Pastors thrown in jail. Religious texts criminalized. Evangelism outlawed.
These are all events that Religious Right activists— inaccurately —predicted would happen during President Obama’s time in office. But sadly, these are acts that are all too common around the world.
Most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attacks on Christians who belong to denominations other than the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Last month, Putin signed a law curtailing evangelism under the guise of combating “extremism,” a decision that is part of a broader trend of Putin’s government clamping down on dissidents, journalists, human rights activists and the LGBT community.
Even before this new law came into effect, religious minorities in Russia and Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine faced not only legal persecution but also violent attacks, including abductions and killings, from government-backed militias. Since the law was signed, state-sponsored attacks on religious minorities have only increased.
But none of this has stopped Putin’s American fans from singing his praises, even while they claim that President Obama has made the U.S. dangerous for Christians.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have enthusiastically praised Putin as a brilliant and mighty trailblazer while at the same time accusing President Obama of hounding Christians at home. In fact, Trump has claimed that the U.S. government is specifically targeting him with a tax audit because he’s “ a strong Christian .”
U.S.-based Religious Right leaders, many of whom are now supporting Trump, have similarly spent years praising the Russian president for supposedly championing Christianity and for leading an infamous crackdown on LGBT Russians.
Conservative religious leaders like Franklin Graham, Brian Brown and Bryan Fischer have praised Putin for his attacks on LGBT rights. American LGBT rights opponents have descended on Russia in recent years to cheer on the government’s growing repression of sexual minorities, including laws curbing gay adoption and curtailing free speech that supports LGBT rights. Religious Right leaders have called Putin a “lion of Christianity,” “the moral leader of the world” and the protector of “traditional Christianity.”
Televangelist Rick Joyner recently said that “there is much more freedom of religion in Russia than there is in America,” where “we no longer have freedom of speech,” and radio host Rick Wiles called Putin an instrument of God sent to punish “the United Gay States of America.”
In reality, Putin’s government has done the very thing that right-wing activists falsely accuse President Obama of doing: arresting Christians, threatening churches and permitting Sharia law in majority-Muslim areas.
But it is Obama they falsely charge with being an enemy of religious liberty, and Putin they shower with praise in spite of his well-documented attacks on freedom.
The admiration for Putin from this segment of the Religious Right reveals an ugly reality behind their claims of religious oppression at the hands of the LGBT rights movement. For these activists, it seems, the persecution of LGBT people is actually more important than preserving true religious freedom, even when the welfare and freedoms of other Christians are at stake.