Christians often say they are persecuted for their beliefs in modern America. I say, no, for the most part, I don’t believe that’s true. Christianity is privileged in many ways in the U.S. However, listing those ways isn’t the main point of this brief post.
I mainly want to point out actual persecution and hold up the bravery of a Russian citizen who simply held up a blank sign.
Police in Nizhny Novgorod arrested a demonstrator today for protesting with a blank sign. Welcome to Russia in 2022. pic.twitter.com/YprwDqex8V
This woman was taken away simply for holding up a sign with nothing on it. I suppose it was understood that she was protesting the war in Ukraine. However, in a country where the dictator has a history of killing dissidents, this was an act of bravery.
There are so many lies and half-truths floating around the trial of Donald Trump that it is hard to know where to start. People who do fact checking for a living are working round the clock to try to keep up. I picked this one mainly because I am interested in it and because I see it as a deliberate, clever and sadly effective attempt to deceive masses of people. I have seen this approach used often by David Barton in his historical misadventures. Often, Barton takes a little truth, a little error and puts them together for a false story that seems plausible to the listener who wants to believe it.
In this case, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has accelerated his promotion of the Russian narrative that Joe Biden’s opposition to Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin in 2015 was motivated by a desire to bring financial gain to his son Hunter. Watch:
The main point is summarized by Cruz at the end:
If you have a sitting Vice President making public policy decisions to benefit his family to the tune of $1-million a year, that raises a serious question of corruption and a president is not only justified in asking for that to be investigated but has a responsibility to see that that’s investigated.
I suppose Cruz could defend himself by saying that he qualified his statement by saying, “if.” However, the video presents a narrative that has Joe Biden withholding over a billion in funds from Ukraine until the Ukrainian leadership fired Viktor Shokin, their prosecutor at the time. That part is true but incomplete. Cruz goes on to suggest Biden did that in order to protect his son’s company from scrutiny from investigation by that same prosecutor. That is false.
At the end of this post I provide annotated links to articles which describe the bipartisan and widespread support for the ouster of Shokin. Shokin was not investigating corruption in Ukraine which is why the U.S. wanted him removed. Biden acted on directives from the Obama administration. If anything, Shokin’s removal made an investigation of Hunter Biden’s company more likely because it increased the chances that a prosecutor with integrity would be appointed. If Biden wanted to help his son, he would have supported Shokin and wanted him to stay in office because Shokin was leaving Burisma (Hunter Biden’s company) alone.
This is fairly easy to learn by reading reports filed at the time in the international, U.S. and Ukrainian press. The Congressional Research Service also provided a similar perspective on this situation and was not controversial at all until Trump needed a defense of his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Burisma. I have no doubt that Ted Cruz has been briefed on this and is aware that Shokin was not a reformer and that Biden did not act alone or in his son’s interest to get Shokin fired. He knows that U.S. and EU policy at the time favored the removal of Shokin and that Biden was just the person on the scene to carry it out. As Vice President, Biden’s presence in Ukraine signaled how serious the donor nations were, but he wasn’t acting on his own.
I realize I am speaking to readers who know this. Most, if not all, regular readers here know this. I am revisiting this because I want to document this shady use of events to craft a false narrative for myself and my teaching. I also want to provide the links below as a resource for those who want evidence to provide skeptical friends who have been bamboozled by Trump’s defenders.
Annotated timeline of Viktor Shokin’s tenure as Prosecutor General:
February 10, 2015 – Shokin replaces Yarema as top prosecutor – Viktor Shokin was a deputy under former prosecutor Vitaliy Yarema. Yarema failed to prosecute officials in former President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration and generally showed no results in fighting corruption. Shokin’s nomination was opposed by corruption fighters in Ukraine since he came from the same office as Yarema. The Ukrainian Weekly reported:
Fiery debate preceded the vote in which critics warned he’d perform just as badly as Mr. Yarema, having served at the heart of Ukraine’s corrupt law enforcement system for more than a decade, including under the Yanukovych administration.
Shokin did not have a reputation as a corruption fighter when he entered the job.
July 24, 2015 – Shokin and Guzir were “burned” under the GPU – After just five months on the job, the Center for Combating Corruption in Ukraine grew impatient with Shokin’s lack of action and burned him and others in effigy. This is a Google translation of the Ukrainian statement underneath the video.
Avtomaydan, together with the Center for Combating Corruption and activists from Kharkiv, Poltava, under the GPU, hold an action for the resignation of sabotage reformers of Prosecutor General Shokin and his deputies Huzyr and Stoliarchuk.
September 24, 2015 – Remarks by US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt at the Odesa Financial Forum – In his remarks, Pyatt specifically scolded the Prosecutor General’s office for interfering with a UK investigation of Burisma. Shokin’s predecessor had failed to cooperate. Then Shokin failed to hold anyone accountable for the neglect of a thorough investigation of charges against Burisma. If Biden wanted to encourage corruption and take heat from Burisma, he would have left Shokin alone. Instead, Biden carried out U.S. policy and insisted he be relieved of his position.
Like Ukraine’s police force, the Prosecutor General’s Office has to be reinvented as an institution that serves the citizens of Ukraine, rather than ripping them off. That means it must investigate and successfully prosecute corruption and asset recovery cases – including locking up dirty personnel in the PGO itself;
October 12, 2015 – Sobolev’s case for firing Shokin steadily gains momentum – Ukrainian legislator Yegor Sobolev’s effort to get Shokin fired was featured in this Kyiv Post article. Biden was just one of many people inside and outside of Ukraine who wanted Shokin replaced. What did Sobolev have to gain from Shokin’s removal from office? According to Sobolev, legislators were fearful of speaking out because Shokin used the power of his office to target his political enemies.
Sobolev has so far collected 114 signatures in parliament for dismissing Shokin, still well short of the 150 signatures needed to put the issue on the agenda.
He said in an interview with the Kyiv Post that not a single signature has been collected since the Sept. 17 arrest of Radical Party lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk on suspicion of bribery. Critics see the arrest as political revenge by Shokin for Mosiychuk’s support for his firing.
“After Ihor’s arrest everyone started thinking ‘what if this happens to me tomorrow’?” Sobolev said. “One of Shokin’s goals is to show to lawmakers what consequences could happen to those who submit signatures for his dismissal.”
February 16, 2015; March 29, 2015 – It seems clear from a review of sources during the term of Shokin that he was not popular with reformers and corruption fighters. The U.S., EU, and Ukrainian politicians and civilians wanted him removed. Joe Biden delivered the message which was consistent with U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Shokin resigned initially on February 16, 2015. He didn’t leave office right away though and had to be voted out by the legislature which occurred on March 29, 2015.
UPDATE: (1/26) – The NYT obtained emails supporting Mark Louise Kelly’s assertion that questions about Ukraine were to be a part of the interview with Pompeo. He claimed Ukraine wasn’t on the agenda.
Mike Pompeo must be about to break the cognitive dissonance meter. He is in the thick of the Trump Ukraine scandal having to defend his boss while holding himself up as a Christian leader at the State Department. I am old enough to remember his talk at the annual conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors.After he spoke at the AACC conference, he posted video of the speech with the caption, “Being a Christian Leader.” There were mighty and many complaints about this apparent favoring of Christianity by the Secretary of State and the caption was eventually changed. Now with the caveat that anyone can have a bad day, I bring you Mike Pompeo’s performance in an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on Ukraine’s former ambassador Marie Yovanovich:
Obviously Pompeo was caught in an effort to save face. He hasn’t defended every state department employee if he hasn’t defended Marie Yovanovich. There is an obvious exception and he can’t even acknowledge this. That would be bad enough but then it gets worse.
According to Kelly, Pompeo then dared her to find Ukraine on a map, swearing in a belligerent manner.
NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly says the following happened after the interview in which she asked some tough questions to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. pic.twitter.com/cRTb71fZvX
If all of this took place as portrayed, Pompeo owes that reporter an apology and should answer the questions. He owes that to Yovanovich and his department at State, as well as the citizens of the nation. Trump and his administration don’t seem to have a sense that they work for us.
Today Pompeo came out with a statement defending himself. Here it is:
Quite the statement from the nation’s top diplomat: Sec Pompeo responds to @NPR, saying @NPRKelly lied and… insinuating she misidentified Ukraine on that map. “This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt Pres Trump and this administration.” pic.twitter.com/9xdZWZs34o
With this statement Pompeo suggests that a reporter agreed to have a conversation after the interview and that the conversation would be off the record. While that could be true, I am skeptical. Furthermore, it isn’t clear when the interview was over.
In any case, even if the reporter agreed to keep the conversation off the record, Pompeo is not denying it took place or any of the contents. I still can’t square this with his claim to be a Christian leader. Berating, challenging and swearing at a reporter who asked a good and relevant question is not Christian leadership. He is mad he got caught but that is on him. He projects his mistake on the entire media as a scapegoat, but I see what happened. Then he implied the reporter pointed to Bangladesh instead of Ukraine when he asked her where Ukraine is on a map. The reporter has a graduate degree in European studies, I doubt she made that big of a mistake, if she did at all.
Here is another problem with Pompeo’s remarks. He implies that U.S. Ukraine policy should depend on how many Americans care about Ukraine. This is frightening and again speaks to how politicized this administration has made our foreign policy. Ukraine is an ally that helps keep Russia from redrawing the map in eastern Europe. They are a freedom loving people who do not want to become Putin’s subjects. Mike Pompeo, I care about Ukraine and many Americans do too.
Pompeo told the AACC audience that he was working for religious freedom around the world. I don’t believe him if he doesn’t care about Ukraine. Putin doesn’t care about religious freedom. He only cares about his freedom to establish his religious machine. Religious minorities in Russia don’t have it as good. Is this what Pompeo wants for Ukraine?
When Barack Obama was president, evangelicals and conservatives cared about Ukraine. They believed Obama was weak and unwilling to confront Vladimir Putin’s expansionism into Ukraine.
Now, evangelicals are largely silent about President Donald Trump’s warm words toward Russia’s leader and confusing rhetoric about Ukraine.
An early signal of this shift was obvious at the GOP National Convention when Trump’s supporters watered down a key pro-Ukraine plank in the party platform. I was told by a GOP delegate that the only proposal Trump’s observers spoke up about was the one which encouraged the U.S. government to arm Ukrainians against Russian aggression. Trump’s people in the room succeeded in significantly softening the proposed language with little if any resistance from the large contingent of evangelical delegates.
Now, despite Trump’s assurances that Russia would leave Ukraine alone, Putin’s forces are again bombing Eastern Ukraine while Donald Trump defends Putin and even compares his Russia to the U.S (see the recent Bill O’Reilly interview).
On this point, the following tweet caught my attention.
My evangelical extended family in Ukraine getting bombed today by Putin has been sold out by American nationalist evangelical leaders.
@wthrockmorton Knowing what the “Russian World” means, Ukraine’s evangelicals are stunned US evangelicals support Trump who supports Putin.
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) February 6, 2017
Do evangelicals leaders still care about Ukraine?
If they did, I hope they will use their clout with Trump in order to educate him about the dangers of trusting the Russian leader, especially given his recent actions. If anything, Trump’s rhetoric is more in lines with a desire to Make Russia Great Again than #MAGA.
According to my Grove City College colleague Paul Kengor, Trump is heading down the dangerous road first traveled by FDR with Stalin and then by Obama with Putin. In a 2016 article, Kengor wrote:
Stalin showed that “like” of FDR by rolling over Eastern Europe, hammering everything from the Ukraine to Poland. He abused the hell out of FDR. Not until literally days before he died, just weeks after Stalin preyed upon his trust at Yalta, did FDR finally learn and admit he had been wrong about Stalin.
“Averell [Harriman] is right,” FDR sighed to Anna Rosenberg on March 23, 1945, less than three weeks before he died. “We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.”
FDR’s tragic mistake was thinking that the Russian leader liked him and thus would “work with me for a world of democracy and peace” (yes, FDR actually said that about Stalin).
The “Putin-likes-me” attitude of Trump is a fatal conceit, and it’s something that Donald Trump should have learned from watching two terms of Barack Obama’s naïve statements and attitude toward the Russians. It is also the polar opposite of Ronald Reagan’s statements and attitude toward the Russians.
In June 2014, the head of one of Ted Cruz’s Super PACs, David Barton visited Ukraine and, among other things, told a group of pastors that John Locke’s Two Treatises cited 1500 Bible verses of how government should operate (recently debunked with the help of Greg Forster). According to his Facebook page, Barton went back last week to spread the Christian nation gospel.
We’ve been in Eastern Europe this week. This country is wanting to move toward a new constitution that inculcates many of the principles of our American constitutional government, including its alliance with religion and morality. I spoke at what is considered their premier university and law school, and then met with some heads of their departments. We are also helping with the development of military personnel and programs here, including the addition of chaplains to the military (some of our best and most-Godly military leaders will be helping them over coming weeks). During the trip, we dined at a local restaurant, and we captured some of flavor of this wonderful country and its precious people in the video below. (They even played a western swing song — quite an interesting sound on Eastern European instruments!) The panoramic picture is of a law class where I spoke at the university, and the large red building is a university here. There is also a choir singing inside a government building (the yellow room in the picture) as part of our awards ceremony, and then the group of 55 special students from across the country we honored with awards last night for their contributions to the movement to create a new constitution here — one built on Godly values and the rule of law, modeling much of the original intent of the American constitution. I spent 2 hours after the law school yesterday speaking to these students, and then answering their questions. They were a remarkable and bright group — a great future for this nation!
Hopefully, Ukraine will have some politicians and citizens who advocate for principles in our actual Constitution, not the make-believe oneBarton claims quotes the Bible.
To those contemplating a Ted Cruz presidential run: Consider that Barton runs one of Cruz’s Super PACs and has been a long time Cruz supporter. How does a Secretary of Education David Barton sound? Ambassador to Ukraine?
In June 2014, David Barton went with PA Pastors’ Network president Sam Rohrer to lecture Ukrainian pastors and a few politicians on the Christian nation thesis. Nine minutes of Barton’s speech (through an interpreter) is on You Tube.
In the video (at about 4:20 through 6:20), Barton talks about John Locke’s use of Bible verses on the establishment of civil government. Watch:
This man is named John Locke. He was a great lawgiver in history and he was also a theologian. He wrote this particular book on civil government in 1690. This has been used by nations across the world in building their governments. We actually own many of the original works by these lawgivers from four or five centuries ago.
Now if I were to ask us as ministers to name the Bible verses we can think of that address civil government, I would imagine that we could come up with 25 or 30 verses.
In this book here less than 3 cm thick, he lists over 500 biblical references to how civil government is to operate…. No, (interrupting the interpreter) 1500, 1500. I don’t know of a Christian today who could name 1500 Bible verses on how civil government’s to operate.
We may be Christians but we don’t think biblically about government.
I asked Greg Forster, an expert on John Locke (see an earlier critique of Barton’s treatment of Locke), to evaluate Barton’s claims about Locke and the 1500 verses. Forster’s answer is below in full:
Barton does not tell us the title of the book he holds up, but from his description it is impossible that it could be any book other than the Two Treatises of Government. However, his characterization of it is outrageous. Claiming that the Two Treatises “lists over 1,500 biblical references on how civil government is to operate” is not much more dishonest than claiming that the Bill of Rights protects 1,500 rights.
In his edition of the Two Treatises, editor Mark Goldie of Cambridge University lists only 121 Bible verses cited in the entire Two Treatises. And that’s including all the places where Locke didn’t cite the verse explicitly and Goldie “interpolated” the citation. In addition to those 121 Bible verses referenced, Goldie lists six places where Locke cited an entire chapter of the Bible, and one place where he cited an entire book (Proverbs). That’s it. But anyone who has read the Two Treatises will know Barton’s claim is false without having had to count.
Moreover, a large number – possibly even the majority – of those 121 citations are not to passages “on how civil government is to operate.” The Bible references in the Two Treatises are heavily concentrated in the First Treatise. The overwhelming majority of the First Treatise, in turn, is devoted to an extended analysis of small number of selected verses from the first two chapters of Genesis, especially Genesis 1:28-30. That’s a lot of analysis devoted to understanding the biblical text, but it’s not a large number of verses cited. The remainder of the First Treatise, where other biblical verses are cited more frequently, looks to the Bible not primarily for instruction on civil government but almost entirely on the power of parents over their children, especially the inheritance of property from parents to children. Locke is interested in these verses because he wants to use them to refute Robert Filmer’s claim that today’s kings inherit their power from Adam, but these are clearly not “biblical references on how civil government is to operate.” They are biblical references on how families are to operate. In fact, the point that descriptions of the how the family should work are not descriptions of how civil government should work was Locke’s main point!
After all this, it seems trivial to point out that Locke did not, in fact, “write” the Two Treatises in 1690; he published it in that year, but wrote it much earlier.
Perhaps Barton is counting the over 900 verses in Proverbs. However, not all of those verses relate to civil government. Clearly, Barton embellishes and inflates until what he starts with is unrecognizable.