In a column for the Christian Post, Josiah Reedy, an intern with Institute on Religion and Democracy, took evangelicals, who have been avid supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin for years due to his conservative stances on social issues, to task for helping to bolster the image of a man who ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
As Reedy notes, a substantial number of American Christians have thrown their support behind the embattled Ukrainians who are fighting the unprovoked invasion, before writing, "As evangelical Christians, together with the whole Western world, praise Ukrainian resistance against Russian invasion, it is prudent to recall the unfortunate praise previously lavished on Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime."
Quoting prominent evangelist Franklin Graham's statement on the invasion where the high-profile religious leader stated, "This is a war. I don’t support war and I don’t know of any Christian that supports war. We pray for peace, not war. We pray for peace, not war. I don’t support this at all," Reedy suggested Graham has some explaining to do for his years of Putin praise including posting a picture on Twitter of himself with the Russian strongman in 2017.
According to the columnist, Putin has been cultivating American evangelical support for years.
"As further proof that Putin was seeking to capture the attention of American Christians, Russian agent Mariina Butina sought to exploit the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast in order to build connections between attendees and various Russian officials and businessmen," he wrote before lamenting, "Sadly, some American Christians were eager to express positive views of Putin, allowing his public stance on homosexuality and gender issues to cover over his multitude of glaring faults."
Case in point, the aforementioned Graham.
"Franklin Graham also spoke highly of Putin. In the leadup to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Graham called Russia’s standard on morality 'higher than our own,' saying, 'In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda," the columnist wrote. "Graham later visited Russia and gave an interview on Russian television, more than a year after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. In this interview, Graham stated, 'Democracy is not for all people. In some parts of the world, it just doesn’t work.' He also lauded Putin’s protection of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Finally, when asked about international sanctions against Russia, he declared, 'I have never been a supporter of sanctions.'"
According to the columnist, Putin support by religious leaders like Graham and others paved the way for their adherents to also put their faith in him.
Writing, "It’s not hard to imagine that the pro-Russia posture of Graham and some evangelicals played a crucial role in this phenomenon. Putin wanted to be perceived, both in Russia and around the globe, as an influential moral and even spiritual leader, and notable Christian voices helped him achieve that goal," Reedy suggested supporters of Putin need to do a little soul-searching.
"The celebration and legitimization of Putin’s leadership serves as a lesson for Christians going forward. A supposed 'pro-family' ethic has no meaning under a leader who will tear young children’s homes apart as they flee their homeland, leaving fathers and grandfathers behind to fight. Jail, assassination, and censorship are not the weaponry of the fight against secularism," he wrote before adding, "Moral laws require enforcement by people with moral compasses. No political agenda has ever been worth sacrificing basic freedoms of expression and self-governance to achieve."
He then bluntly lectured, "Authoritarians are not messiahs and will never be trustworthy rulers."
You can read his whole piece here.