Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Theocracy stirs in Russia

I've just put these three items from Russia on the Volodymyr Campaign blog in succession:

  • The Moscow Patriarchate says Russians should value 'motherland, nation and security' more than human rights.
  • The criminal sentence against the organisers of an 'anti-Christian' art exhibit has been upheld.
  • However, prosecutors will not bring charges against 500 public figures who signed an open letter calling for Judaism to be banned. (On the plus side, they have also decided not to charge a Jewish group for distributing a medieval text that authorities earlier claimed was anti-Russian.)

The entanglement between church and state in modern Russia has been particularly poisonous. In 1927 (after a five-year period in which thousands of priests, monks and nuns had been martyred for their opposition to the Bolsheviks), the newly appointed Metropolitan Sergi signed a declaration making the church subservient to Stalin. In exchange for this the church was allowed to go on existing -- just (see this article for a more detailed history). But it had literally sold its soul. And although Communism is long gone, the church doesn't seem able to free itself from the authoritarian mindset. Not only does the patriarchate condone and even applaud Putin's abuses, but the church seems all too happy to practice tyranny itself. Could anything be further from the mission that Jesus gave it?

There are two reasons to oppose the church getting mixed up with the state. One is the damage that it does to the state. That's the more famous argument, and I think it's amply backed up by the examples I've listed above. The other reason -- which should concern Christians far more than it does -- is the damage that it does to the church. Russia is a particularly tragic example, but the same pattern has arisen in many times and places; whether the church compromises with a dictator or eagerly grabs power for itself, the result is the same. The church ceases to proclaim liberation and justice and becomes just another protector of the status quo.

The religious right in America are fond of asking, 'What Would Jesus Do?' Maybe they should ask themselves when Jesus ever formed a coalition with Herod.


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