Yesterday I received a press release from something calling itself the “American Pastors Network” discussing the group’s recent activities in Ukraine.
I get releases from this organization a lot. Although it calls itself “the first and largest national network of Bible-believing pastors,” the organization seems to consist mainly of a number of fundamentalist preachers in Pennsylvania. Usually they are fulminating against same-sex marriage and gay rights. They really do not like LGBT people.
But this was something different. What on earth are these pastors doing in Ukraine?
Nothing good, I am sure. The release states that the pastors “recently returned from an International Leadership Summit in that country, where they taught Ukrainian pastoral and elected leaders the principles that made America a great nation. At the summit were approximately 15 key government officials from the Executive and Legislative branches, including top advisors to the office of Speaker and President as well as heads of government agencies and departments.”
It adds, “Also present were key pastors representing over 10,000 churches in Ukraine – some of whom are the lead officials of the largest denominations in the country.”
The release quoted Pastor Dale Armstrong of Church of the Word in Lancaster, Pa., who said, “Every day in the news, we are seeing, hearing and reading reports of crisis in Ukraine. Yet, in the middle of that crisis there are men and women who understand that the only way to establish a truly free and prosperous nation is not simply through building a nation based on military victory but through building a nation based on the foundation of God’s Word and His eternal truth. It was sobering to see that even as many in America reject this truth, many in Ukraine are sacrificing in pursuit of it.”
We all know what these folks mean when they talk about a nation based on “God’s word.” It’s not really God’s word; it's how some fundamentalist interprets that word. And if you doubt that, consider this tidbit courtesy of our friends at Right Wing Watch: The notorious “Christian nation” faux-historian David Barton has also been to Ukraine peddling his nonsense.
Religious Right groups have shown a lot of interest in Ukraine and Russia lately. The World Congress of Families, a Religious Right outfit with an international focus, planned to hold a conference in Moscow this September but got scared off by the conflict.
Some American Religious Right leaders are practically salivating over Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they hold out as the savior of orthodox Christianity against the decadent, gay-friendly West.
It’s a depressingly familiar pattern. U.S. fundamentalists have caused a lot of problems overseas – often in countries where the population is stressed and vulnerable. Consider the damage rabid anti-gay preachers have caused in Uganda. That country passed a draconian anti-gay law after many people were whipped into a frenzy by Massachusetts-based anti-gay figure Scott Lively and others.
These groups are also active in South Africa and other nations.
Of course, American pastors have the right to travel wherever they like. And a cynical person might say it’s best to let them go build their “godly” society somewhere else; maybe they’ll leave us alone on these shores. But that view is short-sighted. The LGBT people of Ukraine will take the hit if that country adopts a government based on the theocratic vision of U.S. Religious Right leaders. (LGBT people already have a pretty hard time of it in many Eastern European nations.)
The people of Ukraine are suffering. Pro-Russian separatists are waging war against the government. They are violent and extreme.
At some point, Ukraine will emerge from its present state of conflict. What it will need then is what all nations need – a stable government based on secular principles that fosters equality and respect for all citizens, no matter what they believe (or don’t believe) about God and no matter who they love.
America’s principle of separation of church and state could help religious and civic leaders in Ukraine achieve that vision. Unfortunately, the message they are hearing right now from U.S. Religious Right figures is exactly the opposite.