What Binds Some American Evangelicals to Putin's Regime and War?Roundup
tags: Christianity, Russia, Vladimir Putin, nationalism, evangelicalism
Bethany Moreton is professor of history at Dartmouth College. This article draws from her book, Slouching Towards Moscow: American Conservatives and the Romance of Russia, forthcoming from Harvard University Press.
Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers (R) was only one of the speakers at the Feb. 25 America First Political Action Conference to voice support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But her meme-ready remark — urging more tanks and using a crude term to call for fewer transgender people — reminds us that many on the American right see Russia as an ally in the culture wars. This long-standing alliance has forced a rift within the Republican Party since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Even with mounting civilian casualties this week and a growing humanitarian crisis, former president Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters refuse to condemn his remarks about the “smart” invasion.
But there is another dimension to this rift, illustrated by the audience to which Rogers spoke: how this alliance of cultural conservatives in the United States and Russia has 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 and gender traditionalism but sees these practices as a solution to demographic changes around the globe.
In fact, GOP-proposed state-level anti-transgender and “Don’t Say Gay” bills actually echo Russian laws — which isn’t surprising since U.S. conservatives contributed to the Russian legal prohibitions. That’s become a real problem for Republican leaders, who over the past week have rejected not only AFPAC’s support for Putin’s war but also the group’s explicit white nationalism, antisemitism and incitements to violence.
American critics condemned the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in overtly sexual terms: Collectivizing farms and factories, they charged, inevitably meant collectivizing women. A Senate committee found that by destroying a wife’s dependency on her husband, communists stripped men of their masculine prerogatives and blurred gender roles — to the detriment of social order.
Anti-radical crusaders charged that Soviet women were forced to register at a national Bureau of Free Love, where any man had the right of sexual access. The sexual threat of Russia’s “red menace” galvanized organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in defense of both private property and private family life. They monitored textbooks, compiled blacklists of “subversives” and defeated liberal legislation on maternal health and child welfare. “Economic bolshevism is destructive,” warned a conservative editor in 1922, “but it is nothing as compared with sexual bolshevism.”