When Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian dissident, was being sent into exile, a KGB agent noted that the handcuffs on Bukovsky's wrists were made in America. But handcuffs are not America's most embarrassing export.
Billy Graham's sojourn as guest of the masters of the Gulag coincided with the anniversary of the Nazi surrender, so he said (according to The New York Times): "I want to remind you that the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at the time against a common enemy. Now we have another common enemy--the possibility of a nuclear war."
Graham did not remind anyone that the Soviet Union and the Nazis began the war as allies, and their falling-out was not a Soviet idea. But Graham's delicacy is less interesting than his "common enemy" formulation.
Is it his notion that the threat of nuclear war is a mysterious "third force"? Or the result of some odd misunderstanding, some mutual mistake? Whatever, his language suggests a moral symmetry between his country and the Soviet Union. Evidently they are equally innocent victims--but of what? Physics?
The Kremlin is sponsoring the--take a deep breath--World Conference of Religious Workers for Saving the Sacred Gift of Life from Nuclear Catastrophe. The Kremlin's audacious cynicism is wondrous. A "gift"-- from whom? Marx? And when did the Kremlin begln speaking of "the sacred"?
This travesty, this exploitation of clergymen's vanities and naivet,e, is designed to strengthen the "peace movement"--but only in the West. In East Germany, a new law makes it a crime to wear a button saying "Swords into Plowshares." In Moscow, "Ground Zero Week" lasted the minutes it took the police to pounce on the handful of people who unfurled a banner.
The Washington Post reports that when Graham spoke in two churches, both "were heavily guarded with police sealing off all roads leading to them. Hundreds of KGB security agents . . . were in the congregation.' Graham told one congregation that God "gives you the power to be a better worker, a more loyal citizen because in Romans 13 we are told to obey the authorities." How is that for a message from America?
According to The Post, Graham is "a star attraction" at the conference and "is being driven around Moscow in a Chaika limousine while others are shepherded around in a fleet of buses." He has conferred with Georgy Arbatov, the Kremlin's foremost stroker of Americans. Graham calls Arbatov "wonderful."
Graham is America's most famous Christian. Solzhenitsyn is Russia's. The contrast is instructive.
When advocates of a "nuclear freeze" recently showed their movie (the one that says war would be terrible) to some Senate wives, Jane Denton, the wife of the Alabama senator, noted that there would be no showing for the wives of Politburo members. Not to worry, Jane. The Baltimore Sun recently reported on two local "peace" activists:
"When the Rev. Hope Harle-Mould and his wife, the Rev. Linda Harle-Mould, returned nearly a year ago from a trip to the Soviet Union, they were struck by the strength of a 'grass roots' movement there against the nuclear arms race."
The Washington Cathedral (Episcopal) has Gothic architecture but trendy politics. One service last Sunday was a prayerful rally for ERA. And here is Bishop John Walker preaching at the Cathedral last November: "We must know that all we did between 1900 and the independence of Cuba was designed to make Cuba turn away from us. Perhaps if we had the strength and security of who we are, we might say we were wrong. We might reach out a hand of brotherhood and forgiveness to the Cuban people even as we seek their forgiveness of us."
Forgive Walker's mussy language. (Surely he does not mean "designed.") Forgive the hyperbole ("all" that we did?) in the service of facile guilt-mongering. But don't forgive the intellectual vacuum at the core of his thought--the idea that dealings would be with "the people" of Cuba, rather than with the regime that is their jailer.
People pray for different things. There was a London church where, between performances, an actress prayed to be delivered from the attentions of Edward VII. I pray that some of today's clergy, on the left and the right, will stop acting as though pious intentions are substitutes for intelligence, and excuses for irresponsibility. A crusty 19th century Briton, A.W. Kinglake, wanted skeptical words inscribed on all churches: "Important If True." Skepticism becomes more necessary as churches become more political.