In the 1970s and 1980s when my dad (Francis Schaeffer) and I helped start the religious right and all out culture war you could have said one thing about “our” people: we prided ourselves on being God-n’-country types. Not any more. Today’s evangelicals are voting for a traitor in bed with an anti-American fascist thug aiming nukes at your town.
How things changed! So what happened to make American evangelical “patriots” fall in love with a murdering hate-filled thug like Putin (or Trump for that matter)?
What “happened” is this: Authoritarianism, anti-gay actions and the integration of the church into a nationalism strategy looks good to many of the sorts of “Christians” recently gathered at the Values Voter Summit. In other words they are where the German churches were in the 1930s as they embraced Hitler thankful that he was putting gays, leftists, atheists and Jews in their “place” at last.
One of the notable developments in right-wing-watching in recent years has been how enthusiastically many Religious Right leaders have embraced Russia’s anti-democratic president, former KGB official Vladimir Putin. It seems even more remarkable that the Republican Party’s presidential nominee has been lavishing praise on Putin even as Russia maneuvers to diminish America’s influence in the world.
As president, Putin has consolidated his power through attacks on the independent media, the persecution of political opponents, and restrictions on civil society. He has annexed Crimea, supported violent separatists in Ukraine, fostered anti-democratic right-wing forces in Europe, and made the weakening of NATO a major strategic imperative.
None of that has kept Donald Trump from praising Putin and welcoming Putin’s praise for him. In Wednesday night’s forum on national security issues, Trump said, “I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin. And I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia.”
When asked about some of Putin’s troubling actions, Trump didn’t criticize the Russian president, suggesting instead that he could “start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time.”
Trump went on, “I mean, you can say, oh, isn’t that a terrible thing—the man has very strong control over a country.” Then Trump appeared on RT, a network operated by the Russian government’s secret sertvices, to slam American media and U.S. foreign policy and dismiss as “unlikely” the idea that the Russian government was involved in hacking the DNC’s email as American intelligence agencies believe.
Trump was at the so-called Values Voter Summit, (the annual political gathering for the Religious Right). As Right Wing Watch has documented extensively, many U.S. religious conservatives have been cheerleaders for Putin because of his government’s anti-gay policies and his public support for “traditional values” and “Christian civilization.”
Brian Brown, who heads both the National Organization for Marriage and the World Congress of Families, actually traveled to Russia a few years ago to testify on behalf of anti-gay legislation there. This was in the context of the murder, beatings and outright state-sponsored persecution of gays.
In other words the American religious right gets to live vicariously through Putin’s thugs. As the Russian state kills journalists, kills gays, kills political opponents (with the approval of the religious far right Russian Orthodox hierarchy) Putin’s thugs are doing in Russia what American evangelicals would love to do here to “Them.”After all Jerry Falwell Jr has asked his students (!) to carry loaded weapons on Liberty U campus in case the “Muslims come here.” In other words Falwell has quite literally turned a campus of a so-called Christian college into a paranoid armed militia right up there with the crazies who run around in the woods playing army in case men in black helicopters show up to take their guns! And there are evangelical parents lining up to still send their kids to a school that is a weapon- saturated free for all of a gun massacre just waiting to happen.
As Right Wing Watch noted last year:
Evangelist Franklin Graham hailed Putin as a hero for taking “a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda” even as “America’s own morality has fallen so far on this issue”; Bryan Fischer called Putin a “lion of Christianity” and called upon U.S. lawmakers to adopt similar speech prohibitions; Matt Barber marveled that Putin was able to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation”; Sam Rohrer called Putin “the moral leader of the world”; Scott Lively lavished praise on Putin for “championing traditional marriage and Christian values”; and Rush Limbaugh applauded Putin for stopping “a full-frontal assault on what has always been considered normalcy.”
In fact, Franklin Graham went to Russia just last fall, where he met with Putin, slammed President Obama for supporting “policies that contradict the teachings of God” and praised the Russian president for “protecting Russian young people against homosexual propaganda.” Graham reportedly said, “I call for prayers for the president of Russia, who is protecting traditional Christianity.” Graham also praised Russian involvement in Syria, which the Russian Orthodox Church has called a “holy battle.”As Montgomery writes:
Putin has developed a mutually beneficial partnership with the Russian Orthodox Church, promoting Orthodoxy as a crucial element of Russian nationalism and a vehicle for extending Russian power and undercutting U.S. influence. Some American Religious Right leaders are taken with Putin’s promotion of a Christian state; the director of last year’s World Congress of Families summit, Janice Shaw Crouse, embraced the blasphemy-law prosecution and jail sentences given to members of the band Pussy Riot for protesting in a cathedral.
While many Religious Right leaders suggest that President Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to replace the Constitution with Sharia law and say marriage equality will open the door to polygamy, we haven’t heard them objecting to Putin and his allies actually allowing polygamy and the imposition of Sharia in Chechnya. Similarly, those who cry that LGBT equality represents a dire threat to religious freedom have not raised a big fuss about a new law signed by Putin this summer that severely restricts the religious freedom of faiths other than the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin has also enacted restrictions on evangelism and backed separatist militias that violently attack Ukrainian Protestants.
Perhaps Putin’s strategic partnership with the Orthodox Church has inspired Trump’s promise to conservative evangelical leaders that he will make Christianity more politically powerful. As noted by Miranda Blue in Right Wing Watch,
at a press conference outside this most recent Values Voter Summit, the annual Religious Right gathering organized by the Family Research Council, Alternet’s Adele Stan asked Tony Perkins what he thought of the Donald Trump campaign’s increasing embrace of the racist alt-right movement. Perkins has said that he’ll vote for Trump and this year’s Values Voter Summit was in part an effort to convince Christian conservatives to support the GOP nominee.
In response to Stan’s question, Perkins first seemed to indicate that he didn’t know what the alt-right was, but then praised the Trump campaign for giving “voice to a lot of people who feel like their voice has all but been snuffed out under this administration,” saying that “there have been a lot of alternative voices that have risen up” as the Obama administration “has increasingly tried to marginalize people who do not surrender to a progressive, liberal agenda.”
Here’s the exchange, via Alternet:
AlterNet: I’m wondering what you make of Trump’s hiring of Steve Bannon, who said that he had provided the platform for the alt-right.
Tony Perkins: The what?
AlterNet: The alt-right, which Hillary Clinton—
Tony Perkins:—I didn’t hear his comment, so I can’t really speak to that. I can speak to the fact that, in the last eight years, this administration, which Hillary Clinton has been a part of, has increasingly tried to marginalize people who do not surrender to a progressive, liberal agenda. And there have been a lot of alternative voices that have risen up, just because Americans feel they are under constant threat by this administration’s policies. So, what has given Donald Trump, I believe, the nomination, is that he has given voice to a lot of people who feel like their voice has all but been snuffed out under this administration.
The “voice” Trump gave the “all but snuffed out” is the voice he’s given the underbelly of American fascism, racism and conspiracy theorists. Those who hold such views used to be on the margins. It had seemed for a while we’d grown past them. Trump has indeed given them voice! He’s made outright bigotry mainstream. And nothing illustrates this better than an outright fascist America-hating thug like Putin having become the darling of the religious right. So much for American Christianity. It now joins the ranks of the German church as it embraced the Nazis. Literally.
Oh yes, lastly, one of Putin’s minor achievements has been to do all in his power to work with the Russian Orthodox Church to ban evangelical American missionaries from converting Orthodox.As reported in Christianity Today magazine: “Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a package of anti-terrorism laws that usher in tighter restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism…
Despite prayers and protests from religious leaders … the Kremlin announced Putin’s approval [of] amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings…
…Protestants and religious minorities small enough to gather in homes fear they will be most affected. Last month, “the local police officer came to a home where a group of Pentecostals meet each Sunday,” Konstantin Bendas, deputy bishop of the Pentecostal Union, told Forum 18. “With a contented expression he told them: ‘Now they’re adopting the law I’ll drive you all out of here.’ I reckon we should now fear such zealous enforcement.”
“There are potentially very wide-sweeping ramifications to this law,” Joel Griffith of the Slavic Gospel Association said in a Mission Network News report. “It just depends on, again, how it is going to be enforced, and that is a very huge question mark.”
So on top of everything else–and judged by their own “born again” standard on who is a “real Christian” or not — American evangelicals have sided with Trump/Putin even over their own evangelical missionary heritage. In other words Franklin Graham and company value Trump/Putin fascism… even over the freedom to preach the gospel.
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Please read about my journey through then out of the religious right and Republican Party.