Two weeks after the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the president of Russia has issued his own version of the speech to the American people in an op-ed article in the New York Times. Vladimir Putin believes all countries have been created equal by God, and that we Americans should therefore not view our nation as "exceptional."
In reference to a statement made by President Obama this week, Putin writes, "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
It looks like Putin doesn't want any nation to have to "sit on the back of the bus" so to speak, but for every country to discover democracy with the help of others. If this is coming from his heart, there is reason for hope here. Especially since his reference to asking "for the Lord's blessings" is most likely a reference on his part to the One Lord who came to earth to die on the cross for our salvation.
If Putin will continue to talk about the Lord this openly, it could bode well for his spiritual life and the spiritual climate of his nation. There will certainly be those who will take issue with his speech and will question the motives behind it. But at face value, the idea of equality is something we would encourage him to continue pursuing. And to do so with God's guidance is definitely a wise approach.
Dr. Martin Luther King knew in his heart that black men and white men are equal. He knew that God created us with this equality in mind. Putin seems to know in his heart that all nations should be equally encouraged to pursue liberty and freedom for all. Does this mean Russia "has the freedom thing" completely nailed? Of course not, anymore than America has had a perfect record concerning freedom over our long history. Russia, like the United States, is a work in progress. We can all learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others.
Perhaps Americans who endorsed slavery in years past did so in part because of how "exceptional" they felt, not to mention their brazen prejudice. Maybe Putin has his finger on an issue we need to consider in America. He perceives some things as an outsider. Perhaps we are too close to see it as clearly as others might. Let's find any insights we can from his comments, and seek to build trust with other nations that are willing to come to the table in sincerity and truth and a longing for peaceful democracy.
It is rather astounding that the President of Russia would address the American people in this direct manner. One could argue that this is what leaders do. They step up when there is a crisis and take charge in a way that unifies people for the common good as much as possible. In this case, Putin (or his speechwriter) seems to have done a pretty decent job of it. Time will tell if his words are sincere. But for now, what would be wrong with giving him the benefit of the doubt?
If nothing else, stop and consider the irony of a Russian president presenting this message to America in response to the words of our first black president. Especially this close to the anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Just as we are all created equal, I guess we are equal in our need to at least listen to other voices who see things from "an outsider's" perspective.
As Christians, we can pray that many will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ not only here in America, but also in Russia, Syria, and around the world. God's love for every person is what is truly exceptional, and as long as we remember that we should be OK. Vladimir Putin made the decision to address the American people. Let's respond by asking God to instruct not only Putin, but leaders around the world, including of course those in our beloved land of America.