As innumerable Christian right figures in this country praise Vladimir Putin for his brutal crackdown on gay rights (the type they still dearly wish they could do in this country), the New York Times reports that Russian forces are targeting Christians in the Ukraine who aren’t Russian Orthodox.
Since they began their drive to grab chunks of territory back in April, pro-Russian insurgents have repeatedly shifted their political agenda, undecided over whether they want eastern Ukraine to become part of Russia, an independent country or an autonomous region of Ukraine in a loose federal state.
Throughout, however, leaders have declared themselves bearers of the banner of “Holy Rus,” both a theological concept akin to the Kingdom of Heaven and a reference to a state in the Middle Ages that comprised the territory of modern Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia.
Embracing Orthodox Christianity as a force to unite these now divided Slavic lands and also their own fractured movement, the rebels, fortified recently by an influx of weapons and soldiers from Russia, used their period in power here purging Slovyansk of rival Christian denominations.
They seized the Good News Church, a large evangelical complex, moving in Russian icons and replacing Protestant services with Orthodox ones. They parked tanks in the center’s gardens and, blessed by Russian Orthodox priests chanting prayers, began lobbing shells at Ukrainian forces outside town. When the rebels fled, they needed two big trucks to haul all their weaponry.
Petr Dudnik, the Good News Church pastor, said he did not know who exactly was behind the takeover but said it fit into a long campaign by the Russian Orthodox Church to portray competing denominations, particularly evangelicals, as a heretical fifth column inspired and financed by the United States…“We cannot ignore the fact that the conflict in the Ukraine has unambiguous religious overtones” Patriarch Kirill I, the Moscow-based head of the Russian church and its Ukrainian affiliate, wrote in a recent appeal to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, the Orthodox faith’s most senior cleric. Accusing rival churches, including a breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox church, of persecuting believers who obey the Moscow patriarchate, he cast efforts by the Ukrainian military to confront Russian-backed rebels as a religious war intended to “overpower the canonical Orthodox Church.”
Rival church leaders say there is indeed a religious struggle underway but insist its root cause is political and what they see as the Moscow patriarchate’s role as an instrument of Kremlin policy. “Patriarch Kirill has become part of the Russian government, and it is in this light that his words and actions should be perceived,” said Patriarch Filaret, the head of an Orthodox hierarchy based in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital…
The Moscow church has avoided giving explicit support for separatist gunmen but made no effort to rein in pro-Russian fighters who, claiming to serve the Russian Orthodox Church, imposed a reign of terror on Slovyansk marked by murders, kidnappings and general thuggery.
Among their principal targets were Christians defiant of the Moscow church’s claims of religious primacy and suspected of connections with the West.
“Their logic is simple: You are an American church and America is our enemy so we have to kill you,” said Mr. Dudnik, the evangelical pastor. No one at his center had been killed, he said but added that the rebels had murdered four evangelical Christians from another Slovyansk church.
But remember, Scott Lively says that Putin is creating a “beacon of freedom to those who love God‘s design for the family.” And Pat Buchanan says that God is now on Putin’s side, along with all the other praise from Christian right leaders. They apparently are okay with Putin attacking other Christians, as long as he goes after gay people too.