For years, American Religious Right activists praised Russian president Vladimir Putin as a champion of Christianity and conservative morality, even as his government was taking steps to curb the rights of religious minorities, including evangelical Christians and groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Putin even sponsored militias that targeted Protestants in eastern Ukraine and signed a law banning evangelism by non-Orthodox religions. None of this seemed to matter to the U.S. Religious Right as long as Putin kept up his war against the LGBTQ community. It was Barack Obama, they said, who was truly persecuting Christians by supporting equal rights for LGBTQ people in America and around the world.
Today, Russia moved even further in its crackdown on religious freedom when the nation’s supreme court sided with the government in outlawing the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a long-persecuted group.
As the Washington Post reported, the high court “ruled that the group’s St. Petersburg headquarters and 395 churches could be seized and liquidated. All church activities, including worship and door-to-door evangelizing, were banned. Those who defy the ruling face a fine of several thousand dollars and six to 10 years in prison.” The Russian government argued that the denomination threatened “public order and public security” and was an “extremist” group.
The Post added that Jehovah’s Witnesses have already faced “assault, vandalism, seizures and raids on houses of worship and dozens of arrests,” and some fear that the decision “may make it easier for the Kremlin to go after religious minorities in general.”
Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, many evangelical Christian groups are also viewed by the Russian government, which has increasingly sponsored the Russian Orthodox Church, as cults and extremist organizations. Newsweek adds that the government has targeted not only Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical Christians but also Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists.
Evangelist Franklin Graham is among the American conservatives who have hailed Putin, thanking him for “protecting Russian young people against homosexual propaganda” and “protecting traditional Christianity.”
We will wait to see if Graham and others will stand up for the long-persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses.