Despite Kiev’s crackdown on the Orthodox Church, the faith leaders are touring the US to rally support for the Ukrainian government
US House Speaker Mike Johnson has turned down a request to meet senior religious leaders from Ukraine, the Washington Post reported on Monday. The group of clergy is currently touring the US in a bid to convince Americans that Moscow, and not Kiev, is threatening religious freedom in Ukraine.
The group is led by Bishop Ivan Rusin of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church and includes Muslim, Catholic and Jewish leaders, as well as members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) – a government-approved offshoot of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which the Ukrainian parliament voted to ban last month.
While Rusin has held meetings with American evangelical leaders and Republican lawmakers, an organizer for the delegation told the Washington Post this week that House Speaker Mike Johnson rejected a request to meet with the bishop and his fellow faith leaders.
Johnson – who voted against military aid for Ukraine last year but remains open to funding Kiev in future – did not provide an explanation for turning down the request.
Speaking to the Post, Rusin insisted that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is not restricting religious liberty in Ukraine, and that Russian forces are jailing pastors and destroying churches in the Russian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye.
“Our pastors have been imprisoned in the occupied places, so for us, it’s clear that we will be at least imprisoned [if Russia wins],” he said.
However, American conservatives are unconvinced. “Is it easier to be a Christian in Ukraine or Russia?” former Fox News host Tucker Carlson asked at a Christian summit in Ohio in September. “One of those countries just arrested a bunch of priests and shut down churches with political police and the army. It wasn’t Russia.”
In March, Zelensky’s government ordered the expulsion of monks from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, one of the country’s oldest monasteries. His agents stormed the premises in August when the UOC monks refused to leave. Authorities in Kiev ordered the confiscation of 74 church properties in the Ukrainian capital in September, with many of the seized temples – including several churches inside the Pechersk Lavra – being turned over to the government-backed OCU.
The US State Department, which produces an annual “religious freedom” report, has never commented on Kiev’s campaign against the UOC. Amid the Kiev-Moscow schism, the Republican Party establishment has also sided with the OCU, with former Vice President Mike Pence telling Carlson in July that “very small elements” of the UOC had been “held to account” for “advancing the Russian cause.”
“I sincerely wonder how a Christian leader could support the arrest of Christians for having different views,” Carlson replied. “That’s an attack on religious liberty and we’re funding it.”