Vladimir Putin said last week that he observes “with alarm” that “in many of the world’s regions, especially in the Middle East and in North Africa, inter-confessional tensions are mounting, and the rights of religious minorities are infringed, including Christians and Orthodox Christians.”
The Russian president made his comments at a meeting with Orthodox Christian leaders in Moscow. He urged the international community to take steps towards preserving the rights of Christian people worldwide and preventing the violence that they suffer routinely in dozens of nations around the globe.
The meeting was held with the leaders of all 15 Orthodox Churches to celebrate the 1,025th anniversary of the official adoption of Christianity by Prince Vladimir in 988 A.D. Orthodox leaders spoke out against what they consider the growing secularist suppression of Christian freedoms in Western nations like the U.K. and France, where same-sex marriage has just been legalized, and Christian business owners have been threatened with jail time and forced to pay fines for refusing to participate in homosexual wedding ceremonies.
The Russian Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical officer, Metropolitan Hilarion, warned of “secularization in disguise of democratization” and of a “powerful energy today [that] strives to finally break with Christianity, which controlled its totalitarian impulses during 17 centuries.”
“Eventually,” Hilarion said, “it unconsciously strives to set up an absolute dictatorship that demands total control over each member of society. Don’t we move to it when ‘for the sake of security’ we agree to obligatory electronic passports, dactyloscopy [fingerprint identification] for everyone, and photo cameras occurring everywhere?”
These remarks come as Russia attracts global attention for its law banning homosexual propaganda directed at minors, and continues each year to pay fines to the European Court of Human Rights for prohibiting gay pride parades in Moscow. In June 2012, Moscow courts enacted a hundred-year ban on gay pride parades.
The evangelical Christian community that still identifies Russia with communism, Cold War tensions and the brutality of Stalinism is in for a shock if Putin follows through on his comments. They underscore that the world has changed. In the wake of the “war on terror,” the U.S. is no longer seen as a guardian of justice and liberty. Now one of her traditional enemies is poised to defend ideals that America no longer cherishes.
In Iran, Christian pastors like Saeed Abedini and Youcef Nadarkhani have been beaten and tortured over the past two years, and have been threatened with execution. In a recent interview with CBN, Eritrean torture survivor “Philip” shared graphic stories of his own experience in torture camps in the Sinai desert. “In some cases, we were tortured simply because we were Christians,” he said. “I was hanged up from the ceiling for three days, the blood was cut off from my hands and the flesh started to literally drip from my hands.”
These stories are nothing new. Horrific persecution of Christians has been widespread since new converts were fed to the lions in the Roman Empire. What is surprising is that these are the kinds of stories that were coming out of Russia not long ago, when atheism was the official doctrine of the Soviet Union and twenty-year-old Ivan Moiseyev was beaten to death in the Red Army.
What’s changed since then? Putin hinted at it when he said the church in Russia had been a “moral compass” to many who were looking for help, hinting at the recent century of misery and struggle that the Russian people have endured. He also acknowledged the role that the church has played in “culture and education,” adding, “The adoption of Christianity became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland.”
Why is the Russian leadership suddenly recognizing the priceless value to their nation of the Christian virtues they condemned for so many years? It’s simple. The Russian people have learned the hard way about the cultural devastation and decline that results from the rejection of the happy principles that have bolstered the western world for so many centuries.
Russia is a nation that has tasted of the fruit of the self-destructive anti-ethical policies that so much of the western world has come to label “progressive.”
They already tried dismantling the natural institution of family, and replacing it with state control and regimentation. As a result, they are suffering a demographic crisis, with the highest abortion rate in the world. Russians have more abortions than live births.
They already tried out the scheme of deconstructing the faith of individuals and replacing it with a collectivistic, subservient society where people owe nothing to an eternal, unchanging God, but everything to a transient, ever-evolving state. This didn’t serve as any kind of cultural liberation.
Today, Russia is ravaged by alcoholism, with an annual per capita alcohol consumption of 15.76 litres, one of the highest in the world, and a shockingly low life expectancy. According to a U.N. National Human Development Report, Russian males born in 2006 had a life expectancy of just over 60 years. Russia has a suicide rate of 27.1 per 100,000 people. In 2008, suicide claimed 38,406 lives in Russia. Russia has been repeatedly rated the most corrupt European nation, tied with Iran, Guyana, and Khazakstan.
Russia is also a significant source, destination and transit country for persons trafficked for sexual and labor exploitation from regional and neighboring countries. A 2006 World Vision report claimed Russia is becoming a new destination for child sex tourism, and estimated 2 to 2.5 percent of Russian sex workers are minors.
With all of these sorry statistics to show for their experiment in statism and rejection of Christian virtues, is it any wonder that Putin is extending an olive branch towards the Russian church and seeking to reinstate what has been lost?
Do Putin’s recent comments signal a Christian transformation of character? Probably not. What they do signal is a fear that grows as Russia slips deeper and deeper into the vicious results of the black hole of creedlessness. And perhaps they signal a growing friendliness towards the virtues of Christian culture.
While Western Europe and the U.S. are slanting slowly towards the neutralization and ultimate rejection of classical and Christian ethics, Russia and Eastern Europe rushed into this chaos of amorality years ago and, it seems, are coming out on the other side a little wiser, a little steadier.
But are they even growing wiser than us?