Finally, They’ve Come for the Orthodox

By Timothy Furnish Published on March 27, 2024

First they came for Chick-fil-A. Then they came for the people who mainly eat there, Evangelical Protestants. Then they sent the FBI after the Catholics (but just the ones using Latin and actually following Church teachings on the sin of abortion).

Now they’re coming for Orthodox Christians. Most recently—during our Lent, of course—a Texas Monthly hit piece accused the Orthodox of being “inspired by the Confederacy and Czarist Russia.” But this has been going on for a while: Last fall, Newsweek said the FBI is warning that the Kremlin is “recruiting spies” in American Orthodox churches. In 2022, NPR ran the hyperventilating story “Orthodox Christian churches are drawing in far-right American converts.” So now Eastern Christians, not just certain Western ones, are in the cross-hairs of the “elites.”

The media, Democrat politicians, and the law enforcement/intelligence agencies view conservative Christians of any denomination as a threat. Why? Because we dispute Caesar’s absolute power. Specifically, we oppose the particular demonic lies the government supports: the LGBTQIA+ agenda; the transgender mutilation of children; and claims that “Islam is peaceful” while importing legions of fundamentalist Muslims. (I will have a separate article on that last topic soon.)

Why the “Elites” Despise Conservative Christians

Two-thirds of Americans identify as Christian. About half are Protestant. And about half of those are the dreaded, chicken-sandwich-loving Evangelicals. Catholics comprise another 21% of the population, making them the largest single denomination on our shores. But Orthodox Christians? They only comprise 0.5% of the population, numbering perhaps 1 million in America (although about 250 million elsewhere.)

No wonder the Left hates conservative Protestants and Catholics. There are so many of them in America! But this is not true of Orthodox. Even Muslims outnumber them here. (And their status as crucial voters in Michigan trumps their jihadist potential in the eyes of the current administration.)

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So why put Orthodox Christians into the same alleged threat matrix as conservative Protestants and Catholics? There are three major reasons: Orthodox Christianity is just as conservative as the other two veins mentioned here. Moreover, it’s gaining converts in America. And it gives Democrats a “fifth column” boogeyman, thus helping keep their “Russia! Russia! Russia!” hysteria going.

It’s Not JUST the Beards….

Orthodox Christianity is very traditionalist, although not fundamentalist. Only men are ordained, and they preferably have beards. The liturgy has been done the same way for 16 centuries. Homosexuality is still deemed a sin, following Biblical teachings. (Greek Orthodox bishops are currently debating excommunicating the politicians who approved same-sex marriage.) The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) speaks for all Orthodoxy in its opposition to abortion. The vast majority of American Orthodox identify as conservative or moderate, and only 16% as liberal (although more claim to be Democrat than Republican or Independent). Orthodox laity here are somewhat less conservative than their clergy. But as this is a very hierarchical church, the bishops’ and priests’ views rule, certainly theologically.

Orthodoxy is also growing throughout America, as The Wall Street Journal noted last May, particularly in the most conservative churches, mainly via immigration.

Father John Whiteford is an Orthodox priest with a longstanding blog in Spring, Texas. He is the subject of a story in the April 2024 issue of Texas Monthly.

But ROCOR, the “Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,” is also growing, thanks to converts. That, along with its theological conservatism, has drawn the gaze of journalists, such as the aforementioned Texas Monthly reporter Meagan Saliashvili, who writes,

though [Houston’s Father John] Whiteford says he stays out of purely political discussions, others in his orbit have used their faith and online megaphones to further the cause of right-wing politics. Some of them have found common cause with the Confederacy, fascism, monarchism, and white supremacy.

Saliashvili provides no actual links between such folks and Fr. Whiteford. And of course, like any modern journalist, she goes to X, where the priest “posts and reposts content that is critical of Israel, expresses skepticism of U.S. support of Ukraine … and pushes various reactionary talking points.” Fr. Whiteford (horror of horrors!) also supports homeschooling, opposes the LGBTQ agenda, and is against taking down Confederate statues. Saliashvili then decries Texas becoming a magnet for “right-wing” and “right-adjacent” figures such as Glenn Beck and Elon Musk. And presumably Fr. Whiteford.

Whose Dog Hears a Whistle?

Saliashvili quotes Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, a religion professor at Northeastern University. So does Odette Yousef, author of the aforementioned NPR piece. Dr. Swartz claims to have found “strong strains of nativism, white nationalism, and pro-authoritarianism” in ROCOR. Based on what? One ROCOR parish in West Virginia (not a huge sample size). Furthermore, note the repeated usage of leftist dog whistles: “Confederacy.” “Fascism.” “White supremacy.” “Reactionary.” “Right-wing.” “Right-adjacent.” “Nativism.”

For his part, Fr. Whiteford responded at length on his blog to Saliashvili’s assassinating his character. Read it yourself, and judge whom to believe.

Finally, the FBI would no doubt love to find some Orthodox Christians doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding. (Probably not as much as CNN, however.) One analyst shop warns about “spies in cassocks” working for the Kremlin. But it only provides one example, from Bulgaria. That CNN interview mentions that Moscow is trying to recruit among the “2,300 Orthodox parishes” in the US — but only 199 of those are ROCOR, encompassing about 23,000 faithful.

Far larger, both in numbers of parishes and adherents, are the Greek Orthodox Church in America and the OCA. Greek-Americans are unlikely to snoop for Russia, and the OCA, while originally Russian, is self-governing and no longer under the Patriarch of Moscow. Other Orthodox jurisdictions also have little sympathy for Putin or his country, politically. (Like my own church, a member of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese which, despite the name, is actually “Ruthenian,” not Russian. Think the defunct Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.) Putin’s list of alleged Orthodox allies thus grows rather thin. In fact, maybe the FSB would have better luck frequenting Southern Baptist churches.

Can’t We Conservative Christians All Just Pray for One Another?

Increasingly, whether we like to admit it or not, conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians have more in common across denominational lines than with our liberal coreligionists. This happens negatively, in terms of our own media and government damning us, but also positively, in that we all can confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).

During this Western Christian Holy Week and Eastern Christian Lent, let us consider hanging together and praying for one another — in the name of the One who hung on a cross for all of us.

 

Timothy Furnish holds a doctoral degree in Islamic, world and African history from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor, and occasional media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults with The Stream on matters of international security.

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