Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a mass at the Church of St. Simeon and Anna in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, on Jan. 7, 2018. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Why Putin is an ally for American evangelicals

(The Conversation) — The close relationship between American evangelicals and Russia has lately been discussed widely in the news media. In particular, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint in July against a Russian woman, Maria Butina, for trying to use the National Prayer Breakfast, a star-studded affair, as a “back channel of communication” with prominent American religious and political leaders.

Among them is Franklin Graham, son of the well-known evangelist, Billy Graham, and head of the influential Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In 2015, Graham famously visited Russia, where he had a warm meeting with President Vladimir Putin. On that trip, Putin reportedly explained that his mother had kept her Christian faith even under communist rule. Graham in turn praised Putin for his support of Orthodox Christianity, contrasting Russia’s “positive changes” with the rise of atheistic secularism in the U.S.

But it was not always so. Once upon a time, American evangelicals saw the Soviet Union and other communist countries as the world’s greatest threat to their faith.

They carried out dramatic and illegal activities, smuggling Bibles and other Christian literature across borders. And yet, today, Russia is their crucial ally.

Bible smuggling

Starting in the 1950s, but intensifying in the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. and European evangelicals presented themselves as intimately linked to the Christians who were suffering at the hands of communist governments.

One evangelical group that emerged at this time was “Open Doors,” whose main aim was to work for “persecuted Christians,” around the world. It was founded by “Brother Andrew” Vanderbijl, a Dutch pastor who smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Brother Andrew and other evangelicals argued that what Christians in communist countries really needed was Bibles – an evangelical view of the centrality of personal Bible reading for the sustenance of the faithful. And Bibles were hard to come by. In 1978, Time magazine reported,

“A Christian’s chances of buying a Bible openly are currently good in Poland, erratic in East Germany, difficult in Czechoslovakia and Hungary…, extremely difficult in Rumania, virtually impossible in the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. Buying a Bible is an out-and-out crime in Albania.”

He turned the smuggling into anti-communist political theater. As he headed toward the border in a specially outfitted vehicle with a hidden compartment that might hold as many as 3,000 Bibles, he prayed. According to one ad that ran in Christian magazines, he said:

“Lord, in my luggage I have forbidden Scriptures that I want to take to your children across the border. When you were on earth, you made blind eyes see. Now I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see these things you do not want them to see.”

Vanderbijl’s memoir, “God’s Smuggler,” became a bestseller when it was published in 1967.

Taking Jesus to communist world

By the early 1970s, there were more than 30 Protestant organizations engaged in some sort of literature smuggling, and there was an intense, sometimes quite nasty, competition between groups.

Their work depended on their charismatic leaders, who often used sensationalist approaches for fundraising.

For example, in 1966, a Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Internal Security subcommittee, stripped to the waist and turned to display his deeply scarred back.

The Rev. Richard Wurmbrand stands stripped to the waist to show scars of torture, as he testifies to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)

A Jewish convert and Lutheran minister, Wurmbrand had been imprisoned twice by the Romanian government for his activities as an “underground” minister before he finally escaped to the West in 1964.

Standing shirtless before U.S. senators and the national news media, Wurmbrand testified,

“My body represents Romania, my country, which has been tortured to a point that it can no longer weep. These marks on my body are my credentials.”

The next year, Wurmbrand published his book, “Tortured for Christ,” which became a bestseller in the U.S. He founded his own activist organization, “Jesus to the Communist World,” which also engaged in a good bit of attention-grabbing, intentionally reckless behavior.

In May 1979, for example, two 32-year-old men associated with the group flew their small plane over the Cuban coast, dropping 6,000 copies of a pamphlet written by Wurmbrand. After the “Bible bombing,” they lost their way in a storm and were forced to land in Cuba, where they were arrested and sentenced to 24 years in jail.

They served 17 months before being released in a general pardon of Americans in Cuban jails.

As I describe in my book “The Kingdom of God Has No Borders,” critics hammered these groups for such provocative approaches and hardball fundraising. One leading figure in the Southern Baptist Convention complained that the practice of smuggling Bibles was “creating problems for the whole Christian witness” in communist areas.

Another Christian activist, however, admitted that the activist groups’ mix of faith and politics was hard to beat and had the ability to draw “big bucks.” Indeed, as Time estimated, Bible smuggling groups raised US$30 million a year in the late 1970s – a bit over $100 million today.

After communism: Islam and homosexuality

These days, there is little in the way of swashbuckling adventure to be had in confronting communists. But that does not mean an end to the evangelical focus on persecuted Christians.

After 1989, advocates increasingly focused on Islam as the greatest supposed threat to Christians. That is one of the reasons, I believe, that Putin’s war against Chechen militants in the 1990s, and then his more recent intervention on behalf of Assad’s government in Syria, made him popular with Christian conservatives: They believed Putin was protecting Christians while waging war against Islamic terrorism.

Franklin Graham. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Even Putin’s current policies of cracking down on evangelism do not seem to bother some of his conservative evangelical allies overly. When Putin signed a Russian law in June 2016 that outlawed any sharing of one’s faith in homes, online or anywhere else but recognized church buildings, some evangelicals were outraged, but others looked away.

This is in part because of his claim to be “defender of Christians,” but also because he is seen to be a partner in upholding conservative values on opposing LGBTQ+ rights and nontraditional views of the family. Franklin Graham was among those who waxed enthusiastically about Russia’s laws against “gay propaganda.” Other lesser known activists have been cultivating ties with Russian politicians as well as the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the 21st century, then, evangelical conservatives aren’t promoting their agenda by touting the number of Bibles transported across state lines, but rather on another kind of border crossing: the power of Putin’s reputation as a leader in the resurgent global Right.The Conversation

(Melani McAlister is a professor of American Studies and International Affairs at George Washington University.)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Comments

  1. Evangelicals have had to conveniently overlook many, many unpleasant things about Vladimir Putin in order to support him: most notably his murderous instinct to rub out any high-ranking official who voices too much criticism against him. Then there’s his curtailing of the free press, leaving only a state-run media which echos the Putin party line. Then there’s his theft of billions of dollars of money that used to belong to the Russian people and are now sheltered in his various offshore bank accounts to the tune of more than $200 billion. Imagine that – an ordinary KGB agent becoming the richest man in the world and all under sixteen years! Ain’t kleptocracy great?

    Since evangelicals overlook all these things, and more, in order to support Putin’s puppet Trump or because Putin hates gay people and so do they, they have paid a higher ransom than Judas did when he sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, and they will pay for it in the end.

  2. I wager the Evangelicals don’t care about the fate of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They ought to as “real” Christians might be next if the Orthodox Church decides.

  3. The article really doesn’t establish that evangelicals consider Putin an ally.

    It reads as though the author assumes it to be a fact and then weaves a tale of innuendo.

    I can understand why the SBC would be concerned about smuggling Bibles into Russia.

    They are freely available in both Russian and other languages.

    What is the purpose of smuggling them in, then, in a country which is basically Christian?

  4. “The power of Putin’s reputation as a leader in the resurgent global Right” is “another kind of border crossing”?!

    Say, WwwwhhhhaaaatttT?!

    Is this even English?!

    Oh I forgot, this is The Conversation talking.

  5. What a silly article!

    Soviet Union: militant atheist anti-Christian.

    Modern Russia: basically pro-Christian.

    And the author is befuddled as to why Evangelicals prefer the latter to the former?

  6. Pro Christian, yet bans certain Christian sects and spies on them What you mean to say is pro Dominionist. After all they were able to lobby in Russia to have the pogrom against gays they couldn’t do in the US.

    Plus Putin loves ties with neo nazis/white supremacist groups as a way to undermine rivals. This dovetails nicely to the link between such groups and American evangelicals.

  7. As if the radical left isn’t “Dominionist” in its own libby-progressive way.

  8. These so called Evangelicals who really do not proclaim the gospel of Christ are suspect. They make very strange bedfellows, but we know that from their actions in the US. Further, their brand of Christianity is not welcomed by the Orthodox Church in Russia. There are numerous incidents in which non-Orthodox Churches from the Roman, Baptists and Lutheran Churches to the Jehovah Witnesses have been harassed, persecuted or limited in some manner.

  9. Typical bullshifting nonsense. You aren’t addressing what is said and making fictional statements of equivalence. Typical excuses for bad behavior coming from conservative cretins these days.
    (BTW liar, there is no link to the infinitesimal “radical left” and mainstream politics. Reactionary Christians all but control the agenda for at least half of the elected officials in this country.) Your deflection is feeble. Not worth addressing.

    The article is silly because it is stating the obvious. Reactionary Christians have been in bed with Putin’s Russia long before Trump. Even to the point of looking the other way while JWs were being persecuted. Evidently they were not the right kind of Christian to be concerned about. With Trump all but acting like an agent for Putin, the Reactionary Christian cooperation is even more obvious.

  10. Typical leftist denials. You only see what you want to see, but more and more people are “woke” to you guys and your lying media!

    “Reactionary Christian” Is that your new “bad guys” moniker? What, got tired of “Conservative Christian”, “Evangelical”, “Fundamentalist”, and decided to spice up your putrid posts?

  11. Get back to me when you are prepared to have an adult conversation on the subject.

    In the meantime I will just ignore your bullshifting nonsense. All that tells me is you are immoral slime looking to excuse bad behavior by making up crap for false equivalence arguments.

    At this point it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between an American conservative and a Russian trollbot, in an online discussion.

    Many would rather be Russian than Democrats.
    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/6/17656996/trump-republican-party-russia-rather-democrat-ohio

  12. I guess when the racist card and the bigot card don’t work, it’s time to bring out the Russian troll card, right Puddie? You’re so pathetic and predictable.

  13. You haven’t gotten there yet. Still not addressing what is being said here.

    “Playing the racist/bigot card” means you are not refuting my accusation, but you are showing that you are thin skinned about it pointed out.

    In this case you are not refuting possibly being a Russian troll. Just annoyed I am pointing it out there is little to distinguish a Russian Troll from an American Conservative in an online discussion these days.

    I see you are the only one here stumping for Putin’s regime and his links to American conservatives and white supremacists (these days its a very thin distinction).

  14. Looks like you ran out of cards to play. Of course, you’re never playing with a full deck anyway!

  15. Looks like you didn’t want to discuss the subject like an adult.

    Oh well.

    You are doing Rodina proud! 🙂

  16. Nope, Jokers don’t count.

    Quoting your old boyfriend Lenin? Sounds like you really miss those old soviet days.

    For my last words here to you, let me quote instead Bugs Bunny (more your level):

    “So long screwy, see you in St. Louis!”

  17. …says the only person here who supports (or even says nice things about) Vladimir Putin. Bohze Moi!

  18. What nice things have I said about him? Zip. But mention of Lenin sure sent a tingle down your leg, didn’t it?

  19. I doubt they overlook them; they’re personal goals.

  20. Religion, doing the only thing it’s ever done and the only thing its good for causing divisiveness, hatred and conflict and its all based on imaginary BS and nothing real. It’s like fighting over Santa Claus. Silly nonsense.

  21. In many ways the Soviet Union was forged in reaction to Hitler’s Germany. They had a non-aggression pact, after all. They trusted Germany, at least enough to leave them alone until they were themselves invaded. Hitler was just first to pull the trigger. Stalin and Hitler both had a world-carved-into-fiefdoms mentality, eventually coming to blows, the “great men” theory of history common to malignant narcissists, also played out today with Putin and Trump and every unfettered capitalist.

    Neo Nazis and white Evangelicals and every promulgator of hate and fear (including Marketed News) are convenient tools. Russia has “evolved.” They’ve learned from their enemies. They used to suppress the religious and the democratic and the capitalist, now they pervert and subvert and leverage these to personal ends. They want dissension among faiths. Golden Childing and Scapegoating various tribes and sects, allegiances of all sorts, are entirely transactional. Opportunities arise from chaos.

    Putin must laugh that Trump still believes in walls.

  22. As to your first paragraph, it was the other way around. Hitler’s Germany used Stalin’s USSR as examples. The Gestapo was purposefully modeled off the NKVD. The idea of using concentration camps for economically benefit came from the gulag system. There are tons of further examples. Hitler and Stalin even ran their governments in the same loose medieval court style. But Stalin would have never gone past his own borders if not for Germany declaring war on the USSR. The Soviet military was a mess before the war. Previously getting pasted by the Finns in 1940, Fascists in Spain 1936 and the Poles in 1921.

    Trump and Putin are not rivals. They are collaborators working together. Trump has been acting largely in the interests of Russia (and China to a large degree) and to the detriment of allies and trading partners.

    I wholly and entirely agree with your second paragraph and final line.

  23. Thanks for the input. I think Trump and Putin are not rivals in the same way that Trump and Cohen (or Trump and Sessions or Trump and Omarosa or…) were not rivals and in the way that Trump and Bannon will not be rivals. Narcissists form unholy alliances, fully aware the other is just as manipulative and capable of eventual backstabbing. “I know all your tricks because they’re all my tricks, plus I have a couple you don’t know about.” They also just *know* they’ve got a better end game.

    You’re right that Hitler mined Stalin’s MO. It’s also true that Stalin believed in state atheism, wanted to *destroy* religion, while Hitler negotiated the Reichskonkordat, a *political agreement with the Vatican* not so very different than the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact signed 6 years later. Hitler was also way ahead of the curve in establishing a complicit set of business oligarchs, probably having picked that one up from the Fascist movement in Italy.

  24. Thanks for the reference. I was unaware of the new law. I expected this would happen.

  25. In other words, they have no problem with allowing a foreign country to interfere in America in order to gain more power and control.

  26. And we all thought Russian and “Cahmunist” paranoia went out of vogue almost sixty years ago.

    I guess we have to repeat that along with all the failed experiments in socialism. All for the same reason — because a whole generation of people don’t know their history. Sad.

  27. The article no where discusses Evangelicals’ views on “foreign interference in America”. That is a gratuitous assumption of your own, not supported by this silly article. Nice try though!

  28. They apparently like to look the other way. Even making excuses for Putin here. As you are trying to do.

  29. Since no one to my knowledge (and certainly no one in the article) has asked them if they “have a problem with allowing a foreign county to interfere in America”, all you have on this is your own personal conjecture – as clearly indicated by your use of the word “apparently”. Kind of like how you assume that I am “making excuses for Putin”. Oh really? How exactly?

  30. The Russian response to the Magnitsky Act really put a crimp in the Evangelicals’ access to good (white) children to adopt, in order to supplement their flagging reproductive rate. This isn’t premise, it was established policy. They need their supply and have no compunctions about the morality of methods used to get it back.

    There are many enlightening (and horrifying) links. Here two, randomly.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/01/02/russian-adoption-ban-will-hit-disabled-children-evangelical-families/?utm_term=.7225d124989d

    https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/christian-evangelical-adoption-liberia/3/

  31. Once again, that does not address the question of whether or not any Evangelicals “have a problem with allowing a foreign country to interfere in America”, because: a.) They may feel that Dems are so despicable and evil that they make even the Russians look good by comparison. This does not necessarily indicate any love of or support for Russians (they could still consider them bad), but only that the Dems (bad) are even worse than the Russians (also bad). And it does not ensue that just because they feel Dems are worse than Russians, they would therefor approve of Russians (or anyone) meddling with our country. Also, b.) It is not relevant to the question of whether Evangelicals are okay with foreign interference in our country, because neither of them are identified as Evangelicals.

    You also do not back up your claim that I am “making excuses for Putin”. SO I REPEAT: “OH REALLY? HOW EXACTLY?”

    Another FAIL on your part, LOL.

  32. Apparently Obama didn’t mind foreign interference with our government and democratic system.

    When it was discovered in 2016 that the Russian were penetrating the DNC website and some state electoral systems, he ordered his IT Security czar to “stand down”.

  33. The question is answered. They have no problem wth it because it gets them what they want. A weak democratic structure and opportunity for grabbing power. As evidenced by their current actions in trying to set policy with back room secret meetings with Trump. it’s already borne out. They are already willing to sign off on any kind of immoral and illegal acts by this president. Using a foreign power for assistance is not a problem for them.

    You are looking for excuses for such seditious and anti-American behavior by trying to blame domestic political opposition. That is pathetic. No, Democrats are not evil, it’s that evangelicals are self absorbed, venal, and greedy.

    You are not only acting on Putins interests, you are looking to excuse it. How pathetic. You have gone from denial to rationalizing. Can you be more full of crap?

  34. Sorry, but you are assuming what you have no evidence for (that Evangelicals are okay with foreign interference), on the basis that said interference got them what they wanted (another unproven assumption), and then consider your first assumption is proven by your second assumption. Circular reasoning based on your personal assumptions. FAIL.

    Then you fault Evangelicals for trying to influence policy, something every interest group (as is their right) has been doing in our Republic for years. But because they’re Conservative Christians you dislike, you’ve gotten your knickers all in a knot over it. FAIL.

    And ONCE AGAIN, you fail to address – other than as a gratuitous assumption – in what way I am “making excuses” for Putin/”acting in Putin’s interests”. So I repeat for a THIRD TIME: “Oh really? How exactly?”

    You’ve got nothing but your own biased assumptions, and crazed conspiracy theories. But of course TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) hits some people hard!

  35. Of course I have evidence for it. The way Evangelicals have gone all in with Trump is proof of it. Trump is in deep with Russia, Evangelicals have been on the forefront of excuse making about it.

    Evolution of your argument:

    1) Denial. Evangelicals are not really working with Russia
    2) Well Liberals are doing the same thing, so its OK (fictional)
    2) Well at least Russia is pro-Christian, so its OK (also fictional)
    3) Well Democrats are really evil, so betraying our nation and system is OK
    4) Weaselwording, OK they are working with Russia, but are they may not involved with Russian bad behavior

    Each new argument you slowly admit the obvious here.

    “Then you fault Evangelicals for trying to influence policy, something every interest group (as is their right) has been doing in our Republic for year”

    Name one other religious group which has held secret closed meeting with the president to discuss and determine policy? The Establishment Clause means government cannot by law favor or endorse any given faith. Something Evangelicals clearly have no regard for.

    You are essentially calling your faith nothing more than a lobby group which is abusing tax free status. I would not have gone so far, but you did.

    Your very existence and arguments on this board have been proof positive of such things. Evangelicals have been working with Putin long before Trump. They have not stopped doing so.

    You get annoyed that Trump is criticized, but you are way to spineless to address why he is. I am biased against liars, bigots, thieves and people who makes excuses for them. As is any decent person. I find it funny how loyal you are to him. Trump has cheated and betrayed everyone in his orbit: investors, partners, workers, contractors, and his own family. Good luck with that.

    Six convictions so far and a current FBI probe are far more substantive than any crap you or conservatives in general have spewed out about major democratic figures in or out of office. Not so much conspiracy theory as criminal conspiracy unraveling before our eyes.

  36. “Of course I have evidence for it.” would have been believable if evidence followed the statement.

    What followed were more unevidenced allegations.

  37. As you overlook the millions of illegal aliens who vote Democratic.

  38. No, we oppose it. Do YOU oppose the millions of illegals voting in our elections and benefitting from our social services safety net ?

  39. Where’s the Russian collusion ? I mean, besides the Democratic Party’s treason from 1917-1989 ?

  40. Past their borders ? They moved into Poland after the Stalin-Hitler Pact.

  41. After Hitler invaded and wiped out resistance by the Poles. Made it easy for Stalin to walk in.

    Prior to that as I noted, the USSR was rather hapless in their ventures. They tried to invade Poland 18 years earlier and got thrown back. They took horrific losses in Finland in 1940. No Hitler would have meant no second Polish invasion.

  42. The ones who didn’t exist. You are an obvious liar. You derps claim more illegal aliens vote Democratic than there are illegal alien adults living in this country at any given time.

    Trump got pasted for making that bullcrap claim. He was trying to salve his ego for losing the popular vote by several million.

    BTW none of that is a refutation of the fact that both Evangelicals and Trump are in deep with Putin for various reasons. If anything your dishonest deflection nonsense is more proof of it. You simply seek to divert the discussion to avoid dealing with the subject.

  43. Obviously not, given your need to divert the discussion to something irrelevant. The proof of evangelical and Trump support of Putin is fairly obvious and well documented on their own.

    BTW There is nothing to oppose because YOU ARE LYING THERE ARE NO MILLIONS OF ILLEGALS VOTING IN OUR ELECTIONS.

    So let me get this straight. Illegal aliens are hardworking and therefore taking jobs away from unskilled and uneducated Americans. But they are also so lazy that they are taking our public assistance?

    I guess being an addled bigot doesn’t mean you have to make sense.

  44. Even Don Jr. is admitting he worked with the Russians. You poor thing with your stupid denial games.
    https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/donald-trump-jr-doesnt-rule-out-setup-by-robert-mueller-down-the-road/

    And your bullshifting. Evidently you are so hateful and distrustful of a democratic government that you call a mainstream opposition party treasonous.

    You are so craven that you would rather support a foreign dictator than democratically elected opposition.
    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/russian-than-democrat-shirts/

  45. Importing illegal aliens, giving them amnesty, and putting them on the Social Safety Net is buying votes.

  46. And Hitler doesn’t invade unless Stalin gives him a GO sign.

  47. That is your unfounded opinion. One that does not comport with what we know about history. By all accounts of the Nazi/Soviet Pact, they worked it out together.

  48. Deflector shields on maximum! Still don’t want to discuss the subject as given because it is obviously embarrassing for you.

    You already lied about illegal aliens voting. A popular lie made by an immature political figure who has an ongoing antagonistic relationship with veracity. Of course you are going to double down on the same garbage by demonizing them and making wildly exaggerated claims

    So you will understand that when you bring up the subject, I simply note that you are full of crap and quite obvious about it.

  49. Funny how far back you have to go to deflect from the flaming dumpster fire of a president in bed with the Russians.

    Look out for that Mike Dukakis! He is a slippery one! That Walter Mondale was a real criminal!

    Interesting that you considered an early opponent to segregation to be somehow betraying the nation. But not too surprising. You made it clear in another thread that you were a foaming at the mouth racist. So of course you would take that line of argument.

  50. Evangelicals totally overlook Putin’s persecution of non-Orthodox congregations. The law that Putin signed on July 6 2016 restricts religious proselytizing and imposes heavy fines for doing so. Many have been arrested.

  51. There is no more factual evidence for the existence of an imaginary god than there is for Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, leprechauns, unicorns, peter pan, jack in the beanstalk or bigfoot. Are you mentally ill, a child, or just stupid? Only kids and the mentally ill have a imaginary friends. The mentally ill can’t help it. Most kids grow out of it. That leaves only one category. Stop posting stupid links. Figure out a way to explain where your imaginary god came from. And just stop talking and embarrassing and making a fool out of yourself.

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