Putin and the Church

From William J. Dobson, stating unequivocally that Putin’s decision is mean.

Few modern authoritarians are more image-conscious than Vladimir Putin. For 12 years, we have been treated to the macho displays of the Russian leader as action hero/adventurer: the judo black belt; the shirtless outdoorsman; the deep-sea diver; the motorcycle enthusiast; and most recently, the (slightly softer) supposed savior to a flock of endangered cranesLess well-known is how carefully scripted Putin’s appearance on Russian television can be, with regime spin doctors dictating media coverage down to the minute. The Kremlin is probably a more poll-driven institution than anything you’ll find in Washington, D.C.

That’s why the Russian president’s decision on Friday to sign a piece of legislation forbidding the adoption of Russian children by American citizens appears at first blush to be so oddly tone deaf. The Russian bill will immediately block the adoption of 46 Russian orphans whose applications were nearly complete. It is in retaliation for a U.S. law that targeted corrupt Russian officials who had a connection to the imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and whistle-blower who had uncovered a massive tax fraud implicating senior Russian officials and police officers. So, with the stroke of a pen, Putin appeared to be rushing to defend venal and most likely criminal Russian officials at the expense of dozens of orphans, not to mention the thousands of other Russian children who would eventually be taken in by American families. The ghastly conditions in Russia’s overburdened orphanages are no secret to Russians. (There are an estimated 120,000 children eligible for adoption. Last year, Americans adopted 1,000 of the roughly 10,000 children who found homes.) No one has ever accused Putin of being a warm, father-like figure. Now he just seems mean.

The idea that Putin ending adoptions to American parents is a significant blow to U.S.-Russian relations is ridiculous. It is a heartbreaking and cruel decision for those children and the families that were only weeks away from welcoming them, but the reality is that this political tit-for-tat won’t spill over to strategic considerations regarding Iran, Syria, and maintaining supply lines in Afghanistan. What it does tell you is how puny Vladimir Putin has become.

But what disturbs is that the Russian Orthodox Church, in this report from Miriam Elder, is supporting this decision by Putin:

The Russian Orthodox church has been attacked for supporting a new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, at the end of a year that saw it plagued by scandal and accusations of collusion with an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest and a spokesman for the church, said the law was “a search for a social answer to an elementary question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?”

Speaking to Interfax, a state news agency, last week, Chaplin said the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life, in God’s kingdom,” he said.

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  • RobS

    This was front page news the other day in the Washington Post even… yes, truly amazing that Putin is going so far as to punish orphans in Russia. Sadly, recent reports suggest that many Russians believe this is a good thing (one poll stated 56% of Russians support the law) because of fear that American families are dangerous, cruel, and violent with the children once they’re adopted. It seems these stigmas exist more amongst rural and older Russians. Perhaps they carry nationalistic memories of the former Russian (Soviet) educational systems, etc.

    What to do? Maybe Russians happily living in the USA should go on YouTube and make a few videos or something. Sadly, it doesn’t seem there will be much support from the Orthodox church.

  • Joshua Wooden

    “[W]hy should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?”

    Because they’ll have a better home? A better education and higher standard of living than they currently do? I know how pretentious that must sound, but it is also true, however one feels about it.

  • “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life, in God’s kingdom.” Too bad there was no exemption for EO families in the USA. This would have been a tremendous opportunity for the demonstration of Christian love. It need not have been an “either/or” situation.

  • Percival

    Misplaced nationalism is probably the main obstacle to international adoption around the world. There is a tremendous loss of face when people find out that foreigners care more for the orphans than they do. Then it turns sinister as they imagine all the nefarious purposes that foreigners have in store for the orphans once they steal them from their homeland and their people. When we adopted our daughter from South Africa it was very easy, but then in response to mostly imagined abuses, standards have tightened (it got hard, slow, and expensive) and international adoption has slowed. Pray for these kids.

  • Robin

    I don’t know if this is an Orthodox issue, or just a Russian issue, but it is worth remembering that this is the same church that supports the jailing of the Russian punk rock dissidents for interrupting a service for some anti-authority protests.

    I believe they received a 20 year sentence, or something horrendously long, and the church has supported it.

  • I’m going to barge in wih the non-US voice again. Many outside the US is becoming more and more uncomfortable with the US adoption of international children. While the condition in orphanages worldwide is extremely sad, the truth is that US foreign policies is responsible for much more harm to children than adoptions will ever solve. From the outside the adoptions at times have the feel of just another US-messiah complex phenomenon. Try and think for one moment how you would respond to Africans arguing that children would be much better cared for in the deep community live of Africa than in the extreme consumerist environment of the USA… I’ll refrain from commenting on the specific case of Putin, but would like it if US Christians would at least for a moment question the ‘right’ to international adoptions, and ask whether, as with so many other things, our calling is not rather to dismantle the systems of oppression which cause the problem.

  • Percival

    Cobus #6,
    Your comments are so far off the mark. Adoption has nothing to do with US foreign policy. Furthermore, the question of where kids will be better off is not Africa or America. It is orphanage or family. Also, the issue is not that Americans have the right to take kids from any country they want. The issue is whether these governments have the right to hold kids in orphanages when there are fit families wanting to raise them in a loving home.

  • It seems that the issue for the EO church is whether or not it is better to the have temporal benefits of the USA (even in a loving home) at the eternal expense of the child’s soul by not being brought up in the (EO) church. Even if you don’t accept this, we all at least understand that sort of reasoning, do we not?

  • Joshua Wooden


    I’ve never heard of anyone seeking to adopt a child using the language of “rights,” as in, “It’s my right to adopt whoever I want.” That’s a straw-man argument.

    Furthermore, how do you know that the families seeking to adopt aren’t actually trying “to dismantle the systems of oppression which cause the problem.” You frame it as an either/or. How do you know that it’s not a both/and.

    It is generally imprudent to conflate decisions made by elected officials (often without our knowledge) with what Americans want if they had it their way. Many oppose the American foreign policy since WWII, and many are opposed to the “messiah-complex” you mentioned. But saying that they will receive be in a safer home, with a higher standard of living and better education – that’s not an opinion. Those are facts. And having a “messiah-complex” or not doesn’t change facts.

  • Cal

    It is a bit odd some of the same voices in America cheer on as children are blown to pieces and starve in war-torn Afghanistan and then whine that they can’t adopt Russian babies.

    I guess, in the words of secretary Albright, it was worth it.

  • Cal

    I should note that I am being a bit polemical, and I realize not everyone who wants/is/has adopted is necessarily cheering on US militarism. Just expressing some hypocrisy.

  • Percival

    Wow, you know people who cheer about Afghanistan?!

  • Cal

    Having 2 war parties sure doesn’t sound like disapproval.

  • Brent

    “While the condition in orphanages worldwide is extremely sad, the truth is that US foreign policies is responsible for much more harm to children than adoptions will ever solve”

    The US makes mistakes, no doubt about that. But you have to look at how many children now enjoy a free life because of US foreign policy as well. Like the Kurds, most of Western Europe, South Korea. And even taking into account some wrongs in Latin America during the Cold War, the fact is that today it is mostly a free part of the world, except for Cuba and Venezuela. It wouldn’t be if the Sandinistas, El Salvadoran rebels, and the like would have been allowed to do all the things they wanted to do.

    “It is a bit odd some of the same voices in America cheer on as children are blown to pieces and starve in war-torn Afghanistan and then whine that they can’t adopt Russian babies.”

    And how many children have been fed by the military, or now have access to education there? The US isn’t intentionally killing children. But do you propose letting the Taliban regain a foothold on power?

  • Cal


    I’d read some more history of South Korea and Latin America in the 20th century before making those assertions. It’s just plain ignorance. For Korea, I’d start with what happened at Kwanju.

    Yes, the boogeyman Taliban who only had control of the country because the US gave them the weapons and backing to do so. What you’re saying about intentionality is akin to an arsonist who exclaims, “I didn’t want to hurt anybody, I just want to destroy the building!”.

  • Joshua Wooden

    Cal, I don’t know who you’re referring to. Everyone I’ve spoken to (keeping in mind I know three people, two of which are my brothers, who have been deployed in both wars) who don’t think we should be there, who realize Iraq was a big mistake, and think we should pull out of Afghanistan, too. You’re trying to point out American hypocrisy, and I’m sure you can find some, just like everywhere else; but that’s a heck of thing to be saying about families you’ve never met, and could, for all you know, be opposed to Afghanistan and Iraq (which, statistically speaking, is highly probable). I think you’re putting your foot in your mouth on this (or whatever the literary equivalent for that is).