Martin Luther and "P-Riot"

Exceeding Permissible Levels of Ecumenical Pain


Regarding the support of Germany’s evangelical Christians for P*Riot




M o s c o w – A decision has been made contrary to the wishes of leading representatives of the “Evangelical Church in Germany” (EKD). Germany’s 16 “Luther cities” decided on 11 November to refrain from awarding its “Luther Prize”, called “The Fearless Word”, to the world’s most famous female punk band.


A word of explanation: The crafty young Russian women – or the male string pullers in the background – have discovered a name capable of forcing dignitaries from all walks of life to mouth a vulgarity. But no one should feel pressured to do so: Let’s label the group “Kitty Riot”. In a helpful blog published on 7 August, the Englishman Alexander Mercouris wrote: Group members “have openly admitted to using obscenity as a weapon – indeed obscenity is a part of (the group’s) name”. The so-called band has no clear membership, has never recorded a song and has no known song catalogue. The Englishman describes the core group as “militant political activists with ultra-leftist and possibly anarchist views”.


In his Reformation sermon in Berlin on 31 October the Evangelical Bishop of Berlin and Brandenburg, Martin Dröge, assured that “none of us like to be disturbed in our meditation”. The group had already apologised for this during the court proceedings. Yet Kitty Riot was a known quantity long before its famous protest in Moscow’s “Cathedral of Christ the Saviour” on 21 February.


Since the appearance of the original group „Voina“ (War) in 2007, clearly illegal acts have taken place: the overturning of – even occupied - police cars, firebombing and violent attacks on humans. These include the attack on a McDonalds location in Moscow on 1 May 2007 whereby unsuspecting staff members were roughed up and pelted with live cats.


“Nomen est omen“: This group has also brought body parts below the beltline into play. Particularly well-known is Voina’s public intercourse in Moscow’s Timiryazev biology museum in February 2008. One participant in that event was the presently imprisoned (then highly-pregnant) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Afterward the group immortalised itself by loading pornographic photos of the happening onto the Internet.


Calling the lewd performance on 21 February a punk “prayer” qualifies easily as blasphemy. Besides the sewer language, both Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill are viciously cursed. The Patriarch is called a “suka”, which could be translated as “bitch” or “scum”.


In her words of support for the group at the EKD’s synod on 4 November, the synod’s moderator, the Green politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt, assured: “The Gospel, as we had already observed with Martin Luther, enables one to become free.” This implies that avidly atheistic Kitty Riot was motivated by the Gospel. Regarding the cathedral protest she added: “The women’s action was no less a provocation than an expression of despair over such relationships between church and state which we here in Germany can hardly imagine.” In other words: Pure despair regarding cosiness with the state was one major reason for the cathedral protest.


The blending of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Putin government is indeed a cause for concern. Russian Orthodoxy (the ROC) has always felt called to ally itself with the state – even during communist times. But the EKD is also by no means a free church independent of the state. Using the same rule of thumb would expect that if Russians take measures to break the union between the ROK and the state, then the Germans would in turn strive to eliminate the state-collected church tax.


Western observers were incensed that the Patriarch had thrown his weight behind the candidacy of Putin prior to the elections of last March. Would the West have been equally angered if Kirill had come out in opposition to Putin? If not, then to accuse the ROK of political partisanship is inconsequential. Exercising political influence would be evident in both cases.


The EKD’s “Ambassador for the Reformation’s Anniversary” in 2017 and former EKD-head Margot Kässmann also praised Kitty Riot’s nomination for the award. She stated in a radio interview that she “felt great sympathy for the young women” because of their courage. Bishop Dröge added in the sermon already mentioned: “I marvel at the courage and inner freedom of these young women.” Yet having nerve and standing up for what one believes does not automatically make one worthy of prizes. Islamist assassins and Japanese Kamikaze pilots have also demonstrated great courage. Courage against what is the decisive issue.


Apparently, many prominent persons in the West do not have an accurate impression of how the „silent majority“ east of Brest and the Bug River (Belarus) thinks. Editorials in the „Washington Post“ and „New York Times“ have described the court case against the three women as “Stalinist show trials”. That could be interpreted as serious belittlement of the suffering experienced by true victims of the Great Terror (1937).


„Amnesty International“ has called the two-year sentence a „bitter blow for freedom of expression“. Yet virtually all countries possess legislation on disturbing the peace. The legal expert Mercouris assured that the performance in Moscow cathedral would also have been liable for prosecution under British law. The case is sometimes compared to the Polish pop diva Dorota Rabczewska or “Doda”. She was conviced of blasphemy in May 2010 after claiming on TV that the Bible had been “written by potheads and drunks”.  Despite cooperation with the court and a full apology, she was saddled with a fine amounting to $1.450 US.


Mercouris claims Kitty Riot was guilty of contempt of court. The defence had made no real attempt to defend and had instead harassed and mocked prosecution witnesses. “It is inconceivable that tactics of this sort would be tolerated in the courts of any Western country.” For a number of weeks, the accused refused even to admit that they belonged to Kitty Riot. He believes the women themselves and “their supporters in Russia and the West“ are most responsible for the tough sentence. I assume their anarchist worldview left no room for appropriate behaviour in court.


The East is pushing for "high moral values"

It may be hard to fathom, but more than a few East European Christians hold themselves to be less decadent than their fellow believers in the West. They desire to struggle for the lofty historical values of the Christian faith: family, fidelity, convention. For long periods during the last millennium, Moscow has seen itself as the “Third Rome” (after Rome and Constantinople), as a bulwark stemming the tide of Western-inspired liberality and ungodliness. (One of those was Marxism.)


Speaking about tolerance on the issue of homosexuality, Sergei Ryakhovsky, Bishop of the major “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), claimed last summer that non-Soviet Russia had never permitted immorality to become a part of official legislation. He added: “I do not hesitate to call these people (Kitty Riot) enemies of the Russian people and church.”


For the sake of all, the Third Rome is presently willing to take on the West’s secularist movement for “political correctness”. Yet the evangelical partners in the West have chosen to side with the “enemy” and have found nothing better to do than to celebrate the primary adversaries of church, morality and the family. Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Affairs for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, assured: “We cannot comprehend the thinking of those Christians in Germany who are supporting this band. We don’t get it. The Lutherans in our country can only hide their faces in shame.”


What’s happened to the revered movement of ecumenism? (Russian Baptists prefer to call them “interconfessional relations”.) Ecumenism entails goodwill, mutual respect and consideration. This appears to be an attack on ecumenism. A statement made by Bishop Dröge in early 2009 is very appropriate: “Here we have exceeded the permissible levels of ecumenical pain.” But in that context he was referring to a position of the Vatican and its German pope.


„Morality“ and „propriety“ sound tacky and horribly conventional to Western ears. Yet one could endure them in the name of inter-church understanding and even find them laudable. How does the Muslim world interpret Protestant advocacy for Kitty Riot? A performance like the cathedral one in a mosque would in many instances endanger the lives of those involved.


Anatoly Karlin, a Russian study in California, attempted to explain Kitty Riot’s global appeal in „Al Jazeera“ on 23 August. “I think it boils down to them being telegenic, weird, having a cool name and, most critically, anti-Putin.”


Siegfried Kasparick, the evangelical Superintendent (Propst) of Wittenberg, spoke out against the band’s nomination for the prize: The city would make itself “look ludicrous”. A second well-known Wittenberg pastor, Friedrich Schorlemmer, added that “honouring a blasphemy” was highly inappropriate; the band had “chosen the wrong place for a provocation”. Church leaders such as these could still limit international damage.


It’s difficult to accuse Bishop Dröge and his colleagues of evil intentions. They rely on their mass media. They have little free time and, after all, how many of them know Russian?


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 17 November 2012


A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, yet it does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-28, 1.502 words, 9.412 keystrokes and spaces.