It’s been a year since I wrote this post which evoked mixed reactions from Slavic church members across the US.
In all honesty, I wrote that post with only a few churches in mind – those that I have been a part of for many years.
I certainly did not expect a response I received, and it was quite overwhelming.
Looking back, however, I am able to confidently and thankfully say: My Father led me through it all!
He was the one who sustained me through some of the most difficult ridicule I have ever faced before, including that of those close to me.
There have also been those who responded in love and provided constructive criticism. (For instance, an advice I took to heart was that I shouldn’t have lumped everyone into the same big pile of “dead churches”).
However, what became even more clear to me is that there are so many Slavic brothers and sisters across the US who have been hurt by religion. It is always a blessing to see those who in spite of being hurt by churches and church leaders have found a real relationship with Jesus, and in it, healing and forgiveness. But there are also so many more others who have fallen and have been unable to get up…
And so, I want to preface this letter with this: If you are a Slavic church leader and you find absolutely nothing here that is applicable to you, that is wonderful! Praise God! I ask that you would join me in praying for those leaders who have lost the fear of the Lord, and who have become stumbling blocks to many.
I also want to point out that I do realize that there are no perfect churches or perfect church leaders. Every church has its own set of issues because, frankly, we are all broken people in need of God’s mercy and grace.
That being said, I cannot remain silent while witnessing a degradation within the Slavic churches in my community. God placed a heavy burden on my heart for the souls of many young people who are looking at you, the leaders of Slavic churches.
They see the corruption. They see past your mask. They see through your hypocrisy. They see the politics you engage in. They see that your faith has become a means to your status or power within the Slavic community. They see a dead religion.
They do not see Jesus in you.
They do not want to have anything to do with Christianity.
They leave your churches.
Scores of young people are either leading double lives themselves, (they certainly have someone from whom they are learning), or they are becoming atheists at an alarming rate.
And the most grievous thing is the fact that you, a Slavic church leader, blame this phenomenon on anything else but yourself.
You place the blame on colleges and universities. You say, “they just didn’t want to be on the straight and narrow way and chose the highway to hell,” or “they wanted freedom!” “They rebelled!” They, they, they.
But what about you?
You have lost the fear of God when you allowed church politics dictate how you lead the flock Jesus Christ placed into your care.
You appease those members who contribute the most dollars into the church treasury, or those who pledge to support your candidacy as a pastor once reelection rolls around. (That is if the reelection even takes place in your church). Some of you become life-long pastors, remaining in your posts even after you steal from the church treasury, or are caught soliciting prostitutes, or engage in some other shady dealings.
What plays into your favor is the fact that the majority of your members have immigrated from countries where Christians were persecuted. These members still carry fear and mistrust towards the governing authorities of this country. So you capitalize on that, and your sins become buried under the big pile you have labeled as “Christian persecution.”
Whether you hide your own sin or the sin of other members under the label of “Christian persecution,” you also do not follow the biblical teaching that instructs the church to judge and to discipline those within the church, while leaving judgment of those outside the church to God. Instead, you throw rocks at the nonbelievers while showering yourselves with praise of how good you are at keeping God’s law. Do you even see how convoluted it all really is?
How do you react when your members are accused and prosecuted for mortgage fraud or for setting a fire to their home in order to get insurance money? Why do these members engage in these sins in the first place? Don’t they realize the profound implications their actions have on their children?
Yet again, you call it “Christian persecution.” I have a question for you and the members who commit these misdemeanors and crimes: Do you even realize that you drag Jesus and His name through the mud you yourself created committing a crime?
Why do you, as a church leader, defend those types of activities? To preserve your image or the church’s reputation? Ignorance? Lack of understanding how the US criminal justice system operates? Some of the above, or all of the above?
I plead with you, please, do not insult the dear brothers and sisters facing real persecution – those who find themselves under ISIS control and in countries like China. You are not “persecuted for your faith” when the factual evidence against you is sufficient enough for a prosecutor to decide that the case against you is worth the county’s time and resources.
Those believers who know how the justice system works in this country can see through your schemes. They pray for you, hoping that you would repent. Most importanly, God sees you! Meanwhile, the young people, whose faith is still shaky, experience a total shipwreck leaving Christianity for good.
Politics is when you give in to the members’ threats of withdrawing their financial support, allowing these members to manipulate your decisions. An example would be you not allowing English-speaking services. Young people, whose Russian or Ukrainian is not as good as yours, would greatly benefit from the English services. But you give in to pressure from the majority of the selfish members who don’t want the English services. No matter how big of an effort you make in trying to “keep the Russian (or Ukrainian) language,” your children, and most certainly your grandchildren, will not be proficient in it. So, is it more important for them to speak Russian or to hear the Gospel in a language they can understand?
Politics is when you shut your eyes to the sin of those who are big money contributors, while exposing the sin of other members who contribute small amounts.
You also engage in church politics when you allow your family to monopolize the church ministry positions (choir, Sunday school, etc.), to a point that it becomes extremely difficult for anyone outside of the privileged circle to serve in those ministries.
You have lost the fear of God when you gossip and disclose the secrets of those who have confessed their sins to you in confidence. Recently, a young woman shared with me her shock at overhearing the pastors’ sons talk about her friend’s shameful secrets, all while they were laughing and sipping coffee at a local Starbucks.
You have lost the fear of God when you turned the baptism interviews into vetting sessions resembling an FBI background check. Young people, who have already confessed their sins and who have already given their lives to Jesus, are pressured to confess yet again, sometimes even to sins they have never done.
You have lost the fear of God when you cover sexual sins of deacons and ministers in your church. I find it hard to express the grief I feel upon finding out of yet another young woman traumatized by molestation or rape at the hands of her father or a pastor’s son. She is further damaged when no one does anything about it, or worse, when she is the one getting all the blame and shame.
And finally, you have lost a relationship with Jesus and found religion when you started to focus on the letter of the law. Members of your flock hear about dress codes, jewelry, and makeup more than they hear about sin and God’s grace. You fail to realize that no matter how much you try to change your members by rules and regulations, the only one who can really change them is Jesus.
Meanwhile, you allow yourselves to become prideful, comparing your works to the works of others. Pride rules in the hearts of your church members as well. They boast about how “holy” they are because they always wear skirts and never wear makeup or jewelry. They also feel self-righteous when they find out about their brother or sister’s sin like adultery, pornography, or another “shameful” addiction. They further affirm their own sense of worth by gossiping and ostracizing those brothers and sisters who have stumbled and fallen, all the while forgetting that gossip and an unloving attitude is just as sinful.
You are careful about keeping your own faults and weaknesses secret. You believe that if your members know about them, they will stumble and fall. So for the good of those who are “weak in faith” you keep up the pretense that you are a “perfect Christian.” And I don’t blame you. Because you find yourself in the same vicious cycle of a culture that vilifies and shames others in order to glorify and promote themselves.
You may be a parent who will do anything to keep your “holy” status. This includes pressuring or even manipulating your children to repent, to sing in a choir, or to be baptized so that you can retain respect of your members. Or you may not be this type of a parent. But there are many in your churches who do use manipulation tactics such as “you are not going to get your car” or “I will not pay for your car insurance if you don’t sing in a choir, or don’t repent, or get baptized.” Because of this, you have number a of young church members who lead double lives. They get drunk in bars, do drugs, and have sex on Saturday nights and sing in choir on Sunday mornings.
And then you wonder why so many young people leave the Christian faith…
It’s really quite simple: You have failed to show the real Jesus to them!
A question I have been asked many times is this one: “Why do you keep talking about this?”
I certainly understand the cultural implications of a well-known idiom that says “не выноси сор из избы” or “do not air your dirty laundry in public.”
I also acknowledge the fact that many will interpret this post as yet another personal attempt at getting fame and publicity.
I am not in control of changing your minds, and I am most certainly not in control of changing your attitudes.
What I hope and pray for is seeing more and more Slavic pastors standing up against the grain and the popular cultures of their congregations. I pray for the current Slavic leaders to awaken with fervent love for and fear of the Lord. If this doesn’t happen, we are going to see more and more young people searching for life answers outside of our churches.
I have a heavy burden on my heart for these young people. And I will continue talking about and exposing these issues.
I love my Slavic heritage. However, I love those who are hurt by your religion more.
And above all, I love God.
Will you heed His call to wake up?
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die,
for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.
But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
~ Revelation 3:1-3
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich;
and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness;
and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
~ Revelation 3:15-22
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