Politics Russian-Speaking Immigrants: The New Vanguard of the Anti-Gay Religious Right?
posted by October 16 at 12:55 PMon
Last week, the LA Times ran a very interesting story about the Russian-speaking immigrant community in Sacramento and how it has become the leading antagonist of gay Californians. These immigrants, from places like the Ukraine and Belarus, are mostly Evangelical Christians who fled religious persecution in the former Soviet Union and are now using their newfound religious freedom to persecute gay Americans
It’s a familiar irony: the persecuted becoming the persecutors. And it’s an irony that will be particularly resonant for anyone who followed the gay-bashing of former Seattle resident Micah Painter, who was attacked by three Russian-speaking Evangelical immigrants in 2004. That summer, on gay pride weekend, on a dark street near Capitol Hill, the three young immigrants beat and stabbed Painter simply because he talked back to them after they called him a faggot.
In my long reconstruction of the assault on Painter and the trial that followed, I tried to point out a further irony: That the religious movement at the center of this anti-gay violence by Russian-speaking immigrants is itself American-grown.
The young men who were later convicted of a hate crime for their attack on Painter—Vadim Samusenko, David Kravchenko, and Yevgeniy Savchak—were in a sense a modern product of the Biblical literalism and agressive proselytizing that grew out the 18th Century’s “Great Awakening,” a spiritual “revival” in colonial America that is seen as the beginning of Evangelical Christianity.
This new religion soon spread across oceans and continents, lodging in the minds of millions who came to believe in a need to be reborn and in the literal truth of the Bible. It was in this way that Evangelical Christianity eventually entered the mind of Vadim Samusenko, a young immigrant from Russia and a spiritual descendant of this landmark revival, who last summer awoke inside the cab of a white pickup truck that was rolling through downtown Seattle on a balmy summer night.
Not surprisingly, before he moved to this state Samusenko lived with his family in Sacramento, where the LA Times now finds that Russian-speaking Evangelicals are becoming so aggressive in their attempts to thwart gay rights and convert homosexuals that a recent gay pride festival required extra security precautions:
…The elaborate security preparations reflected growing tensions between Sacramento gays and the city’s large and vociferous community of fundamentalist Christians from the former Soviet Union.
Over the last 18 months, Sacramento Russian-language church members have picketed gay pride events, jammed into legislative committee meetings when gay issues were on the agenda and demonstrated at school board meetings.
Incited by firebrand Russian Pentacostal pastors and polemical Russian-language newspapers, the fundamentalists turn out en masse for state Capitol protest rallies.
Last June, urging readers to attend a massive rally, the Russian newspaper the Speaker told them:
“Make a choice. It’s your decision. Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: ‘Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?’ “
In most instances, the Russian-speaking demonstrators far outnumber representatives from all other anti-gay groups combined. Anti-homosexual rallies that a few years ago attracted a few dozen participants now regularly draw hundreds and sometimes thousands, many with a heavy Russian accent…
Signs displayed by the [Russian-speaking] demonstrators often equate homosexuality with pedophilia and describe the AIDS epidemic as a message from God. One of the common tactics of the demonstrators is to tap gays forcefully on the head and announce that they have been “saved.”
“They’ve declared war on us for some reason,” said Stand Up for Sacramento founder Nathan Feldman, a jewelry store clerk. “They got it into their heads that California is the land of sin and that it is their duty to cleanse the state, starting with homosexuals.”
Religious fundamentalism is not just a Saudi Arabian export. It’s an American export, too, and in this case it’s an exported Christian fundamentalism that, after incubating for more than a century in virulently homophobic regions of the former Soviet Union, is now being re-introduced to America—where this country’s Evangelical leaders are all too eager to embrace it:
Leaders of the religious right… celebrate the Russian efforts as a revival.
“My hope and my prayer,” said Mark Matta, a former legislative aide who heads the Christian Public Awareness Ministries, “is that they will become a voice in the wilderness for the rest of the country.”
Many credit the Slavic Christian immigrant community with filling a void left by the traditional American church and providing reinforcements in the ongoing culture wars over what should define family, acceptable sexual relationships and marriage.
“Russian Christians bring a fresh faith and uncorrupted family values to this country. They are a shining model for the rest of us in terms of faith, family, work ethic, patriotism and community,” said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families.