While the 16th-century reformation under Francysk Skaryna marked the Golden Age of Belarus, the 20th century marked the nation’s decay.
In 1922, Belarus became a founding member of the USSR. The Soviets instituted a five-year collectivist policy that led to political repression and widespread famine for two decades.
When the Nazis entered Belarus during WW2, they instituted their plan to exterminate, expel or enslave Belarusians to provide more land for Germans. An estimated two to three million Belarusians were impacted. Before the war, some ten percent of Belarusians were Jews. Most of them died in the Nazi concentration camps.
The post-WW2 constitution affirmed freedom of religion, but the practice has not lived up to the promise. In 2002, President Lukashenko, a Soviet-style dictator, signed a new law establishing the “determining role of the Orthodox Church in the historical formation and development of spiritual, cultural, and state traditions of the Belarusian people.”
Despite the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, the 2002 law made unregistered religious activity a criminal offense. Any church that registered before the law took effect was required to re-register or face punishment. The law restricted church ownership of property and forbid the founding of schools to train pastors or provide Christian education for children.
In 2007, the government instituted a nationwide crackdown on churches and religious groups. Faithful Christians continued to engage under this persecution. Leaders established “Schools without Walls” to prepare a new generation of Christians to “lead the church in times of trials and persecution.”
Christians led the opposition to Lukashenko
In the 2010 election, Christians boldly led the opposition to Lukashenko’s government. Christian leaders ran for office. But Lukashenko and his cronies were elected to a fourth term. Christians stood up for freedom and a new reformation, leading national protests against rigged elections. The police broke up rallies and beat and arrested protestors.
I was in the country following the elections facilitating a pastors’ conference and witnessed this post-election crackdown firsthand. The police discovered our venue, interrupted the conference and arrested many of the pastors.
The crackdown on religious freedom in Belarus continues. Before 2014, the Democracy Index rated Belarus the lowest in Europe. Freedom House gives Belarus its lowest level—“not free.” The country has the least freedom of the press in Europe. Today’s decaying Belarus stands in stark contrast to its flourishing during the Reformation.
Please pray for Belarus, especially for pastors and young Christian leaders to “lead the church in times of trials and persecution.”
- Darrow Miller