Evangelicals in Russia have become ardent fans of President Vladimir Putin because of Russia’s efforts to maintain its influence in Ukraine, its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and the widespread Russian belief that the West is to blame for the present economic woes on the home front.
This realization dawned on me during my November visit to Russia. The evidence is hard to ignore. Meeting in St. Petersburg back in May, the official Congress of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists ended their meetings with a strong endorsement of Putin just two months after brutal conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine.
Addressing Putin, they said, “We express to you sincere appreciation for your labor in the post of president. . . . We reaffirm our principled loyalty with respect to state authority, based on the unchanged words of the Bible, ‘Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God’ (Rom. 13:1, ASV).” The evangelical congress also directly challenged the legitimacy of Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and the February 2014 overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich.
Originally, I suspected backroom state pressure must have been at play. But after conversations with more than a dozen Protestant and Orthodox believers in Moscow, I have to admit that no outside interference was necessary to generate such high praise for Russia’s president.
Putin is genuinely popular—and admired—by Russians across the spectrum: among believers as well as the religiously indifferent, among Protestants as well as Orthodox, and among academics as well as taxi drivers.
This holds true even after the ...