In a first, a representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been elected to the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, a State advisory body. Oleg Y. Goncharov, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who serves as the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department director in the Euro-Asia Division church region, based in Moscow, will be a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation for the 2017-2020 period.
Adventist leaders in the country believe this is a milestone for the Adventist church in Russia.
“For the first time, a representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was elected for such an important area of social and civil dialogue in Russia,” said church leaders in the region, which includes the Russian Federation and other former Soviet-era nations.
The results of the election to the advisory body were made public on June 6. The candidacy of Goncharov had garnered the support of the Russian Association for Protection of Religious Freedom (RARF), and other national and regional organizations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Church leaders also believe Goncharov’s election is a nod to the work and status of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the country. “It certainly shows that in Russia, society and government leaders highly respect the Adventist Church,” they said. “It is a significant event in the life of our church.”
Voting members were invited to cast their votes for the Public Chamber candidates of their choice on the advisory body website for two weeks.Voting members included those who had been nominated by the President of the Russian Federation and those from regional public organizations. According to bylaws updated in 2017, 40 members of the Public Chamber are nominated by the President of the Russian Federation, while another 43 are elected by members with voting rights.
Candidates could apply for 14 different advisory areas. Goncharov was nominated to serve in Area #8, “Coordination of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations, Support for Civil Peace and Harmony.” Others areas include “Supporting Families, Children, Motherhood and Work with the Youth,” and “Supporting Charities, Volunteerism, and Civic Education.”
In his candidacy statement, Goncharov openly stated that he is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and mentioned his other religious liberty advocacy and public contributions. Only three positions were available for the 27 candidates that applied to this area. With 57 votes, Goncharov was third.
According to the official site of the Public Chamber, the advisory body, created in 2005, works to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and the interest of public organizations. Its stated mission is to create conditions for egalitarian dialogue between social actors and government officials.
Church leaders in the country believe this is a wonderful opportunity for the Adventist Church in Russia. “As an official representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is a great opportunity for service,” they said, hoping that Goncharov will work to strengthen the status of religious organizations in the country.
“[We expect him] to work to solve pressing problems that religious organizations may be going through in Russia,” church leaders said.