Alexei Navalny: “The fact is that I am a Christian”

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Alexei Navalny: “The fact is that I am a Christian”

February 23, 2024 -

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 29, 2020. Russia's prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 29, 2020. Russia's prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 29, 2020. Russia's prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

In the aftermath of Alexei Navalny’s death last Friday, much of the focus has—understandably—been on his attempts to combat corruption in the Russian government and on the role Vladimir Putin likely played in his demise. Yet, as Russell Moore recently described, Navalny’s final years were defined as much by his Christian faith as by his politics or his time in prison. And that faith, in turn, motivated a great deal of how he chose to approach the persecution that ended his life at the age of forty-seven.

You see, Navalny came to faith late in his life. And while he hasn’t gone into detail on that process, the general belief is that it happened in the aftermath of Putin’s previous attempt to kill him in 2020.

As he told a court the following year, “The fact is that I am a Christian, which usually rather sets me up as an example for constant ridicule in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, because mostly our people are atheists and I was once quite a militant atheist myself.”

He then went on to explain how his faith gave clarity and focus to his life as his circumstances became progressively grim.

As Moore concludes, “This was the root, I believe, of Navalny’s moral courage, his willingness to stand alone, his willingness to die.”

And while we may not be facing the prospect of imminent death or being banished to the gulags, living out our faith well still requires the moral courage to stand against the culture when the culture stands against God.

However, the manner in which we take that stand is just as important as our willingness to take it.

“Hatred alone is immortal”

In a fascinating article, Alan Jacobs recently outlined one of the most essential truths to understanding our culture. He wrote of how many Americans don’t seem all that interested in data or understanding opposing views. Rather, “What many people want, what they earnestly and passionately desire, is to hate their enemies.”

As he goes on to describe, many of the problems that our society faces stem from this basic tendency to organize our ideas around what we hate rather than what we love. And the reason is that, as Jacobs puts it, “hatred alone is immortal.”

Even if we’ve gotten better at not acting on it over the years—which, for the most part, we have—people still seem hardwired to hate. And, as such, hatred has become a virtue, so long as it is directed against the right people or ideas.

Jacobs’ solution is to figure out “what pleasure, what gratification, can we offer to people that exceeds the pleasure of hating.”

And really, from a secular point of view, that’s about the best alternative our culture can offer. Human nature will always gravitate toward hate as its most powerful and—in a twisted way—righteous emotion.

Christ, however, calls us to something better.

“Love your enemies”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).

Our task as Christians is to choose Christ’s approach over the culturally permissible path of seeing hatred as a virtue so long as it’s directed at the right people or ideas.

That path of hatred can never lead to peace because peace is not the goal. The goal is to placate the innate desire to be the protagonist of your own story, and that’s easier to accomplish by dragging others beneath you than it is by raising yourself up.

And Jesus understood that about us. Perhaps it’s why he finishes that command by calling us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

As long as God is the standard by which our actions are judged, hate will never accomplish for us what the culture hopes it will accomplish for them. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped many Christians from trying.

Our job isn’t hate

If we want to get back to being the salt and light that Christ calls us to be, we need to do some serious reflecting on how we approach the culture around us.

The old cliché of “hate the sin and love the sinner” has some truth to it, but it still tempts us to focus more on what we hate than on who we’re called to love.

That doesn’t mean we ignore the sin that we see, but our job isn’t to fix the culture. It’s to help people encounter Jesus. After all:

Lost people are going to act like lost people, so we shouldn’t expect Christ to change our culture without first changing the people in it.

So where is your focus today? On what you hate or on whom you’re called to love?

That decision is likely to determine a great deal about not only the quality of your life but also the quality of your witness.

Choose wisely.

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