But there is another dimension to this split, exemplified by the audience Rogers addressed: how this alliance of cultural conservatives in the United States and Russia also embraced racial and ethnic bigotry. White evangelicals once saw Russia as an existential threat to traditional gender roles and sexual morality, but over the past three decades they have forged a partnership in a global family values movement that not only embraces sexual traditionalism and gender, but sees these practices as a solution. demographic changes in the world.
American critics condemned the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in overtly sexual terms: to collectivize farms and factories, they charged, inevitably meant to collectivize women. A Senate committee found that by destroying a woman’s dependence on her husband, Communists stripped men of their male prerogatives and blurred gender roles – to the detriment of social order.
Anti-radical crusaders accused Soviet women of being forced to register with a national office of free love, where every man had the right to have sexual access. The sexual menace of Russia’s “Red Menace” has galvanized organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the defense of both private property and private family life. They monitored school textbooks, compiled blacklists of “subversives” and circumvented liberal legislation on maternal health and child protection. “Economic Bolshevism is destructive,” warned a conservative editor in 1922, “but it is nothing compared to sexual Bolshevism.”
Christian missionaries in the USSR walked a fine line during these years. Some initially hailed the Russian Revolution as an opportunity to free souls from the chains of what they saw as the authoritarian and superstitious Russian Orthodox Church.
But Russia under the Bolsheviks challenged the very nuclear family that American Christians saw as the foundation of civilization and property relations. The Family Code of 1918 provided that by making domestic work a public service rather than a private duty, socialism would eliminate “the chains of husband and wife”.
Over the next decade, the Soviet authorities did their best to fulfill this prediction. They closed churches, secularized schools and removed Bibles from libraries while decriminalizing abortion, liberalizing divorce and recognizing de facto marriage. In 1929, new laws prohibited foreign proselytes. Atheists organized in the League of Atheist Militants pledged to eradicate religion in the Soviet Union by 1937.
As the United States experienced a religious revival after World War II, Republicans such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin) clung to the alleged security threat posed by sexual perversion and gender “confusion” to their own political gain. The Lavender Scare linked homosexuality to Russian espionage, with Christianity being the only bulwark against both. Sexually-tinged spy scandals prompted the Truman administration to purge suspected gay and lesbian people from federal employment because they were “security risks,” a project that continued for two decades . “I don’t know what homosexuals are,” sighed a congressman in 1950, “but I’ve never seen anyone get so much free publicity in the United States Congress in all my life.”
As in the 1920s, the connection between Christian sexual morality and private property relations was evident: the Christian College Coalition joined with its Russian counterparts to create a Christian degree in commerce. And they did so with the approval of the Russian Ministry of Education, which invited the American evangelical ministry Campus Crusade for Christ to teach “Christian ethics and morals” to tens of thousands of Russian educators. American Christians, it seemed, could help former atheist libertines find their way to market values and family values, as the two were interdependent.
What these missionaries could not have foreseen, however, was that conversions would go both ways: Eastern Orthodox Christianity would attract Americans seeking a staunchly conservative faith. In 1987, pastors from the heart of American Evangelicalism formally incorporated 2,000 American Evangelicals into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The mass conversion stemmed from white Protestants’ disillusionment with the free worship, therapeutic ethos and perceived feminine emotionality of their former church homes – which one influential critic called ” the helpless church”. “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and kind (think ‘Mr. Rogers’),” one convert explained. “The Orthodox Churches call men to be brave and to action (think ‘Braveheart’).” Such a celebration of masculinity is one of the reasons Orthodoxy is overwhelmingly male, unlike any other American Christian denomination.
As right-wing American clerics discovered orthodoxy, so did Moscow leaders. First Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin found in the Russian Orthodox Church an important symbol of national unity. Their governments increasingly gave the church semi-official status, and its Moscow Patriarchate oversaw a dramatic revival in the 1990s and 2000s.
Their efforts produced the World Congress of Families, which combines funding from conservative Russian oligarchs with the organizing know-how of groups like the National Organization for Marriage – a key player in California’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2008 (which was later overturned by the courts). ). At its annual meetings, religious traditionalists coordinate policies to promote the “natural family” and fight LGBTQ and reproductive rights around the world.
Russian Orthodox leadership in the global family values movement makes Eastern Christianity an attractive symbol for some of the more repulsive exponents of the racist right – again demonstrating the racial subtext of overt sexual conservatism. Neo-Confederates defend Orthodoxy as the spiritual home of white nationalism. Converts played a role in the 2017 Charlottesville riot and the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol uprising. The terrorist who claimed the lives of nine black people at a Charleston church had an Eastern Orthodox priest as his spiritual advisor. At the same time, the American alt-right has embraced Russia as the land of shameless whiteness and unreformed masculinity. Much to the chagrin of many Orthodox believers, these converts are making an impact within branches of Orthodoxy in the United States.