Taking Our Kids out onto the Streets
A debate involving Donetsk Christian University has its first birthday
M o s c o w -- It's been a year since a tempest swept through Ukrainian evangelicalism. That minor storm was caused by the moderate position of Olena Panych (“Elena Panich” in Russian), then a vice rector at Donetsk Christian University (DCU), on the issue of homosexuality. It began when the evangelical initiative “Love versus Homosexuality” called her to task for favouring a political candidate who had defended the civil rights of homosexuals. Soon the initiative's head, the youthful Ruslan Kukharchuk, was demanding that the university distance itself from or dismiss Panych. Yet the university, led by its rector at that time, Dr. Mikhail Cherenkov, refused to do so.
Her stance had underlined the necessity for compromise and the rejection of single-issue politics. She stated clearly: “I may support a candidate regardless of his/her personal attitude toward homosexuality if that person promotes a useful and necessary political program.” In her defence, she expressed surprise that “people interpret my non-participation in Ukraine's anti-homosexual movement as support for something else”.
Perhaps her most controversial claim was that she logically understood the desire of homosexuals to publically defend their position – a practice legally prohibited in next-door Russia. “Their desire to demonstrate their homosexual orientation is understandable, for it is their means of demanding recognition for their way of life.”
The storm subsided in late 2012 after Panych, a Baptist, stated categorically that “a non-traditional sexual orientation is sin”. She added though that the Christian must always love the sinner. Since then, Panych, who has a doctorate in history, left DCU and studied as a Fulbright scholar at Pennsylvania State University (College Park). She is now residing in Kiev on sabbatical with her husband.
Dr. Panych remains worried by the spectre of violence against minorities and describes those groups lobbying for discriminatory legislation in the Ukrainian parliament as totalitarian. She regards those preaching hate and enmity as particularly dangerous in Ukraine, for “our society is barely immune to discrimination and infringements on human rights”. Addressing evangelicals she adds: “If you today are speaking out in favour of the discrimination and force against others, then it may very well be turned on you tomorrow.” During the Nazi period, both homosexuals and Jews fell victim to false claims. The result can then be a holy war, and “holy wars are very difficult to stop”.
Citing violence against wives and children as well as participation in less-than-peaceful anti-homosexual rallies in the Pacific Northwest of the US and in Latvia, Panych adds today that Slavic evangelicals are not always as peaceful as they would like to believe: „That kind of aggressive behaviour can be fatal.“ As reported elsewhere (release from Yoder on 25 July 2011), Slavs claiming to be evangelical were involved in the beating and subsequent death of a homosexual from Fiji near Sacramento/California in July 2007. Panych also mourns the more recent suicide of a young evangelical with homosexual inclinations in Ukraine who was unable to cope with the pressures placed on him by his church, family and friends. She writes that we do not have the right to make the lives of those who apparently will not be achieving eternal life “as unbearable as possible here on earth”.
The Preference for Internecine Conflict
Olena Panych points out that homosexuality is highly-popular as a weapon on other, distant battlefields. It is used for ex. as a tool in the global struggle against the West. “In Ukraine today, the organized struggle against the phantom of homosexual aggression intends to keep our country under the ideological influence of the Russia world, to retain at least . . . a cultural wall between ourselves and (Western) Europe.”
A recent Russian survey done by the author indicates that the topic of homosexuality is of minimal interest to both general and evangelical audiences. Apparently, only internecine, fraternal conflict is truly interesting and homosexuality has become profoundly appealing only as a weapon within that conflict. After if it was reported this July that California’s renown “Fuller Seminary” had permitted the existence of a LGBT-oriented student group, certain conservative Baptists in Russia made a point of passing around that story via Internet. The point being made thereby was that graduates of Fuller Seminar – of which Russia has several – are “liberals”. Generally, homosexuality serves as a cheap-and-simple litmus test for proving the orthodoxy of one's convictions — a welcome instrument for combating those more liberal than oneself.
Internecine conflict was also a primary topic in Rector Cherenkov's response a year ago. “Somebody is set on battling and profiteering from war. And all those unwilling to enlist as volunteers in the struggle are branded as traitors, deserters and undercover agents. . . . . Ukraine's Christian foes of homosexuality are set upon discovering an enemy within their own ranks. This is crazy.” He continued: “I read all the letters with their curses and putdowns sent to us by the defenders of 'traditional Christian values'. I concluded that they are striving not for pure Christianity, but rather for a scandal benefitting anti-Christian forces.”
Olena Panych warns of the tendency towards clerical thinking: “One dare not give in to the temptation that state coercion is more effective in the struggle against sin than a godly life, the power of the word of God and the force of the sincere sermon.” She regards “good, strong families” leading moral lives as one of the most acceptable and effective means of combating the wages of immorality and sin. We should therefore “unclench our fists, take a New Testament and go out onto the streets with our kids”.
She calls for a dualistic approach and sees that reflected in a very different handling of homosexuality by church and state: “The church is called to lead people to eternal life with God, but the task of the state is to rationally organise life here on earth.” For the sake of social peace, the state must be concerned about balancing the interests of competing groups and individuals “irrespective of their relationship to God”.
Panych reports she has discovered through this conflict that even in Eastern Europe she is not alone in her convictions: “I have won many new friends. The debate has apparently helped many to define their own position.” She has also expressed gratitude to the leaders of Donetsk Christian University “for not yielding to provocation and supporting me”.
On 30 September 2013, DCU announced its intention of forming a close partnership with “LCC University” of Klaipeda/Lithuania, the ex-USSR’s most successful Protestant institution of learning. Cherenkov, the brain behind the project and now a consultant for DCU, assured: “I am dreaming of even more – of the integration of both institutions into one Eastern European Christian university.” This development is totally unrelated to homosexuality and the DCU’s former vice rector Panych. But it does indicate a coming together of the mainstream “vanilla” evangelical forces of Eastern and Central Europe. In short: Moderates have no need to feel lonely.
Release #13-17, 1.150 words, 7.298 keystrokes and spaces.
Mikhail Cherenkov requests that he permitted a postscript to this piece:
“I defend not so much the position of Olena Panych as her right to that position. I have known her as a good human being and Christian, and I advised her accusers to contact the local church where Olena is a member. As a member, she is accountable to that congregation. But the creators of the scandal were not interested in discovering the truth – they needed a scandal. I did not so much appear in support of or in disapproval of anybody, but rather protested the practice of denigrating a person strictly on the basis of something that appeared on Facebook. I am also against made-to-order, cheap journalistic provocations. This is not the first attempt to pull Christian schools into scandal and I condemn such reprehensible practices.”
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 15 October 2013
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.