Evangelical faith leaders in Belarus have published a joint letter expressing their solidarity with a church that was forcibly entered by police while members of the congregation were worshipping inside.
Twenty police officers entered New Life Church on 17th February, following orders to evacuate the building. A continued row with authorities had meant that the congregation was not allowed to worship onsite.
Under Belarusian law, religious groups must have special permission to own a building for religious purposes as well as to preach in the streets.
A video posted on the church's YouTube channel shows how the police forcibly entered the building. Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko can also be heard saying to the police: "If you ever read the history of how dangerous it is to touch the church, the people of God, the saints, then you would've probably known. But if you don't know, you will now".
The congregation had been appealing a court order for over 15 years that their building was not an eligible place of worship, and had even gone on hunger strike. According to the church, the authorities had refused to grant permission because of a perceived threat to the government.
Late in 2020, New Life Church was given an order to leave the building, but the congregation did not comply. On 5th January 2021, the police attempted, and failed, to evict the congregation from the church.
Authorities say there are plans to build a school on the land, despite the ownership of the building being registered to New Life Church.
In a joint statement, the Baptist Union in Belarus, Full Gospel Union and the Pentecostal Union urged "all churches to pray about the situation with trust in God Almighty, the righteous and just Judge!"
It reads: "We, the bishops of the Evangelical churches associations in Belarus, express our concern about the forced eviction of the church...which was legally purchased when the given building was still outside the capital. The difficulties with legal and practical questions concerning re-registration and operation of the building began to appear after annexation of the territory where the building is located to Minsk city.
"The Bible says: 'Therefore if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member rejoices, all the members rejoice with it. And you are the body of Christ...' Expressing a united position, we believe that such actions are unacceptable in relation to any church community, regardless of denomination, and the officials who allowed such a development should, together with representatives of the community and the bishop of the Unification of the KHP, begin to seek a solution to this issue with the intention of resolving it in a way acceptable to all parties," they argued.