Second Half of a Press Release from 24 May
Sadly, the Ukrainian Baptist Union was not officially represented at the Moscow congress on 22 May 2018. A letter sent to Russian leadership from Kiev had asked their Russian counterparts to apologize for a statement issued at the St. Petersburg conference four years previous. Formulated only weeks after Maidan and the dramatic fall of the Yanukovich government in Kiev, the statement from 30 May 2014 had questioned the theological justification of street-sponsored revolt. It had stated that Biblical teaching “does not permit the violent overthrow of legitimate authority, nor nationalism, nor the resolution of socio-political differences through means other than political negotiation” (see our release from 24 July 2014).
Consequently, at this year’s convention, past RUECB-President Yuri Sipko, well-known for his dissident sympathies, brought forth a
motion that the Union’s statement from 2014 be rescinded. The motion got tabled and is to be discussed further at the next meeting of the Union’s Council this fall. Instead, a statement signed by
President Smirnov was issued on 21 March congratulating Vladimir Putin on his re-election as Russia’s president: “God has again made you President of Russia, a unique country with a great and
glorious history. Thanks to your actions and the actions of your expert team, Russia has again become a strong country with a concrete and clear position within the whole world. . . . Russia is
gaining greater and true unity. I am sure you will continue to be committed to traditional spiritual and moral values. In accordance with the Word of God, the Bible, the churches of the Russian
Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists will support you in their prayers. As before, our brothers and sisters will make every effort to build not only the Kingdom of Heaven, but also their
earthly Fatherland: Russia.
The deputy Ukrainian president Igor Bandura, rejoined the same day on Facebook that this is „one more example of unpolitical Christianity as expressed by the RUECB. How sad.” Already four years previous, the Ukrainian Union had protested an RUECB statement lauding Putin for his support of traditional moral values. The Ukrainians had accused the divorced Russian President of being a hypocrite on the matter – which reminds one now of Donald Trump. According to Yuri Sipko on Facebook on 30 March, his son Sergey, the outgoing Senior Vice-President, had not supported the letter of 21 March.
But Mitskevich’ coming has unleashed a flurry of good initiatives. Astounding was the fact that RUECB leadership paid a visit to Kiev on 24 and 25 April. This was the first meeting of the two union leaderships on Russian or Ukrainian soil in four years. At the Moscow conference, its delegates had decreed that RUECB leadership pay Kiev a visit.
In view of the preliminaries, that fact the two Unions even met can be described as a breakthrough. Precisely for this reason, some observers are optimistic. According to the Ukrainian release afterward, the Russians called - as usual - for a reopening of ties and broad co-operation. The Ukrainian side for its part called for “an objective and truthful covering of events in all instances”. The statement’s attack on “zombification”, “hybridism” and “post-truth” is clearly aimed at those harbouring sympathy for the Russian government. Russia’s Union – with the exception of its letters to Putin! – remains less political in orientation, stressing the need of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation on mission and humanitarian efforts. Most Ukrainian Baptists continue to regard themselves as the victims of aggression – though human beings further east see the Maidan revolt as the initial aggression.
The RUECB’s press release on the Kiev gathering reports on the nostalgia present regarding happier times in the Soviet era when the two Unions were still united. Artur Mitskevich for ex. had long served as a pastor in Ukraine and spent his retirement years in Kiev, where he is also buried. The release added: “We were all united in our concern regarding the responsibility of the church to contribute to peace between the warring parties through prayer, good deeds and God’s Word. . . . We appeal to all nations to reconcile themselves with God and each other.” It is gratifying that the Ukrainian Union’s release also appealed for a peaceful resolution to the on-going armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
On the heels of the Kiev meetings, an RUECB delegation headed by President Mitskevich visited the young “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Crimea” on 14 May. The Baptist congregations on the peninsula are divided roughly 50-50 on whether they should report to the Kiev or Moscow Union. It is significant that the local union visited answers to Kiev. Other congregations have been incorporated into the RUECB.
Sadly, on 27 March, military forces stripped a chapel of the unregistered Baptists in Stakhanov within the pro-Russian “Lugansk People’s Republic”, taking even the plumbing with them. Such misfortune undoubtedly usually occurs because Ukrainian Baptists are perceived by the Eastern authorities as unabashedly pro-Western. Clearly, Protestant-state relations will improve in eastern Donbass only if Ukrainian Baptists can transition to a bi-partisan orientation.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Khabarovsk, 24 May 2018
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official
position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #18-4.