Baptist church in central Russia (CC/Flickr)
A Baptist church in central Russia (CC/Flickr)

A Baptist church has been closed down in Russia only weeks after a senior official praised the contribution Protestants had made to the country’s culture during a speech marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The owners of the church in Tula, central Russia, were charged with “improper use of the building”, according to Asia News, and fined 10,000 rubles (US$166) each.

The church had been operating without restriction since the collapse of communism in 1991 but, since the introduction of the Yarovaya Law – dubbed an “anti-missionary law” – in 2016, it had been “subjected to prohibitions and restraints similar to Soviet times”, Asia News said.

The authorities moved against the church after it placed a sign above the door reading ‘Church of Tula CCEB’, together with timetables for worship. It was reported that the regional inspector who closed down the church also issued a warning against other religious communities, saying that the measure “was a trial run for similar confiscations throughout the region”.

Religious persecution watchdog Open Doors, which had welcomed First Deputy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko’s Reformation speech praising Protestants, went on to say at the time that “it really needs to be seen if the Kremlin includes [evangelical groups like the Baptists] in their note of approval”.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is scheduled to pay a “ground-breaking visit” to Moscow on 20 November for talks with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, reports The UK’s Times newspaper. The main focus of the three-day visit will be on joint efforts to help Christians facing persecution in the Middle East, closer co-operation on social and moral issues and strengthening ecumenical links between the main denominations.