In a broadcast to be aired Sunday, October 22, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev talks with veteran religious broadcaster Robert Schuller for nearly 30 minutes about religious freedom, human dignity, and the presence of Christian belief in his childhood home. He also reminisces about the end of the Cold War and the beginnings of perestroika for the Hour of Power broadcast taped last Sunday before 4,500 people at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Speaking through a translator, a smiling, healthy-looking Gorbachev begins by saying that "the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the most important gains of perestroika." He also explains his reasons for backing Russia's 1990 religious-freedom law and for deciding in 1989 to permit Schuller to broadcast a sermon on Russia's lone television channel. "We have to respect our people, and many of them are believers. ... There can be no freedom without spiritual freedom, without human beings being able to choose," the former Soviet president says.
Prompted by Schuller to reminisce about his mother's prayers, Gorbachev says that "practically all" his family "consisted of believers. And that was important," he says. His grandmother, he recalls, prayed and displayed Orthodox icons on an iconostasis in her home, while his grandfather, one of the first Communists in their village, displayed the portraits of Lenin and Stalin on an adjacent table. "That's how it was in real life," he says. "People did not desert faith, and faith did not desert people."
In a recent telephone call, Schuller told Christianity Today he believes that Gorbachev is only a "cultural atheist," that the former Soviet leader really believes in God. On the broadcast, Schuller repeatedly presses Gorbachev to admit that he is not really an atheist. But Gorbachev remains noncommittal. "Don't rush to any conclusions about me," he says at one point. "I have lived a long and complicated life." At another point, he says, "There will be a time when we will really talk about this with you."
Nevertheless, when discussing international relations, Gorbachev says, "We must not categorize nations into first-rate and second-rate because all nations are God's creation. And God knew what it was creating." The audience greets the mention of God with sustained applause.
In the final minutes of the interview, Schuller recalls observing a private meeting of world leaders sponsored by George Bush and moderated by Jim Lehrer. Bush, Gorbachev, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, and Brian Mulrooney spent 24 hours together analyzing the end of the Cold War. Schuller recalls that after Lehrer wrapped up the meeting, Gorbachev added the final word: "And we must remember Jesus Christ!"
Read about Gorbachev's visit to the Crystal Cathedral in The Orange County Register
The Hour of Power Web site has streaming video of the Gorbachev interview.
Forerunner, a Christian site from Media House International, quotes from a Wall Street Journal about Gorbachev's Christian upbringing. Don't be scared off by the "Who Is The Antichrist" link at the bottom of the page—it's an ad for a preterist video.
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