Penicillin or Cyanide?
A commentary on Slavic, anti-gay activities in the USA and Russia
M o s c o w -- Russia's Christians are up in arms about the European Union's demand of equal rights for sexual minorities. In a statement on 22 June, the ever-vocal Sergey Ryakhovsky, Senior Bishop of the Charismatic "Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith (ROSKhVE), asserted that the rights of sexual minorities are not covered by the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" passed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. He described these minority rights as "the right to perversion and criminal immorality". The statement on 22 June emphatically affirmed a paper by the Russian Orthodox Church entitled "On the Right to Critically Assess and Legally Limit Homosexuality" made public only the previous day. Regarding Russian state backing, Ryakhovsky wrote: "We are proud of our government for refusing to support the European Union's perverse and vile handiwork. Our culture has never given sexual perversion any space." He also denounced Western pressure on Russian mayors and legislators to permit gay parades and formulate laws favourable to sexual minorities.
Ryakhovsky's issued his statement jointly with his deputy, Bishop Konstantin Bendas, who signed on as "President of the public movement 'For a Future without Homosexuality'". Especially in Western Europe, the title of this roughly two-year-old organization awakens the most frightening of associations. It is common knowledge whom the Nazis attempted to extinguish along with the Jews and Roma. Eliminating homosexuality simply by switching homosexuals into heterosexuals and leaving all alive is unrealistic. Homosexuality has been with us nearly as long as Adam.
The Russian public has needed to endure some of the cruellest and most vulgar of statements. Obviously, homophobia (irrational fear and hatred) and xenophobia stem from the vilest and darkest corners of human nature - from the cauldron that fascism also sprang. So is the Holy Spirit driving the anti-gay movement, or is it instead an expression of the vilest depths of human nature? Or could it be driven by both - by two completely separate and independent streams? The border between the two appears both thin and porous. In ethical terms, anti-gay Christian activists are treading on very thin ice.
In late May, "RIA-Novosti" fired its Moscow commentator Nikolay Troitsky after he called for the development of "a powerful bomb which kills only gays". On Western society, Troitsky wrote: "I don't need that kind of freedom and democracy. If all these perverts were finished off, then the earth would be much purer." Sadly, Troitsky's firing proved to be a highly-divisive issue. An earlier survey done by ROSKhVE indicated that Russian rejection of the gay lifestyle and public displays of "gayness" (gay parades) was virtually universal. A liberal periodical in the US remarked dryly in another context that "Russia does not need much encouragement along these lines".
The border between theological conviction and hatred has been clearly crossed by Slavic immigrants in the USA's Pacific Northwest. On 1 July 2007 at a lake near Sacramento, two Slavs claiming to be evangelicals brutally beat a homosexual from Fiji named Satender Singh. He died several days later from his injuries. US-media claimed that "the Slavic men bragged about belonging to a Russian evangelical church and told Singh that he should go to a 'good church' like theirs".
Evangelical immigrants from the lands of the former Soviet Union are moving into the forefront of the public struggle against gays in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps by coincidence, these immigrants chose to move precisely into regions known for their gay-inspired subcultures: Sacramento, Seattle and Portland. Vlad Kusakin, a Russian-speaking radio host and publisher, claimed in 2007 that God has "made an injection" of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally-tolerant West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God has made a divine penicillin." Native media report on demonstrations featuring hundreds of Russian-speaking teens wearing "Sodomy is a Sin" T-shirts and placard-waving babushkas in scarves.
Clashes between the two cultures have been less than peaceful. Darrel Steinberg, a state senator from Sacramento, reported in 2006 that he was shocked by the behaviour of "Slavic fundamentalist" counter-demonstrators: "Their words are vile, and words may give them the implicit license to take the next step and hurt people." In Riga/ Latvia it is claimed that evangelical demonstrators have pelted gays and lesbians with bags of excrement. California journalist Casey Sanchez reports that "anti-gay talk radio hosts and fundamentalist preachers routinely deliver hateful speeches on the airwaves and from the pulpit in their native tongue. Were they delivered in English, they would be a source of nationwide controversy."
Gay-rights activists blame Singh's death on what they call the "U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate." This is a reference to Alexey Ledyaev, head of the Riga-based "New Generation" Charismatic denomination and a major player in the West´s Slavic, anti-gay movement. Ledyaev, an ethnic Ukrainian born into a Baptist family in Alma-Ata/Kazakhstan in 1956, moved to Latvia in the 1980's and formed New Generation as a break-off from the traditionalist Pentecostal union in 1989.
Yet even in EU-member Latvia, this denomination is largely Russian and Ukrainian in orientation; 110 of its roughly 200 congregations are located in Ukraine - another 60 are in Russia. Other congregations stretch from Argentina to the USA, Israel, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The denomination is allied closely with the right-wing and clerical "Latvia First Party" originally founded in 2002.
Together with the American anti-gay activist Scott Lively, Ledyaev founded the Riga-based "Watchmen on the Walls" organisation with the intent of defending "Christian morals and values in society". Other leading members include the black, Seattle-based pastor Kenneth Hutcherson and the afore-mentioned Vlad Kusakin.
Lively, who is now serving a heavily-Slavic New Generation congregation in Springfield/Massachusetts, was reputed to be the brain behind Uganda's stiff anti-gay legislation of 2009 demanding lengthy prison terms or the death penalty for that country's homosexuals. Lively, who has been branded a holocaust revisionist, published "The Pink Swastika", a book attributing the holocaust to homosexuals, in 1995. Ledyaev saw to it that a Russian version appeared three years later. Though Ledyaev himself can only get Russian visas with difficulty, Lively reported that the translation's publication led to a deluge of speaking offers. Casey Sanchez claimed in 2007 that Lively "frequently speaks about the book and his broader anti-gay agenda in churches, police academies and television news studios throughout the former Soviet Union". Yet Professor Stephen Feinstein from the University of Minnesota, one of the book's many detractors, describes it as being "as correct as flat earth theory". Ledyaev was received in the Bush White House in February 2007.
Ledyaev pushes a profoundly political agenda. In 2002, he published his political treatise, "The New World Order", which calls for the wealthy and powerful to create theocratic states run according to Christian principles. The book borrows heavily from R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001), the founder of Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism and its mouthpiece, the Chalcedon Report, call for a kind of Old Testament-Christian Sharia law allowing for liberal usage of the death penalty. Described as an extreme Calvinist with anti-democratic convictions, Rushdoony defended white supremacy and even slavery.
Essentially, Ledyaev's book is an expression of the ideological struggle between a pluralistic and secularist West and the dream of a monolithic, authoritarian and white Christian state. What Ledyaev envisions is comparable to Spain's Falangist movement or the Apartheid regime of South Africa. Ledyaev's future battle plan is clear: "The first devastating wave of homosexuality prepares the way for the second and more dangerous wave of Islamization." Homosexuals will destroy Western fertility; Muslims will then move in to suffocate the West with their sky-high birth rates.
Articles in the US have been entitled "From Russia - or Latvia - with Hate". The Alabama-based "Southern Poverty Law Center" includes "Watchmen on the Walls", the "Chalcedon Foundation" and Lively's "American Family Association" on its list of 925+ hate groups. This is of course no scientifically-neutral designation, for some on the other side of the ideological barricades are also capable of hatred.
ROSKhVE hits the brakes
In 2004, two years after the appearance of "The New World Order", Ulf Ekman, the founder of Sweden's "New Life" movement and one of Ledyaev's long-time mentors, distanced himself from New Generation. Ryakhovsky followed suit a year later, calling the book heretical and an unacceptable mixture of church and state. Nevertheless, Kiev's "Invictory", the world's primary Russian-language Protestant (and Charismatic) news service, named Ledyaev its "Reformer of the Year" in 2005. New Generation may be down but not out in Russia: It's most recent Moscow church plant occurred in July 2011.
That longevity could be attributed to the fact that the themes of the Christian anti-gay movement reach far beyond the confines of the Charismatic movement. The low white birth rate, the Muslim threat, the rejection of multiculturalism and Western-style tolerance are national concerns in Russia. Rightest Christians see the separation of church and state as a liberal ploy intended to rob Christians of their freedom. Lively's long-time call to make any public advocacy of homosexuality illegal has wide support, also among Russian Baptists. A prominent Russian Baptist pastor from the Pacific Northwest called in Ukraine in 2009 for the deportation of homosexuals to a lonely and distant isle. It is worrisome that the Christian far-right and the Russian mainstream often have similar objectives - the differences are ones of degree.
It is difficult to believe that protection of the family is the real concern driving the anti-gay struggle. Since the number of substance-abusing parents and AWOL fathers in Russia outnumbers the gays by at last 100 to 1, it would appear that a defender of the family caught up in the struggle against homosexuality has chosen the wrong battle. Would not a programme of marriage counselling be of much greater benefit to society? Nearly non-existent gay parades are not a problem in Russia - rejection of minorities is.
In a ROSKhVE statement from 10 June 2010, Bishop Ryakhovsky made a small step by conceding that his congregations were open to persons committing the sin of homosexuality or struggling with it. "We are willing to pray for them and offer counselling aid in hopes of freeing them from this spiritual dependency." In short: Gays are worthy and capable of conversion to the Christian faith. Perhaps this is almost a start, but we straights will not get very far if our only concern is to convert and change gays. It will take much more effort and caring than that. One also cannot convert the adherents of other religions by assuring them how right we are and how wrong they are. One starts by searching respectfully for a common basis.
I personally believe the homosexual lifestyle cannot be defended on the basis of the Bible. But this "no" must be combined with clear affirmation of that person as God's precious creation. Those who believe A, must also do B. I don't see that Russian Protestants have yet gotten to point B. Indeed, I have never yet seen a church statement in Russia decrying the hatred of homosexuals. The churches are very vocal regarding gay parades, but they have responded to Nikolay Troitsky's outrage until now with silence.
We have no room at all to offend gays and lesbians unduly - those for whom Christ also died. See Jesus' statement on the millstone in Matthew 18,6. There are rules of behaviour to be followed. Until they reach a balance between A and B, the evangelicals of Russia will be more like cyanide than penicillin on the issue of homosexuality.
I believe the Presbyterian C. Everett Koop (born 1916), Surgeon-General during the administration of Ronald Reagan, was on the right track. Though personally opposed to the practice of homosexuality, he did everything in his power to preserve the lives of gays. The same is true for the anti-AIDS campaign of Rick Warren's "Saddleback Church" in California. The evangelical struggle against AIDS sends the proper signal: Gays also have the right to a long life.
It's OK to decry homosexuality as sin - but the ice gets thin quickly. The dragons are lurking just below the surface.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 25 July 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content. He intends to inform and does not claim to speak for any specific organisation in this instance. Release #11-14, 1.997 words, 12.827 keystrokes and spaces.
I added the following note on 23 August 2011:
Following my private release on 25 July, friends claimed that I had defended homosexuality as a legitimate form of Godly creation – “eine legitime Schöpfungsvariante“. I cannot find such a statement in my text. I have attempted to state my position more clearly by adding the following sentence:
I personally believe the homosexual lifestyle cannot be defended on the basis of the Bible. But this "no" must be combined with clear affirmation of that person as God's precious creation. Despite that person’s sexual preferences, he or she is a human being loved by God. Those who believe A, must also do B. I don't see that Russian Protestants have yet gotten to point B. Indeed, I have never yet seen a church statement in Russia decrying the hatred of homosexuals. The churches are very vocal regarding gay parades, but they have responded to Nikolay Troitsky's outrage until now with silence.
Note from 18 June 2020:
Koop and Hutcherson both passed away during 2013.