Prominent Christian evangelist Franklin Graham took a trip to Russia last week, where he repeatedly bashed President Obama, the LGBT community, and America while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and his brutal dictatorial regime. Certain segments of the American far right have long had a love affair with Putin, which isn’t hard to understand given their confusion of “democracy” and “freedom” with forcing their own outdated ideas down everyone else’s throats, but Graham’s trip has taken this dictator-fawning to a whole new level, and all at the expense of the United States and basic human rights.
The essence of Graham’s criticism of President Obama was clear in his comments to a Russian newspaper: “He supports and promotes policies that contradict the teachings of God. As a Christian I believe that abortion is murder, he supports it. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage — those are sins against God, and the president is promoting them. I’m not against homosexuals as people. But God commanded that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
What, in the mind of Graham and his right-wing ilk, is the solution to this extension of freedoms to Americans with beliefs other than his of which he is so terrified? Why, a dictatorship of course. Graham went on to say, “I very much appreciate that President Putin is protecting Russian young people against homosexual propaganda, if only to give them the opportunity to grow up and make a decision for themselves. Again, homosexuals cannot have children, they can take other people’s children. I believe that President Obama is leading America down the wrong road. He’s taking a stand against God.” Ignoring the fear-mongering about homosexuals “taking people’s children” and the outrageous extremist rhetoric about “taking a stand against god,” Graham is complimenting Russia’s restrictive “gay propaganda” law which bans people from “spreading homosexual propaganda” or engaging in “non-traditional sexual activities” and has been enforced with much brutality against Russia’s LGBT community. The very selective application of a much-lauded “freedom” is of course something that religious extremists and despots have long had in common.
Graham went on to praise the “positive changes in religious freedom” in Russia over the past thirty years in contrast with the United States, where he said people were “losing many religious freedoms.” The cognitive dissonance of such statements is incredible given that religious freedom has undeniably increased dramatically in the United States over the past decades while Russia’s minorities (including Graham’s fellow Protestants) continue to be as persecuted as ever. That is exactly the point of course, as to Graham and his brethren on the religious right, “religious freedom” means the freedom of extremist Christians to do whatever they want at the expense of everyone else, as he made clear when he praised Putin for “defending traditional Christianity.” To these fundamentalists, religious freedom is a zero-sum game in which any expansion of freedom for other groups somehow translates into an attack on their own freedom. The only logical answer then, is dictatorship, and the religious right have found their patron dictator in Vladimir Putin.
With no irony Graham lamented the loss of religious freedom resulting from the decline of state-sponsored Christianity in America, saying, “Our country is becoming more and more secular, more atheist, taking God out of government, taking God out of schools. We are witnessing America losing many religious freedoms.” In an almost inevitable barb from such a right-wing nut-job he also said that “secularism is almost no different than communism,” and has accused President Obama of being both an atheist and a Muslim (as if either is an “accusation” to begin with).
The extreme right is currently feeling very threatened as the complete global and societal hegemony of traditional groups such as men, Christians, and the United States wanes. The universal application of the democracy and freedom that they claim to champion inevitably result in freedom and opportunity for people with characteristics other than themselves, which to them is an unthinkable assault on their own amassed power and sense of self. So, naturally, they feel the need to re-establish their power as forcefully as possible, and, given the incompatibility of true democracy with their ideals, this has lead to the idolization of such brutal dictators as Vladimir Putin, whether it’s fawning over his ability to spread mass international death at the push of a button or his despotic crackdowns on human rights in reactionary defense of the existing power structure. As Americans we need to do everything we can to keep these dangerous reactionaries and their fear of progress as far away from the halls of power as possible.