Belarus, Russian Orthodox churches support election results, other churches urge halt to violence
The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the violent response of the Belarus authorities to peaceful demonstrations across the country following the presidential election and called for people's grievances to be heard, but Christian leaders were divided in their response to the controversial election.
Orthodox Christian leaders in Belarus and Russia welcomed the victory of President Alexander Lukashenko in the July 9 election in Belarus, as other churches issued different messages appealing for dialogue to halt violence between security forces and protesters, Jonathan Luxmoore reported in Church Times.
Thousands of people gathered outside the state television station in Belarus demanding full coverage of the protests against the disputed presidential election on Saturday July 15, the BBC reported.
Opposition supporters outside the building in Minsk held banners with signs saying "show people the truth" following mass protests that erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in the Aug. 9 vote in the former Soviet-bloc nation of some 9.4 million.
CHARGES OF VOTE-RIGGING
The Belarus state broadcaster initially chose not to cover the protests after the election result had been condemned with widespread allegations of vote-rigging.
The Belarus Central Election Commission said Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1 percent of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya gained 10.12 percent.
But Tikhanovskaya who fled the country insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60 to 70 percent.
Metropolitan Pavel Ponomarev of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, told President Lukashenko in an open letter, "Compatriots place great hopes in you to protect the sovereignty of Belarus, while preserving our nation's spiritual and cultural heritage."
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russian sent "heartfelt congratulations" and wished 65-year-old President Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, "blessed success" in maintaining "fruitful interaction" with Orthodox Christians.
"For many years, you have striven to protect your country's national interests, caring for its socio-economic development," Kirill said. "It is gratifying to note you invariably pay attention to the spiritual and moral state of the people — to the establishment of enduring ideals of mercy, peace, goodness, and justice in society."
The Archbishop of Minsk and Mahilyow, Monsignor Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the Bishops' Conference of the minority Catholic Church in Belarus, deplored the "unprecedented tensions" and "spilling of blood in active confrontations", and offered to mediate.
"For the first time in Belarus's modern history, brother has raised hand against brother," the archbishop said in a Facebook appeal. "To overcome the crisis, I propose immediately convening an emergency round table to decide the future fate of our fatherland, not on barricades."
Christian Orthodox believers make up 48.3 percent of the population, Catholic 7.1 percent, other believer 3.5 percent, with just over 41 percent of the population of the country non-believers, according to the CIA factbook.
Many Belarussian evangelicals are against the government. Several have taken part in the demonstrations, knowing the big personal risk that comes with any action that could be perceived by the government as rebellious behavior, Evangelical Focus Europe reported.
The Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists in Belarus, the United Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith in Belarus, and the Religious Association of Full Gospel Communities in Belarus (charismatics), released a joint statement on Thursday, calling on "to pray for our country in accordance with God's command in Micah 6: 8".
CALL FOR PRAYERS
"Pray for all people, for those in charge, that they have the fear of God and remember that there is a Supreme Judge over them, whom we will all give an account to", they said in the statement.
The evangelical leaders asked to "pray for an end to the violence and bloodshed, and for all those affected and their families. Pray that the Lord will save us from hatred, vengeance and resentment".
"Pray that the people will turn through Jesus Christ to God and love Him with all their heart, with all their souls and with all their minds, and their neighbor as themselves. Only when we love God can we love our neighbor correctly," they said
In Geneva UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Aug. 12 condemned the Belarus response to the protests .
"I remind the Belarusian authorities that the use of force during protests should always be exceptional and a measure of last resort, clearly differentiating between any violent individuals and peaceful protesters, against whom force should not be used," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
She said that reports suggest that approximately 6,000 people have been detained in the first three days of protests, including bystanders and minors.
This suggests a trend of massive arrests in clear violation of international human rights standards and "even more disturbing are the reports of ill-treatment during and after detention," said Bachelet.