February 25, 2022 Wayne Northey

Spotlight on: Putin’s spiritual destiny

The religious president wants to rebuild Christendom

Listen to this article

is a journalist, broadcaster and Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington

image above: ft.com

WN: The telling phrase below is: “Blessed are the peacemakers” this is not. Hence the embrace of Putin by some of American White Evangelicalism. They want to do the same in America: pull off a “Christian” coup. It is a perverse Christian Nationalism: at once sick and sickening.

Please see my post (June 12, 2021):
Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

I write in the book review:

In Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, authors Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence also present a masterful study along similar lines to Jesus and John Wayne. They however take us to the back story behind the above-noted two back stories, all the way to the War of Independence and the Founding Fathers.

The authors state that there is deep biblical rootedness in two contradictory strands of American culture, evident from the beginning.

The first tradition is what we call zealous nationalism.  It seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies (p. 8).

They point out:

The phenomenon of zeal itself provides a fascinating access to the inner workings of our national psyche: the term itself, as we shall see, is the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic term jihad (p. 8).

Then,

Alongside zealous nationalism runs the tradition of prophetic realism. It avoids taking the stances of complete innocence and selflessness. It seeks to redeem the world for coexistence by impartial justice that claims no favoured status for individual nations (p. 8).

No “American exceptionalism” in other words, a term first coined in the early 19th century by French American cultural observer Alexis de Tocqueville.

The authors acknowledge that these two strands have coexisted in “uneasy wedlock” in earlier times, but in a time of worldwide militant jihad, zealous nationalism everywhere must be let die.

Our conclusions are that prophetic realism alone should guide an effective response to terrorism and lead us to resolve zealous nationalist conflicts through submission to international law; and that the crusades inspired by zealous nationalism are inherently destructive, not only of the American prospect but of the world itself (p. 9).

All these authors write from within American evangelicalism. All make meticulously researched, compelling, cases. All in their conclusions are ignored by the vast swath of white American evangelicals . . .

I once gave a lecture to first-year students at Regent College, a seminary affiliated with the University of British Columbia, Canada; one of evangelicalism’s academic finest. The topic was a nonviolent reading of the atonement. An expanded version may be found here, titled: “The Cross: God’s Peace Work – Towards a Restorative Peacemaking Understanding of the Atonement”; a chapter also in Volume One of Justice That Transforms; and in Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ. Two Regent profs gave responses. The moment they each pegged the lecture to be merely a subset of pacifism, it was written off . . .

If Jewett and Lawrence are right that (white evangelical) American zealous nationalism is “the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic term jihad”; if Frank is right that (slightly changed) “In white American evangelicals’ very protests of trust in the Lord, they find occasion for their deepest self-deceits.,” then perhaps those Regent profs, and a vast array of (white) North American evangelicals, in light of the book reviewed and the other two cited, should be enjoined to think again—just a little bit harder. Indeed, perhaps think again—for the very first time . . .

Lord, have mercy.

excerpts:

Threatened by an uprising of his treacherous generals, the Christian Emperor Basil II, based in the glorious city of Byzantium, reached out to his enemies, the pagans over in the land of the Rus. Basil II was a clever deal maker. If Vladimir of the Rus would help him put down the revolt, he would give him the hand of his sister in marriage. This was a status changer for Vladimir: the marriage of a pagan to an imperial princess was unprecedented. But first Vladimir would have to convert to Christianity.

Returning to Kyev in triumph, Vladimir proceeded to summon the whole city to the banks of the river Dnieper for a mass baptism. The year is 988. This is the founding, iconic act of Russian Orthodox Christianity. It was from here that Christianity would spread out and merge with the Russian love of the motherland, to create a powerful brew of nationalism and spirituality. In the mythology of 988, it was as if the whole of the Russian people had been baptised. Vladimir was declared a saint. When the Byzantine empire fell, the Russians saw themselves as its natural successor. They were a “third Rome”.

Soviet Communism tried to crush all this — but failed. And in the post-Soviet period, thousands of churches have been built and re-built. Though the West thinks of Christianity as something enfeebled and declining, in the East it is thriving. Back in 2019, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, boasted that they were building three churches a day. Last year, they opened a Cathedral to the Armed Forces an hour outside Moscow. Religious imagery merges with military glorification. War medals are set in stained glass, reminding visitors of Russian martyrdom. In a large mosaic, more recent victories — including 2014’s “the return of Crimea” — are celebrated. “Blessed are the peacemakers” this is not.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” this is not.

At the heart of this post-Soviet revival of Christianity is another Vladimir. Vladimir Putin. Many people don’t appreciate the extent to which the invasion of Ukraine is a spiritual quest for him. The Baptism of Rus is the founding event of the formation of the Russian religious psyche, the Russian Orthodox church traces its origins back here. That’s why Putin is not so much interested in a few Russian-leaning districts to the east of Ukraine. His goal, terrifyingly, is Kyev itself.

He was born in Leningrad — a city that has reclaimed its original saint’s name — to a devout Christian mother and atheist father. His mother baptised him in secret, and he still wears his baptismal cross. Since he became President, Putin has cast himself as the true defender of Christians throughout the world, the leader of the Third Rome. His relentless bombing of ISIS, for example, was cast as the defence of the historic homeland of Christianity. And he will typically use faith as a way to knock the West, like he did in this speech in 2013:

We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

It’s not just Russia, it is “Holy Russia”, part religious project, part extension of Russian foreign policy. Speaking of Vladimir’s mass baptism, Putin explained: “His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” He wants to do the same again. And to do this he needs Kyev back.

Into this religious intensity we can add some angry church politics. In 2019, the Ukrainian arm of the family of Orthodox churches declared its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church — and the nominal head of the Orthodox family, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, supported it. The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, described this as “a great victory for the devout Ukrainian nation over the Moscow demons, a victory of good over evil, light over darkness”.

Such is the centrality of Ukraine in general, and Kyev in particular, to the imagination of the Russian church, they have been prepared to fracture the centuries old alliance of Orthodoxy. Again and again, it’s all about Ukraine, the imagined site of the mother church of the Rus.

This compliance of the Russian Orthodox church with the political goal of a greater Russia has been shameful. Officially, at least, they make a big deal out of the claim that they stay out of politics. But that has never been true. In the post-Soviet era, the Orthodox Church was handsomely rewarded, not just with a grandiose state-backed church building programme, but with involvement in lucrative business operations including the import of tobacco and alcohol worth $4 billion. In 2016, [Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church] was photographed wearing a $30,000 Breguet watch. He has also called Putin “a miracle of God”. When Kirill says “the Lord will provide” he could easily be talking about his lords and masters over in the Kremlin. Few churches have sold out to the state more completely than the Russian Orthodox church.

Last year, on the anniversary of the baptism of the Rus, Kirill preached to his people, urging them to stay true to Vladimir’s conversion and the blood of the orthodox martyrs. He told them to love “our homeland, our people, our rulers and our army”.

Please click on: Putin’s spiritual destiny

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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