The eyes of the world are on Ukraine, where a beleaguered population is valiantly defending its nation from a brutal Russian assault.
Americans across the political spectrum have condemned the Russian invasion. You might have even noticed Christian nationalist groups joining the chorus, but in their case, that’s sheer political expediency. Until recently, many of these groups were big fans of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Several writers have examined how U.S. Christian nationalists helped shape the Russia we’re dealing with today, most recently historian Katherine Kelaidis writing for “Religion Dispatches.” Kelaidis writes that many conservative evangelicals became enamored of Putin’s Russia due to the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church under his rule. While American society was moving toward a more LGBTQ-friendly stance, Orthodox leaders in Russia staked out a firm anti-LGBTQ position so fierce it made America’s Christian nationalists swoon.
“Taking a page right out of the playbook of the Moral Majority, the Russian Orthodox Church has positioned itself as the leader of the conservative/traditionalist position, not only in Russia, but around the world,” Kelaidis wrote. “Putin’s speech [Feb. 28] made clear that Russia doesn’t see itself as challenging the West and its values; rather, Putin’s Russia is positioning itself as the last and rightful guardian of what the West once was and what it ought to be again, a Christian culture centered around family, faith, and ‘traditional values’ that have been abandoned in the face of secular modernity.”
Observers have been writing about these ties for years. Back in 2017, writer Casey Michel penned a piece for Politico explaining how under Putin, Russia began “forging a new role for itself at the helm of the global Christian right.”
“[A]merican fundamentalists bent on unwinding minority protections in the U.S. have increasingly leaned on Russia for support – and for a model they’d bring to bear back home, from targeting LGBT communities to undoing abortion rights throughout the country,” Michel wrote.
Indeed, modern Russia looks a lot like Christian nationalists’ ideal society. LGBTQ rights are under attack in Russia. A 2013 law that aims to ban the dissemination of “gay propaganda” to minors has been used to squelch Pride events and detain gay-rights activists. Hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community are soaring. Even health-related websites have been shut down. The mere act of displaying a rainbow flag can get you in trouble.
During the Trump presidency, Christian nationalists tripped over themselves to makes excuses for Trump every time he kowtowed to Putin. They dismissed allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. When a Russian operative infiltrated the National Prayer Breakfast, they yawned.
Christian nationalists may now claim to stand with the people of Ukraine, but those words ring hollow. They’ve been sleeping with the enemy for too many years to switch sides now.