Russian evangelicals sharing Putin’s Middle East interests

Along with their Orthodox counterparts, Russian evangelicals have shown growing support for Vladimir Putin, especially over what they see as the leader’s attempts to protect Middle Eastern Christians from religious persecution, writes Jayson Casper in Christianity Today magazine (July/August). When Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict, the action was applauded by Russian Christians—both Protestant and Eastern Orthodox—who have established strong ties to the region’s churches. Russians tend to view Syria as an “icon”—a place of veneration. Casper reports that Russian Christians didn’t understand American non-intervention in Syria. There is also some “cross-pollination” taking place in this relationship. “Thousands of Middle East Christians went to study in Russia during the Soviet era…They returned with esteem for the nation that enabled their education and played key roles in Middle East business and political development,” he adds.

In the view of many Christians, Russia is playing a balancing role vis-à-vis America’s focus on Israel, although many Christians are wary of the way politicians use religion on either side. In a report on Russian developments in the online journal Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe (July), William Yoder notes that evangelical Zionism has been making a comeback in Ukraine and Russia, especially among Pentecostals. The Zionist influence can be seen in how the Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, once Moscow-based, has shifted toward a base in Minsk or Jerusalem. The group held its 2018 gathering in Jerusalem and its new general-secretary is an ethnic Jewish Russian who moved from Moscow to Jerusalem in 2015.

(Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe,