Interview with Luke Kendrat: Balancing Faith and Politics
Within the youth of the American right-wing there seems to be a tension between the political realm and that of the religious realm. Debates rage causing division on which direction to go in and what to put energy into. This is an especially important conversation to have as it is a common saying that to get politically connected nowadays one has to “sell their soul”. There is a lot of guidance on this topic. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Luke Kendrat, the former host of the religious and political YouTube show Orthodoxy First. He is now a Russian-Orthodox seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, New York.
The first question that I had for Luke was concerning the name of his channel, Orthodoxy First. I had asked Luke what ‘Orthodoxy First’ means to him on a personal level. Kendrat stated that this is a question that he often ponders during his time at seminary,
What is Orthodoxy to me? It’s my life, this is my faith, this is what has always grounded me, what I have always looked to for my answers in life. It is why I am, and why I do the things that I do.
Kendrat described how certain decisions made within the Orthodox Church have influenced his life. He brought up critical questions about his own ethnicity and his Orthodoxy. Luke mentioned how the conflicts in Ukraine, specifically the ecclesiastical crisis between Constantinople and Moscow, made him consider what he put first in his life. Luke realized that, beyond all else, his Orthodoxy surpasses all other personal connections and attributes. This sentiment echoes into how we as Christians in general should view the political landscape in America. While policy issues are important and having morally just laws and lawmakers is necessary, we cannot compromise on putting anything before our faith. Faith always comes first.
The second question that Luke and I discussed was on compromise both politically and spiritually. This is another issue that is challenging to faithful Christians who want to be successful politically, what issues can there even be compromise on to move forward as a nation? Kendrat first emphasized the importance of going to one’s bishop for guidance then going on to explain that stated:
The goal is to never compromise on your faith. The main issue on this being abortion. It is a pretty hot topic in today’s day and age, especially with how Roe v. Wade was just overturned last June. But I think that it is important to remember that when we begin to compromise on our faith, when we begin to say we can move this aspect of the faith to the side, when does it stop?
Identifying what the greater good is and when we can compromise to achieve that is a difficult task. Luke emphasized that it is tough to lower the Faith to something just like any other set of rules. In America, if Orthodox Christians ever come into political power, they cannot compromise on any moral issues. They must always look at them through the Orthodox lens.
We then touched on the issue of purity spiraling. Purity spiraling is the concept of members of political groups becoming staunch and fervent in their ideals. So much so that they begin turning on members of their own coalition. Luke expressed a feeling of how dangerous purity spiraling is. Lacking trust of any authority is a dangerous road that no one, especially Christians, should go down.
This led into a discussion on how specifically Orthodox Christians can work with other religious groups in American politics, mainly seen on the American right, especially as they are a small minority in the United States, though on the ‘dissident right’ they make up a larger proportion. Luke described the critiques he had personally received from his work with right-wing Catholics under the guise of ‘right-wing ecumenism’ from other Orthodox Christians. On working with other Christians to have political success in the United States Luke said,
We need to understand that work with the Protestants and Roman Catholics is necessary… When it comes to issues like abortion… they are on our side, they hold beliefs similar to us politically. These are people who are, generally speaking, if they understand their faith, are going to be on the political right. That is useful for us. We believe in God, we believe in Jesus Christ, these are people that have the same political presuppositions that we do, and we can get stuff done with them. That is the bottom line. We can trust Roman Catholics and Protestants to hold firm on these beliefs when in public office.
The importance of sharing Christian political presuppositions in the modern world is paramount according to Kendrat, looking at the examples of non-Orthodox Christian politicians who hold very firm on moral beliefs. Working with them, while being in a small minority of the American populace is necessary to success and to having a morally firm society.
On the topic of leadership, broadly and in the sense of holding public office, Luke had many thoughts to offer,
You can be a leader no matter where you are in life. You can be on your parish council, whether you’re a governor, whatever it may be. It is important to always display the qualities that an Orthodox Christian should always be displaying.
Displaying these qualities is always essential. Regardless of the role one holds or when you are interacting with individuals who hold positions of high authority. The same values should always be unwavering in those factors regardless of outside factors. Even if one strongly desires to hold a position of authority, moral issues are to never be compromised on and there are lines that should never be crossed. Particularly on leadership and the attributes thereof, Kendrat said,
I don’t know if there is any office that you can hold that makes you more of a leader. It is not the office that makes the man, it is the man that makes the office. That is what you have to remember whatever position you have in life. It is a matter of how you are adhering to the scriptures, how are you adhering to the writings of the Fathers, how are you adhering to the canons. Are you going to Liturgy, are you receiving Communion, are you confessing, are you praying? It is important to maintain that life of prayer, not only if you are trying to speak about the Word of God, but also in your daily life and in holding any sort of public office that you hope to. It is in that way that you are going to be a leader. It is not going to be determined by whatever level of public office you hold.
When asked about advice Luke had for younger Christians who want to pursue a more politically involved life but still keep the Church and Faith close to them he said,
The number one fear is that you are going to be compromising on your morals. This is because you are going to have to. You are going to be forced by big money or because you are going to be forced by literal death threats, whatever it might be, it is a scary field to get into. It takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of prayer and faith. For those of you who want to get involved in that field, more power to you and may God bless you.
Kendrat then emphasized the importance of bearing in mind the story of Fr. George Calciu of Blessed Memory. Fr. George was a Romanian Orthodox priest who was a staunch anti-communist and great witness to the Faith. He endured brutal communist prisons in the 20th century. Kendrat drew on parallels between the Romanian Communist regime and the regime we have today in America. Stating that officials hate the people, traditions, culture, faith of the citizens, and above all they hate Christ. Kendrat described all the horrors Fr. George Calciu encountered in Romanian prisons. Kendrat emphasized one line that he loved from Fr. George’s book, “Truth before peace,” Luke believes all Orthodox Christians should follow, especially in regard to politics and life in general. Nothing is more paramount than standing for what we know to be the truth in the face of persecution, no matter how hard it may be. Of course, it is easy and simple for us to say this from the comfort of our own homes and not under immense persecution but it is true nonetheless. Luke believes that Fr. George Calciu is a man that everyone can look up to, regardless of his position. The spirit of never relenting on your faith and fighting for what is true is what we should all hope to emulate and embody.
Finally, Luke said that we can never have a serene beautiful utopia on Earth, it is just impossible. But, it is possible for us to have an inner serenity, guided by Christ through prayer and that is what is truly important for us to constantly keep in mind. The example set by Christ is the greatest possible example and it allows us to realize what our purpose truly is. The great saints and men of history did not simply give up and live in despair, that is not what we are called to do as Christians. Luke’s final point was that regardless of what we do in life salvation is at the center. In all roles taken on we should actively strive to bring others closer to Christ. Those who go on to work in the political sphere as a vocation are not exempt from this. The opposite is true, they have an even greater responsibility to use their reach and status to help bring others into His Church.
Link to the full interview with Luke Kendrat: https://youtu.be/fcqd-Ip-ByY