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Vladimir Putin has taken it upon himself to lecture President Obama and the American people on the doctrine of God, and God’s relationship to human history.
Mr. Putin apparently did not care for the part of President Obama’s address Tuesday night on Syria when President Obama made a reference to “what makes us exceptional” as Americans.
Writing in the
New York Times, Mr. Putin counters,“God created us equal,” as he argues that it “is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional.”
When I read Mr. Putin’s editorial, however, my first question was, who is the “us” in “God created us equal,” Mr. Putin? For example, does that include the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender citizens of your country?
How exactly does “God created us equal” work in Russia, Mr. Putin?
Masha Gessen, a journalist in Moscow and the author of
The Man Without a Face
, a biography of Vladimir Putin, has written about “Russia’s New Normal,” also for the
New York Times
. In Russia, the “new normal” when it comes to equality is a run-away homophobia in both law and social relationships.
Gessen, as a concerned lesbian parent, writes about how “cruel” this is for her and her partner’s kids. Their kids feel “nervous” when, for example, Russia’s “most prominent homophobic politician attacked our family directly.” Gessen writes that as a family, they are also getting support, as “the parents of my son’s best friend and classmate immediately got in touch asking if they could do anything to help protect us.” Will that be enough, she worries, to protect their children from this insanity that is now the “New Normal” in Russia?
Where is the equality that comes from God in your Russia, Mr. Putin, when kids get scared by homophobia propagated by Russian politicians, including yourself?
In Christian theology, “God created us equal” also means we are each accountable to God as our creator. How does that work, Mr. Putin, when your editorial cynically absolves the Assad regime for the use of poison gas, instead arguing “there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”
That’s not the direction that the U.N. Inspectors will point when they issue their report. According to a recent article in
, the U.N. report “will provide a strong circumstantial case — based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples — that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability.”
Equality before God means equality of judgment; it is my view, as a person of faith as well as an American citizen, that you, Mr. Putin, as well as your government, should be held accountable for the actions of Syria, including gassing its own citizens. Syria is your client state.
You come out strongly for “peace” in your editorial. Peacemaking requires truth-telling, Mr. Putin. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) You need to tell the truth about the obstructionist role Russia has played in the United Nations Security Council in regard to Syria. You are not believed when you pontificate about how the United Nations Security Council is so important in “preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world,” given Russia’s recent role.
Yes, American exceptionalism has functioned, from time to time, to convince Americans that God loves the United States best. This has tempted us to regard our own national interest as innocent, as I have written.
Is that the case here, in regard to the use of banned chemical weapons, as investigation is showing, by the Assad regime?
Perhaps in part, but in part it can be that we as Americans are also horrified by a state gassing its own citizens, especially children.
You claim, in your editorial, to be getting to know President Obama better. One thing you should know about this man, Barack Obama, is that he has shown himself to be a dedicated father. “Protecting children” has been a theme in his presidency, especially in regard to protecting them from senseless violence. When children are callously gassed to death, this person, this human being, is clearly horrified.
This is the whole of what our president said about “American exceptionalism.”
When “we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
While I personally do not agree with the president that bombing Syria is the best way to achieve those ends, there is an important point the president is making here.
Values are just words, even words used cynically, when you do not try to live up to them in deed as well as word.
So, show us you believe that “God created us equal,” Mr. Putin. End homophobia in your country, repeal the discriminatory legislation already in place, and work with your citizens to make equality in deeds and then in words.
Do that first, and then we’ll talk about God, creation and equality.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, M.Div., Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and immediate past President at Chicago Theological Seminary. She is the author, among other works, of Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired World.