Although Pentecostals in both China and Russia face discrimination and restrictions from their respective governments, these churches “actively and openly cultivate patriotism within their congregations” and stress how they fit into their surrounding societies, according to University of Oregon political scientist Karrie J. Koesel.
In presenting a paper at the Boston meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in November, Koesel noted that Pentecostals often face strong repression and that the leaders of these churches believe that their patriotic stance has made these congregations achieve greater growth and strength.
Koesel interviewed 46 Pentecostal leaders and members in Russia and China and observed church services where she found that pastors regularly encourage prayer emphasizing strong loyalty and commitment to their countries. Church leaders call for national as well as personal prosperity.
Even when church leaders have political differences with those in power, they continue to “cultivate pro-regime sentiments within their congregations,” often through their use of new media. In Russia, many churches will identify as “evangelical” rather than Pentecostal (or even Protestant) on web sites to avoid association with stigmatized foreign sects. Even in China, where use of the Internet is limited and monitored, circulating positive self-portrayals is important because of Pentecostals’ unregistered and underground status.
These churches also adopt community-based and civic-minded practices—from relief work in China to involvement in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers (often Pentecostals establish rehabilitation centers before congregations in a given area).
Koesel concludes that engaging in patriotic rituals and actions are survival mechanisms for these ostracized churches, actually strengthening their outreach. But their pro-regime stances may also undermine their future ability to speak out on issues unpopular with their governments.