(Mark Woods) The US presidential election race has focused attention on the role of religion there. Ostensibly a country that prizes freedom of religion, in practice its politicians who aren’t seen to be “Christian” have a built-in disadvantage. The Republican nomination process in particular has highlighted the religious nationalism of many American evangelicals, who see patriotism and Christianity as deeply intertwined. Thousands of miles away, however, there’s an ideological synergy between Church and State which is just as unhealthy. Under its leader Patriarch Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has backed the aggressive expansionism of President Vladimir Putin, which has seen him extend Russian power into Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Kirill described Putin at a religious leaders’ meeting in 2012 as “a miracle of God”. It supported a government crackdown on “gay propaganda” in 2013. The ROC has made billions from trading concessions granted to it by the government. It is increasingly asserting its position as the largest of the 14 self-governing Orthodox Churches and is using its political muscle in support of Putin’s aims. It’s no friend to evangelicals, especially in the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, seeing them as puppets of the West. READ MORE