Acton Institute Powerblog

Russian Evangelicals, Like Most Russians, ‘Thank God for Putin’

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In Christianity Today, Mark R. Elliott offers an interesting and balanced report that goes a long way to explaining why “evangelicals in Russia have become ardent fans of President Vladimir Putin because of Russia’s efforts to maintain its influence in Ukraine, its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and the widespread Russian belief that the West is to blame for the present economic woes on the home front.” I’m not a fan of Putin, but neither am I suffering from Russophobia. Can 85 percent of Russians — those filling the nation’s pews — be wrong about the Russian president? I’ll have more to say in another post to follow about the regrettable business of an Eastern Orthodox “jihad” and the unholy mystical-magical alliance of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church that we read about here on the PowerBlog.

But for now, here’s Elliott explaining “Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin.” It gets very complicated, very fast:

People are suffering in eastern Ukraine at the hands of both Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian army units, and Western media often overlook the dual cause of suffering. A pastor friend in Moscow has a new member in his congregation, a recently widowed pastor and tent evangelist from Lugansk, eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian artillery shell took his wife’s life as she was standing on their apartment balcony. This grieving father of two shared, “After that, we almost immediately moved to Moscow. There are difficulties with citizenship. By God’s mercy there will be a job for me.”

To date, fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed over 4,700 lives and wounded more than 9,900. Refugees displaced by the fighting number nearly one million. Separatists in eastern Ukraine who see Russian Orthodoxy as the only legitimate faith have closed dozens of Protestant and Catholic churches and the Protestant Donetsk Christian University.

Rogue pro-separatist units have kidnapped, tortured, and killed evangelical pastors. At the same time, in central and western Ukraine, some Orthodox parishes and priests loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate have been harassed and pressured to switch their allegiance to one of the two Ukraine-based Orthodox jurisdictions. Piecing together a balanced picture of the Ukraine tragedy can only be achieved with a careful, inclusive reading of Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Jonas MacFarquhar

    Carolignian Brzezinski spawned Zia al Haq, Khomeini, and bin Laden – breaks up superpowers via Aztlan and Kosovo as per Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations. Brzezinski, Buckley and Buchanan winked anti-Semitic votes for Obama, delivered USA to Pope’s feudal basket of Bamana Republics. Michael Pfleger and Joe Biden prove Obama is the Pope’s boy. Obama is half a Kearney from County Offaly in Ireland. Talal got Pontifical medal as Fatima mandates Catholic-Muslim union against Jews (Francis Johnson, Great Sign, 1979, p. 126), Catholic Roger Taney wrote Dred Scott decision. John Wilkes Booth, Tammany Hall and Joe McCarthy were Catholics. Now Catholic majority Supreme Court. Catholics Palmisano, Grasso, Damato, Langone, Mozilo, Ranieri, Dioguardi, Palmieri destroyed American industry with their casuistrous ethics. Subprime construction mobsters had hookers deliver mortgages to banks. McCain’s Keeting started it all. Brzezinski set up Arab Spring and Zia, so why surprised bin Laden was in Sineurabia code? Pakistanis descend from weasels who sold their Hindu brothers into hundreds of years of islamic slavery. That is why FIAT supplied Iran and every Catholic is like a Manchurian Candidate programmed to kill their best friend of they felt the “Holy Father” required it. They find American cars too advanced to use or their mechanics to fix. Ellis Island Popecrawlers brought in FDR. Since Pio Nino banned voting they consider our Constitution and laws immoral and illegitimate and think nothing of violating them or passing legislation that undermine them. They believe that they can not be fully loyal to their superiors if they do not go the extra stretch and break the law intentionally. Their slovenly, anti-intellectual work ethic produces vacuous, casuistrous blather and a tangle of hypocritical, contradictory regulations. Their clubhouse purges provided praetorian training for corporate misgovernance. They sided with the enemy in both World Wars and now, too. Every American boom has been caused by an Evangelical Revival and every major Depression by the domination of new Catholic immigrants. NYC top drop outs: Hispanic 32%, Black 25%, Italian 20%. NYC top illegals: Ecuadorean, Italian, Polish. Ate glis-glis but blamed plague on others, now lettuce coli. Their bigotry most encouraged terror yet they reap most security funds. View this life as casuistry training to survive purgatory. Rabbi circumcises lower, Pope upper brain. Tort explosion by glib casuistry. Hollywood Joe Kennedy had Bing Crosby proselytize. Bazelya 1992 case proves PLO-IRA-KLA links. Our enemy is the Bru666elles Sineurabia feudal Axis and the only answer is alliance with Israel and India. They killed six million Jews, a million Serbs, half a million freemasons, a quarter million Gypsies, they guided the slaughter of Assyrians and Armenians, and promoted the art of genocide throughout the world now they are relentless in their year to canonize nazi pope. 9/11 was Yugo Crimean blowback: Napoleon started the crusade against the Photius Heresy to avenge his uncle, Clinton wanted to cover Pacelli’s war crimes. They had no qualms hijacking American policy in Vietnam or Balkans to papal ends, but when American interests opposed those of the papacy in Iraq and Iran, they showed their true fangs (Frum, Unpatriotic Conservatives).

  • Kenneth Vaughan

    The article wasn’t balanced at all and was poorly done. I am a doctoral student studying sociology and sampling methods. Elliot’s fieldwork and handful of interviews do not provided justification to conclude ANYTHING about Russian evangelicals.

    My area of focus is how religion operates under persecution. Contemporary Russia is an area that sociologists and political scientists in this area take note of. For this, I refer you to Roger Finke, Brian Grim, and Paul Froese for a start. Jonathan Fox and Anhony Gill may have some useful information too.

    So much time Elliot spends on how the handful of Russians he encountered view Christianity in the context of the Ukraine conflict. His lack of balance is is appalling in his lack of coverage of how Russian evangelicals understand Christianity in the context of Russia, where they are fined, often viewed as cult members, heavily regulated, have their churches destroyed, and more. By concentrating on geopolitical issues often shrouded in secrecy, instead of a consistent decades long domestic situation documented in the scholarly literature, popular media, Christian media, human rights, and Christian missionary fieldworkers (many in these categories not holding favorable views of U.S. foreign policy… It always seems to go there), Elliot ignores the most substantial challenge to his assertions.

    As for the 85 percent quote, yes, 85 percent of a population can be wrong. To claim otherwise is a classic appeal to group logical fallacy. The site you quoted also said these polls are often notoriously inaccurate.

    It also was not talking about Russians in church. As of 2008, only 7 percent of Russians reported going to church at least once a month. 72 percent of Russians affiliate with the Orthodox churcn, and a tiny minority of Russians are evangelical.

    I would also encourage Elliot to look at persecution media. It took me just a brief amount of time to find an overview of general problems evangelicals face in Russia.

    • Elliott isn’t doing sociology, he’s doing journalism and a pretty fair job of it. His report was based on first hand observation and reporting, not statistical surveys.

      I am aware that Russia is a predominantly Orthodox Christian culture. That has been the culture-shaping faith for a millennium there — or at least until communism drove it and other faiths to the brink of extinction.

      As for church attendance rates, yes, they are abysmally low in countries formerly in the Soviet Union and its orbit. The vicious and murderous ideology of the Bolsheviks and Soviets in many places hollowed out Christian culture and practice over generations.

      More here:

      Did you see the Power Link on this blog about the hundreds of churches in western Europe that are closing? What do you make of that?

      Here’s more perspective from Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev):

      In the countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular in Russia,
      Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia, an unprecedented religious revival is
      underway. In the Russian Orthodox Church over the past twenty five
      years there have been built or restored from ruins more than twenty five
      thousand churches. This means that a thousand churches a year have been
      opened, i.e. three churches a day. More than fifty theological
      institutes and eight hundred monasteries, each full with monks and nuns,
      have been opened.

      In Western European countries we can observe the steady decline of
      the numbers of parishioners, a crisis in vocations, and monasteries and
      churches are being closed. The anti-Christian rhetoric of many
      politicians and statesmen becomes all the more open as they call for the
      total expulsion of religion from public life and the rejection of the
      basic moral norms common to all religious traditions.

      Nov. 1, 2013

      • Kenneth Vaughan

        Understanding the logic of describing populations and understanding your sample is not limited to sociology, I just brought up sociology because that is the means that exposed me to this. But understanding the population you are describing and knowing when it is and is not acceptable to make generalizations of a group is a key ethical issue for journalists. Note, I also provided a presence of stories in journalism that directly challenge Elliot’s story.

        I’m not sure why you are bringing up the closure of churches in Western Europe, but I will address the relevant concerns that come to mind. Please let me know if I do not address what you wanted to know.

        What I make of the closing churches in Europe is a supply side problem in the proverbial religious marketplace, caused by a history of state churches, and the continuation of state churches and other methods of institutionalizing watered down Christianity. Additionally, many parts of Europe place regulations on that disproportionately harm religious groups that are not favored by the state. Also, there is a general trend in Europe of people moving away from institutionalized religion. Many maintain religious beliefs, declare themselves atheists apparently not knowing what the word means, and pick and choose whichever beliefs they want to practice by themselves. So certainly, the state is causing problems in Europe, but not nearly as a aggressively and viciously as the Russian government.

        Remember, Russia is experience an increase in public religiosity, while western Europe is experience a decrease in public religiosity. Church closings are occurring in vastly different contexts. My criticism of Russia is directly related to the persecution of evangelicals, which Elliot is ignoring, and if he has a base knowledge of the evangelical landscape in Russia, he should know about. This persecution does exist to a much smaller degree in Western Europe. The example of church closures I highlighted in Russia are not due to declining parishes, it is rather due to the Russian government-Orthodox Church complex treating evangelicals and even mainline Protestant denominations as cults. Evangelicals do frequently put up with discrimination from the Russian government, the Orthodox Church, and Russian society. This undoubtedly negatively influences public opinion of all three institutions, including the leader. How much, I am not sure of. Just as Elliot cannot be sure of how many Evangelicals really thank God for Putin.

        Takeaway: There is another side to Elliot’s story. It is crucial. Elliot not discussing this is problematic on several levels.

        • OK, fair enough. You can object to how Elliott wrote his report, but I think it had value as another indication of how Putin — despite the wide perception here that he’s running a mafia state — remains popular in Russia. Oddly enough, some Russian Jews too seem to find him attractive:

          Now I don’t want this thread to turn into polemics or some Protestant-Orthodox mud fight. We don’t have time to fight ancient holy wars at Acton. But I take great exception to your bit about Protestant churches being labeled “cults.” (btw, there are some 35,000 independent or nondenominational Protestant churches in the United States, aside from other more established churches. Which ones are we talking about? See: Many Protestant missionaries, who flooded into Russia when communism collapsed, and the state and church were virtually in ruins, have spread slanders about Orthodox Christianity for years. Absolutely no recognition that more martyrs to the faith were made during the communist period than all other periods of Christian martyrdom combined. These missionaries were “bringing the Bible to Russia” even though Russia had been a Christian nation since the 10th Century when it formally received its faith from Constantinople. The Russian Church, like all other Orthodox patriarchates, is the ark of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” — in the Nicene tradition. Now, if as a Protestant, you don’t want to see it that way, that’s your call.

          Now go to the link below for a manual for missionaries (a paper approved by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). which is a handbook of lies and distortions. It is laughably ignorant. You might wonder where the following deviates from Orthodox teaching and practice. I suggest you pick up a copy of “Light from the East” by Protestant scholar James Payton.

          (p. 21) Interpretation of Scripture: must line up with Church Tradition

          For Orthodox who see the Church as the activity of Hhe Holy Spirit, it is natural that the Church as a whole would hold the authority to determine truth and that individuals seeking to interpret Scripture must do so in line with the Holy Tradition of the Church. Converts to Orthodoxy vow to “accept and understand Holy Scripture in accordance with the interpretation which was
          and is held by the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, our Mother.” From the Orthodox point of view, the subjugation of individual interpretation to Tradition protects the Church from heresy. It also prevents one bishop or patriarch, such as the Roman Pope, from becoming the criterion of truth.

          Why is this Belief a Barrier to Personal Faith? Leads people to assume the Church’s responsibility (not theirs) to seek the truth.

          One way this belief poses a barrier to personal faith in Christ is that it so elevates the Church’s Tradition and its interpretation of Scripture that many Orthodox people assume it is only the Church’s responsibility (through its representative, the local priest or bishop) to interpret and disseminate spiritual truth. Orthodox lay people usually do not feel a responsibility or right to seek the truth on their own or do personal Bible study, since it is already contained in the Tradition of the Church. The Bible is not viewed as the primary source for dogma—Tradition is. Yet if Orthodox people were to study the Bible for themselves, many would discover personal faith in Christ as God speaks to them through His word.

          Leaves no room for questioning the Orthodox Church.

          Another way this belief creates a barrier is that it leaves no room for questioning the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, especially if Tradition is viewed as the life of the Holy Spirit working in the Church. There is even less room for questioning when Orthodox doctrine clearly teaches that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church, that all other churches and their teachings are deviations from the real Church. Such preconceptions sometimes keep Orthodox people from being willing to listen once they
          discover the person sharing the gospel with them is not from the Orthodox Church. Overemphasizes the corporate aspect of faith (to the exclusion of the personal aspect).

          There is the potential barrier posed by the Orthodox concept of the Holy Spirit, which taken to an extreme seems to limit the Spirit to working only in the corporate context of the church. The idea of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the individuals who comprise the church, a concept so important among evangelicals, is foreign to the Orthodox mind.

          Causes people to think the church building is the only place God’s Spirit works Orthodox lay people see the church and often specifically the church building itself as the place where God’s Spirit can work. They speak of feeling the presence of God in the worship there. It is difficult for them to conceive of meeting God in a building that is not a church building (such as a rented theater, school, cultural hall, or house).

          • Kenneth Vaughan

            I’m sorry that you have encountered Christians who deny that Orthodox Russians have suffered greatly. In my experience, working with, and reading the material produced by major ministries working with the persecuted church, they all acknowledge the purging of the Orthodox Church as one of history’s most brutal waves of anti-Christian persecution. The Baptist approved paper you sent me also acknowledges the suffering experienced by the Orthodox Church by the soviets. I really think (and hope) that this is the mainstream position among evangelical Christians.
            As for what denominations I am speaking of, I spoke with a Methodist missionary with a very small organization in Russia who ran into the problem of being labeled a cult. That’s pretty mainline. I cannot tell you how widespread this problem is in Russia. The non-Orthodox Christian population is pretty small, and not too much data comes out. I just know the problem exists to a degree that is worth discussing among those who care about Christians in Russia.
            Honestly, I also have no interest in slamming the Russian Orthodox Church. I’d like to note, that I do my best to never appeal to ad hominem reasoning. I strongly disagree with the Orthodox Church theologically, but I do not believe that their bad behavior in the past in present is what negates their theological views. If we applied such a standard consistently across the board, I cannot think of any religion (or lack of religion), culture, or people group that could survive that kind of scrutiny. We obviously live in a fallen world.
            As for the Rabbi story, that is interesting. But it’s also worth noting that anti-Putin sentiment is high enough among Jews, that Jewish elite, who is a Russian elite, has to use his position of power to try and influence Jewish opinion in the opposite direction.

          • Thank you. For the record, I am not an admirer of Putin.

    • Marla Hughes

      Thank you! I am appalled at how my fellow Christians aren’t just accepting Putin’s egregious actions but becoming worshipers.