The worship of power, by Ken Burrows: Freethought Views March 2022

The worship of power

By Ken Burrows


For years religionists who oppose church-state separation have enjoyed pointing out that the Russian constitution calls for such separation whereas the U.S. Constitution does not, at least not literally. So they’ve claimed it’s un-American to emulate Russia in matters of religion and government.


Times have changed. As detailed by Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, America’s religious right extremists known as Christian nationalists are okay with how Russia now handles religion; indeed, they praise it. Why? Because, Stewart says, Russia is using religion as a strategy for governing citizens’ lives, and this is the same goal Christian nationalists seek in the U.S. as they try to fuse religion and government together. In their case, “religion” means only their chosen interpretation of the Christian religion, and they want that to rule Americans’ lives.


Stewart notes that “Russian oligarchs [have] effectively deployed religious nationalism to gain control over their own population.” “Pro-family politics” aimed largely at suppressing women’s autonomy and LGBT rights is seen as an effective tool in uniting and mobilizing religious nationalists. Stewart says Russian leaders view America’s Christian nationalists as a useful vehicle for influencing government in the U.S., often to better serve Russian interests.


This positive regard for Russia has attracted surprising, prominent supporters. Take Brian Brown, for example. This co-founder of the anti-gay marriage outfit National Organization for Marriage changed his once negative views of Russia as he rose in the ranks of the religious right. He has met with Russians at conferences on family issues and openly endorsed Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. He lauded Russia’s push to “instill Christian values in the public square.” Or take Bryan Fischer. This spokesman for the American Family Association (AFA) called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “lion of Christianity.” AFA describes itself as a Christian fundamentalist organization seeking to “transform” American culture. Religious right stalwart and political activist Franklin Graham has also met with Russian religious and political leaders and has spoken highly of Putin.


Stewart explains that Christian nationalists’ affection for Putin and all things Russian is due to a shared political vision. “America’s Christian nationalists have not overlooked Putin’s authoritarian style of government,” she writes. “They have embraced it as an ideal. … They hate secular, constitutional democracy.”


Large numbers of Christian nationalists were seen in the insurrection mob that sought to subvert democracy on January 6, 2021. Their goal was to keep in power an ousted president who pandered to their “Christian nation” myth and gave them undue political leverage. He had openly voiced admiration for Putin and for authoritarian leaders in other countries such as North Korea, Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey. Christian nationalists wanted this type of strongman to continue serving their cause of subordinating secular democracy to the religious supremacy they seek.


Stewart concludes that Christian nationalism “is a movement that never accepted the promise of America. It never believed that a republic could be founded on a universal ideal of equality, not on a particular creed, or that it might seek out reasoned answers to humanity’s challenges rather than enforce old dogmas.” She sees the movement’s aim being to crush our pluralism and wield theocratic power. She believes our wall of separation between church and state must be kept strong to defeat that aim.


Published in the March 2-9 issue of the Colorado Springs Independent with the quotation below. 

All national institutions of churches…enslave mankind.”

Thomas Paine