William Yoder – The Demise of Moscow’s Russian-American Christian University

William Yoder an American Baptist writer writing currently in evangelicals in Russia, and a great lover of Putin and of his regime is discussing in this article a recent book by John Bernbaum, which describes the pathetic saga of an American funded university in Moscow.

I share it here because of it’s relevance for other similar evangelical educational institutions in Eastern Europe, including in Romania. Here is the text.
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Ladushkin – I’m still struck with sadness when recalling the makeshift monument erected in 2007 about 40 metres from the entrance to Moscow’s “Russian-American-Institute”. Its plaque stated that the monument was dedicated to “protection from the enemies of the Russian soil”. At least 15 demonstrations took place at the site in the four years prior to completion of the building in 2010. In the end, Russian taxes and US-debt killed the project and led to the building’s purchase by a secular Russian firm in March 2014. Founded in 1995, the institution was known as the “Russian-American Christian University” (RACU) until November 2007.

What caused such a negative reaction within the Russian nation? After all, in October 1990 upper echelons of the Gorbachev-government had invited evangelical educators to start a liberal arts university on Russian soil. It was a Russian proposal, not an American one, and it was the Russians who gradually reneged on their invitation.

A book by the project’s primary mover-and-shaker, John Bernbaum, is entitled “Opening the Red Door” and was published by InterVarsity-Press in 2019. The book is a documentary, not an intellectual enterprise, and makes no real effort to answer the above question. Allow me to try.

1. Reason #1: Too big and too different
Such a project at the country’s Moscow epicentre was too big, too visible and too Western to survive a serious downturn in US-Russian relations. One could claim: In view of East-West tensions, not even St. Peter could have kept the project afloat. To believe otherwise would have meant defying the laws of gravity.

In addition: Russia’s less-than-a-million evangelicals were in no position to support, both financially and intellectually, a multi-confessional project of these dimensions. In Europe there is no tradition of privately-owned, Christian liberal-arts universities. Intellectual centres of learning are a luxury never enjoyed by Russian Protestants. Russian evangelical support for the project was very modest: its strongest supporter was the neo-Pentecostal “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE).

In 2014, Ruslan Nadyuk (or Nadiuk), the long-term head of RACU’s social work department, insisted: “Most (Russian) Protestants do not want professional programmes. They view education strictly as an instrument for evangelism.” Yet Protestants restricting themselves to evangelism “will in time reduce themselves to little groups capable only of converting their offspring”. He added, that the anti-intellectualism in his realm is fuelled by Western fundamentalists insisting that the study of psychology is an anti-Christian endeavour (see our release from 14 July 2014).

RACU was a welcome source of capital and jobs to Russian Protestants, but a sense of ownership did not develop. As I wrote in the above release: “To Protestants, this institution appeared worthy of exploitation, but not of sustenance. The unfed cow was milked until she expired.”

The reservations of provincial, conservative church circles regarding a liberal-arts education is also par-for-the-course in North America. In the Russian context, such graduates usually end up as Charismatics or Orthodox – or as residents of the West. A vital first step would involve touting the fruits of involvement in intellectual topics among the old-time faithful.

2. Not meeting Russians on equal terms
In Russia, by far the world’s largest country in territorial terms, such an international project can only succeed if local government and church authorities feel they are truly equal partners. Despite the very best of intentions, those paying the piper will also determine the tune, and Russia’s Protestants were absolutely incapable – and the government unwilling – to supply 50% of the funding. It was a Catch-22 situation: They money was not there to insure equal treatment, and without equal treatment, the project was doomed. Even RACU’s PR-work in Russia was headed by a US marketing firm (page 197).

After 1990, and perhaps even today, Russia long wanted – or still wants – positive relations with the West. But that desire is not unconditional, very much in contrast to the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. Smaller countries are accustomed to being junior partners and do accept orders arriving from above. The survival of Protestant university projects in Lithuania and Ukraine can be attributed in part to this readiness. The tiny minority of Russian Protestants frequently does not mind being a junior partner – but its government certainly does.

Those projects still surviving in Russia are, despite their names, essentially seminaries or Bible schools. Two of them are “St. Petersburg Christian University” and Krasnodar’s “Kuban Evangelical-Christian University”. They are more modest, less-invasive endeavours – and not located anywhere near the nation’s capital.

There are Western-sponsored Christian institutions of learning in China and even North Korea. Yet in both cases, they are geared to job and professional training, not the liberal arts or theology, and tied closely to the hosting government. See „Pyongyang University of Science and Technology“ under “pust.co”. It has a sister institution in China.

3. Conflicting worldviews
Being “too Western” demands an explanation. The author is struck by the drastic gap between Bernbaum’s description of recent Russian history and the views prominent within Russia – he inverts the heroes and villains. Bernbaum does not deny the human foibles of Boris Yeltsin, but his “heroes”, Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev, are viewed as villains by today’s Russians. Gorbachev, regarded as the annihilator of the USSR’s economy, has popularity ratings hovering around 1%.

Vladimir Putin is this book’s nationalist villain. No mention is made of Putin’s openness for a free trading zone reaching from Lisbon to Vladivostok or his remarkable address to Germany’s Bundestag on 25 September 2001. He had then appealed for broad German-Russian cooperation while speaking of an “all-European cooperation between equals”. Putin – not the West – spoke until recently of the other side as “partners”. In Russia, it’s the diehard nationalists who complain about Putin’s softness on the West. The book does not regard NATO’s encirclement of Russia as a major issue.

Bernbaum describes communism and the communist state essentially as highly-corrupt producers of rubble. Yet the communist state turned an agrarian power into a superpower in the half-century following 1917 – and that despite a devastating world war. The legendary Wolfowitz Doctrine of 1992 asserted that the USA should never again tolerate the existence of a second super power. That paper certainly did regard the USSR as having superpower status. Granted, the USSR never was a superpower in terms of living standard.

The book reveals several information gaps. On page 12, it is claimed that the sport-mad USSR had been without swimming pools. Yet mass access to swimming facilities has really only become a problem since 1990. Page 64 has the people demolishing statues of “Stalin, Lenin and Dzerzhinsky” in late 1990. Yet the statues of Stalin had been dumped 30 years previous.  

One could claim that John Bernbaum, like very many of us, did not understand the USA either. The book assumes the US is a stalwart and mature force of stability; its seasoned evangelical educators teaching their skills to the less-endowed of Russia. Yet it was not the USSR nor China that rained death and destruction on Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the decades after WW II. (The Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89 could be seen as an exception, but Zbygniew Brzezinski and his “Operation Cyclone“ were part of the cause in that one, too.)

North America has had an excellent chain of Christian, liberal-arts institutions and I for one once profited from that immensely. I have reason to be grateful. But today, 25 years after the founding of RACU, 85% of US evangelicals are supporting a highly-divisive, populist and rightist president. In Brazil and Bolivia, evangelicals are helping to head extreme-rightist governments. We from the USA are not nearly as stable, learned and impartial as we once thought.

Perhaps evangelical goals are way too grandiose. Philip L. Wickeri’s classic work from 1988 on the relationship between church and state in Mao’s China, “Seeking the Common Ground”, concludes that Christian circles had reconciled themselves to the fact that a church need not own hospitals and schools in order to make an impact. Christians were free as individuals to participate in the social programme of the whole. Thanks in part to this “defeatist” worldview, the Chinese church grew from 2.5 to roughly 50-70 million in the 50 years after 1949. Granted: Educational deficiencies remain a trademark of the current Chinese church.

Page 35 of Wickeri’s book: Missionaries had a “pre-packaged understanding” of the truth, which rendered them incapable of genuine encounter with those around them. “The scandal is not the cross, but the unshaken class and ideological standpoint of the message bearer.” Can missionaries be effective without being missionized themselves? Can change only occur if it is mutual? Western and Russian evangelicals could afford to study this book carefully.

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Ladushkin, 15 February 2020
Webpage: “wyoder.de”

Note: A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited.

William Yoder – The Fellow with His Finger in the Dike. Sergey Ryakhovsky turns 60

M o s c o w – On 18 March, Moscow’s Sergey Vasilevich Ryakhovsky, Senior Bishop of ROSKhVE, the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith”, turned 60. Despite his many detractors in Ukraine and the West, Russian evangelicals have reason enough to thank Ryakhovsky for his efforts in the public and political realm. Russian nationalists have long wanted to prove that evangelicals are foreign, pro-Western half-spies, the lengthened arms of Western governments reaching over and beyond the political divide. The Bishop and his cohorts are doing what they can to keep the nationalists from winning the day. He’s the Dutch boy plugging the dike with his finger, keeping the onslaught from turning into a deluge. He is attempting to keep the public presence of Russia’s Protestants afloat by proving that Protestants are loyal servants of their societies even when they find themselves beyond the reach of NATO and the European Union. Left to their own devices, the West’s pro-Maidan evangelicals would in my view virtually prove the claims of Russia’s nationalist movement.

In an interview published by “Moskovsky Komsomolits” on 21 March, the birthday kid claimed: “I will not hide the fact that the members of our denomination are active in all branches of government.” Yet he also admits in the article that not all of these feel free to express their religious allegiances openly. Publicly, the Bishop tries hard to be up-beat and constructive; he likes to claim that accusations of sectarianism are becoming a thing of the past. In the interview he states: “Let me remind you that I have been a member of the ‘Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations’ since 2002 and a member of the ‘Public Chamber’ since 2005. My membership would be cancelled within seconds if the federal government changed its attitude towards Protestants.”

After Ryakhovsky famously posed with President Putin and the heads of Russia’s largest religious faiths in Red Square on 4 November 2014, an “Itar-Tass” press release listed his Pentecostal denomination among the “leading traditional Russian confessions”. “Fortunately”, the Bishop’s location on the right edge of the photo allowed him to be cropped off by some agencies, but the press release itself was sufficient cause for heart attacks on the part of Russia’s nationalist faithful. Continue reading “William Yoder – The Fellow with His Finger in the Dike. Sergey Ryakhovsky turns 60”

William Yoder – A Commentary on Evangelist Franklin Graham in Moscow

franklin graham
Franklin Graham

Note of the blogger: The text below proves, again, what an embarassment the foolishnes of Franklin Graham is to his illustrious father. Read for yourself (I have undelined certain passages, for out help). I need to say no more. (D.M.)

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God: Big Enough to Stomach Us Both

M o s c o w — Rev. Franklin Graham’s visit to Moscow from 28 October to 1 November was surely the most “politically incorrect” visit of a Western church leader to Eastern Europe in decades. A foreboding of things to come had arisen when Graham assured at the outset that he was praying for Vladimir Putin. Franklin Graham, chairman of the “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association” had previously only visited Russia in 1984 along with his famous father. Franklin did hold evangelistic campaigns in Ukraine in July 2007 and June 2014.

Ukrainian Baptists had ridiculed the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” for a statement on 30 May 2014 which lauded the divorced Russian leader for “protecting and strengthening spiritual and moral values”. Graham repeated the transgression in his meeting with RUECB leadership on 28 October by assuring that Putin “defends Biblical values from the attacks of secularism”. On the basis of his statements in Moscow, Graham sees Putin as a major defender of the historic Christian faith. Barack Obama on the other hand is “without a Christian worldview” and “promotes atheism”.

Mainstream media – the “Washington Post” for ex. – have repeated branded Putin a “fascist”. Yet Graham insisted in Moscow that millions of simple Americans would like to see Vladimir Putin candidate for the office of US President. God has given Putin the wisdom necessary to “lead a massive country, which God has blessed”. Graham met personally with the Russian president for 45 minutes during the Moscow sojourn. Continue reading “William Yoder – A Commentary on Evangelist Franklin Graham in Moscow”

William Yoder – Report on A Visit in Slaviansk and Kiev

Smolensk – The express train from Kiev to Konstantinovka storms toward the front lines at up to 100 mph – Konstantinovka, located to the west of Donetsk, is the present end station. War-damaged Croatia left a different impression two decades ago. Back then, I experienced aged busses on detours chugging slowly up mountain passes.
 
In Slaviansk, Eastern Ukraine looks remarkably robust. Since the “rebels” departed on 5 July of last year, the city has been busy hammering and sawing. War damage is now only apparent on the fringes of the city; schools, hospitals and municipal offices are working full steam. Innumerable street potholes still point to the events that transpired a year ago.
 
The city’s three large Charismatic-Pentecostal churches have been major players in the rebuilding process. These are the churches now up on top in Slaviansk. Peter Dudnik reported on 1 April that helpers associated with his congregation had repaired 112 of the 1.500 damaged private dwellings and built four new ones from the ground up.
 
The humanitarian efforts of Dudnik, the second head pastor of the large „Good News“ congregation, have made him a household name throughout Ukraine. His congregation has major connections and sports a constant steam of construction and humanitarian workers arriving from western Ukraine, Germany and the US. In the office of his congregation, representatives from the local government and military are frequent guests. Continue reading “William Yoder – Report on A Visit in Slaviansk and Kiev”

William Yoder – The Protestants of Ukraine and Russia Have A Spiritual Problem

NOTE: American Baptist correspondent William Yoder continues to manifest in his newsletters a definite pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian position, concerning the Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. He should know better.

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M o s c o w – The Mennonite Harley Wagler, a US-American who has spent the last 21 years in Nizhny Novgorod/Russia, describes the difference between Ukrainian and Russian Baptists as a theological one. He writes: “Many Russian evangelicals are now being pilloried by the Ukrainian ones, who say they are ‘stooges’ of Putin. But the difference is theological. The Russians, generally speaking, say the church should honour the government, even if it is imperfect, since the church represents another kingdom. Even in the worst Stalin years, Baptist leaders never directly criticized the government, simply asserting that they followed a higher calling. One should recall the Baptist Alyosha in Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’. That remains the Baptist position.”

“In Ukraine however, many evangelicals have taken the opposite position. They now say they must support the new government, that this is their patriotic duty. Even the president of Ukraine, for several months, was a Baptist lay minister (Oleksandr Turchynov). He has gained notoriety as the ‘bloody pastor’ because of his thundering and militaristic, anti-Russian pronouncements. Which position is closer to the Biblical one?”

This Russian assessment of Turchynov is harsh, and the Russian Baptist Union did briefly stick its head above the trenches and into politics when its statement from 30 May 2014 questioned the theological justification for support of the Maidan revolt. (See our article from 24 July.) Continue reading “William Yoder – The Protestants of Ukraine and Russia Have A Spiritual Problem”

William Yoder on the Newly Found Vitality of Christianity in Mongolia

Mongolian Christians

NOTE: A few years ago, more precisely in November 2006 I had the privilege to visit Mongolia together with one of my dear colleagues in World Vision, for doing my seminar on a Christian view on communism and post-communism (more details HERE – in Romanian). I did my presentation for two full days with about 70 church leaders and I was very impressed with the vitality of this very young church. What you can read below is one of the most consistent analysis of contemporary Mongolian Christianity, done from a Protestant perspective. I hope you will find it as interesting and informative as I did.

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Has Something Significant Happened in Mongolia?

At least in terms of percentages, Protestant mission in what may be the world’s  coldest and sunniest country qualifies as an incredible success story. Starting  with between four and 40 believers in 1990 (numbers vary), Protestants in  Mongolia are now said to number at  least 50.000 in 500 local congregations. The “Mongolian Evangelical Alliance”  reports of a heady “vision and strategy to see 10% of the population come to  faith in Jesus Christ by the year 2020”. That would be slightly more than  300.000 believers. From the 7th until the 14th centuries,  Nestorian, Eastern-Rite Christendom had a foothold in the country. It could be  claimed that now for the first time in 700 years Mongolia possesses a sizeable Christian minority: nearly 2% of the population. The  Orthodox and Roman Catholics are also present, but number less than 1.000  members each. Mormon numbers run significantly higher at nearly 8.000 members.  Continue reading “William Yoder on the Newly Found Vitality of Christianity in Mongolia”

William Yoder – Fearing ‘Gypsies’ No More – On the Roma in Europe and Russia

26/11/05
St.Petersburg region, st.Peri
the gipsies on platform.

M o s c o w — Much of Roma history remains shrouded in mystery – there is no consensus even on the matter of numbers. According to Wikipedia, the highest number of Roma (once called “gypsies” as derived from the word “Egyptian”) are located in the USA – around a million. Yet the Zurich journal “Religion und Gesellschaft in Ost und West” (RGOW) reports that the governments of Eastern Europe intentionally underestimate their number. Twenty-two-million-strong Romania now claims to have 408.000 Roma citizens, yet RGOW believes the number could be as high as three million. Roma are said to be Europe’s largest minority of 10 to 12 million. Their worldwide population could be as high as 60 million. The counting problems are compounded by the fact that there is no single definition of the term “Roma”.

It is generally accepted that ethnic Roma began their trek westward from India around the 7th century A.D.; a traditional stronghold has been southeastern Europe. Some later headed eastward, arriving first in the Polish–Lithuanian Union and the other Baltic states. They only arrived in the Russian kingdom after some regions were annexed by the Czar in the 18th century. Though strongest in Moldova and Ukraine, Roma can now be found even in the Russian Far East.

Reports state that the Roma were initially no more nomadic than native tribes. In time, they became a major unskilled-but-reliable workforce. The coming of Fascist Germany then brought deportation, extermination and major upheaval; as many as 500.000 may have been killed. Following WW II, the socialist governments of Eastern Europe attempted to force their assimilation by reintegrating them into the labour forces for heavy industry. In October 1956, the Supreme Soviet banned nomadism, forcing Soviet Roma to accept stationery housing. Soon, more than 90% of the USSR’s Roma were settled. Continue reading “William Yoder – Fearing ‘Gypsies’ No More – On the Roma in Europe and Russia”

For Kyrgyz Protestants, the future remains full of questions

Searching for a Peaceful Graveyard
by William Yoder, Ph.D.

Bad Blankenburg/Germany – No ethnic-Kyrgyz Christian has been a believer for more than two decades, yet already 20% of the country’s Baptists are Kyrgyz. But where are these new believers in Christ to be buried? The nation’s customs dictate that the deceased be buried in the vicinity of their relatives. Yet those confessing Christ are as a rule disowned by their families and stripped of their ancestral home and place of burial. In several instances, the bodies of deceased believers have needed to be reburied or even buried in secret. At this year’s annual conference of the German Evangelical Alliance in Bad Blankenburg, a representative of the Kyrgyz Alliance assured that his organisation has taken on this unusual task: “We are in negotiations with the government about obtaining a piece of property on which Protestant believers can be buried.” Continue reading “For Kyrgyz Protestants, the future remains full of questions”

Russian Nostalgia for Christendom

Head Start or Crisis?

The Russian Longing for the Christian State

M o s c o w – Russia is„ even now the best part of Europe and we  offer it the most positive future”. The well-known Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin,  Chairman of the Orthodox “Synod Office for Mutual Relations between Church and  Society”, stated this in early April on television network “Rossiya I”’s  programme “Duell”. Chaplin is convinced that the West, including the USA, no  longer qualifies as Christian. The West indeed represents the most godless  system of all. Both commujnsm and Bolshevism were brought down by their  godlessness; “capitalism will fare no better”. Only Russia can become that which  the West once was. Continue reading “Russian Nostalgia for Christendom”

Baptist home for the aged in Belarus officially dedicated

God Finishes What He Starts

Baptist home for the aged in Belarus officially dedicated

M o s c o w / K o b r i n – No government or Orthodox dignitaries were present on 26 June – but 52 guests from Missouri/USA were – as hundreds of Kobrin Baptists celebrated the opening of Belarus’ first privately-run home for the aged. Most of the costs for the magnificent “Baptist House of Mercy” with one- and two-bed rooms for 54 residents were footed by them – supporters of a network of Baptist retirement homes in Missouri. Amazingly, the reconstructed and enlarged building on the grounds of the Baptist-owned “Zhemchuzhinka” (Little Pearl) children’s camp at Imenin just north of Kobrin cost no more than $500.000 US – excluding material gifts mostly from West European sources.

Continue reading “Baptist home for the aged in Belarus officially dedicated”

Christianity Today on the troubled Christians in Kyrgyzstan

A few days ago I was receiving a phone call from an editor of Christianity Today, asking for Christian contacts in Kyrgyzstan.

Yesterday the American Evangelical journal published a short article on the situation of Christians in Kyrgyzstan after the recent ethnic trouble in Osh, west of the country. The author is William Yoder, the CT correspondant in Moscow. Here is a fragment: Continue reading “Christianity Today on the troubled Christians in Kyrgyzstan”