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7/11/07 Tajikistan (MNN) — A new religion law in Tajikistan could make ministry difficult in that former Soviet bloc nation.

Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith says Christians are concerned about the proposed religion law draft. “It could be interpreted by officials as banning all unregistered religious activity.”

Griffith outlines some of the other restrictions. “Religiously affiliated political parties would be banned. Children younger than seven would be banned from receiving religious education. Young people [would be] forbidden from being members or participants in religious organizations. All religious education in private houses would be forbidden. Only Tajik citizens could lead religious organizations.”

If the bill is passed and signed as is, it would seriously restrict evangelical ministry within Tajikistan.

SGA helps the local church with summer camp for young people in the Central Asian nation. Griffith says under the proposed law, those activities would be banned. He says this will hurt the country as a whole. “You look at kids that get involved in drug abuse and sexual abuse, perhaps criminal gangs. You want to give children obviously the best opportunity of escaping these kinds of bad influences. And if children are forbidden to be instructed in the ways of Christ, obviously that’s going to cause quite a lot of problems and will have ripple effects throughout the country, I think.”

The proposed law is in the early stages. It has yet to get through parliament, and if it makes it that far, it would require the signature of the president. Griffith says, “We’re certainly praying that this would not happen. And I am aware that religious minorities within Tajikistan are going to be asking that this not be passed.”

While there are many Christians who want to be active in the process, Griffith is asking Christians in the west to do one thing to support Christians in Tajikistan. “The best support we here in the west can certainly be is to stand with them in spirit and truth and uphold them in prayer as they seek to deal with this.”

According to Griffith, this attack on religious freedom is a bit of a surprise. “Tajikistan is a largely Muslim nation, but it is one of the Muslim nations where there haven’t been, what I would say, a whole lot of problems that have been reported openly with churches having a whole lot of oppression. Although as we’re seeing from this now, that’s beginning to increase.”