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How US Evangelicals Fueled the Rise of Russia’s ‘Pro-Family’ Right | The Nation

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How US Evangelicals Fueled the Rise of Russia’s ‘Pro-Family’ Right

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Gay rights protest

Gay rights activists take part in an opposition protest march in Moscow, June 12, 2013. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

The trip to Dallas grew out of an increasingly close friendship between church leaders and a small circle of American and European Christian businessmen in Moscow. Alfeyev’s visit was organized by Jerry Fullinwider, an oil executive and elder of the Highland Park church who, until recently, had business interests in Russia. Fullinwider, a member of the Koch brothers’ circle of major donors—those who have given more than $1 million to Koch-related causes—met Alfeyev through his friend Bob Foresman, head of Barclay’s Capital in Russia. This select group of businessmen has unusual access to Alfeyev. In an interview for this article, Fullinwider described having dinner at Alfeyev’s private residence on a recent trip to Moscow. “He’s a real busy guy,” says Fullinwider. “He’s very, very hard to get in touch with unless you have a special number and you know the main guy who handles him, who’s a good friend of mine.”  

Alfeyev’s first trip to the United States paved the way for others, and in October 2012 he delivered a lecture at Villanova University, where he received an honorary degree and paid a visit to the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. One of the largest donor organizations of its kind in the United States, the Bradley Foundation, with more than $600 million in assets, is known for its contributions to US conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute. But its charity isn’t limited to home: over the last four years, the foundation has given $750,000 to the St. Gregory the Theologian Charity Foundation in Moscow, a new educational and cultural initiative founded in 2009 by Alfeyev, Russian billionaire and pharmaceutical magnate Vadim Yakunin, and Leonid Sevastianov, a 35-year-old international business consultant and head of Stratinvest.ru, a consulting and public relations firm. In 2009, through Alfeyev’s charity, the Bradley Foundation donated $150,000 to support the “Day of the Family,” a recently created Russian holiday honoring faith and fidelity. The annual event has been championed by Svetlana Medvedeva, wife of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, a staunch anti-abortion advocate.

“We want to promote the idea of the unity between the West and Russia on the basis of common Christian roots,” Sevastianov told Inside the Vatican magazine in 2009. “We believe in this alliance among traditional Christian countries…and we believe that, with a united voice, we can be a strong force against the radical secular world which has become dominant in our societies.” 

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The push to deepen ties with American evangelicals, to present a united front, coincides with the church’s broadening influence within Russia. In State Department cables published by WikiLeaks in 2010, then–US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle described a meeting with Alfeyev in which the bishop admitted that the Russian Orthodox Church “has been extending its reach further into heretofore secular areas of society” like education. “Calling the ROC ‘a significant actor’ in the life of the country,” Beyrle wrote, “Hilarion said that Patriarch Kirill is ‘not only symbolic,’ but can also influence major currents in Russia, including its political development.” 

In his remarks at Villanova in 2012, Alfeyev emphasized the importance of bringing together the symbolic and political power of the church. “It is essential,” he said, “to protect and support a cultural tradition which is favorable to the family,” and to take “an active part in the creation of legislation that favors the family and its natural foundation.” 

Clearly, the church’s efforts are beginning to pay off within the country, while Russia has also emerged as a leader in the international “pro-family” movement.

In 2011, the World Congress of Families held its first Demographic Summit in Moscow. Established in 1997 by Dr. Allan Carlson, the WCF is an interfaith, international movement whose mission is to “restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit.” Back in 1995, Carlson was invited to speak at Moscow State University by two professors of sociology who admired his book Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis. According to Jennifer Butler in Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized, “The professors and Carlson, joined by a lay leader in the Russian Orthodox Church, came to the conclusion that what they needed was to bring together scholars and leaders from ‘newly free Europe and Russia’ to meet with leaders from the West.” The first global conference was held in Prague in 1997 and drew more than 700 participants. 

The 2011 summit was attended by leading US evangelicals like Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America and Larry Jacobs of the WCF. The meeting’s Russian attendees included not only church heavyweights but Natalia Yakunina, chair of the Sanctity of Motherhood Program and wife of Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the state-run Russian Railways and a member of Putin’s inner circle. In promotional material, the WCF claims that the 2011 summit “helped pass the first Russian laws restricting abortion in modern history.” The WCF held a follow-up Demographic Summit in Ulyanovsk in 2012.

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