A new law in Ukraine jeopardizes how churches can operate, they could even face closure. Local leaders in Luhansk, which is controlled by Russian separatists, can now dictate how faith can be practiced in the eastern region, reports Missions Network News.
The Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), a pro-Russian separatist group, controls the Luhansk region. Although LNR is not recognized as a legitimate state by the international community, the groups’ power has been growing.
According to Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith, the new law bans churches from conducting worship services, including home-based, private fellowships with a small group of people. To continue as a church, religious organizations should have at least 30 members and must register by August.
“Apparently, distribution of religious literature, even among churches, is prohibited without personal written permission of the authorities,” said Griffith. “It also appears the distribution outside of the churches isn’t even really referenced in the law. So, that’s kind of a question mark.”
Since the law is vague and is open to different interpretations, churches are very careful on how they serve their members. Griffith disclosed that the Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB) fears that the law might be used to accuse churches of espionage or terrorist activity. Fellowships may be mistaken as a way to conspire against the government.
Despite the hurdle, he disclosed that church leaders are finding covert methods on how to spread the Good News. “Certainly, I know that they’re going to do all that they can in obedience to Christ. He is their first concern there. And they’re going to go ahead and proclaim the Gospel, no matter what happens.”
A war is ongoing in Eastern Ukraine since April 2014 following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. The conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebel forces caused 1.6 million people to evacuate their land. This also resulted in the harassment and persecution of Protestant pastors and churches, reports Catholic News Agency.
As a sign of protest to the increasing religious persecution, many pastors in Eastern Ukraine refuse to re-register as required by the new law.