America has received a notorious reputation, and deservedly so, for taking real problems and claiming to help the people suffering from them when instead they are just used for policy reasons. This can be seen repeatedly in the news where calls of “Christian persecution” are used repeatedly while no help actually being administered to the persecuted and instead helping the persecutors and all for policy reasons. This pattern has been repeated in many nations, and according to a recent article talking about claims of “Christian persecution” in Russia, it appears that the US government is attempting to use this same pattern again and this time against the Russians in order to under calls of “religious freedom” and “individual liberty” to sell the idea of a war with Russia to the American public and world community:
Some Christian foreign policy experts are warning that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated mutual interest in combating radical Islamic extremism, he cannot be regarded as a defender of Christians amid his country’s crackdown on non-Russian Orthodox denominations.
George Barros, a former congressional staffer for former congressman Steve Stockman of Texas, who sat on the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, underscored Russia’s persecution of religious groups that don’t recognize the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, which dominates religious life and is strongly allied with President Vladimir Putin, in Providence foreign policy journal on May 12.
Amid polls showing Putin’s favorability numbers and rising support for Russia among Americans, Barros said, “[p]erceptions that Russia is a defender of Christendom in an increasingly secular world are not based in reality.”
“Any discussion concerning the relationship between Christianity and Russia cannot fail to take into consideration the Russian Orthodox Church, which dominates practically all aspects of Christianity in Russia,” Barros said, asserting that Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is believed to be a former KGB agent.
Mark Tooley, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post in an interview this week that from a strategic perspective, the United States collaborates on some issues with unsavory governments.
Yet, “it would be unwise for Americans, Christian or otherwise, to be enthusiastic about Putin who has basically subverted Russia’s nascent democracy and has established himself as a strongman and certainly should not be a political model for American Christians,” Tooley said.
American Missionary Baptist Pastor Donald Ossewaarde, who has been a missionary to Ukraine and Russia since the late 1990s, according to his website, told the Baptist Press in late April that he anticipates the repression of religion in Russia “to continue to get worse” and doesn’t “see any sign of the Russian government having a change of heart.”
Last year, Putin signed the Yarovaya law that bans all missionary activities in residential areas and requires Christians who want to share their faith with others, even on the internet, to obtain authorization documents from a religious association. It also imposes a fine of $75 to $765 if the violator is a Russian citizen, and a fine of up to $15,265 in case of an organization, while foreigners would be deported, The Christian Post has reported.
Ossewaarde was recently fined under the Yarovaya law for operating a Bible study in an unregistered church in Oryol. Similarly, citing the Yarovaya law, in December 2016 a Russian court ruled that 40 Bibles the Salvation Army was distributing had to be destroyed. In parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, photographs show Ukrainian evangelical Pastor Aleksandr Khomchenko who was allegedly beaten by authorities in an attempt to convert him.
The Orthodox Church is “on a roll” and “emboldened,” Ossewaarde said, highlighting their success in the past few months in using the government to shut down religious groups.
On April 20, the Supreme Court of Russia ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses were an extremist group, and permitted the government to freeze their bank accounts and seize their assets, a decision condemned by the United States and the European Union.
Yarolsav Sivulskiy, spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, like Ossewaarde, does not think conditions will improve, telling Newsweek on Wednesday the group has “no big hope” in the appeals process they are undertaking unless “the political wind will change somehow.”
“Even within Eastern Orthodoxy,” Barros continued, “Orthodox Christians who don’t adhere specifically to the ROC are persecuted. A Russian court ordered for the only Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Russia to be demolished at the expense of the Ukrainian diocese, and ROC clergy condone the Kremlin’s war in eastern Ukraine as a type of ‘orthodox jihad’ against Ukrainian Orthodox apostates who do not recognize the one true and ‘rightful’ Eastern Orthodox patriarchate — the Moscow Patriarchate.”
Such behavior of both the Russian government and state church “should be intolerable and eye-opening,” Barros added. “As keepers of our brothers and sisters in Christ, American Christians owe it to be vigilant observers and not fall for Moscow’s honeycomb narratives manufactured with decades of Soviet disinformation experience specifically designed to resonate with foreign audiences.”
Tooley reiterated his point that Putin has been deceptively portrayed as a friend of Christianity and persecuted Christians in the Middle East, saying, “He could superficially look like a champion of Christianity if you don’t appreciate his cynical manipulation of religion for his own political purposes and for further aggrandizing his authoritarian regime.”
Last week, evangelist Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelist Association held the first ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. after deciding not to hold the event in Moscow following Russia’s crackdown on evangelism.
The Russian Orthodox Church had announced last March that they would be a co-sponsor of the world summit, being an ally in combating global persecution of Christians, but Graham made the decision to move it to the U.S. following the adoption of the Yarovaya law. (source)
Now, I would like to look at this story again, but from the lens of another real Christian minority in Russia, and that is the Catholic Church.
In Russia, Catholics are a minority, and there have been legitimate claims of discrimination made against them by the Orthodox. That said, the Catholic Church runs a series of missions in Russia, especially out in he frozen lands of Siberia and in the remote cities which many times served as bases for the infamous “State Camps”, also know as the “GULAGs”, where millions of people were worked to death by the Soviets. I’d like to focus on one mission which I am particularly fond of, and that is the Catholic mission at Magadan with Fr. Michael Shields from the Diocese on Anchorage, Alaska.
Fr. Michael Shields, a Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and serving the people of Magadan, Russia. You can find his official Facebook page here.
I’ve been following Fr. Shields for years, ever since I first heard about his missionary efforts in Magadan, which is a small city of approximately 70,000 people located on the northern shore of the sea of Okhotsk and on the easternmost side of Russia. Magadan, which was once part of the GULAG system, saw thousands of German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian Catholics as well as Orthodox Christians sent there to die in the cold summers and frozen winters. Left alone and for the most part forgotten as the decades passed on and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people were left in their misery which eventually manifested in the usual forms of substance abuse, prostitution, suicide, and broken families and lives. Fr. Shields has dedicated his life to helping the people of Magadan for the sake of the Catholic Faith, and he is loved and revered by all there. He writes a regular column for the news paper for the Diocese of Anchorage, and in his most recent article he restated his commitment to the people of Magadan for the sake of Christ and His Church:
I intend to live and die here in Magadan, Russia, so perhaps the Lord gave me a trial to prepare for future hospital visits down the road. For now, the gift of dodging the surgeon’s knife was an alleluia moment, and one that was shared by one of our homeless ladies we call “Big Luda,” who comes to the parish to pray. She came to see me when I was in the hospital, right at the very moment when the doctor told me that the stone had passed. She looked at me and said knowingly, “Of course. We prayed for your resurrection.” (source)
Now Fr. Shields certainly is involved in evangelization, but with the evangelization he is also committed to the people for their corporal and ultimately, spiritual good. One does not hear about “persecution” from him or many of the other Catholic missionaries in Russia simply because their care for the faith is part of the care for the people on account that this is what the Catholic Faith teaches. For while there is a real schism between the two churches and progress is being made to heal this schism, the two are both apostolic.
The issue with the American missionaries is not so much about “Christianity,” but about the spread of heresy as a means of undermining the society. It is seldom discussed in America, but it is a known fact that American Protestant missionaries are as much vectors of American sociocultural ideas as well as means for spying on other nations while at the same time undermining the faith of the local persons in order to make them more acceptable to American financial and business interests. This has historically been directed against the Catholic peoples of Central and South America owing to the geographic proximity of the USA to those regions, but it really does not matter what the religion is or who the people are. The American Protestant missionaries are are much as tool of policy as is the military in that they can be use to justify economic or military action against another nation or people, and all of it made for selfish gain.
American Protestant missionaries in Russia have not been liked for a long time, and for the above reasons and have been attacked and suppressed by both Orthodox and Catholic peoples in the Slavic nations, let alone by government force. It is very convenient that now, at a time when America is attempting to foment war against Russia, that she brings up all of these stories about “persecuted Christian missionaries” and how “Christianity is under attack in Russia by the evil Russian government” when these things have been going on for years. It is likewise no different when stories come out in the American media about the “persecution of Christians” in the Middle East, particularly at the hands of ISIS, when the fact is that the USA is directly funding ISIS and enabling them to do what they are doing, and when Christians such as Catholics and Assyrian Orthodox in Syria come out in support of President Asad, the USA completely ignore them and then proceeds to attack Asad. The issue here is not about Christians, Muslims, or any other religious group, but about the acquisition of power at all costs and using any means available in order to do so.
I’m not saying there are not real, honest problems in Russia with either the government or the people. But to say that “Christianity in under attack” in Russia is an absolute lie. If anything Christianity in Russia is fine and its spread is very much permitted and tolerated as official policy of the Russian government, even when honest problems to happen between different Christian groups. What is not tolerated is the spread of ideas who using the cover of religion are attempting to undermine what fragile stability Russia does have for policy reasons.
It is unfortunately another example of manipulating the real and honest problem of Christian persecution for the private gain of a few at the cost of the long-term credibility of real persecution and the persecuted.