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Monday, October 16, 2006

Russian-Speaking Immigrants: The New Vanguard of the Anti-Gay Religious Right?

posted by on October 16 at 12:55 PM

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.

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Funny how they at one time would have been considered "evil commies" and "godless aggressors" by the same people (what, 20 years ago?!)....Once again this proves that many religions will easily change their tune if you play what they want to hear.

*shakes head*

Posted by Monique | October 16, 2006 1:05 PM

Like Ive said, Pentecostal Christians are taking over Latin America, Africa, and eastern Europe. They have made it their priority to bring their brand of fundamentalism to other regions of the world.

Posted by SeMe | October 16, 2006 1:40 PM

Having grown up SacTown (in a pentacostal school), I can attest to this.

Posted by J in Sea | October 16, 2006 1:42 PM

A lot of the Russian/Eastern Eurpoeans are racist assholes too.

Posted by The only good commie.... | October 16, 2006 2:39 PM

Judging from the Russians I've met, it seems really hard to imagine them in a Pentecostal church or really any Protestant church. Those churches are so animated and in many ways, optimistic, and all the Russians I meet are so dour, subdued, and pessimistic. I almost expect that a Protestant missionary would try to proselytize and they'd frown and say, "I don't know why I should bother. Even if I accept Jesus Christ and my personal lord and savior," I'll probably still go to hell."

Posted by Gitai | October 16, 2006 2:47 PM

But, Gitai, that's the core of old-school Calvinist belief.

Posted by Fnarf | October 16, 2006 2:50 PM

According to the article, most are not Russians, but Ukranian, Georgians and Belorussians. Makes sense since Pentecostals go for the poorest, and most uneducated countries and Pentecostals have some history in the Ukrane. I think the Slog post got it wrong. It should read former Soviet Republic immigrants, most Russians here are atheists and Jews.

Posted by SeMe | October 16, 2006 2:52 PM

Seme --

You're right. Most of the immigrants in question are from former Soviet republics like the Ukraine, so they're not "Russian" in the current post-Soviet-Union political sense.

But the LA Times still refers to them as "Russian" in parts of its story, and a lot of Americans do the same when speaking colloquially. I know this sometimes offends immigrants from the former Soviet Republics, but on the other hand "former Soviet Republic immigrants" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and, more importantly, it can be confusing to readers.

It's a hard problem to write around. But I'll see if I can fix it in the post.

Posted by Eli Sanders | October 16, 2006 3:08 PM

Ok, fixed it, I think. Thanks, Seme.

Posted by Eli Sanders | October 16, 2006 3:22 PM

but it does seem that the fundies are doing a lot of missionary work in all of the former Soviet states...Russia included.

Just as pure personal experience, between 2002 and 2005 I was traveling to Russia about once every two months and I'll be damned if I can recall a single trip where I did not meet some fundy Xtians who were there either to do missionary work or pick up their adopted baby (arranged for by their sister church).

Posted by gnossos | October 16, 2006 5:02 PM

Seme, Russian is a useful catch all because for these immigrants, their two common languages are English and Russian. This isn't really a new thing. In Israel, where they absorbed 200,000 "Russians" in less than a decade. Yes, many of them are not from Russia proper, but newspapers for their communities are always printed in Russian, as are public notices and subtitles (actually, public notices are printed in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English). It's a common, unifying factor, akin to the Francophonie.

Posted by Gitai | October 16, 2006 5:55 PM

This is surprising. Russians are well-known for their open minds, enlightened attitudes, and general empathy towards their fellow man.

Posted by Laterite | October 16, 2006 8:09 PM

Most Ukranians loathe Russians, almost as much as Estonians and the residents of the other Baltic republics. Its no big deal, but I just think the distinction helps because as the article points out, Russian comunities in other parts of the country are very different than the Sacramento Russian speaking communities. I think Eli's correction works since I think the language is the unifyer, but he is right in that its hard to get a grasp on the proper term, without sounding too PC. I wished the LA times article had done the same.

Most of the Russians I have met here are atheists; whereas the south king County Ukranians tend to be more of the fundie kind..

And Gnossos is right, the pentecostals are stepping it up all over the world. Specially in Latin America and Africa. Everytime I go back to Nicaragua for a visit, the plane is full of snake handling pentecostal missionaries from the US south.

Posted by SeMe | October 16, 2006 9:36 PM

stupid russians. I have a whole group of them living in an apartment complex 2 blocks away. these bastards are so poor that I think that the entire nation of russia has moved to this apartment complex. seriously, there are like 30 people living in each apartment. Fuck you you russian assholes. I, a gay man, live in a a 3 story house just for me while you live in a quarter of the space that I have and in this timy space you live with 20 other people. FUCK YOU

Posted by I hate russians | October 16, 2006 11:22 PM

I made a song!!!

Russians are so smellyyyyyy.....they smell like vodka and farts

Their women are so fat and do not shave their body parts

How can a russian man hate gays when his wife looks like a man?

I don't really know...I guess because he can.

Posted by russians are smelly | October 16, 2006 11:28 PM

i am dam proud russian and anti-gay, i believe in the truth bible and yes russians are dam anti-gay, so to the guy who lives in his gay three story house what you happy about that you getting fucked in your asshole how can you find dam happiness in that, ohhh dam if even went to my mother land for one day and people found out that you a gay fruit you prabably would not come back alive to u.s.

and to tell u the truth you dont even know how most russians do better finacially then born citizens in u.s.
we be riding in bmws and mercedes while you gay americans be riding in
pontiac american garbage.
you gay asshole dont know much thats just that one apartment,
i bet you that the ratio of sucess between gay american compared to russians is really low, let say maybe for every 1
successfull american there is about 5 success full russians living in houses? i guess soo

now to all gays i would like to warn you even if you dont belive in bible just take a minute to think about it

when you die or end of world comes every single human will face judgment like in court
everysingle thing everyone did was recorded think as on camera
and for those who dont accept jesus christ have their ticket
to hell
which you burn and suffer for EVER, HEAR THAT FOREVER. but you all have a choice be saved and be at the party of heavens gates FOREVER! but homosexuality is not permitied
for god it is not acepted so it will only get u ticket to hell!

good luck think about it


Posted by FUCKYOUGAYFAGGOTS | October 26, 2006 1:04 AM

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