Probably for the first time ever, Russian Protestants have commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
This occurred on Jan. 15 in a worship service held by “Moscow City Church” (MCC) at Hotel Milan in the south of the city and attended by 70 mostly young people. The actual holiday, first celebrated in the United States in 1986, takes place on the third Monday of every year (Jan. 16 this year).
The Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, director of external church relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” and one of MCC’s pastors, stated that many Russians believe racism to be a distant and foreign issue. A report at the service by Daniel Ekat, a citizen of Cameroon, made clear that such a view can only be held by the white residents of Russia.
Ekat, an engineer, has been beaten up twice during his 10-year stay in Russia. He reported: “My friends are often afraid to go out into the street. When a person covered with blood is brought into our dormitory, it leaves many of my friends aghast and uncertain as to whether they should continue their studies or return home immediately. Russians think only hooligans are involved in such practices, but that is only part of the truth. We are beaten on by all those who regard us as dark-skinned monkeys.”
In an interview, another speaker at the event, the Rev. Matthew Laferty, the U.S. Methodist pastor of the partially-African “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy” (MPC), insisted: “My people are confronted daily with the problem of racism.” MPC is co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Vlasenko added that although discrimination may appear latent to some, it dare not be ignored in Russia and elsewhere. The real issue is God’s truths, not Martin Luther King, he said. “As with all of us humans, King was deficient in some areas of his life.”
All speakers were adamant in their insistent that all human beings are created by God and of equal worth in God’s eyes ― that any other opinion on this issue is sin. Galatians 3:28 was quoted more than once during the service: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
MCC hopes Martin-Luther-King-Day can become a traditional, annual event in many churches. They are considering the creation of an annual Martin Luther King Award, to be presented to a person active in the fostering of human rights for all. Vlasenko says his church is committed to serving Moscow’s people by helping to change their way of thinking on moral issues.
The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy is very active in serving needy people of color as well as Russians. Vlasenko expressed the deep hope that MCC-MPC relations might be strengthened and developed“ during the coming years.
Laferty said MPC desires greater cooperation with Russian congregations, as its social service projects are very much in need of further assistance.
MPC’s “Racial Task Force” has been documenting violent acts committed against people of color over the past five years. As soon as additional funding and personnel are available, this documentation should be appearing in the Russian language. English language documentation is at “www.mpcrussia.org”. Click on “Social Ministries”.
Moscow City Church is a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, which includes partner churches of the PC(USA).