A Ukrainian church without freedom or rights

What awaits evangelical churches in the occupied territories of Ukraine?

May 10, 2019

March 1, 2019, was the deadline for churches and religious organizations to reregister in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).  Only the Russian Orthodox churches of the Moscow Patriarchate have no problem with religious freedom. All of the other churches are now considered illegal.

What will happen now? It is important to observe what is happening in Russia, where thousands of believers are being persecuted as “sectarians” and “extremists,” or in the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), where all evangelical groups and organizations have been banned on the basis of the “law” titled “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” Baptists have been directly labeled as extremists and accused of ties with Ukraine and the West.

The law in the DPR creates the basis for a similar scenario. According to this law, “the creation of a sect and expansion of sectarianism” is forbidden and subject to persecution” (Article 3, Point 6 of the “Law on the Freedom of Religious Expression and Religious Associations” of the DPR). Any organization risks being labeled a sect if it is not prepared to register.  And the only church allowed to register is the church of the Moscow Patriarchate—all of the others are unlikely even to receive the approval of Orthodox experts. Even a religious group is obliged to go through the process of coordinating its activities, go through a religious examination, become registered, and provide regular detailed reports on its activities (Article 7, Statutes 2-3 of previously named Law of the DPR). Even if believers merely wish to gather in simple home groups in kitchens, attics, or basements, they will most likely face punishment.  

All of this means that churches must not engage in any type of mission work or other public activity, spread out in very small groups, and go deeply underground.

How can we help those who are living in this territory of arbitrary laws and terror? Ukrainian political and religious leaders are appealing to the international community for support (1).   Social organizations are gathering facts on the multiple violations of religious freedom and are publishing extensive reports (2).

But so far it is difficult to say how and what the international community can do to help Christians in the territory of the DPR, because this quasi-state entity is not recognized by anyone and cannot be influenced by anything other than a direct call from the Kremlin.

The U.S. explicitly states that Russia is behind religious freedom violations in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, because Russia considers independent religious activity to be a great threat and is fighting against missionaries as extremists in every way (3).

It is apparent that all new religious freedom restrictions are associated with this Russian influence in the spirit of the anti-extremist and, in fact, anti-missionary “Yarovaya Laws.” And here, social organizations can do little, since even the United Nations, the European Union, and the U.S. cannot influence the flagrant violations of human rights and religious freedom in Russia and in the territories under its control. That’s why the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, speaking of possible catastrophic events after March 1, asks the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the participants in the Minsk negotiation process for diplomatic assistance, but most of all asks for universal prayer for congregations and clergy (4).

This is what we can do right now and what works better than anything else: Christian unanimity in prayer for those who are experiencing discrimination and persecution can bring about real miracles. And this may be the strongest evidence to the world—in the DPR, the LPR, Russia, and everywhere where freedom is violated and where the persecuted need our solidarity and full support.


  1. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, assured the Ukrainian delegation of supporting the rights of believers living in the occupied territories of Ukraine to freely confess their faith or belief. Agreements on cooperation in this area were reached during the visit of Ukrainian parliamentarians to Washington, D.C. The Institute for Religious Freedom reports that the meeting of the Head of the Ukrainian delegation, MP Pavlo Unguryan with Ambassador Samuel Brownback, was a part of it. Brownback was provided with an analytical report on religious persecution in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, published by the IRF and Mission Eurasia.
  2. According to IRF reports, a new wave of religious persecution of believers of various denominations in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions resumed in 2018. Originally, the self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk adopted the so-called “laws,” which obligated all churches and religious organizations, except the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, to re-register. After that, the activity of many denominations, which did not fall under the conditional definition of “traditional” found themselves under the threat of a ban, and some of them were subject to physical attacks and assaults on property.
  3. “The Russian government views independent religious activity as a major threat to social and political stability” (See USCIRF Report on Russia) .
  4. “Over the past five years, the situation regarding the right to freedom of conscience and religion in certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine (the so-called “DPR” and “LPR”) has been constantly deteriorating. This is manifested in systematic persecution, mistreatment, arrests, seizure of churches, and so on. However, if so far there has been a significant restriction and violation of rights, now, from March 1, 2019, there is a threat of full prohibition of the activities of communities and clerics of our Church, complete confiscation of community property, and the deportation of priests from the so-called “DPR” territory. The reason for this is the unlawful requirement for communities to “register according to the laws of the republic.” Such a requirement cannot be fulfilled, because the structure that issued such a “law” is not recognized by the state. Taking into consideration this threat, we appeal to the United Nations, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the guarantors of  the “Minsk Process,” the European Union and, in general, all democratic countries, international and interdenominational institutions, to address those who are responsible for the  final decisions related to this matter and who can take measures to prevent the catastrophic development of events. We also ask everyone to pray about the communities and clergy of our Church in the occupied territories of the Donbas and for all those who suffer from captivity” (Statement by Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv: “As for the expansion of religious persecution in the occupied territories of the Donbas”).

Michael Cherenkov

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Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24