Russian Baptists Fail to Assume Responsibility for Their Shameful Support of Putin Invasion in Ukraine

Orthodox Metr. Hilarion addressing the forum

Relationships between Russia and the US are deteriorating rapidly because of the aggressive neo-Soviet imperialism promoted by Putin, primarily in Ukraine, but, in fact everywhere in the world where he has interests. This unavoidably affects Russia’s image in the world. Not that Putin cares very much about that – it was not care for the world that made him a KGB spy and then president of Russia. However, such image deterioration has economic consequences, and that really hurts (not so much the Russian people, who really do not count, but the interests of the oligarch’s who support the Russian dictator). Thus, the new Russian ‘tsar’ started sending around his ‘slaves’ to try saving what they can.

This is the context for the so-called ‘Russia-USA Forum of Christian Leaders’, in which a delegation of Russian Orthodox, led by Metr. Hilarion Alfeyev, in charge of foreign affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, and of Russian Evangelical leaders, mostly Baptists and Pentecostal/charismatics (nota bene, there were no Catholic leaders involved), have met with a number of Protestant/Evangelical American leaders, in an attempt to clean up the tarnished face of ‘mother Russia’. The convenor of this religiously dubious and politically misguied meeting was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more precisely, its constantly embarassing president, Franklin Graham.Franklin Graham & Hilarion Alfeyev
Franklin Graham & Metr. Hilarion Alfeyev

You can find HERE the Russian Patriarchate’s news item on this meeting, and you may also read HERE Metr. Alfeyev’s speech at this reunion. Let me give you below some quotes (indented and in Italics) from this speech, with my short comments.

Among the vivid testimonies to the good cooperation between the Moscow Patriarchate and American Christians is our friendship with Billy Graham’s Evangelistic Association, the founder of which has visited Russia several times. We appreciated the understanding that representatives of the Association and the Rev. Graham personally expressed towards the stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church in various historical periods. I think it is no coincidence that our present Forum, too, has been initiated by precisely this Association.

Metr. Alfeyev alludes, probably, to a series of misguided statements made a number of times by Rev. Billy Graham about the claimed ‘freedom of religion’ in Russia during communism, in a risky attempt to receive the benevolence of Soviet authorities and of Russian Orthodox leaders, for his evangelistic crusades in Soviet Union. These statements brough a lot of embarassment to Billy Graham in the eyes of the persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain, who felt betrayed by the great evangelist, for very selfish purposes – the success of his mission, which they, after all, admired a lot.

Unfortunately, by the end of the 20th century, the relationship of the Moscow Patriarchate with many Christian communities in the USA had encountered a serious crisis. It was caused by the liberalization of the moral teaching in these communities, their deviation from the ethical norms laid down by Holy Scripture of the New Testament common for us all.

It is really embarassing to see how Metr. Alfeyev is claiming the high moral ground for his church, when, in fact, the Russian Orthodox Church, has been ‘in bed with power’, for over a century, under tsar Nicolas, under communism, an lately under Putin. The unwavering support that Patr. Kirill gives to the aggressive Putin foreing policy forfeited completely the prophetic role that the church is called to play towards political leaders. Unfortunately, the same can be said about most Protestant leaders in Russia. This was atested to me by a young Ukrainian friend who participated in a recent meeting in Norway between Russian and Ukrainian Christian leaders following the recent conflict in Ukraine. For Russian Christian leaders, be them Orthodox or Protestant, nationalism seems to be more important that their Christian call to justice and truth.

Among the priorities for inter-Christian cooperation at the present stage is the need for common concern for the brothers who are in distress in various parts of the world. First of all, it is the question of consequences of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, which has led to the real genocide of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa.

Today, there are almost no Christians left in Libya. The Christian community in Iraq has decreased in number many times. A terrible tragedy is suffered by our brothers in faith in Syria. The Coptic community in Egypt has decreased in number. The very survival of Christianity is threatened in quite a number of countries in the Middle East – the cradle of Christianity.

This is, of course, an important point. The persecution of Christians around the world is not enouugh on the agenda of the civilised world. But nor does the Russian Orthodox Church offer more that words in this respect. Think only about the persecuted Christians in places of the former Soviet Union, like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, to name just the most serious ones.

At the same time, I have to observe that Russian Christians do not seem to be very concerned about the religious freedom of people of other faiths, or of no faith. Moreover, I did not find in this text any concern for the economically poor and oppressed, a central theme in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe, with the exception of the situation of Christian refugees from Middle East countries.

A few years ago, the world entered an era of international tension. Its hotbeds are found not only in the Middle East but also in Europe.

There is absolutely no critical mention, even a slight allusion, to the essential role played by Russia’s aggression in this new reiteration of a ‘cold war’. Really neutral and prophetic I would say. 😦 You wish!

Very significantly, the last (quite consistent) part of this discourse was dedicated to explaining the Russian position on the situation in Ukraine, the real purpose of the visit. Does this make the above just a sort of bla, bla, bla? At least that is what I think. Anyway, Alfeyev pretends to be neutral in his position towards this conflict, but his words prove that the whole event is a mere propaganda stunt of the Russian government. Otherwise, Russian Christian leaders would have also invited Ukrainian Christian leaders to this reunion. You do not have to believe me. Just make our own minds by reading what Alfeyev actually said (but let me underline just a few passages with occasional comments in brackets[]).

The conflict in Ukraine has caused a serious crisis in relations between the West and Russia which have started of talking to each other in the language of sanctions [ouch, it hurts]. The world has again found itself in a situation similar to the Cold War. The tension is inflamed by an information campaign actively waged in the mass media. We appreciate the attitude of those churches which are able to give a sober assessment to the developments and which refrain from one-sided political statements [meaning, stop criticising Russia; just trust Putin; he is always right, even when he is not].

For the Russian Orthodox Church, what is happening now to the fraternal Ukrainian people [they are brothers; in other words, we are in the family; this is none of your business] is a deep tragedy. The terrible months of continued discord have been marked with many hundreds of victims – dead, wounded, missing, subjected to various forms of discrimination and persecution, roofless and deprived of livelihood.

The whole world was shocked by the bloody tragedies in Odessa and Mariupol, an objected investigation of which has yet to be carried out. So far, publicity has not been given to the causes of the crash of the Malaysian Boeing over Donetsk [meaning, you, stupid, failed to swallow Putin’s conconted ‘explanations], which took scores of lives. There are the terrible facts of the discovery of several mass burial places of civilians who had been shot to death in the Donetsk Region. Who is standing behind of all these crimes? All these facts should be thoroughly investigated and made public.

The Russian Orthodox Church has endlessly called upon the conflicting sides to cease hostilities, to renounce the pointless language of sanctions and ultimatums and to search for real ways of solving the problems accumulated during the confrontation.

We are utterly disturbed by the situation of our flock in eastern Ukraine. In the course of hostilities and artillery shelling, several of our priests were killed and many wounded. There were cases where shells hit churches during divine services, killing and wounding parishioners. Some fifty churches were either damaged or fully destroyed by shelling. There are cases of vandalism and the burning of Orthodox churches; leaflets and posters are spread to inflame inter-confessional and inter-ethnic strife.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a part of the Moscow Patriarchate which enjoys the right of self-government [self-government, right; and what about the other Orthiodox Church, which Moscow does not recognise, because they want to keep alive the ‘Orthodox Soviet Union’?], is the largest religious organization in Ukraine. Her flock consists of people standing on either side of the confrontation. Unlike other Ukrainian confessions, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not support any of the sides and remains alien to political engagement [tell me about it; is taking us for some fools?]. It is for this reason that she is continuously attacked by nationalistic forces.

We believe that Christian Churches, unlike politicians, should never squander their peacemaking potential (like Russian Orthodox hierarch do when they bless nuclear weapons?]. We have at our disposal special means which overcome boundaries, both geographical and ideological. We must work together to resolve today’s conflicts also for the reconciliation of the Ukrainian people and the prevention of the bloodshed in the south-east of the country from escalating.

Among the most acute problems today is an enormous number of refugees from eastern Ukraine. Over a million of refugees from the heavily-shelled eastern Ukraine are in Russia today. The Russian Orthodox Church has given all possible aid to these people standing in need of vital essentials.

We are ready to cooperate in this area with American Christians and for joint work under international humanitarian projects {give us some money, please; we promise to continue shelling eastern Ukraine, and produce more refugees every day] for restoring fully or partly destroyed cities and villages in eastern Ukraine, which are experiencing a genuine humanitarian disaster.

Oh, by the way, Alfeyev ends with the hope that this reunion will ‘pen a new page in the history of relations between the Christian Churches in Russia and in the USA, which will be aimed at consolidating our common witness to the Gospel’s eternal values and to resolving the many humanitarian problems facing the modern civilization’. Which are those humanitarian problems we cannot find out from the hierarch’s discourse. The only conclusion we could draw from this is that, besides the above, the real ‘humanitarian’ problem in view is the loss of good image of ‘mother Russia’ in the world, which this delegation came to save, with full blessings from the Kremlin (if, in fact, Putin was not the initiator, as I suspect is the case).

* * *

Now, I do not want you to think that I am picking on the Orthodox. Let us see what Russian Protestants have to say about this event. We can find out about that from a recent interview in Christianity Today, with Vitaly Vlasenko, the director of external church relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists (the Baptist correspondent to Alfeyev), and Sergey Ryakhovsky, the head of the Russian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith.

The article quotes Franklin Graham, who is even less versed that his father in political matters. He declares openly the real purpose of this visit, when he says

As we find tensions increasing once again between Russia, the United States, and Eastern Europe, it is vitally important that we try to build bridges of understanding and respect between the churches in Russia and the West. My father made numerous trips during the Cold War when Eastern Europe and Russia were under Communism and built relationships with the churches in those countries. The hope of this forum is to re-establish the ties that we once had with the newer generation of leadership.

 The article also mentions the latest monumental gaffe made my Billy Graham’s son.

In March, Decision Magazine featured Russian president Vladimir Putin on its cover. Inside, Graham offered qualified commendation for the former KGB officer. “Just a few generations ago, America held the high moral ground. How the times have changed,” said Graham regarding Putin’s strong stance against homosexuality. “To be clear, I am not endorsing President Putin. … [But] in my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” he continued. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

As we would expect from such an irresponsible leader, he is ready to sacrifice the peace of the world in order to promote his fundamentalist agenda.

Let’s explore now the interview. Look at the answers given by the Russian evangelical leaders to a key test question:

CT: What is religious freedom like in Russia?

Vlasenko: We have full religious freedom in our country. Our churches are able to conduct their services. Of course, we do have some regulation by Russian laws, which is understandable, but so far, in the Russian federation, we do have religious freedom. We can share the gospel with anybody according to the Russian’s government laws. Of course, it’s prohibited to preach the gospel in schools. We can invite children to participate in Christian camps with permission from their parents. So far, praise the Lord, our churches are meeting without any problems. They’re worshipping, they’re praying. We have freedom to have distribute Bibles and other literature. We bring in the Christian literature and we have no problem.

Ryakhovsky: We have absolute freedom. My father was imprisoned three times during the Soviet Union, in times of Stalin, Brezhnev, and Khrushchev. Right now, no one is in prison for that. We have complete freedom for preaching the gospel. We have youth ministry and children’s ministry. Our churches are growing. We have, of course, some problems. It’s hard to build buildings and to get land for buildings. But it’s better. I’m the son of the prisoner, but I’m a member of the President’s Council. It’s a miracle.

This makes me sick. It sounds very much like the praise that religious leaders in Romania were giving to Ceausescu, in spite of the crual persecution that Christians were suffering in my country. For Ryakhovsky, the fact that he was invited to be a member of Putin’s council is so inebriating that he is ready to sacrifice all discernment for such an honour. This is precisely the communist brainwashing of Russian Christian leaders that my Ukrainian friend was describing to me.

Look now at the answer to another delicate question, on a topic that was also high on Alfeyev’s agenda.

CT: What is the Russian church doing for the international persecuted church?

Vlasenko: Russian Christians are helping tremendously in Central Asia, in former Soviet Union countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan. The Baptist Union of Russia is very involved with helping those Christians. They are heavily Islamic countries. Some of the churches have been shut down or the police have chased them out. We’re writing all kinds of letters. We talk with the religious leaders to try to find out what we can do to help protect them.

Think about it. Christians are suffering attroceous persecution in the former soviet republics in Central Asia, all vasal of Russia, and Alfeyev lectures to Americans about it, while Vlasenko is ‘writing all kinds of letters’. Absolutely pathetic! A simple call from Putin to the dictators in these republics, which he keeps in power, could sort out everything. But ‘valient’ Vlasenko is ‘writing all kinds of letters’. Again, this crass hypocrisy makes me real sick.

And now, finally, hear again ‘smart’ and ‘neutral’ Vlasenko, on the situation in Ukraine (underlined passages are my emphasis).

CT: How would you explain Crimea to Americans?

Vlasenko: Behind this piece of land, there’s a lot of history. Of course, for many years it was territory of Ukraine, but historically this land belonged to Russia. Many years ago Russian troops fought for this and took it to the Russian Federation, and one of the Russian leaders gave it to Ukraine. Right now, our nation is divided. It is in divorce. When a family is divorced, people ask “give us our gift back.”

From the international view, the Russian Federation looks like the aggressor. They took part of another independent country. But you have to understand that our nations are very close. My last name is a Ukrainian name. I have many relatives that live in Ukraine. Even when Crimea was part of Ukraine, but in our mind it was always Russia. They are Russian speaking people.

I went twice to Crimea and talked to the people. Some people are really eager to come back to Russia, because they speak Russian, they have so much relationship. Russia, in my opinion, has no desire to take over more land or something like this. Of course I’m not a politician, I am a Christian leader. However, I can understand. I can feel it what is going on society, because for many many years when Crimea was part of Ukraine, the many, many Russians said some not very nice words to Mr. Khrushchev who just gave it up. This small land has made tension between our political leaders. One of the difficulties between political leaders and we like parts of societies have some misunderstandings. We need one part of our leadership to explain the history that is behind the land. It’s a complex issue. You have to understand why this decision was made. In my opinion, the Russian Federation has no desire to take more land or create another Soviet Union. Of course, we were a Russian empire in the past, but now we have to obey international laws, rules, and regulations. We want to be a country that has normal life and good relations with everyone. This is our message and no one has instructed us what to say or what to do.

Of course we need to have more communication with our friends and brothers in Ukraine. We have met twice. Our last meeting was a religion council this fall in Oslo, where some of the Russian Christian leaders met with the Ukrainian Christian leaders. At the end of the meeting, Patriarch Hilarion concluded, “We have brothers and sisters in Christ in Russia.” This is what was very good. Let’s understand each other better because some of these hot heads, they want to fight. Let’s come to a discussion or dialogue over this. Let’s talk with the European countries. The Russian people want to be part of the world society.

Let me comment on it, point by point:

1. In Vlasenko’s mind Crimea ‘was always Russia’. To hell with international law and justice! What counts is what is in Vlasenko’s ‘brilliant’ mind – a genuinely ‘mankurtish’ one, to use Aitmatov’s metaphor.

2. In his (neutral?) opinion, ‘Russia… has no desire to take over more land’. So, I wonder, should this make us happy? Russia, he wants us to believe, but, in reality, it is not sure at all – just the opposite, has no desire to take over more land. But what is taken remains taken, huh? Vlasenko can, he assures us, in case anybody doubted that, ‘understands it’.Wow! That is, according to this pathetic slave of Putin ‘Christian justice’. Gag me with a spoon, please.

3. Furthermore, in case the devil tempted you to think that – perish the thought, nobody instructed Vlasenko or Alfeyev ‘what to say or what to do’. Is that a Freudian slip, or what? He would like us to believe that they did all this circus out of their own will and inspired by Russian patriotism; ah, I almost forgot, also out of Christian love. For Ukraine, I suppose.

4. They met twice with their Ucrainian ‘friends and brothers’. But what about sisters? They were there also, but Vlasenko, in his pure mysoginy, cannot bring himself to remember that. Vlasenko does not tell us what were the (no) results of those meetings. There is, in fact, nothing to tell. Things got worse afterwords, and are getting even much more so after Putin decided to invade eastern Ukraine. With the blessings of Christian leaders like Alfeyev and Vlasenko. You say there were no explicit blessings? Maybe, but where are then their protests? I guess they kept them for themsolves, if there were any, not to upset the slave master in the Kremlin.

5. There is, however, something that Vlasenko remembers from the Oslo meeting. In a very selfless manner, he was flattered that, rather than calling them sectarians, as he usually does, Alfeyev declared, about people like Vlasenko and Ryakhovsky: “we have brothers and sisters in Christ in Russia.” If Ukraine had to ve invaded for such a glorious result, so be it. A small price (it is true, paid by Ukrainian ‘brothers’, but they don’t count, anyway), for a magnificent accomplishment. Vlasenko became a brother to Alfeyev. Wow! For a while, at least. As long as Putin’s interests ask for it. Apres nous, le deluge.

As a final comment, I find Christianity Today‘s participation in this pathetic political circus absolutely deplorable. They should have known better.




Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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