By Bob Allen
The Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral and public policy concerns says Russian President Vladimir Putin lacks moral authority to criticize Western countries for abandoning Christian values.
“It really kind of makes my blood boil when I hear Vladimir Putin claiming to be pro-family values,” Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said in a Feb. 19 podcast titled, “Is Russia really a ‘pro-family values’ nation?
Moore’s comments came in response to a Jan. 28 Washington Times article about how it was common during the Cold War era for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.” Now, with the global spotlight on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Putin and allies in the Russian Orthodox Church are hurling the same accusation at the United States.
Putin said in a recent keynote speech that many European and Atlantic countries have moved away from their Christian roots. “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,” he said. “This is the path to degradation.”
As part of his defense of “Christian values,” last year Putin signed into law legislation banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” toward minors, widely criticized as Russia’s “gay propaganda” bill.
Moore, who adopted two of his sons from Russia and therefore maintains interest in the country’s culture and history, said he has been hearing such talk for the last couple of years, but he is “not buying it.”
Moore cited Russia’s “rampant abortion” rate and restrictions on foreign adoption in a country “that has orphanages filled with children.”
“There is no real adoption culture happening in Russia, and nothing being done that I can see to encourage one,” Moore said. “So you have children who are languishing in orphanages. They are aging out of those orphanages and then are just left to fend for themselves, often in prostitution or substance abuse or suicide. Don’t tell me that that’s pro-family values.”
“That’s especially the case when you have someone who was operating as a KGB operative back during the Cold War, and now is using very authoritarian and bullying measures,” he said.
Moore said Christians “should not take the stance that the enemy of our opponents is our friend.”
Moore said for somebody like Putin to stand up and say, “We think that some things you think are bad are bad, too, so we’re going to use the power of the state to try to run those people out of here” is “not a Christian ethic.”
“The Scripture does not give to us a KGB to seek to maintain biblical, Christian ethics,” he said. “It gives to us the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
“That’s where I think the Russian government right now is on the other side of what the word of God teaches,” he said. “The word of God tells us that all people are created in the image of God. Scripture tells us that life is infinitely precious. Scripture tells us that we ought to be working to support and keep families together.
“What do we have in Russia right now? We have a regime that is fundamentally, constantly seeking to hem in human rights, not only in Russia but also across the world. Remember, Russia and the Russians are the ones supporting, behind the scenes, what’s happening in Syria — a regime that’s gassing children. Don’t tell me that that’s pro-family values. Don’t tell me that’s pro-traditional values.”
Moore said he thinks Putin is “using” the Russian Orthodox Church. He said that is not a blanket criticism of all Orthodox Christians.
“Nonetheless, the Russian Orthodox church, at the institutional level, has often lined itself up with the government,” he said. “As a Baptist, as a free-church Christian, I am very nervous whenever any government stands up and starts using Christian terms, evacuated of Christian content, for political purposes. I think that is exactly what Vladimir Putin’s Russia is doing right now.”
“You can ask Russian evangelicals what sort of world they’re living in, and it is a very difficult life in which often they are being harassed by people in their culture, both within the government and within the institutional church,” he said. “That’s not freedom. That’s not traditional values. That’s just an authoritarian state.”
“What we ought to be listening to, I think, is not what sort of rhetoric is coming from this ex-KGB operative in the Kremlin,” Moore said. “I think what we ought to be looking for is the sort of society that honors the image of God, that honors the family not just in talk but in a way that seeks to not only incentivize marriage and family but the protection of children, the protection of children in the womb and the protection of children in those orphanages. And then the sort of society that respects and honors human rights. That means not propping up murderous regimes around the world, and that means not restricting the religious liberties of minority religions, including evangelicals, within the regime.”
Moore said it is not uncommon for world leaders to use the Olympics in ways to make their government look good in the eyes of the world.
“They are right now using this language of family values, attempting to say, ‘Well now we are godly and the rest of the world is godless’ in ways that I think could be very cunningly able to deceive a lot of people,” he said. “We shouldn’t listen to that. We should instead say, ‘Where are the results?’”
Moore termed it part of a “Constantinian temptation” to co-opt religious language as a political tool.
“So I would say on the question of is Russia pro-family values? No. There are Russian people who are. There are some Russian families who are. There are some Russian churches who are, but the Russian government? No.”
“I’m skeptical of that, and I think we need to pray for the day when the Russian people are free,” Moore said. “They are free from communistic dictatorship. Let’s pray that they will be free from this sort of authoritarian rule as well. “