Does McCain see real faith factor in Russia-Georgia conflict?

August 18, 2008

Russian tank rolls through Georgian region of South Ossetia, 10 August 2008/Vasily FedosenkoRecognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen’s post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia’s Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there,  McCain’s reaction statement noted that Georgia was “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said “the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.”

John McCain and Rick Warren, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryHistory is fascinating but McCain’s use of it here begs the question whether there is an actual faith factor in this conflict or just in his presentation of it. Russia, after all, is also a traditionally Christian nation, but he made no mention of that. After the fall of communism there, the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed its traditional role there — as has the Georgian Orthodox Church in the Caucasian republic after state-sponsored atheism lost out there too. There are no obvious doctrinal disputes that divide them.

Church-to-church relations also seem reasonable. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, senior officials of the two churches spoke by telephone last week and “declared their common peacemaking position and readiness to cooperate in this field.” Patriarchs of both churches have called for a ceasefire and condemned the violence among fellow Christians. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love confront each other,” Russia’s Primate Alexiy II said. “What is most important (is that) we (are) united with Christian faith and must live peacefully without blood,” Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II said.

Georgian Patriarch Ilia II (r) speaks with Russian Major General  Vyacheslav Borisov in Gori, Georgia, 15 August 2008/Gleb GaranichSince Orthodox churches are organised nationally, each side naturally reflects in some way its own country’s political view of the crisis. But even in his protest letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Ilia’s only reference to religion was his lament that Orthodox were killing each other.

Other religious authorities — Pope Benedict after an Angelus prayer and the World Council of Churches and Conference of European Churches in a joint statement — have also mentioned the two countries’ common Christian heritage in their calls for a ceasefire but not implied it played any role in the conflict.

On his Crunchy Con blog, Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher — a convert to Orthodoxy — branded McCain’s comments as “total and shameless pandering to Evangelicals. As if Russia isn’t a Christian nation. As if Russia hasn’t been Christian for over a thousand years. As if Christianity had anything to do with this conflict.”

Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steven Waldman saw McCain signalling three possible messages to evangelical voters: (1) I think having Christianity as an official religion is a fine idea in general, (2) This is just like the Cold War when the forces of Christianity are at war with the forces of Atheism or (3) I view the protection of Christians from attack worldwide as an important goal.”

What do you think? Does McCain’s selective mention of religion have any relevance to this conflict?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

It is irrelevant how McCain perceives the conflict between Georgia and Russia.

What *is* important is that, IRRESPECTIVE of how this conflict is perceived by any of the politicians, Georgia, the United States and the Israel are iterations of the “king of the South”; and Russia, South Ossetia, Syria and Iran are iterations of the “king of the North” in the fractal Prophecies of Daniel 11:40-45. That is, Georgia’s attack upon South Ossetia and Russia’s retaliation consist of a small-scale macro-iteration of Daniel 11:40.

But this is only the beginning.

It is the nature of fractal Prophecies to iterate.

Michael Cecil

Posted by Michael Cecil | Report as abusive

Thank you, Reuters, for once again showing your utter disdain for history in favor of the leftist angle du jour.

I’ll sum up what I said before.

Heneghan’s claim that the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed its pre-communism role there is seriously flawed. Seventy-five years, hundreds of torched churches, ten-million plus murdered by followers of the same violently secular ideology that is puffing out its chest today. Putin’s storm troopers threatening destruction in Georgia if they don’t cede their borders are the same thugs who extinguished through murder and arson the presence of Christianity in Russia.

It is making a comeback, but Dreher’s claim that Russia “has been” Christian for 1,000 years turns a blind eye to 3/4ths of a century of the persecution of individuals’ beliefs.

Those truly interested in being educated on the subject should read The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Empire from Lenin Through Stalin, by Fr. Christopher Lawrence Zugger.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive

I’ll have to echo Matt a bit here. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a religious angle. You may just care to note which troops exactlyy Putin sent into Georgia…

Posted by saint | Report as abusive

Putin a Christian?Hmmmmm….

Posted by Bobby | Report as abusive

Saint, could you please clarify your reference to “which troops exactly Putin sent into Georgia”? It sounds like you see a religion angle there but it’s not clear what it is.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive