Ukraine: the Next Christian RIght’s Anti-Gay Battleground?
There is no contesting the fact that high-profile religious right leaders from the United States helped set the table for Uganda’s appalling anti-gay laws. Now, emboldened by “victories” in Uganda and the prospect for further discriminatory legislation in other African countries, and Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws in Russia, some elements of the religious right appear to be setting their sights on Ukraine.
Last summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) issued a report titled “Dangerous Liaisons: The American Religious Right & the Criminalization of Homosexuality in Belize.” Although the report focused on a dangerous situation for the LGBT community in Belize, Heidi Beirich, the author of the report and director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, offered an overview: “Many…American religious-right groups know they have lost the battle against LGBT rights in the United States…they’re now aiding and abetting anti-LGBT forces in countries where anti-gay violence is prevalent. These groups are pouring fuel on an exceedingly volatile fire.”A recent report-back from a group calling itself the American Pastor’s Network (APN), told of attending an International Leadership Summit in Ukraine and “working with and encouraging pastors and elected leaders there who are making a concerted effort to embrace American ideas to restore the country.”
An APN News Release pointed out that members of the group were “invited to the summit by Presiding Bishop Valery Reshe- tinsky, who also serves as the Chair of the Ukrainian Inter-church Council that represents 20 different evangelical denominations. Reshetinsky wrote that pastors and officials attending the summit were ‘excited about what the American Pastors Network can do to help our government and pastoral leaders at this time of great need in our nation. It is our hope…that Almighty God hears the prayers of His people in Ukraine and around the world and permits us to govern ourselves not in corruption but through biblical principles.’”
The release went on to note that, “APN President Sam Rohrer said that the initial communication with Ukraine leaders was encouraging, given their commitment to strengthening the country through biblical and constitutional principles. It also proved ironic, as leaders within the American government are walking away from our Constitution while leaders in Ukraine, by contrast, are hungry to establish a government based on biblical principles.” “Our time in Ukraine gave us a glimpse into the struggles within a country that does not currently embrace God and biblical principles,” Rohrer said. “The people of Ukraine recognize that these are the principles that create and will sustain liberty, and as they move forward, they want to build a government based on them. Sadly, here in America, every day our leaders are turning away from the fundamental principles and ideals on which our country was built. The crisis in Ukraine is a wake-up call for our country.” Rohrer added: “The pastors we met with in Ukraine desperately want biblically based freedom. Here in America, we have it but are throwing it away. We must work to keep these freedoms—through our daily activities, our involvement in our churches and communities and through our voices at the ballot box.”
The last time the American public heard from Rohrer was when he spoke at last month’s National Organization for Marriage’s sparsely-attended anti-same-sex march and rally. He told the crowd that, “For any national leader to redefine the truth is to spurn [God’s] blessing and to invite God’s judgment.” He added, “Laws that bless the murder of the unborn and now arrogance seeking to rewrite God’s eternal law on marriage and family are destroying the very fabric of our nation.” Gary Dull of Faith Baptist Church of Altoona, Pennsylvania and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network (PPN) and a member of the traveling pastors said: “The Ukrainian people realize that they are still in existence because of God and they recognize that only by God’s grace will they be able to maintain religious freedom and biblical principles in the land.”
“What is taking place in Ukraine serves as a challenge for pastors and political leaders to work together more closely here in America. God truly worked a miracle in Ukraine last week, and the key now is to follow through with what was established at the summit. Our experience in Ukraine should be a motivation for pastors, business leaders, politicians, and citizens to become involved prayerfully, financially and personally in what the Lord is doing in both Ukraine and in their own nations around the world.” According to its website, the American Pastors Network is a Ministry Program Affiliate of Capstone Legacy Foundation. Rohrer, APN’s president, is a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. APN describes itself as “a network of biblical and faith-based clergy and church liaisons whose objective is to ”:
- Affirm the authority of Scripture
- Take seriously Jesus’s command to be ‘salt and light’ to the culture
- Encourage informed Christian thinking about contemporary social issues
- Examine public policy issues using well-prepared preaching resources
The general state of affairs in Ukraine is still chaotic as Pro-Russian separatists continue to battle the government. For gays, the situation is complicated and fraught with challenges. After a recent visit to Ukraine, Marusya Bociurkiw, filmmaker and Associate Professor of Media Theory at Ryerson University in Toronto, reported the following at rabble.ca: “While western leftists (including myself) took it on ourselves to critique the Ukrainian enthusiasm for the EU, it was clear to me that the LGBT community had no choice. It was either Europe or a return to Russian anti-gay legislation. ”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.