During the 1980s, far-right white evangelicals like the Moral Majority’s late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson railed against the Soviet Union relentlessly — often applauding President Ronald Reagan for standing up to the Kremlin. But times have changed.
These days, Donald Trump, not the late Ronald Reagan, is the most influential figure in the Republican Party — and white evangelicals, journalist Anthea Butler explains in an op-ed published by MSNBC’s website on March 1, are among Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent admirers in the United States.
“While the world looks on in horror as Russia's invasion of Ukraine unfolds,” Butler observes in her op-ed, “one group has been praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. It turns out Putin has a fan base in America’s right-leaning evangelical politicians and pundits.”
Butler continues, “At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which wrapped up over the weekend, Lauren Witzke, a GOP candidate for the Senate in Delaware, said: ‘Here’s the deal. Russia is a Christian nationalist nation. They’re actually Russian Orthodox.... I identify more with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”
Witzke’s praise of Putin, according to Butler, “isn’t an uncommon stance among some Republicans and white American evangelicals today” — as they have “admired Putin because of the alignment of their beliefs with his about homosexuality, authoritarianism and fealty to former President Donald Trump.” Far-right white evangelicals, Butler notes, believe that Putin’s Russia, Butler notes, “is the way America should be.”
“Evangelicals are a long way from how they historically thought about Russia and communism,” Butler observes. “Back in the 1950s, white evangelical leaders like Billy Graham preached against the evils of communism and called then-Soviet states ‘godless’ and a threat to Christianity and America. Fast-forward to the 21st Century, and today’s evangelical leaders, as well as Republicans, have embraced Russia — and, more specifically, Putin.”
Butler adds, “In 2014, Putin made the cover of the evangelical magazine Decision in a piece in which Graham's son Franklin lauded his handling of the Winter Olympics and his protection of Christians. Franklin visited Russia in 2015, and ever since, has promoted Putin as a godly leader. A few days before the invasion of Ukraine, he asked people to ‘pray for Putin’ but not for Ukrainians, creating a decent amount of backlash.”
Of course, it cannot be stressed enough that far-right white evangelicals don’t represent all of Christianity. They are the radical lunatic fringe of Christianity, and many other Christians — from Mainline Protestants to Catholics — want nothing to do with their movement. And they don’t go around praising Putin’s authoritarianism or saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a good thing.
Butler, in fact, wraps up her article by noting all the non-evangelical Catholics and Protestants who have been speaking out against Putin and the Kremlin.
“Other faith leaders in America held a vigil for peace in Ukraine, and Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy in Rome — a sign of the seriousness of the situation,” Butler writes. “As the conflict in Ukraine continues, admiration of Putin by some White evangelicals and Republicans may lead to more than they bargained for.”