TBILISI, Georgia - The Republic of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world. For thousands of years, numerous empires tried to eliminate Christianity, yet Georgians persevered. Now modern influences are challenging this nation once again to protect faith and family.
This December will be 25 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union. One of the republics that declared independence from the communists was Georgia.
During a visit to the United States in early April, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said forging closer ties with the West is in his country's best interests.
"There is a very clear will of (the) Georgian people and population to be pro-Western, to be pro-European," he said.
Kvirikashvili met with Vice President Joe Biden in a bid to promote stronger economic cooperation between the two countries.
"The United States has been supportive and (a) promoter of Georgia as a future NATO country, so this is most important for us," Kvirikashvili said.
Preserving Georgia's Faith Heritage
The tiny nation of Georgia, home to more than 4 million people, lies between Russia and Turkey. The majority of Georgians favor closer ties with the West, but most insist their country's heritage must be preserved. For more on Georgia's Christian heritage, click the video titled "To the Last Drop of Blood! How This Ancient Nation Maintains Its Faith" above.
"We are not saying that we are against the West," Levan Vasadze, a prominent Georgian businessman, told CBN News in the capital city Tbilisi. "I always say I'm a big enthusiast of selective Westernization of Georgia."
Like many others here, Vasadze insists the opening must not happen at the expense of Georgia's faith and family values.
"We'll take all the productive, progressive things from you (America, the West in general), but we'll throw out all the garbage, all the nonsense and unfortunately, in this particular case, your current pseudo-moral standards need to stay outside of Georgia if we want to maintain the family institute as it always has been in Georgia."
Gay Marriage? No Thanks
Vasadze is also a pro-family advocate. The "pseudo-moral standards" he refers to are efforts by the United States and European Union to force Georgia into accepting homosexual practices and same-sex marriage as societal norms.
Vasadze is vehemently against those efforts. He insists Georgians must have the "right to be selective" of those things that could be "harmful" to the country's heritage.
"If you think indecent, radically sexual behavior is what you want to do -- that's your choice. But if I think that this is an embarrassing sin, I want to remain a society which is allowed to say that."
Much to his dismay, the Georgian parliament, under pressure from the European Union and with help from international pro-gay groups, passed a controversial law in 2014 making it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Agenda to 'Destroy the Family'
Vasadze says the decision amounted to the legalization of homosexuality in Georgia, a decision he says is part of "an international agenda" to "destroy the family."
"The frontline of that war is no longer found on the geographic map of this planet," he warned. "The frontline of this war is in every living room and in every bedroom where your wife and my wife and our children sleep."
Now that frontline is spreading to Georgian classrooms, with children as young as eight being taught gender theory.
Tinatin Khorbaladze is director of the World Congress of Families in Georgia, a pro-family organization based in the United States.
Khorbaladze says the aim of gay activists is simple, yet alarming.
"(They want) to change the thinking of the children to be open and to accept the things that my generation and the older generation consider unacceptable," she told CBN News.
Still a Christian Nation
Georgia is deeply conservative. More than 80 percent of the population say they belong to the Orthodox Church. Polls show a majority side with the Church in opposing anything other than traditional heterosexual relationships.
"I am categorically against either legalizing same-sex marriage or introducing it as a normal lifestyle," one Georgian woman told CBN News on the streets of the capital.
Asked whether homosexuality should be made illegal, punishable with prison time, she said, "At least we have to prohibit them (homosexuals) from carrying out an open agenda (and) if they are in such a relationship, it should be hidden and concealed and by no means in public."
In May 2013, violent protests erupted on the streets of Tbilisi when scores of Orthodox priests attacked about two dozen gay rights demonstrators.
The Georgian Orthodox Church released a statement shortly after the incident comparing homosexuals to drug addicts and called the rally a "violation of the rights of the majority" of Georgians.
Khorbaladze says many Georgians feel they have a duty to protect their country from lifestyles that are not part of their rich culture, tradition and faith.
"We feel the responsibility for the future of this country, for the future of our children and next generation," Khorbaladze said.
An Encroaching 'Culture of Death'
Besides, Vasadze warns, his country doesn't have the luxury not to uphold these deep family traditions because his country is dying, literally.
"The United Nations has put Georgia on the list of "Dying Nations" and "Dying Languages," Vasadze warned. "In 2050, Georgia will be minus 28 percent and ethnic Georgians within that reduction will be minus 50 percent."
He partly blames this "culture of death" to "an uncontrolled, irreversible tsunami of liberal, mainstream media propaganda that Georgia has undergone after the breakup of the Soviet Union."
His solution to Georgia's demographic time bomb: "You marry your wife and you try to have as many children as you can."
To hear more of George Thomas’ interview with Levan Vasadze, click the video titled "Levan Vasadze on Georgia's Demographic Time Bomb" above.
Most Homophobic Country in the World?
But not everyone agrees with the Orthodox Church's stance on marriage. Some human rights groups have labeled Georgia one of "the most homophobic countries in the world."
Giorgi Tatishvili is transgender. He rarely gives interviews but agreed to meet with CBN News at an undisclosed location in the capital.
"Are you afraid for your life?" CBN's George Thomas asked.
"As for me personally, yes, because my life is in danger in Georgia and not just because of my sexual orientation but because of my professional activities as well," Tatishvili replied.
Tatishvili is a lawyer for the LGBT community and says he has paid a price for it. Asked if he'd been beaten or arrested, he replied, "Yes, many times I was beaten by policemen, ordinary citizens and in general from many people."
"They have tried many times to kill me, including while I was in prison, on the street, among my friends. And today, I am almost a "dead" person," he said.
Tatishvili made headlines earlier this year when he became the first person ever to file a suit with the constitutional court seeking same-sex marriage.
He made it clear he wants more than just want equal rights. He wants to change the definition of marriage.
"I think that Georgia should allow LGBT marriages. This is important," he said. "Being different from the society should not discriminate (against) that person."
The lawsuit is still pending.
"A majority of Georgians today believe that what you are doing, your lifestyle, is sinful and they say that you are destroying their country?" Thomas pressed.
"I think that this is the case and I'm not surprised people feel this way," Tatishvili replied. "The principles of secularism are practically violated in Georgia. The Orthodox Church puts so much pressure on the society to make sure Georgian human rights are not extended to include LGBT people. This is the problem in our society."
Despite the threats, Tatishvili says he'll continue to fight for the LGBT community.
The Demise of Shame
Meanwhile, Vasadze worries the pressure to be more accepting of homosexuality in Georgia will only intensify following last year's controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in America.
He bemoans the fact that since the ruling, many in America are too afraid to speak out against homosexuality.
"You can no longer freely express your opinion about what's shameful and what is disgraceful and you are crucified for that," Vasade told CBN News.
"I would even take this further and say that the whole concept of sin is being abolished (in America). Where is it? The metamorphosis in the English language is staggering!" he exclaimed.
"I studied it since I was a child and I remember that shame meant shame. In modern English when someone says 'it's a shame' he or she means 'it's a pity'! So we see a gutting of the concept of shame," he said.
Vasadze is praying Georgia never reaches that point. He's urging his fellow countrymen to be bold in proclaiming the truth in love.
"Is it your opinion that the Church in Georgia, Christians in Georgia like yourself, are going to determine the future of your country?" Thomas asked.
"What else?" Vasadze replied. "Of course, that's it! Nothing else."