When it comes to spiritual matters in Central Asia, the Russian Orthodox Church is having trouble competing. The church’s experiences in Kyrgyzstan highlight how it is losing ground to evangelical Christianity.
Central Asia, of course, is predominantly Muslim in its religious orientation. Yet, at least since the Russian Empire established its hold over the region in the late 19th century, the area has accommodated a large Christian minority. And right up until the demise of the Soviet empire in 1991, most Christians were followers of Russian Orthodoxy.
Repressed for much of the Communist era, Russian Orthodoxy began experiencing a revival in the 1980s. Following the Soviet collapse, however, the church in Kyrgyzstan encountered surprising competition. Encouraged by liberal legislation that permitted religious organizations to register with only 10 members, evangelical Protestant denominations with little or no traditional presence in Central Asia, often backed with cash from the West, grew quickly. These evangelical denominations targeted worshippers of all races and creeds, including the Russian church’s traditional demographic base: ethnic Slavs.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.