The past month has been monumental for Christianity, with events that may lead to good or ill, depending, as always, on God’s mercy and humanity’s faith, hope and charity.
At October’s end, Pope Francis visited Sweden for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Protestant Reformation, which began when dissenting priest Martin Luther posted his 33 “theses” against the Catholic Church and the papacy on the door of a German church on October 31 half a millennium ago.
Four days later, in Moscow’s grand square, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a 56-foot statue of Prince Vladimir The Great. He ruled from 980 to 1015, uniting Russian lands into Kievan Rus, predecessor-state of the Russian Empire. He adopted Orthodox Christianity as his kingdom’s religion in 988, planting the faith at the core of Russian culture — as symbolized by the cross held aloft by his new monument.
Another four days later across the globe, Republican candidate, billionaire developer and reality TV host Donald Trump won the US presidential elections on a platform including anti-abortion and other policies favored by conservative Christians, and with substantial support from Evangelical and Catholic voters.
Finally, this past week, four senior Cardinals, including Raymond Burke, former head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Catholic Church’s supreme court, made public five questions, called “dubia” (doubts) regarding Pope Francis’s “Amoris Laetitia” apostolic exhortation, which they asked him to clarify.
The Holy Father did not reply directly, and his supporters countered in media and online that there was no need to clarify the exhortation. Meanwhile, the Vatican has told professors and other instructors at pontifical universities that their teaching of Amoris Laetitia would be monitored.
American Christians resurgent
So how might these disparate developments affect Christianity? Let’s save the head of the billion-strong Catholic Church for next Sunday, and discuss the leaders of the world’s top military powers first.
As this column argued last Sunday, the openly positive regard Trump shows Putin, and the former’s avowed plan to pull back America from military deployment and action overseas, may help reduce tensions and advance peace more than losing candidate Hillary Clinton’s hawkish stance.
Moreover, Trump won Christian support with his campaign rhetoric about defunding abortion advocate Planned Parenthood and appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, who may reverse historic rulings declaring abortion and same-sex marriage as rights protected by the Constitution.
Evangelicals and Catholics mobilized not only voter turnout, but also prayer brigades, including a massive one in Jerusalem. On election night, conservative website WND saw what it deemed the hand of God intervening. It said the rise in Trump’s chance of winning as estimated by The New York Times, began around half past eight — just as pro-Trump prayers surged, including the Jerusalem rally < http://www.wnd.com/2016/11/signs-of-divine-intervention-in-trump-victory/ >.
Whether Christian voters and prayers truly turned the tables against polls and media trends favoring Clinton, many believers are now flush with victory and a new sense of power and purpose ordained and empowered by heaven. Expect Christians in America to become even more active and visible in public affairs, especially in pressuring President Trump to deliver on campaign promises.
And Orthodox Russians, too
Turning to the other nuclear-tipped megapower, Putin’s monumental tribute to Russia’s founding father and Christianizing ruler may seem to critics as a symbolic boost to his aggression toward neighboring states, in the guise of defending Russian minorities and even reuniting all Russian states, including Ukraine and Belarus, under Moscow.
Still, Putin has, in fact, pursued pro-Orthodox policies and programs, and espoused traditional Christian morals. His government has restricted ads for abortion services, though it still provides the murderous procedure for free.
Putin has also decried the West’s liberal, anti-religious culture, and opposes homosexuality, reprising the stringent morals of Russia’s collapsed communist regime. He even deplores vulgar language. (Take note, President Rodrigo Duterte.)
Since Putin first became president in 2000, the government has restored Orthodox property seized under communism, making the church one of Russia’s largest landowners. State companies have spent huge funds restoring or building churches.
Moscow has also promulgated restrictions on other faiths, including Catholicism. And as early as 2012, years before the pseudo-Muslim Islamic State began beheadings online, Russia pledged to protect Christians under threat.
More crosses ahead
Those wishfully thinking that Christianity looks set for revival in America and Russia should pause. Neither Trump nor Putin are paragons of virtue, despite their support for religion.
Trump’s profane, bigoted and unchaste language, and his admitted behavior toward women and practices in business do not show great respect for the Ten Commandments. And no less than Pope Francis called Trump’s call for a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico un-Christian.
He may yet backtrack on pledges to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. Already Trump has said that Planned Parenthood does good things, and the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has settled the issue.
For his part, Putin violates Christian morality and charity in repressing dissent and media, invading and annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and bombing populated areas in Syria, killing many innocents.
And if he and Trump play tough guy with their 4,000 nukes, the resulting death and devastation can hardly be what the Creator wishes for creation.
Despite such rightful concerns, however, Putin and Trump are undoubtedly boosting Christianity in the world’s leading powers much more than past American and Russian leaders did.
Moreover, what’s most crucial to the faith in the long term is not the policies of two leaders who would eventually bow out, but rather the rekindling of spirituality and upright living among Russian and American Christians.
Now, as always since biblical times, the faithful must continue carrying their crosses for the faith, with God’s grace and guidance.
That means using the opportunities afforded by Putin and Trump to spread and entrench Christian faith, values and living in Russia and America while godless liberalism is out of power.
Praise and thanks to the Lord now and forever. Amen.