Belief  /  Explainer

The Bond That Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Support Putin’s War

Russia has become an ally in a global movement.

American critics condemned the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in overtly sexual terms: Collectivizing farms and factories, they charged, inevitably meant collectivizing women. A Senate committee found that by destroying a wife’s dependency on her husband, communists stripped men of their masculine prerogatives and blurred gender roles — to the detriment of social order.

Anti-radical crusaders charged that Soviet women were forced to register at a national Bureau of Free Love, where any man had the right of sexual access. The sexual threat of Russia’s “red menace” galvanized organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in defense of both private property and private family life. They monitored textbooks, compiled blacklists of “subversives” and defeated liberal legislation on maternal health and child welfare. “Economic bolshevism is destructive,” warned a conservative editor in 1922, “but it is nothing as compared with sexual bolshevism.”

Christian missionaries to the U.S.S.R. walked a fine line in these years. Some initially hailed the Russian Revolution as an opportunity to win souls from the shackles of what they considered the authoritarian, superstitious Russian Orthodox Church.

But Russia under the Bolsheviks challenged the very nuclear family that American Christians saw as the bedrock of civilization and property relations. The 1918 Family Code predicted that by turning domestic labor into a public service rather than a private duty, socialism would eliminate “the fetters of husband and wife.”

Over the next decade, Soviet authorities did their best to fulfill that prediction. They shuttered churches, secularized schools and removed Bibles from libraries while decriminalizing abortion, liberalizing divorce and recognizing de facto marriage. In 1929, new laws barred foreign proselytizers. Atheists organized in the League of the Militant Godless pledged to eradicate religion in the Soviet Union by 1937.

Nothing could have alarmed believers in the United States more. With atheistic Russian Communism as the enemy, Christianity and sexual and gender conservatism became crucial fronts in the Cold War.

As the United States experienced a religious revival after World War II, Republicans such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy (Wis.) latched onto the supposed security threat posed by sexual perversion and gender “confusion” for their own political gain. The Lavender Scare linked homosexuality to Russian spying, with Christianity the only bulwark against both. Sexually tinged spy scandals spurred the Truman administration to purge suspected gay and lesbian people from federal employment because they were “security risks,” a project that continued for two decades. “I do not know what homosexuals are,” sighed a congressman in 1950, “but I never saw anybody get so much free advertising in the Congress of the United States in all my life.”