Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and Religious Liberty

Rev. Carolyn Staley, Minister of Education at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, has written a reflection about a conversation that Bill Clinton had with Boris Yeltsin that encouraged Yeltsin to respect religious liberty and freedom of conscience in the Russia. With her permission, I post it here in its entirety:

Here’s an excerpt:

When I met with Clinton, he shared with me an account from dinner that evening as he and Yeltsin continued to explore democracy and what it meant to live in freedom. Clinton told me the amazing story of sharing his faith with Yeltsin that night. He said that during dinner, Yeltsin leaned over to him and asked, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” President Clinton answered. “My faith is the most important thing in my life.”

“Well, I have to do something about all these Christians coming to Russia. They are ruining our country. Everyone is becoming a new Christian, a born-again Christian, and they are being rebaptized and putting crosses around their necks. It is ruining our country’s culture.”

President Clinton told me he looked at Yeltsin and said, “Democracy doesn’t work that way. Either you’re free or you’re not. You can’t have it both ways. You need to allow Christians the freedom to come into your country and preach and teach, and you have to allow the Russian people the freedom to choose their faith.”

I thought to myself, “what a remarkable exchange. In sharing his faith and his encouragement with Yeltsin that Christian workers be allowed to come into Russia as missionaries, Clinton may very well have helped keep the doors to Russia open for Christians and the spread of Christianity beyond Russian Orthodoxy. President and also advocate for religious liberty.”

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