Shock: Russian Orthodoxy gives drag queen thumbs down

Shock: Russian Orthodoxy gives drag queen thumbs down May 14, 2014

Dear GetReligion readers:

Some of you wrote to say that you wanted to know what I thought of the whole Conchita Wurst episode, referring to the drag queen — the term used in mainstream media reports — who won the recent Eurovision Song Contest. In particular, a few of you want to know what I thought of the coverage of the fact that Russian Orthodox Church leaders have condemned this minor earthquake in popular culture.

People, people, are you surprised that Eastern Orthodox Christian bishops do not think highly of modern trends in sexuality? Remember the case of the Russian bishop who had a church torn down because its priest — apparently he had been drinking — performed a same-sex union rite at its altar? The priest was defrocked and, if I recall correctly, the local bishop had the rubble from the building burned and workers then salted the ground? (I’m trying to find a URL for that old story.)

I am also not surprised that recent statements by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy have received some mainstream media attention, in the wake of events in Ukraine, the Winter Olympics, the media superstar status of the Pussy Riot activists, etc., etc. I mean, how often do you get to put “Russian,” “Orthodox,” “Patriarchate” and “drag queen” into the same news story or even in one spectacular headline?

Here at GetReligion, of course, we are more interested in the news coverage of the event than we are with the event itself. The link several people have shared is for a story by Sophia Kishkovsky, carried by Religion News Service. Readers may also know her byline from work published by The New York Times. Here is a key chunk of it:

The Eurovision contest draws well over 100 million viewers annually, and the contest has become a point of national pride in Russia, which began competing in the 1990s.

“The process of the legalization of that to which the Bible refers to as nothing less than an abomination is already long not news in the contemporary world,” Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the church’s information department, told the Interfax news agency. “Unfortunately, the legal and cultural spheres are moving in a parallel direction, to which the results of this competition bear witness.”

Legoyda said the result of the competition was “yet one more step in the rejection of the Christian identity of European culture.”

No surprises there. It was good that the story noted that the church simply saw this as another example of a larger trend. It does not appear that bishops rushed to pound out a “Conchita Wurst” document. This rather blogging-style report — which is drawn from press statements and previous media reports — does have more than its share of vague attribution clauses, as in:

… Russian commentators pointed out that Russia’s pop-music scene is known for flamboyant performers who bend gender lines. Both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate have been positioning Russia as a moral bastion in contrast to Europe and the United States.

Pretty standard stuff. Kishkovsky also dug into the past seeking drag-queen related quotes from a higher Orthodox authority and found some fairly recent material that is relevant to a discussion of rapid changes in morality in the modern world, in general.

Last June, speaking at a monastery atop Mount Athos in Greece, Patriarch Kirill I, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned that moral relativity is “that ground on which only the Antichrist can come” and singled out sexual morality as a sign of relativism.

“We see what is happening today,” he said. “Same-sex marriages, euthanasia, abortion — that which was always regarded as evil from the point of view of divine truth is no longer considered evil.”

Again, these quotes are about issues that are linked to 2,000 years of Christian doctrine. So no surprises there.

But at the end of the story, a few references create in that — once again — suggest that more reports of this kind should carry a clear “analysis” label, so that readers realize that the writer is drawing her/his own conclusions and even working from a template in which certain controversial facts are now assumed as givens.

For example:

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian church’s Department of External Church Relations, said at a conference in Moscow in December that the West was destroying marriage as “the God-created union of man and woman” and warned that countries that are drawn into Europe’s orbit would be forced to accept alien values, in a clear reference to Ukraine.

Maybe there were references in that December speech that made it clear that Metropolitan Hilarion was referring to Ukraine. If not, then that’s quite a leap in logic in light of the fact that he has been making almost identical statements about trends in Europe, and also in liberal American churches, for several years now. If Hilarion made a reference to Ukraine in that speech, then by all means quote it. Please.

And then there is this interesting attribution, or lack thereof, in the final sentence:

In April, a controversial group of Russian Orthodox youth activists raided the screening of a documentary film about LGBT teenagers, who are often driven to suicide by their sense of isolation in Russia.

I understand that bullying is real and that conservative cultures can be judgmental, even tragically so. However, what is the source for the statement of fact that teens are “often” driven to suicide by, it is implied, a culture in which some people are active in the Eastern Orthodox faith? Also, did this youth activists “raid” the screening or protest it? They shut it down? They interrupted it? Does anyone have a source for this vague and very provocative information?

Just asking.

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One response to “Shock: Russian Orthodoxy gives drag queen thumbs down”

  1. I’m quite sure that story about the Russian church being bulldozed after a same sex wedding was debunked. It was more like, a defrocked former priest used an already-condemned and deconsecrated church building for a same sex wedding. Or something like that.

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