continuing support through this crisis. What we have here is a human organization which is under attack and which is rallying support in the name of God from all its members. We have seen this before in organizations of men, be they religious, political, or commercial. People come together when there is a common foe. It can be moving. It can even be inspiring. But being attacked does not in and of itself prove God’s favor.
The congregation of Ephesus was praised by Jesus for “showing endurance” and for bearing up “for my name’s sake.” (Re 2:3) Jesus praises those willing to give up “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name.” (Mt 19:29) He also says that we will be persecuted and “haled before kings and governors for the sake of [his] name.” (Lu 21:12) Notice that he does not say this is for the sake of Jehovah’s name. The focus is always on the name of Jesus. Such is the position and authority which the Father has invested in his Son.
Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot really lay claim to any of this. They have chosen to bear witness to Jehovah, not Jesus, ignoring the direction from the Scriptures. As this video shows, they make scant and token mention of the Son, but all their focus is on men, particularly the men of the Governing Body. It is to the Governing Body that witness is being borne, not to Jesus Christ.
We hope that the Russian government comes to its senses and reverses this ban. We also hope that it doesn’t use its current success against a politically disenfranchised group like Jehovah’s Witnesses to extend its ban to include other Christian faiths. This is not to say that we support the various brands of organized Christianity at work in the world today. Rather, we recognize that in fulfillment of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds, there must be wheat-like individuals scattered about in these faiths who, despite pressure from their peers and teachers, hold fast to their faith in and allegiance to the Christ. These ones need our support, just as they already have the support of Jesus.