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Mike Johnson sees the light. Vladimir Putin is brutally persecuting and torturing Evangelical Christians

May 14, 2024 | Editorials, Featured

(From left to right) Ukrainian air raid victim Serhii Haidarzhy, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Ukrainian evangelical leader Pavlo Unguryan meet in Washington on April 17

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson’s turnaround on the April 20, 2024 vote to provide $61 billion in aid to embattled Ukraine has been attributed to the intervention of Ukrainian Evangelical Christians. Although Johnson himself listed several reasons for changing his mind when he spoke to reporters on April 17, that same day, he met with two Ukrainian evangelicals, including one who had lost his wife and 4-month-old son only weeks before to a Russian air attack.

Serhii Gadarzhi, a Ukrainian Baptist and son-in-law of a local Baptist pastor, told his story to Johnson in person. Gadarzhi told Voice of America (VOA) that the speaker knew about his family’s tragedy. “One can see in his eyes that he was compassionate, that he wanted to support us, and his response was heartfelt,” he said. As VOA reported, that meeting followed eight months of behind-the-scenes efforts by Ukrainian Protestants and their allies in the United States to tell Republican members of Congress about the suffering of the faithful at the hands of the Russian forces in the occupied portions of Ukraine.

Steven Moore, an Oklahoma native, was behind some of these efforts. He worked as a chief of staff in the House of Representatives to a leading Republican member for seven years, after which he lived in Ukraine for a year. When Russia invaded Ukraine, he was visiting his mother in Tulsa but was back in Ukraine on day five of the full-scale invasion. Moore founded the Ukraine Freedom Project NGO (UFP), which began delivering food and supplies to the front for residents and Ukraine’s armed forces.

Through his work, he learned about abuses inflicted on Ukrainian civilians by the Russian occupying forces, but one story struck him. Victor, an Evangelical pastor from Luhansk, was evacuating a group of civilians, including a pregnant woman and a baby, when Russians stopped his car and took him to a basement.

“They tortured him for 25 days, including torturing him with an electrical Taser on one occasion. And a Russian Orthodox priest was standing over him, trying to cast demons out of him because he was an Evangelical Christian. It blew my mind,” Moore told VOA.
Another group that joined the effort was Razom for Ukraine.

“I’m an American Baptist. I was shocked that so many Baptist churches in occupied Ukraine have been harassed,” said Melinda Haring, a senior adviser for Razom for Ukraine. “More than 26 pastors have been killed since the full-scale war, and 400 Baptist congregations have lost their premises or some of their property.”

But it is not only in the occupied areas of Ukraine, that Evangelical Christians are persecuted. Inside Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned as is missionary work for Mormons. Laws restricting missionary activity and labelling some groups as “undesirable organizations “ constrain Evangelical groups.” The U.S. Congress Commission on International Religious Freedom considers Russia as one of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedom, on par with Iran and Pakistan.

Despite all the evidence which exposes Russia’s brutal persecution of Evangelical Christians, many in the United States and elsewhere still believe that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a “defender of Christianity”. Take Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (aka Moscow Marge) ludicrous claim that Ukraine is conducting a war on Christianity and killing priests while Vladimir Putin is defending religion. Or televangelist Pat Robertson’s outrageous assertion that Putin “is being compelled by God” to invade Ukraine.

What they are deluded by is Putin’s portrayal of himself as a supporter of “traditional family values”, his opposition to LGBTQ rights, his attempts to limit abortion and his ceaseless promotion of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) as Russia’s de facto state Church But curtailment of LTBTQ rights is nothing new for Moscow. Under the Soviet Union, homosexuality was a criminal offence and remained so until 1993. It was not officially declassified as a mental illness until 1999. As for abortion, it was the principal means of birth control in the Soviet Union and abortion rates in Russia today remain among the highest in the world. In 2020, Russia had 314 abortions to 1,000 live births, compared with 188 in the European Union, according to the World Health Organization.

Most recently, new laws have been passed aimed at limiting women’s access to abortions. But this campaign has nothing to do with reverence for the sanctity of life—quite the opposite. Putin is concerned about Russia’s declining population, which means there will be fewer children who can grow up to serve as cannon fodder for his wars of colonial and imperial aggression.

Meanwhile, his elevation of the ROC over all other faiths and Christian denominations has nothing to do with his religious convictions. At least the “Godless communists” had the honesty to admit they were atheists. What Putin has done is even worse. He has completely subordinated the church to his dictatorial rule. He has weaponized religion. His good friend and long-time KGB colleague Patriarch Kirill has declared Putin’s ongoing genocide in Ukraine to be a “holy war”. This is the antithesis of everything Jesus Christ taught and stood for.

Mike Johnson has seen the light. It’s high time that America’s tens of millions of other Evangelical Christians followed his lead and recognized the truth about Vladimir Putin.

He is not a man of peace. He is a mass murderer. He is not your friend. He is your worst enemy. He is not a believer in God or a follower of Christ. He is the anti-Christ and is very much to be feared.

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