Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer when the service was promoting an anti-Western, Marxist version of Christianity. He is now, with some success, pitching himself as the man who can save Christianity from the moral vices of the West and Islamic oppression. Putin’s public display of his faith even prompted Christian-Conservative writer Pat Buchanan to pen a column asking, “Whose Side is God on Now?”
Pointing to Putin’s tough stances on homosexuality, abortion and mockery of the faith, Buchanan wrote, “In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.” He pointed out that the World Council of Families in Illinois praised Putin’s “pro-family” advocacy.
But Putin’s Christianity is not “traditional.” A traditional Christian would not lament the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Putin’s Christianity marries anti-Western sentiment, hyper-nationalism and his own authoritarian streak. During the Cold War, Soviet intelligence promoted this Christian Marxism even though the communists are supposed to be atheists. It was known as Liberation Theology.
Robert D. Chaplan writes in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence:
“Without doubt, the Theology of Liberation doctrine is one of the most enduring and powerful to emerge from the KGB’s headquarters. The doctrine asks the poor and downtrodden to revolt and form a Communist government, not in the name of Marx or Lenin, but in continuing the work of Jesus Christ, a revolutionary who opposed economic and social discrimination.”
Putin is positioning himself as a modern-day Crusader coming to the rescue of Christianity. About 70% of Russians are Orthodox Christians, but his target audience isn’t just domestic. The entire purpose of Christian Marxism was to influence “traditional” Western Christianity and it is also a vehicle for Putin to cultivate a global fan-base.
As Buchanan’s column demonstrates, Putin’s language will strike a chord with Western Christians. More evidence comes can be seen in the comments section of a YouTube video with over 70,000 views titled, “Vladimir Putin’s Christian Faith—In His Own Words.”
He credits Russia’s greatness with God’s blessing, talks like a culture warrior for morality and decries moral relativism. Last year, he called for an international alliance to save Christians from persecution, “especially in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Here are some highlights from Putin’s speeches:
“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
“The adoption of Christianity became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped it turn into one of the largest powers.”
“We must secure a firm spiritual and moral foundation for our society.”
“Society is now required not only to recognize everyone’s right to the freedom of consciousness [conscience], political views and privacy, but also to accept without question the equality of good and evil, as strange as it seems, concepts that are opposite in meaning.”
Putin’s language will strike a chord with Western Christians. The English-language version of Pravda, for example, published an article titled, “US Threatened by Russia’s Christianity.” The author claims that conservative Christians are writing him singing praises. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the point is that Putin’s media outlets are trying to reach American Christians, especially the right-wing.
Here’s one interesting paragraph from the article:
“In the East there is someone that causes the western liberal’s maniacal laughter to stop. Vladimir Putin. He has real world power, which causes the liberal media to fearfully ignore or warp his image. Like a good Christian King he leads a nation to Christ. Deep down in their evil souls they shriek like devils because they know Christ is true God and true power that they cannot defeat. They thought the Bolshevik revolution destroyed Holy Mother Russia. Christ cannot be defeated and his servant Putin has welcomed Christ and His church.”
The Russian Orthodox Church serves as Putin’s platform. As one of the KGB’s prime targets for Christian Marxism, it should be no surprise that it acts as a tool of Putin’s state, so much so that its leader said that Putin’s tenure was a “miracle of God” in 2012.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church draws a contrast between his country’s treatment of the faith and that of the West. He says the West’s governments are guilty of “spiritual disarmament” and “the general political direction of the elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character.”
The chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church displayed Christian Marxism in July 2013 when he said the West’s shift in favor of gay marriage “is a dangerous and apocalyptic symptom.” He implied that the West is inherently aggressive by warning that the West’s move away from Christian values would unleash “its totalitarian impulses.”
He blames the West’s practice of secular democracy for its moral decline. He predicts that totalitarianism will eventually result from this “secularization in disguise of democratization.”
At the same time as Putin is displaying his Christian faith, he is cracking down on human rights. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say he has “unleashed a greatest crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history” and instituted restrictions that are “deliberately reminiscent of the Cold War.”
Putin wants to present Christians with a choice: Loyalty to the West, despite the grievances they have with its treatment of Christianity or loyalty to Russia, despite their grievances with its treatment of Western democratic values.
He wants Christians to feel they have to choose between Western freedoms and their traditional faith. Putin is hoping that Christians will see their faith as more compatible with Russia’s Christian Marxism than with the West’s democratic secularism.
One example of this is Russia’s passing of a blasphemy law that threatens up to three years in jail for “offending religious feelings.” The stifling of anti-Christian speech may appeal to some Christians worried about the future of their faith, but it’s fundamentally anti-democratic. The same goes for Russia’s ban on exposing minors to “gay propaganda.”
This does not mean that Christians are exempt from being victimization. No one seriously doubts that Putin would lock up a Christian critic of his. When Putin instituted a ban on foreign funding of non-governmental organizations, hundreds of religious groups including Christian ones were investigated.
International Christian Concern says that non-Orthodox Christians in Russia suffer in a “difficult climate,” as opposed to the Putin-aligned Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, Putin sees a struggle within Christianity and he wants his side to win. Christians in Crisis explains:
“Non-Orthodox Christian groups in Russia are seen as rooted in the United States in particular and the West in general, and competing with the Orthodox Church for membership. And both the government—for which a key priority is to protect ‘Holy Russia’ from ‘foreign devils’—and the Orthodox Church, which is already closely associated with the government, are anti-West.”
In September 2012, the Russian government demolished Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church in Moscow because it did not have the necessary permits. Over 200 members of the congregation participated in a service in the rubble afterwards. The pastor was then fined because worship services require governmental approval.
In November, the Russian government outlawed a famous sermon by Andrey Sheptytsky, who was the Ukrainian Catholic Church, for being “extremist.” He was being considered for sainthood. At the same time, 15 other sermons by Ukrainian nationalists were branded as “extremist.” Here again, Russia viewed non-Orthodox forms of Christianity as pro-Western adversaries.
After Putin annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church priest said “all Ukrainian Greek Catholic life in Crimea is paralyzed” due to “total persecution.” Kidnappings, harsh interrogations and threats are all being reported. The Church has no legal status in Russia.
“If Russia refuses to grant Catholic or certain Ukrainian Orthodox Churches registration in the newly Russian Crimea, it is a sure sign that far worse persecution is just around the corner,” said Ryan Morgan of International Christian Concern.
Putin’s confrontation with the West is not just about his infinite ego, geopolitics or his government’s authoritarianism. For him, it’s a struggle for his faith between the morally-decadent Western camp aligned with NATO and the Christian Marxist camp aligned with Russia.