The Russian Orthodox Church and American evangelicals have allied to defend a traditional definition of family and fight abortion in Russia, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.
On June 29-30, the World Congress of Families, a Rockford, Ill.-based organization that defends heterosexual marriage and advocates against abortion, will be holding a conference called the “Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind,” organized together with the Moscow Patriarchate and other Russian supporters of traditional concepts of family life.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I is expected to speak at the conference, which will address the causes of Russia’s dramatic population decline. Under Patriarch Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Church has adopted many of the social and missionary outreach methods of American evangelicals. Speakers from Russia, Europe and the United States are expected, according to organizers.
Official statistics say 1.3 million abortions were performed in 2009 in Russia, in a population of just under 143 million and falling. The population was 148.5 million in 1995. A recent influx of Muslim migrants into Moscow and other large Russian cities from the Northern Caucasus region of Russia and former Soviet republics has led many Russians to fear that Muslims, who have a high birthrate, will soon outnumber them. Russian nationalist soccer fans and Muslims from the Northern Caucasus clashed at the foot of the Kremlin wall in Moscow late last year.
For decades, American evangelicals and the Russian Orthodox Church were divided by Cold War politics and seemingly insurmountable theological differences. However, the current alliance became public earlier this year when Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, traveled to the U.S. to meet with American evangelicals.
The trip was arranged by John Bernbaum, an American evangelical who is founder and president of the Russian-American Institute in Moscow, a faith-based educational institution, and Bob Foresman, an American banker with strong evangelical ties who heads Barclay’s Russia. Family values and the fight against abortion were among the top items on the agenda.
Russia’s fledgling anti-abortion movement, which has embraced the American tactic of picketing abortion clinics and also plans to open obstetrical clinics where abortions will not be performed, also has Kremlin support.
First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva, while avoiding strident anti-abortion terminology, has in effect become an anti-abortion activist. Medvedeva was a keynote speaker at a forum last November held by Sanctity of Motherhood, an anti-abortion organization led by Natalia Yakunina, the wife of Vladimir Yakunin, chief of Russia’s railroads, who is known for his close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The state must help women keep their babies,” said Medvedeva at the forum.