Law About Traditional Religious Organisations in Latvia

Latvia, Riga. In the last previous months there were many discussions about the new law of Traditional churches in Latvia. Deputy K. Cherans asked to accept this new law about traditional churches. He listed now six churches: Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Baptist, Old Believers and Moses Believers (Jews). These denominations are already allowed to teach the Bible in the public schools, and along with Seventh-day Adventist church have rights to register marriages. Now Seventh-day Adventist church was excluded from the new list of traditional churches. So acceptance of this new law would exclude Adventist church from state-recognised traditional churches.

Arguing about exclusion of Seventh-day Adventist church from this list (though by time of being in Latvia, 100 years, it should be listed as traditional church, and it already was recognised as traditional church by Ministry of Justice in 1997), deputies said that Adventists have proved themselves as such who incite people against other churches by spreading literature portraying other churches as antichrist.

(Adventist church in Latvia had serious problems with a few church members. They had contacts with some independent “missionary” ministries in Germany, which supplied them with tons of leaflets and “Bible lessons” with excerpts out of context from “The Great Controversy” in Latvian and book “The Great Controversy” in Russian, and also sponsored distribution of this literature. As their message was completely contrary to what Adventist church understands the Gospel is all about, they were disfellowshipped from the church. Even after they were disfellowshipped, they did not repent, but continued their destructive work. These members went even so far as started to put these leaflets and stickers with their propaganda in the cemeteries on crosses. Unfortunately in the parliament for some unknown reason their activities publicly were ascribed to Seventh-day Adventist church.)

There were problems to accept law even about The Bible Society as inter-denominational organisation. Because of this dispute in the Latvian parliament (“Saeima”) in the past few months, there were announced few new denominational Bible Societies in Latvia. These Societies try to convince that they are also “traditional” Bible Societies. Deputy A. Predele expressed her regret that by sorting Christians in traditional and untraditional, Latvian parliament has created atmosphere among Christians to spread even further this “traditional” division among Christian churches.

Deputy K. Cherans suggested that Bible Society should be public organisation, because only leaders of the churches could be Bible translators as representatives in the Bible Society of their respective churches. His position is quiet strange as in the similar way the President of Latvia would be the only one who could represent his country in preparation of some international documents. Deputy asked parliamentarians to accept this law because “this is the question will we acknowledge that in our country is some spiritual unifying basis, or will we do not acknowledge it, and our country will delegate the role of morality to the level of each individual. And announce ultimate moral relativism on the state level… Only in this way we can also exist as national state and to keep up our ethnical heritage for the next generations.”

Coming back to traditional organisations, Deputy K. Leishkalns said that if parliamentarians would like to accept law on the basis of organisations, which have carried out state-delegated functions, Adventists perfectly fit in the list of traditional churches. He said that by appealing deputies to accept this law, Deputy K. Cherans is pushing parliamentarians to go against another already accepted law – that the church is separated from the state.

When law project about new traditional churches was put on the vote, 18 deputies were for it, 26 against, 15 deputies abstained. Saeima did not accept changes in law, and therefore Seventh-day Adventist church in Latvia retains its status as state-recognised traditional church.

On the one hand being of traditional church would give that church some privileges, as state support; on the other hand it would require it to fulfil some obligations before state, which are not defined yet. This moment makes us cautious and we are waiting for new laws about church—state relationships. God knows what is the best for us and we believe that He will guide us through all possible difficulties we may encounter.

(Published in 1998.03.31, some amendments made in 1998.04.15.)

More materials (in Latvian): “Latvijas Vestnesis”, 24.02.1998 Nr. 48/49 (1109/1110)

Guntis Bukalders,
Baltic Union Conference Communication Director