Sergey Andreyev doesn’t have a driver’s license, but he is nevertheless the mayor of Tolyatti (or Togliatti), Russia’s largest center for auto production. Tolyatti was recently listed as 6th on a list of Russia’s 20 most investor-friendly cities, and its auto industry is holding its own. 

Andreyev is an active layman in an Evangelical-Christian denomination, and his election in March 2012 was accompanied by a major anti-Baptist campaign in that city. The matter resurfaced in June 2013, when the Tolyatti Review, an old adversary of the mayor, reported on a “sectarian epidemic” in the city. It claimed that neo-Pentecostal rehabilitation groups associated with Andreyev were turning young addicts into “docile zombies and “enemies of Orthodoxy.”

But the soft-spoken, professorial 40-year-old is eager to downplay political theatrics. In a recent interview, he called the events of early 2012 the brainchild of his opponent’s professional campaign staff: “Elections are a time of struggle, and the opponent will use whatever he can to further his cause.” The candidate he defeated was from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but Andreyev insists that anti-Protestantism was never part of that party’s platform. 

He calls the current state of inter-confessional relationships serene: “I have a constructive working relationship with Orthodox clergymen. We meet primarily to talk about issues involving the construction of new churches, and we do what we can within the constraints of the law to help them.” 

This psychologist-turned-mayor is no friend of the blanket, global judgements sometimes lofted by Protestant leaders. “Leaders should not only criticize,” he said. “They should include proposals for a solution.” 

Andreyev never read U.S. Sen. John McCain’s attack on Putin from September 2013 on the website, but said: “Simple solutions prove that someone does not understand the deeper causes.” Trying to instruct each other from afar “will always meet with resistance from the other side.” 

He regards the political involvement of Russian evangelicals as vital for their future and sees involvement in the public arena as an opportunity to demonstrate good will and work for the common good. 

Andreyev does not view homosexuality as a major threat to Western civilization.

“This country needs people with moral authority,” he said. “Our primary problem relates to the degradation of our cultural level due to the loss of moral values. Our younger generation believes it acceptable to reach its goals by whatever means it takes. Diligence and hard work don’t count anymore. The main thing is to get rich fast and easy; one is unwilling to confront and overcome difficulties. I think the Protestant work ethic would be really helpful here.” 

Today, Andreyev is a member of Civic Platform, an opposition party formed in June 2012 by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. In fact, Andreyev himself might hold the highest elected position of any member of this young party. The modest mayor doesn’t like to hear it, but he may also enjoy the highest political position ever reached by a non-Lutheran Protestant in the history of Russia (excluding post-Soviet Ukraine). 

Both politicians promote neo-liberal economic models wary of big government and both oppose restrictions on private business while pushing for a decentralized state with a civil society and major economic ties with the West. Taxes are necessary, Andreyev said, but “the fewer taxes the government collects, the better it will be for the people. Often, the taxes collected from the rich do not reach the poor. Instead of concentrating on portioning out the existing resources, we should attempt to produce more.” 

The mayor is no supporter of the communist past and envisions cooperation with communists only on limited matters — local day care, for example. Communists instilled the Russian people with a double morality: While proclaiming the truth of communist principles, its leaders “lived completely removed from any principles of service to the people. This attitude won’t be easy to overcome, but it can be done.” He also accuses past communist governments of gross inefficiency: “Our country with its incredible resources was unable to feed its own people and was forced to buy grain abroad.” Old technology and low productivity remain a problem to this day. 

Andreyev — a bridge between Pentecostal and Baptist 

Though usually described in the media as a Baptist, Andreyev has technically never been one. Born into a secular family in Smolensk in 1973, he accepted Christ in 1990 after moving to St. Petersburg. He was initially a member of Petersburg’s House of the Gospel; a prominent Evangelical-Christian congregation resurrected in 1989. After moving to Tolyatti in 1993, he worked for the Living Word youth organization with funding from the interdenominational U.S.-based Child Evangelism Fellowship. 

Today, he is a member of the tiny Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians. Its style of worship is charismatic. 

Barring a serious downturn in East-West relations, more than a few Russian observers remain optimistic regarding the future of Protestantism in Russia. In a recent talk, the Baptist barrister Anatoly Pchelintsev, co-director of Moscow’s Slavic Legal Centre, pointed out that the controversial legislation from July 2013 prohibiting the defamation of religion could also be turned on Orthodox radicals known for attacking Protestants. For him and others, Andreyev’s exploits are a hopeful sign for the future.

William Yoder is a freelance religious journalist in Russia and a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.