Yury Sipko, who served in the past as head of the Russian Evangelical Baptist Union, has publicly prayed for the end of the invasion in Ukraine and called the war “a crime”. In the past, he criticised the laws restricting religious freedom.
A well-known Russian Baptist pastor has been forced to flee into exile.
In early August, he was driven by a son to the airport in Minsk (Belarus) to fly to Germany via Istanbul. Hours before, a journalist specialised in court cases, discovered that Yury Sipko was being investigated for “discrediting the Russian military” and spreading “false information”. After the pastor and his wife (who followed him soon after) arrived safely in Europe, their house was searched on 8 August and his name put on a list of wanted people.
In Germany, one of their daughters waited. The couple now has a 3-year visa and have applied for the refugee status. But the 71-year-old pastor thinks there is no end in sight for the war. “My wife and I have resigned to the fact that we will not return during our lifetime. We do not grieve for that. We are guests here on earth; our home is in heaven”, he told Christian news website CNE in an interview.
Sipko has been an important figure among Baptists, serving nine years as the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists (2002-2010). He also was the Vice President of the World Baptist Union between 2005 and 2010.
He was among the leaders who criticised laws that put pressure on evangelical Christians and their freedom to evangelise. He also opposed the ban imposed on all Jehovah’s Witnesses activities, saying it “destroys the constitutional right to freedom of conscience”.
Son of a persecuted Protestant pastor who was at one point sent to a labour camp, Yury Sipko has also not refrained from speaking about his country’s invasion of Ukraine. On Facebook he called the invasion in February 2022 a “crime”. As President Vladimir Putin mobilised hundreds of thousands of men for the war, Sipko said: “Don’t go, even if you have to go to jail, because you are participating in a criminal action”.
In February, he participated in an online prayer vigil organised by Mission Eurasia. “The law makes it a crime to call the war a ‘war’ and does not allow anyone to call for peace in Ukraine. But I prayed for peace and said it is a crime to drop rockets and bombs on the Ukrainian people”, pastor Sipko told US news website Baptist News recently.
“Jesus Christ was not silent, and the apostles were not silent. Paul was not silent even when he was in prison. I am merely following the example of the gospel and such great Christian witnesses”, he added.
The pastor has also been very critical of the “political monopoly of the [Russian] Orthodox Church”. Patriarch Kirill openly supports the government in the war and has promised “the cleansing of sins” for Russian soldiers dying on the battlefield. Some Orthodox clerics, nevertheless, have also been indicted for questioning the war.
Pastor Sipko admits that he has been told by other Christians the situation would have changed if he had been less vocal about his views. “Of course, I thought about that”, he told CNE News, “but when our bombs kill a brother in Ukraine, I cannot remain silent”.
Putin’s pressure on faith groups that have not supported his invasion has not stopped. Also in August, a court liquidated the leading monitoring group of freedom of religion and belief, SOVA, for “gross and irreparable violations”.
In April, a Russian Baptist pastor in Bryansk was convicted for “illegal missionary work”.
In March, several people were fined for quoting the Bible for “discrediting the armed forces”.