Endurance
The Author in the Dog Park

Appeal

Anton Chivchalov covered the July 14th appeal with the following tweets:1

By human logic, we can’t win this appeal since everything seems to be decided, but nobody knows what Jehovah wants to do

More than 100 people already gathered by Supreme Court building 2 hours before the beginning

Foreign diplomats, lots of journalists, police, and the biggest court hall—everything is the same as in April

Our side has 4 representatives: Kalin, Zhenkov, Omelchenko, Novakov. MOJ [Ministry of Justice] side is the same: Svetlana Borisova

Today there are 3 judges instead of 1

Judges: Galina Manohina (chair), Vladimir Zaitsev, Vladimir Popov

Our attorney asks to postpone the hearing until all claims from individual Witnesses are heard (which are hundreds)

He files motion to question those Witnesses who were rehabilitated as victims of political repressions which the court never did

File motion to question witnesses of literature planting and other cases of fabricating evidence by the FSB

Our side has 5 representatives totally (plus Toporov)

Totally, our attorneys want to question 57 witnesses

They file some other motions that the lower court rejected, like analysis of “extremist” literature

Remind that the court must analyze all evidence related to the case, and this was not done properly in the lower court

“According to new law, the Bible can’t be declared extremist, but all JWs literature is based on the Bible”

File motion to questions experts (religious scholars, linguists, etc.) which was again rejected by the lower court

File motion to add new facts of vandalism and other aggressive acts towards JWs after April 20, ask to watch videos

MOJ protests against all our motions

Court takes a break to discuss the new motions

 

If they reject all of them now, it would mean they want to finish in one day

…It took court just 10 minutes to consider many motions, dozens of witnesses, lots of new facts of aggression against citizens

Court offers our attorneys to explain their arguments

Attorneys: “Lower court gave no proofs of extremist activities on part of JWs, even MOJ admitted they had none”

“Why 396 organizations are banned if only 10 of them declared extremist, and no evidence of extremist activity on part of AC? [Administrative Center]”

“Even MOJ admitted the AC and more than 300 LROs [Local Religious Organizations] never committed extremist acts as they are defined by law”

“Why then court ruled just the opposite: ban them for extremism, is it not surprising for you as judges?”

“In Crimea 22 LROs were banned despite any wrongdoings ever recorded and after just 2 years after their registration”

“Also errors in lower court verdict. It says extremist acts on part of AC were established, while MOJ admitted they were not”

 

“Court ignored fact that almost all publications were declared extremist before Supreme Court explanation in 2011…”

“…explanation that criticism of other religions and beliefs can't be considered extremism, hatred, or inciting to discord”

What a curious case of a court ignoring its own rulings

 

“All previous courts didn’t allow the AC to take part in proceedings explaining that the AC had nothing to do with those cases…”

“…And now the court suddenly takes the opposite stance and bans AC on the basis of exactly those cases!”

“Dear court, you must be coherent. Isn’t the Supreme Court an example to all other courts in Russia?”

“The lower court verdict is also not adequate to stated danger. Court wanted to protect interests and safety of citizens…”

“But lower court itself established that in 26 years of AC activity no harm was done to state, no vandalism, no moral harm”

“And what threat to state or public are we talking about if even the President himself awarded JWs on May 31 in Kremlin?”

 

“On the other hand, believers themselves face threats and violation of their rights, we have many examples”

“The lower court erroneously prohibited 395 banned LROs from taking part in the hearings”

 

“Lower court erroneously applied a number of laws and rulings that are inapplicable to religious organizations”

“Lower court established that AC financed LROs, but MOJ failed to provide any financial documents—we believe deliberately”

 

“The whole case is based on fabricated evidence such as planting of literature which is clearly seen on video”

Attorney shows video screenshots to the court

“The ruling has all attributes of political repressions as in a similar case ‘Merabishvili vs. Georgia’ in the ECHR”

Attorney proves that application of anti-extremism laws to JWs is unpredictable and random which is against international law

Now it’s the turn of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) Svetlana Borisova to give explanations

Borisova: “All religions have right to disseminate its ideas, but their formulations should not insult members of other religions”

 

“Close relationship between the AC and LROs [Local Religious Organizations] prove that they are one organization, not separate entities”

And that’s all she can say. Of course, if the verdict is already decided, why waste time?

Court has no questions to the MOJ

Our attorneys ask to pronounce some case files, judge: “We’ve been preparing it for long and already well know all documents”

20-minute break announced

Court pronounce the public declaration published by AC in February 2017 and religious scientific reference about JWs

Debates begin. Attorney Zhenkov: JWs are well known in the world and never known as extremists, why Russia is different?

“They love each other, their neighbors, and are far from everything mentioned in the anti-extremism law”

“Though some Russians dislike their religion, even they don’t associate JWs with extremists”

“History of JWs has proved that extremism and their beliefs are two absolutely inconsistent things”

“So why are all their 396 organizations being banned? Only one reason: erroneous application of anti-extremism laws”

“Even MOJ representative today incorrectly quoted from the law: ‘superiority of one religion over another’”

“There is no such thing in the law, but a different statement: superiority of one person over another one based on religion”

“Only once in history in Russia the state confiscated religious property: in 1918, why repeat it today?”

“In the past, judicial mistakes costed a lot to millions of innocent people, why repeat the same mistakes again?”

“Is it lawful to ban 395 LROs without giving them ability to defend themselves?”

“Is it lawful to make rulings that result in violence and hatred against people that became targets just because of this ruling?”

“Extremism of JWs remains extremism on paper, virtual, without any consequences and victims”

“It’s unlawful and unfair to judge anybody without their presence”

“Jesus was judged unfairly, illegally, but even the Sanhedrin didn’t dare to judge him without his presence”

“Hitler vowed to destroy JWs for their refusal to become extremists, and MOJ today wants to label JWs as extremists”

“Isn’t it strange that FSB failed to provide any evidence or recordings of any Witness giving anybody any extremist literature”?

Reply to…..Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge&Tory politician of the 18th C. He is most noted4writing Commentaries on the Laws of Eng.

“There are law of nature dictated by God and law of revelation, they are higher than everything else”, quotes William Blackstone

“The natural law finds absurd to persecute someone for teaching to ‘love neighbor as yourself’ even if he thinks others are wrong”

“And both court and MOJ agree that JWs are persecuted for teaching Russian citizens their Bible-based beliefs”

Now it’s the MOJ turn to speak

MOJ: “Their crimes are dangerous, systematic, deliberate, and gross”

Quotes from the state strategy of counteracting extremism

That’s all, the judges left to consider verdict

Judges came

Predictably, we lost

Our representative Sivulsky to journalists: “Religious freedom in Russia is over”

“You as reporters can either promote hatred or soften it”

“As you could see today, there were no real facts of any extremism on part of JWs, it’s all about bad literature and intolerance”

“It’s a very sad situation for our country: now anyone who studies the Bible can be jailed”

“Many reasonable people can’t believe that it’s happening in modern Russia: ban a whole religion”

“We are very surprised: the whole pyramid the MOJ built is falling apart, but the court still rules this way”

We’re appealing to ECHR, but in 2015 Russia adopted new law allowing to avoid its decisions if they’re against our constitution.

And of course, whether they are against Constitution or not, will be decided inside Russia

 

Reporters sensitive to such things knew that Sivulsky was right—Russian religious freedom was over. The government had spoken loud and clear: “There are FOUR religions in Russia: Russian Orthodox, mainstream Buddhism, Judaism and Islam! Everyone else had better watch their backs lest what happened to Jehovah’s Witnesses not happen to them—and it may anyhow.” It is as though the order came down: “You can drive a Chevy sedan, a Ford sedan, a Dodge sedan and if you absolutely must go exotic and foreign, a Hyundai sedan. That’s more than enough! Never speak to us about this again!”

After the verdict, a Witness who follows world politics (relatively few do) grumbled: “By shrewd selling of weapons and assistance [Putin’s] influence is increasing in the world, especially the middle east [where she resides]. The Russians love him for it.” Well—as stated, we won’t go there. He is not my pal, but we are wrong if we demonize anyone personally. That is just buying into Western media hype. Who is there knowing whether with him it will one day be “the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy?”2 No, I don’t think it likely, either. But neither was it with Paul. Why poison the well? The grumbler feels the same way, most likely. It is just that with such an outrageous injustice, it is hard not to look for a human villain. That is easy to understand.

The best reason for staying neutral in world affairs is the Witnesses’ reason—they represent, as an ambassador, a separate nation, God’s kingdom, so they do not meddle with affairs of their host country. A second reason, however, that some non-Witnesses latch onto, is that it is impossible to know all the relevant facts.

It is a herculean task trying to decipher the latest through the conflicting array of this world’s media. No matter. It is not, at root, any person we are dealing with, for they are but actors in the play. They are almost literally actors, with Putin riding shirtless or covering Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill, and the American president revisiting his celebrity days from The Apprentice. One must not be distracted. It is the rulers of the invisible places that must be watched. “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”3 Those outside the Witness world will understand the political causes of persecution better than do the Witnesses themselves, but the latter understand the spiritual causes.

 

Two days after the appeal decision, the Slavic Center for Law and Justice expressed concerned over the precedent set. Even the symbolism boded ill. The Center’s Roman Lunkin wrote about the ban coming on Hitler’s birthday and the appeal confirmation on the anniversary of the royal family’s murder. Prosecutors chose an easy target, but it might come back to haunt others who at present imagine themselves safe. They knew that in the religious world “nobody especially would support Jehovah’s Witnesses, and official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church will condemn them with joy.” They observed sardonically that “such Orthodox activists as Roman Silantiev or Alexander Dvorkin base discrimination…on myths about ‘national security’ and how spies exist everywhere, and poor citizens supposedly do not know who is preaching to them.”

“Nobody considered the consequences of the decision that was adopted,” Russian lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky said. “After 17 July it is inevitable, not only that property will be confiscated, which is an unprecedented since Soviet times nationalization of church property, but also that there will be criminal cases against members of religious congregations. Believers may wind up in confinement or receive suspended sentences.” Lunkin laments for his nation’s reputation: “The case of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years became the occasion for accusations against Russia in violation of freedom of conscience and just common sense….Believers prepared a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights and it is perfectly clear that the decision will not be in favor of Russia.” In the West they paint this sort of thing as “starting down the slippery slope.” Lunkin paints it as more akin to jumping off a cliff. “Hope that common sense will prevail has not been justified,” he writes.4

“Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatics, Adventists immediately became targets number one for radical ‘fighters against sects.’” Lunkin describes how existing law might easily be used against the Orthodox Church itself, as there are factions both conservative and liberal therein who also want to preach. The prospect of jail time now has many of them more scared than Jehovah’s Witnesses, who never doubted that such a thing might happen in the first place. The series of videos dramatizing police action against Christians, shown at the worldwide Regional Conventions of 2016 and referred to in chapter 2 of this book were plainly in a Russian setting.5

 The political world is subdued over the actions taken by the Court. Some from that world have been supportive of the Witnesses. But even those who have not are not inclined to cheer. Do they look at the 2nd Psalm with discomfort? “Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: ‘Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!’ The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD derides them. Then he speaks to them in his anger, in his wrath he terrifies them.”6

No, they do not believe the verse; they have moved beyond that. But, deep within themselves, is there not yet some reluctance to put themselves on the short end of that equation? Are they all so bold as to, when informed that something is in the Bible, tear out the page like Jehoiakim and say that it is not?7 Might some of them be like Pilate’s wife who sought to extricate her husband from the hot spot? “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him,” she cautioned.8  

No one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knew at first just how strictly the ban would be enforced. Perhaps it would be but an unambiguous policy statement of little practical consequence—just insurance to be held in someone’s back pocket. Quickly it because apparent that the authorities were playing hardball. Within days of the appeal, a campground was raided. It was feared that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching their religion to their children, thereby causing them harm.9

It didn’t sit well with those who commented on the news article. “Something is too much. Even I, being an inveterate and convinced atheist, against such interference in the personal life of citizens, even if they are any Witnesses (this is still to be proved). People are adults, they went out with their tents to rest, yes, and with their children.” 54 comments were supportive. Most were sympathetic to Witnesses. One who was not—Witnesses would call him an “apostate”—out-wrote all of his peers, chiming in six times that they were objectionable by many standards and got only what they deserved.10

The first person to be arrested for conducting a congregation meeting was not a Russian at all, but a Danish citizen residing in the country with his Russian-born wife. It was as though Russia wished to signal the world that there would be no tolerance. At the time of this writing, Dennis Christensen has been imprisoned nearly a year and trial is just now (maybe) getting underway. Efforts to secure release on bail have been thwarted by prosecutors insisting he is a “dangerous criminal.” His wife has no resources or financial support and their bank accounts have been frozen. A carpenter, his last actions of public note were to build a playground for the children and to take part in the clean-up of a public park.

He was arrested on the evening of May 25, 2017. At least 15 masked and armed police together with Federal Security Service (FSB) officers disrupted a religious service of 70-80 people. Most were detained hours, with about 20 held until 9 the next morning. Christensen was charged with organizing an illegal religious activity. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years of imprisonment.11

He was interrogated throughout the first night of his arrest, reported his lawyer, and was not given any food until 36 hours had passed. Nor did he look good at his pre-trial hearing before judge Svetlana Naumova in Soviet District Court of Oryol. He had been kept awake for 40 hours. Only his lawyer and a Danish Embassy official had been allowed to visit him. His wife had not till then been allowed, though at present she can visit twice a month.

At a September 28th pre-trail hearing, he himself addressed the courtroom, which included many supporters.12 Danish supporters asked him questions and he answered in Danish, with his wife translating for everyone else. Reporter Denis Volin of the Orel News relates: “At some point the Dane began singing some melodic song and tapping on the table, which evoked smiles and laughter from those gathered around. However he was quickly rebuked.”

He later addressed all: “I am an honest and peaceful person who tries to live according to the golden rule: do unto others as you wish that they will do unto you. Therefore I respect the opinion of others, even if they do not agree with me…I have never done anything criminal. This contradicts everything that I believe and love, and on which I have built my life. In the gospel of Matthew it is said: ‘Love the Lord as you love yourself and love your neighbor as yourself.’ I have always acted in this way: I have loved God and neighbor.

“I have lived for many years in this splendid city with my wife, Irina. Every spring and every fall I have participated in volunteer work days [subotniki]. Here in Orel is my life and my work. I am an independent businessman. Since 2009 I have done much to build a good business and to develop relations with clients. They know me as a peace-loving and honest person on whom one can depend. In addition, I have many friends in Orel who are very dear to me. The FSB has tarnished my honor and good name by means of false and contradictory accusations. But these are false accusations and I intend to prove that.”

He also described how in custody his health has deteriorated sharply. “It is very cold and damp in the cell. All day I walk about the room in a winter overcoat and hat and at night I wear all available clothing. I became sick and developed a cold. But when I appeal to the medics that they would give me medicine for a sore throat, I find out that they do not have medicines and cannot help.” He is allowed to shower but twice a week and washes other times out of a bottle with cold water. He confused the Danes by telling them he ate a lot of “sechka” (buckwheat gruel), a food of which they had not heard, and it required the locals to explain to them that is a fermented dish of common prison fare.

After deliberation, the judge returned to the courtroom. He quickly announced that the decision of the district court remained in force and thus the Dane will remain in pre-trail detention at least until the end of November. [which has now extended into 2018]   

 

Seeking to justify the Witness ban before a critical British official, the Russian Embassy broadened the charges against them.13 Not only were 95 publications and materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist according to the Russian law—even the children’s book and even “5 Ways to Improve Your Health”—but “the management of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has also been involved in other crimes such as money laundering and seizure of its followers’ property.” Thus, it was not a religious crackdown at all, but a simple criminal proceeding. Hopefully, the British official would mind his own business, the Embassy suggested.    

Throw it on the stack! It is another “insult.” It is another “evil.” It’s about time Witnesses start taking pleasure in insults and evils, for they certainly get their fill of them. They cannot possibly be as bad as their enemies say they are because the Devil is not that bad. Zero in on the first part of the verse this time: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.” Why blessed? “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”14 Fortify yourself like the apostle Paul, for in the end it makes you strong: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”15 (brackets original to text)

It is just the government trying to defuse a firestorm of international condemnation. If there was anything to it, it would have been part of the court case—though probably not, because no reasons were actually given there. There has never been a financial scandal among Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, do not level an accusation when they are legal and can represent themselves in court. Level if after they have been declared illegal and are thereby impeded.

To do what Jehovah’s Witnesses do is now criminal in Russia. It is “I never speak about religion or politics” on steroids. It is those loath to admit that they really don’t care about the deep spiritual matters they know in their hearts they should care about. It is those offended that uneducated street ministers would invade the realm of the professionals. It is those who disapprove of God having the temerity to declare “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”16 It those who dislike Jesus saying “that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.”17 It is me laying it on pretty thick, but not inaccurately. The Soviet government brought in the “iron” a hundred years ago, but it took the modern Russian government partnering with the Church to bring in the “silver”18 of judicial outrage.

One week after the Witness appeal was denied, legal proceedings began in Vyborg City Court to declare the New World Translation of the Bible extremist and thereby ban it. The government summoned many of their experts and they all agreed that it was extremist. One of them was concerned that the cover read “New World Translation of the Sacred Scriptures” and not “New World Translation of the Bible.” She further fretted that the Table of Contents divided books into the “Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures” and the “Greek Scriptures,” instead of the Old and New Testaments. As evidence that it included extremist speech, much was made of Genesis 19:24: “God rained fire and sulfur on Sodom and the nearby city of Gomorrah. All their wicked inhabitants perished.” It was quoted over a dozen times at the trial. Surely that is hate speech, it was alleged, an allegation that carried the day even after it was pointed out that all Bible translations say the same thing.19

Chivchalov wrote for Porta-Credo on July 26th as follows: “For the hearing of 28 July, the prosecutor’s office has prepared a new, intensive expert analysis of the New World Translation which is simply shocking in its illiteracy and outright mockery of law of a secular state. In a sort of ‘secular’ and ‘scientific’ expert analysis, the provisions of the Orthodox faith are defended by the open text, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, while it cites a seminary student as an academic authority. It declares unacceptable the use of the name of God in the form of ‘Jehovah,’ despite the fact that this same name in the same form is used in the official Orthodox Synodal translation All of this shows that the prosecutor’s office now does not hide the fact that it is fighting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses from a purely doctrinal, theological position….The expert analysis is essentially plagiarism, since it copies various public sources about Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Internet, which naturally have an anti-cult bias.”20

A member of the Council on Human Rights under the President of the Russian federation, Liudmila Alekseeva, comments on the trial of the Bible thus: “If knowledgeable people do not stop them, it will be a disgrace before the whole world, because the Bible is a great book which is read not only by Christians of the whole world but by the whole world in general. They just have to be very ignorant people.” Chivchalov adds: “The trial will become a litmus test, which will show whether we really live in a secular state, where all religions are equal, or whether in our country once again some turn out to be more equal than others.”21

Alexander Verkhovsky, who runs the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, sums up the experts that the Court relied upon: “Within the community of experts who specialize in texts and extremist acts, [they] are already practically household names. Not only that, their education does not correspond to anything. They simply write any nonsense and for this they are famous. All translations differ. Why this [Bible translation] can be in any sense illegal is completely incomprehensible.”22

The hearing to ban the New World Translation, the verdict since reaffirmed in higher courts, followed a by-now predictable pattern. Chivchalov offered tweet after tweet of remarks validating the New World Translation, followed by a final tweet of its banning.

The ban of the Book was too much even for Alexander Dvorkin, the one who got the ball rolling in the first place. It is a Bible—obviously it is—he complains. He doesn’t like it, but it plainly is a Bible. Banning the Bible makes his country look like a nation of goons, something that was never his intent. To say it is not a translation of the Bible is “unreasonable, erroneous, and extremely harmful,” he writes for Pravoslavie.ru. Every intelligent person in the world knows it. The Court decision “causes huge losses to the image of our country.”23 From patriotic sentiments, smarting from such a huge loss needlessly inflicted upon a country he loves, Platon Prohorov of RelioPolis becomes very sharp: “Alas, the carriers and disseminators of these negative factors, which cause our country and its people to be traumatized, are not rats or cockroaches, which can be combated with substances designed to do so, but are the people themselves” who “with foaming mouths defend [the ban’s] ‘advisability.’”24 One wonders if he isn’t including Dvorkin himself in his condemnation, as none of this would have happened without him.

“It is not the government’s business, in the person of its officials who are not very competent in linguistics, theology, and religious studies, to issue a decision as to which translation is correct and which is not, or which faith is true and which is not,” Dvorkin writes. He was happy when the same persons banned the Witness organization itself, but they went on the overstep their bounds. In tackling the matter of Bible translation, they look like fools, despite the help, or primarily due to the help, of their “experts.” He laments that the Court “amateurs” were drawn into an “extremely crude theological mistake.” They thought that their job was to show that the New World Translation refuted the Trinity doctrine, and thereby demonstrate its extremist nature. However, the Synodal translation also refutes it, as the Witness lawyer made clear. 25

John 8:18 was discussed. The Witness lawyer chose it specifically as something that would appeal to lawyers and the judge, since it referred to Israelite law and how there must be two witnesses for testimony to have force. Jesus says in that text: “I myself bear witness about myself and the Father who glorifies me bears witness about me.” The Trinity doctrine makes them both a single meaningless witness; only rejecting that doctrine allows the verse to make any sense. “Christ says precisely that God and Christ are two witnesses, and that means their testimony had legal force,” explains Mr. Dvorkin.26 It is in the Synodal translation, and it demonstrates exactly why the Church doesn’t like Witnesses to preach from the Bible—any Bible, because they’ll mess it up, reading what it says instead of what it is supposed to say. What it actually says Dvorkin deems an “extremely crude theological mistake.”

Though he crafted his scheme to ban Witnesses, Mr. Dvorkin has not lost sight that “the issue is about a [Russian] government whose constitution proclaims its religious neutrality.” It is not a ban on people, just the organization behind it. The government cannot ban a religion constitutionally. But the clumsy Court apparently didn’t understand that. They just reached the decision that they thought they were expected to reach, as they were among the general population under the impression that they had banned the Witness religion.

The errors of the Vyberg court are so blatant, issuing decrees on things they know nothing about, that Dvorkin fears another court may come along later with some knowledge and overturn things. The European Court of Human rights will certainly do so, but they are Western, and can thus be dismissed. Prior rulings overturning restrictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow indicate that the European Court does not sufficiently appreciate Russia’s point of view. However, the woeful translation decision may be too much even for another Russian court, he fears.

Look, he didn’t want to outlaw the Witness religion, he says, just the people directing it. He has no problem whatsoever with members of a family, provided that they can be separated from that family—all the better to be assimilated. This is a battle for hearts and minds—nothing less. The Watchtower study article stated: “The world under Satan’s influence is still searching for a way to settle national and international disputes. Jehovah alone has the wisdom to bring about world peace.”27 “No, he doesn’t,” Mr. Dvorkin says in effect. “Besides, even if he does, it is at the expense of ‘controlling people’—too great a cost to pay.” A supporting verse for the Watchtower passage was Isaiah 2:4. “One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” They “don’t pick up the sword?” How hard is that to understand? “They’ll pick it up when we tell them to,” the State says, with Dvorkin’s blessing. “They certainly will not put it down at the behest of a faith whose headquarters is outside the country!”

Mr. Dvorkin is thrilled at what he’s accomplished, but banning the Bible goes too far and makes he and his co-religionists look like thugs. He says of his victory: “In July 2017 the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in our country and confiscated its property. All of it! There is no such organization in Russia any more. The sect lost a substantial part of its possibilities of having influence upon its members. Now it has become much more difficult to assemble files on them and to control each aspect of their life. The possibility of passing financial streams along sectarian channels is also now reduced to a minimum. Representative functions through the use of real estate have been lost. The possibilities for recruiting have been reduced to a substantial degree. Now the flow of new members has come to naught and the departure of the old will be increased monthly.”28

We broke both their legs! They’ll die now, is his expressed conviction. There is no need to go further and ban a Bible, a move that can only backfire. “Now the sect has been presented a unique possibility—to prove that all of its devotees really made their choice for themselves, without psychological influence and pressure of the organization. I am sure that it will not be able to prove this. Let them try to gather devotees in small groups in private apartments and explain the faith in their own words without the techniques and control of the Brooklyn center and to exist without financial inputs and influences from the U.S.A. and so forth.”29

Had Mr. Dvorkin had his way in the first century, the Christian “devotees in small groups in private apartments” would have been deprived of the letters from Paul, James, Peter, and John, because that represents outside “psychological influence and pressure.” The events related in Christian history would not have happened: “As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem. Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.”30 He would have intercepted and squelched each decision from those interlopers. The entire New Testament, post-Acts, would collapse into nothing, and Dvorkin would not be around today to chide those who carried out his bidding but went too far. He is worried about it. “Having ruled the New World Translation to be extremist material, the Vyberg court actually has devalued its own concept of extremism, depriving the specific term of any meaning. Thereby it has wittingly or not made meaningless all prior decisions of courts with similar wordings.”31

Unfortunately, when you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they will maul. His confidence that Witnesses will wither in the face of curtailed organizational support calls to mind a similar taunt to God in Scripture: Take away Job’s support system and see whether he will not curse God to his face.32 If it were not for the fact that real people are involved with real blood and real freedom to lose, this writer might almost say: “Bring it on!” Witnesses tend to rise to the occasion when they think they are proving God true and Satan a liar. “Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.”33 Though they may fall back, they historically regroup. Even though the enemy breaks both their legs, he finds that the Witnesses will still not betray their God. Dvorkin employs exactly the tactic that has failed since the introduction of Christianity, and he trashes his country’s reputation in the process.

 

The most prominent Witness refugee to date is Russian punk rocker Fyodor Chistyakov. While on tour in the United States, Chistyakov told Novaya Gazeta in a July 31st telephone interview that he had no other choice but to remain where he was. “I cannot openly follow my religion [in Russia] now. And that is a trauma itself even when I am not in jail, although incarcerations are taking place already,” he said.34 In another interview: “For example, they came to the home of one of my comrades and took away all his computers and a search was conducted in the house. Because he is a member of the organization. This is a nightmare for me. I have a studio in my home and I allowed them to begin during working hours to dig and look for signs of extremism.”35

He is known as Dyadya Fyodor (Uncle Fyodor) and has led the groups Nol (Zero) and [of course] the Fyodor Chistyakov Band. The late 1980s and the 1990s was his heyday, but he still commands a following, and he’s become nervous in recent years. The 2009 Beware: Jehovah’s Witnesses documentary specifically branded him “a brainwashed sectarian.”36 Jehovah’s Witnesses have hitherto not been well represented among the punk rockers. Now that will change as Chistyakov brings his talents to bear. Is it strange that a Witness would be a punk rocker? It is explained if we but interject into the verse: “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law … to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law … to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. To the punk rockers I became a punk rocker, to win over the punk rockers. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)

He became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1995. He credits Bible knowledge with saving him,37 as did the American artist Prince.38 He turned his life around, and stopped drinking, smoking, swearing and singing his earlier raunchy songs, also as did Prince. This turnaround does nothing to mitigate his “brainwashed sectarian” label. So atypical is such a turnaround among entertainers, it may have even added to it. “The only thing when I look in the mirror in the morning, every time I cannot believe that I, Fedor Chistyakov, [am] an extremist and a threat to Russia’s national security.”39

To be told that God works in mysterious ways simply does not satisfy everyone. For it to be reinforced with “It is God and country around here” also doesn’t fly, for some people know that there are other countries, and they are dubious of nationalistic claims that theirs alone is the one that God cheers for. A real hunger roils in ones like Chistyakov, motivating him to learn the Bible. They are not satisfied with: “If we want to learn of the Bible, we’ll go to the main Church. If they choose not to explain it, that’s their business. If, when they do explain it, it makes no sense—well, that’s probably why they didn’t want to explain it in the first place. We’re okay with that. Enough with the ‘God’ obsession—it’s too much.” That’s frank, and can be admired at least for its frankness, but it does not satisfy everyone.

Chistyakov even took some heat online from some political anti-Putin types for not condemning the government. Far from condemning it, he stated he is supportive of it in all but the Witness ban that makes his life untenable. He is most sorry to leave. He is neutral on two counts; as a Jehovah’s Witness and very likely as an artist. Artists consumed with their art do not have much space left in their heads for politics, and sometimes none at all. It is not easy to leave one’s homeland. People are a product of what they are fed. If he has learned of malfeasance on the home front that activists want him to holler about, Russian media doubtless highlights plenty of malfeasance elsewhere to counterbalance it.

Nobody would stay anywhere if they tallied up all the evils of their home governments. A prime reason that ones becomes Witnesses in the first place is that they recognize malfeasance everywhere that no government can snuff out. To harp too much over this or that instance of it is to miss the point. The real drama is being played out in the spiritual realm above. “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens”—we revisit Paul’s words to the Ephesians.40 It is ever that way. Zealots become aware of an injustice, and assume that theirs should take preeminence, as though no other exists. People tend to forgive their own county and fixate only on the wrongs of the other country. Occasionally, it works in reverse. 

The world loves celebrity and will even cut Witness celebrities a little slack, of whom there are precious few anyway. Witness detractors will not cut them slack; they will wait for the slightest misstep to launch the taunt that a celebrity can get away with this or that, but just wait till the ordinary Joe Witness tries it. Still, the world in general likes them. Even Selina Williams, in the skimpiest of attire, beating the stuffing out of all comers, would praise Jehovah loudly in public, and people would dismiss it as a quirk, unsure as to whether she had taken to the faith she was raised in or not, and not particularly concerned either way. The punk rocker generated floods of rare positive publicity in the Russian press following his exile in the West.

 

Lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses defended their cause well, and the world was witness to it. Whether it was the April 20th trial, the July 17th appeal, or the Vyborg ban of the New World Translation, Witnesses produced fact after fact to prove their innocence. Prosecutors admitted time and again that they had no evidence to back up their assertions. The judges then found the Witnesses guilty. They knew what they had to do.

I am sorry to hear it, and not just for the right reason. I am sorry to hear it for Russia’s sake, too—something which should be none of my concern. Nonetheless, I am saddened to see a great nation so clearly paint itself not-great and show itself contemptuous of universally recognized human rights. They have become like the boor who “may not know art, but he knows what he likes.” Indeed, they have surpassed him, for art is subjective, but plain facts are not. One is even reminded of dissidents speaking of the enforcers in harsh lands: “What is important is that they can force you to acknowledge that they define reality. They really don’t care whether you believe their lie or not.”

Would they deprive Russian Witnesses of their coordinating organization, under the guise of protecting them? It is as though an enemy king seeks to benefit Russian soldiers by depriving them of their army. He has no problem with the soldiers as disconnected individuals. Perhaps they can even be absorbed that way. It is no more than the Russian king playing his part in the grand scheme of the 2nd Psalm: “Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!” The LORD and his anointed one work tirelessly to provide support for their people, though a channel they have established. “Let us disrupt that channel,” says the king, “Let us break their shackles and cut off their chains, so that we can present our version of reality unopposed.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who feel that they must persevere, have reverted to pre-1991 techniques, when there was also never a question of their giving up. Some of these have been interviewed. As in the old days, they say they must watch for police, who not only would harass them but also turn a blind eye to civilian violence. As in the old days, they must brace to combat the perception, which had never disappeared, that they are instruments of the West. Some have related how their parents and grandparents had been sent to Siberian gulags, almost with the honored air that they may now carry on the family tradition.

Others have told of how they had become Witnesses during the period of freedom. After the fall of the Soviet Union, religion was finally no longer off limits, and people started asking questions about God. The notion that they might actually understand the Bible intrigued them. They related how they had been cautious at first, for fear they might be enmeshed in a cult, for they had heard the warnings and did not blow them off as nothing. But the idea of no ritual, only a discussion group of questions and answers, peaked their interest and ultimately drew them.41

Chivchalov, the one who covered proceedings with tweets, was among them. Baptized in 1996, he explains of his initial contact with the Witnesses: “I was immediately attracted by the logic and reasonableness of the presentation. All this contrasted sharply with the perception of religion that I had before that: something gloomy, confused, mixed with strange rituals, ‘for old ladies,’ and so forth….I unexpectedly discovered for myself that the Bible gives absolutely reasonable answers to important questions and formulates an integral and logical picture of the world. For example, before that I did not find anywhere a more logical explanation for the nature of evil than in the Bible.” He came to appreciate what he termed “genuine Christian qualities” among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “These are brotherly love, mutual help, a serious attitude to the study of the Bible, treating it as a handbook and guide for all areas of life, and zeal in the work of evangelism. All of this is today in great deficit among other Christian churches.”

“What do I feel?” he continues in interview. “I feel a great responsibility to do everything in my power to help my brothers and sisters in Russia, to consecrate the name of God and to establish His Kingdom. This is the main thing that we do, in whatever country we live, no matter what the circumstances. This is what always unites us as a world brotherhood.”42 Of course! He is bringing his gift to the altar. He is in the right place at the right time, with the right prerequisite skills, but he is otherwise no different than the eight million persons, ordinary for the most part, who jumped at the chance to write President Putin and five others when given opportunity. He even hails back to the woman at Simon’s house who anointed the Lord with costly oil. It aggravated some, but Jesus said: “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me.”43

“A lot of people started when the Soviet Union was destroyed, to find what is written in the Bible,” another recalled. “[Talking about religion] became open. After the Soviet Union fell, you could talk about God openly — no problem! That was very interesting [to me] — [I wondered] what was inside [the Bible]?” Another said how his religion in Soviet times had been communism throughout those times, when he had served in the army. By degrees, after “Russians firing on Russians” during the Soviet collapse, he came to think of Jehovah as the “great geopolitician.” He related how he had always felt the stirrings of religious longing but had not yet become a true believer, though his wife was studying with Witnesses. Only when she started to preach did his new stirrings cement themselves into reality. Now the world is a chess board to him, with God the ultimate player.44

Russians like chess. One is reminded of a certain Isaac Bashevis Singer story, in which during czarist times, a certain Polish Jew (Poland was then under czarist control) viewed all of life as a chess game against God. The latter would crush him with every move, but it wasn’t all bad. Nobody wants to waste their time on an unworthy opponent, he pointed out, and it was a great honor playing against God. He felt especially honored when he, a handyman, was summoned to the apartment of a drop-dead gorgeous woman to fix a window casing. The woman was ill, and it was necessary for the man to mount a stepladder and reach over her while she was resting on the couch. He slipped and fell on top of her! Belt buckles locked, and they could not separate! At that moment the door flew open and the woman’s insanely jealous brute of a husband appeared. His eyes widened. As he charged with fist clenched, our hero had time for but one final thought: “Masterful move, God! Absolutely brilliant!”

Who can resist a people who can think like that? It is Russian as well as Jewish. And it is not so far from the truth. “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” is the Western saying. Treat it as discipline, regardless of whether it really is that way or not. You will never know, anyway. Allow it to make you a better person.

The Russian situation is the same play as has played out before. Only the actors are different, and the setting altered. The lead actor who was the Soviet state is replaced by the actor who is the modern establishment. But he has learned the same lines. “The [state-run] TV and newspapers, they demonize Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says a Witness there. “But we aren’t stopping preaching — and we won’t stop preaching,” adds another. They are not political. “It doesn’t matter who is the president. Just don’t touch us. We don’t want to change the president. We have to pray for the [leaders] — that they can manage the country with wisdom,” they say.45 Of course! Governments of this system are God’s ministers for doing good—for maintaining public order. Pray that they may do a good job.46    

Having said that, one of the interviewees alluded to the prophet Daniel, who long ago served an unbelieving king. “Daniel, he had good days, he had bad days,” he said. “But he held to his faith. Every day, he served God. The biblical word he uses in Russian, ‘spastayanstvom,’ has the connotation of a donkey: day by day, turning in circles to mill the grain. The meaning? Daniel was stubborn….Now we have bad day in Russia,” he says. “But we will continue to worship God as Daniel did. Thanks to God, Daniel was saved. And he will save us. But who has to worry? The people who put Daniel in the lion’s den. They had to worry. Because when Daniel was released from the lion’s place, the bad people were killed by the king — you see what I mean?” Another adds: “So, the people who do the same things in Russia have to worry. Not us. Jehovah’s Witnesses survived in Hitler’s time. In Stalin’s time. We survived gulags. Siberia. We have a God. The people who persecute us—they’re the ones who have to worry.”47

A new normal is taking place throughout Russia that is really just the old normal reasserting itself after a brief respite. In September it was reported that two Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested while out for a walk. Police had been canvassing homes of local Witnesses to find out whether they had been visited by other Witnesses. A man recognized the two as Jehovah’s Witnesses “who are forbidden” and reported them to police. They were questioned for hours and later detained on the charge of disobeying a policeman by refusing to get into the vehicle—although there was no vehicle.48

In Belgorod, on February 7, 2018, groups of police including even the SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit, apparently similar to the SWAT teams of the United States) invaded several private residences. “In some cases citizens were thrown on the floor, put to the wall, then all were forcibly taken to the police, in the homes they searched.” 3300 kilometers to the east, it was the same. “In Kemerovo … armed SOBR officers in masks opened their doors by force, bursting in, putting civilians face to the wall with their arms raised or falling to the floor.” Those accosted were not allowed to make a phone call, nor invite a lawyer, and the senior police office told them: “We are not in America.” Women and the elderly were among those interrogated. Some “experience[d] a state close to shock. Many have exacerbated chronic diseases. Telephones, tablets, computers, personal belongings, information carriers [were] confiscated.”49

A 1951 report of the U.S.S.R. Minister of State Security Viktor Abakumov to Joseph Stalin told of progress in combatting the Witnesses: “During the years 1947-1950, the MGB bodies uncovered and liquidated several anti-Soviet organizations and groups of illegal Jehovist sect that conducted active hostile work….However, the remaining illegal sectarians continue conducting active anti-Soviet work and again take measures to strengthen the sect.” A report in 2016, 65 years later, updates the same resumed struggle: “Despite the preventive measures taken, the activity of structural subdivisions of the Administrative Center [of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia] continues revealing signs of extremism….Appropriate measures to eliminate the causes and conditions conducive to their extremist activity are not taken for a long time.” The warning is issued by the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, March 2, 2016. All new news is but updated old.50

It is not everywhere. There are hot spots. Most Witnesses have merely tightened an already cautious deportment. They now must look over their shoulder more than in the past. They still laugh. It occurs to this writer, who is far away, that current raids hint at the Jewish pogroms of long ago, which were very bad when they happened, but they did not always happen. You never know, however, when the driver will step on the gas.

 

The Russian-speaking member of the Governing Body, Mark Sanderson, hosted a report on JW Broadcasting directly after the failed appeal. He related how, shortly after the April 20th ban, the Finnish branch committee arranged a convention for about 4000 of their brothers in Russia. Since it was on the spur of the moment, a call went out for hospitality. More than that many beds were offered, plus many who “called the branch and said ‘we’ll pay for a hotel room. We don’t care who it’s for, put whoever you want there, but we want to pay the cost’—so everyone was able to be accommodated.” Witnesses who had, in some cases traveled 6000 miles from Vladivostok arrived and asked: “Where is the Russian section?” They had had no idea that the entire convention was for them, that all of it was in Russian—and Sanderson reports that when they found out, tears broke out on some. 5137 attended and 33 were baptized.  Sanderson added “And although it is perhaps not their culture, do you know that the Finnish brothers and sisters managed to hug every single brother and sister who came through….And although we all thought we would be crying to see them go back to Russian and the challenges there, you know we just couldn’t cry because the brothers were too happy about the convention and there was no one saying ‘poor me’ they all went back with a joyful spirit, and it moved us.”

During that same program, he told some previously unknown details. He recounted how an international Witness delegation of 18 had been present in the courtroom at the appeal hearing. That much was already known by Witnesses worldwide who had kept abreast. What had not been known was that the delegation had been advised, in the event of a negative court outcome, that they would have to leave Russia that same night. “Well of course, we didn’t know if the hearing would be just that one day or if it would stretch on for other days, so our only choice was to take all of our things with us to the court and if the decision came we would have to make immediate plans to leave Russia. Since they didn’t know how long the appeal would last, they brought their luggage with them to court. ‘Well sure enough at 7 PM, the negative decision was announced. We had to leave Russia…can you imagine, the last flight out of Russia, and here we are, just after 1 AM when we arrived in Riga, Latvia,” Sanderson recounted.51

He is not “low-level.” He is one of the Witnesses Governing Body. And yet, as though he were a common criminal, he is advised that he cannot safely remain in Russia in the event of a negative outcome, lest he want to become Christensen’s cellmate. Let no one say members of that body do not risk their very souls for the sake of those they serve. How many of their critics would be willing to put their own skin on the line, knowing they could get stuck in the newly repressive land if there was a hitch?

Chapter 4 endnotes

Return to Table of Contents

 

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. A detailed description of the appeal, proceedings updated approximately every 5 minutes, can be found in the tweets Anton Chivchalov starting July 17, 2017, and also Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 27, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17071710-194.html. The latter is a news only site run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian and it appears to have been overlooked by authorities until it was banned in March of 2018. [edit: and then unbanned 3 months later]
  2. Galatians 1:23
  3. Ephesians 6:12
  4. Roman Lunkin, “’Do Not Dig a Hole to Another’ ... The Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia Became a Symbol of Senseless Discrimination Against Believers,” Slavic Center for Law and Justice, July 19, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://www.sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=478&ELEMENT_ID=7649
  5. Video Presentation: “Be Loyal, as Jesus Was,” JW Broadcasting, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/2016Convention/pub-jwbcov_201605_2_VIDEO
  6. Psalm 2:1-5
  7. Jeremiah 36:23
  8. Matthew 27:19
  9. Anna Bogdanova, “The Police Raided the Tent Camp on the Ob Sea - They Suspect that They are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” NGS News, July 19, 2017, accessed March 9, 2017, http://news.ngs.ru/more/50646921/For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170719e.html
  10. Bogdanova, “The Police,” comment section of article, assessed March 9, 2018, http://news.ngs.ru/comments/50646921/. Jason Le Miere, “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: Danish Citizen Faces up to 10 Years in Prison After Bible Reading,” Newsweek, May 30, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-prison-617747
  11. Denis Volin, “’I Eat a Piece of Bread and Wash from a Bottle’ The Regional Court Left Christensen in Custody Until the End of November,” Orel News, September 29, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://newsorel.ru/fn_293469.html
  12. Press Release, The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: “Embassy Press Officer on Lord Ahmad’s comments regarding the judicial ban of Jehova’s Witnesses in Russia,” July 19, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.rusemb.org.uk/fnapr/6172
  13. Matthew 5:11-12, brackets that of NABRE
  14. 2 Corinthians 12:10
  15. 1 Corinthians 1:19
  16. John 3:19,
  17. Isaiah 60:17
  18. “The trial of the Bible is resumed in Vyborg on July 28,” July 27, 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17072718-198.html
  19. Anton Chivchalov, “The trial of the Bible is resumed in Vyborg,” Porta-Credo, July 26, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://credo.press/site/?act=news&id=126993
  20. Ibid.
  21. Eduard Burmistrov, Extremism in the Bible: How Does the Prosecutor's Office Prohibit the Jehovah’s Writ of Scripture,” openrussia.org, August 10, 2017, https://openrussia.org/notes/712533
  22. Alexander Dvorkin, “The Decision of the Vyborg Court to Recognize the New World Translation as a Extremist Material is a Huge Mistake,” Pravoslavie.ru, August 22, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://pravoslavie.ru/105915.html
  23. Platon Prohorov, “Moving for AntiChrist,” RelioPolis, August 9, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://religiopolis.org/publications/11821-kovrik-dlya-antikhrista-09082017.html, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170809a.html
  24. Dvorkin, Alexander, “The Decision,”
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Uphold Jehovah’s Sovereignty,” The Watchtower – study edition, June 1, 2017, 28
  27. Dvorkin, “The Decision”
  28. Ibid.
  29. Acts 16:4-5
  30. Dvorkin, “The Decision”
  31. Job 2:4-5
  32. Proverbs 27:11
  33. “Prominent Russian Punk Rocker Defects To U.S. Over Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban,” RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-punk-chistyakov-defects-u-s-jehovah-witnesses/28650645.html
  34. Fedor Chistyakov: “Russia is the Freest Country - You Can Adopt the Constitution and Throw it Away,” Petersburg Internet Newspaper, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://www.fontanka.ru/2017/07/31/127/, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170731b.html
  35. “Prominent Russian,” RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty
  36. Leader of the Group Zero Decided Not to Return to Russia Because of the Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, portal-credo.ru, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=127042, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170731b.html
  37. The most complete account of Prince’s JW life, to my knowledge, is found in my own book, Tom Irregardless and Me (Smashwords.com Search: Tom Harley), chapter 1.
  38. Jan Shenkman, “Why Fedor Chistyakov left Russia,” Novaya Gazeta, July 31, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/07/31/73296-pochemu-fedor-chistyakov-pokinul-rossiyu
  39. Ephesians 6:12
  40. Tara Isabella Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Banned in Russia. That Doesn’t Stop Them From Worshipping,” Vox, August 24, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/8/24/16095496/jehovahs-witnesses-banned-russia-still-worshipping
  41. Dmitry Matveyev, “Without Witnesses. How Will the Jehovah’s Witnesses Live After the Ban in Russia,” The Telegraf, April 28, 2017, accessed March 10, 2018, https://rustelegraph.ru/news/2017-04-28/Bez-svidetelei-kak-budut-zhit-iegovisty-posle-zapreta-v-Rossii-73659, for English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170428d.html
  42. Mathew 26:10
  43. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”
  44. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are”
  45. Romans 13:1-7
  46. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are”
  47. Crestnaija, “JW: Jehovah's Witnesses Arrested for Taking a Walk,” Crest Global Media, September 9, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://crest9ja.blogspot.com/2017/09/jw-jehovahs-witnesses-arrested-for.html
  48. “Mass Searches and Criminal cases against Believers in Kemerovo and Belgorod - with Reference to the Decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, February 9, 2018, accessed March 23, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/18020917-286.html
  49. Blog Post: Anton Chivchalov Blog, September 7, 2017, Accessed March 10, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/ScandicJHWH/posts/1090342934433433
  50. Mark Sanderson: Russian Convention Travel Report, JW Broadcasting, accessed March 23, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/LatestVideos/pub-jwb_201709_12_VIDEO

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Comments

Grace Roydes

Towards the end of your article you make a point to the effect of - ' it can not be said that the governing body do not put themselves on the line ' or words to that effect.
But the scenario you describe points to the opposite of this- you state that he left Russia, he didn't stay there to be in the cell ' next to Denis....'

Tom Harley

Well, obviously he is not going to stay there and make himself a target. No one is more recognizable than he. Even Trump would not hang out in North Korea but for the sure knowledge that 100 nukes are pointed that way.

The point is that he didn’t have to go there at all. Responsible local Witnesses are in place. He could have done everything from afar, being of the governing arrangement for the world brotherhood, and not just Russia. After the failed appeal, he and his party had to leave that night so as not to be subject to arrest themselves. Had anything gone wrong, they might have all found themselves under arrest—to no purpose, other than to make those who oppose them happy.

Grace Roydes

Ok... a comparison of a leader of one of the many more extreme branches of Christianity to Trump is an interesting one.....
I'm not sure any religious leader would want to be compared with Trump let alone one of the leaders of the supposed 'only true religion of God's people around today.'

And actually yes, I would expect one of the Governing Body members to be in Russia for the court case. They believe themselves to be the holy spirit/ self? appointed leaders of God's modern day chosen people. I would expect them to be there to show their support.
The fact that Mark Sanderson hot footed it out of Russia the day after the court case rather than standing side by side with his brother just appears very unChristian. As a leader of the JW movement I would expect him to use his position to support the Russian brothers, fleeing straight away does not give a great impression of Christian solidarity. Forget writing millions of letters, he voted with his feet so to speak.
In days gone by leaders of countries led their people to battle from the frontline. Sanderson's behaviour does not give much of an impression of loving/ selflessness.
I'm not saying that I would not have acted in the same way, but I would expect a little more from someone who believed they were leading God's organisation. I would have thought ensuring he saved his own skin would have been less of a priority for him.

Tom Harley

Well......I think you just want to see him in the hoosegow, and then go after the other 7.

Grace Roydes

I'm not sure what a hoosegow is so I can't comment and no I have no ill feeling toward anyone. It just surprised me that you put a positive spin of mentioning how he was there etc and then stated he left as soon as a negative verdict was reached.

Tom Harley

Hoosegow is American slang for jail. What I “put a positive spin” on is nothing more than common sense.

A captain goes down with his ship. He does not scan the horizon so as to board other ships that he can go down with. Sanderson is “captain” of the entire world organization. Witnesses in Russia have “captains” that are specifically in Russia, and they are going down with the ship. However, perhaps it will prove to be a submarine.

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