Is there Salvation in the Unpolitical?
“Christian love for others demands weapons for Ukraine.” Rev. Annette Kurschus, Chairwoman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), December 2022
L a d u s h k i n -- Why have I barely written articles during the course of the past half year? I fear being branded a warmonger by friends whom I have cherished for decades. And why should I qualify as a warmonger? I see blame on multiple sides. I reject the view that Ukraine was guiltless regarding the massive upturn in hostilities in February 2022 and that the West consequently is morally justified to avenge this wrong by military means. I want immediate negotiations.
The former is indeed the position of the Washington/DC-based “Baptist World Alliance” and the Amsterdam-based “European Baptist Federation” (EBF). A Kiev-inspired resolution from the BWA’s General Council from its annual meeting at Birmingham in Alabama “condemns the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine by Russia, beginning on February 24, 2022”. The statement from 15 July also believes in “peace with justice and that this must include the restoration of all pre-2014 Ukrainian territory and reparations made for war damage”. Ukraine and its friends are justified in waging war until Russia is resolutely defeated.
This is supposedly the unified position of world Protestantism, if I understand multiple statements. “We are united” has been a common claim – meaning apparently “united against Russia”.
Once again we have the “ungodly” blowing the whistle on Christians when they violate the commandments of their commander. On 3 December 2022, Berlin’s once-communist “Junge Welt” reported that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had assured that “Ukraine must not be forced to accept a peace deal with Russia”. In the BBC report from the previous day, the Archbishop had concluded that “the consequences of letting Ukraine down would be `infinitely worse´ than carrying on the support for Kyiv”.
And why do Russians climb walls when they hear pious assurances that the Russian attack was “unprovoked”? The Kremlin waited seven years – and nearly 14.000 dead later - for the Minsk II agreements of February 2015 to be implemented. Those agreements stipulated above all that Ukraine be militarily bloc-free and federative in its governmental structures. I cannot find anything lamentable about turning Ukraine into a kind of Austria or Switzerland. A profound and catastrophic mistake: This war could have been avoided. Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko have since admitted that Minsk II was essentially a device for buying time – there had been no plan for Ukraine to sign on.
William Burns, then the US-ambassador to Moscow, had in a memo from Feb. 2008 warned that Russia would invade Donbass if the West
indeed invited Ukraine into NATO, which did occur later that year.
In the days immediately prior to 24 Feb. 2022, Ukraine shelling of Donetsk city had increased dramatically. Russia has at least since 1990 been pleading for a common security umbrella for all of Europe – the response has been NATO’s eastward march. A last-ditch attempt, the Russian security proposals of 17 December 2021, was ignored by the “collective West”. Zelensky responded in February by assuring that Ukraine would if necessary obtain nuclear weaponry.
Bitter but true: German reunification is based on massive deceit. In multiple instances during 1990, the West’s negotiators had given oral assurance that NATO would not be expanding “an inch eastward” beyond Germany’s borders. But such an assurance was never signed. The lie is therefore only a lie in the moral sense; simply a lie in the eyes of God. It is not in legal terms an untruth.
The legendary US-diplomat George Kennan (1904-2005) had warned in 1994 that NATO’s eastward expansion “would constitute a needless provocation of Russia” and lead to major pushback. The University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer warned in 2014 that integrating Ukraine into the Western security network would lead to its ruin. The following year, even I wrote that Ukraine should be split 1/3rd to 2/3rd with the eastern third going to the supporters of Russia. I added that the splitting of countries is never pretty, yet much more attractive than war. The US-American attorney Dan Kovalik, who visited Donetsk during November 2022, claimed that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “The Grand Chessboard” of 1997 is virtually required reading there.
In a way, this is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 all over again. But this time, there was no JFK around willing to bite the bullet and back down. (Back then, the USA quietly removed its nuclear weaponry from Turkey.) The West is now demanding that Russia swallow what the USA would never accept: The USA would not tolerate Russian tanks camped in Windsor/Ontario or pushing up to the US border outside of San Diego.
A Lost Opportunity
Many political observers agree that it took Boris Johnson’s hurried flight to Kiev in early April to quash the budding concessions following the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in Istanbul. Proxy war is truly a vile thing. At a Trump impeachment hearing on 23 January 2020, California’s Democratic senator Adam Schiff had stated: “The United States aids Ukraine and her people so that we can fight Russia over there, and we don't have to fight Russia here.”
An article by CEPA from 18 November, a think tank strongly financed by the US weapons industry, sings the praises of proxy war. “When viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective, US and Western support for Ukraine is an incredibly cost-effective investment. . . . This war provides a prime opportunity for the US to erode and degrade Russia’s conventional defense capability with no boots on the ground and little risk to US lives.” The article is entitled: “It’s Costing Peanuts for the US to Defeat Russia”. See “www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzMSt4AlZiI“ for more.
It is no coincidence that the USA has 800-or-so military bases outside its own borders. It knows very well where it intends to wage its own wars. And Volodymir Zelensky has proven to be a profound failure as a politician: He has failed to avail himself of diplomacy to protect his own people from harm.
There are hundreds of articles reporting on the complex and highly successful disinformation campaigns being pushed by the West. In late May, “Newsweek” and “Consortiumnews” reported that Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, had been removed from her post because of innumerable, unsubstantiated claims regarding the sexual crimes of Russian soldiers. And Russia has indeed blown up its own $12 billion pipeline?
And the term “brutal war” is propaganda, a tautology, for I am not aware of any “unbrutal” wars. Would someone claim the US has engaged in “unbrutal” wars in the Mid-East? I recall the term “shock and awe” from 2003. The term “genocide” is highly inflationary these days – it is that of which only the adversary can be guilty.
Russian Evangelicals still out in the woods
The outbreak of hostilities between Ukraine and Russia in 2014 has been traumatic for the Protestants of Russia. Since the 1970s, Russian-language Protestantism has expanded far beyond the borders of the ex-USSR. The majority now has a major percentage of its friends and relatives in Ukraine and the West. With that much diaspora, war with Russia today can only be a fraternal war akin to a war between the two former German states.
“No big deal,” many Russian Protestants will tend to reassure. “We lived for a long time alone and without the West.” But that was prior to the post-1970 westward surge.
One indication of current disorientation is an international Baptist appeal to the Kremlin dated 10 October 2022: “We ask that the Russian government, as it has done for the previous almost 100 years, continue to respect this theological conviction and exempt Baptists in Russia from military service as conscientious objectors to war.” The statement was signed jointly by the BWA, EBF and Peter Mitskevich, President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB). This is a lop-sided understanding of pacifism. On 15 July, BWA and EBF had supported the Ukrainian war all the way to ultimate Kiev victory. That sentiment I have heard repeatedly from Ukrainian Protestant patriots over the past 10 years: “We will support our country to the very end.” When armed hostilities broke out in Donbass in April 2014, it was the Baptist Oleksandr Turchynov who, as the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, helped send in the tanks.
The RUECB’s administrative director, Vladimir Miskevich, stressed in an interview with the author that RUECB had only the best of intentions on 10 October and wanted above all to protect its young men from harm. Russia’s Patriarch Kirill had asked the authorities to exempt 14.000 Orthodox clergy and staff from military service; the number of affected Baptists would hardly exceed 2.000. Miskevich added that no one had consulted the Russians before the statement in Birmingham was signed.
Viktor Ignatenkov, the RUECB’s vice-president, added that “there can be no victor in a war between brethren”. The means for defeating evil must be fitting to the task: “You cannot defeat Satan with tanks.”
Despite good intentions, the joint statement from 10 October did invoke disapproval. One leading Pentecostal in Moscow complained: “The Baptists should check and re-check their papers with experts before they publish something like that.” In my estimation, the statement is one expression of the Russian Baptist desire to remain within the good graces of the Western Baptist family.
In the statement from Birmingham, Igor Bandura, the Ukrainian Baptist Union’s vice-president, claimed that “despite the atrocities reported . . . , Ukrainian Baptists are responding with love and compassion”. Yet Valery Antoniuk, president of the Ukrainian Union, had in an address to Russian Baptists at the end of March forbidden them to offer humanitarian aid to the needy in Russian-held territories. The RUECB’s front office calls this stance “a serious mistake”. Moscow has long hoped that a kind of mutual humanitarian service would be possible, with both the Kiev- and Moscow-based unions working in those regions to which each had access. “After all, we remain a single church” - says Moscow.
A Russian pastor heading Protestant humanitarian work within Rostov region and in Donbass stresses that for now no public report on this ministry is possible. He stated: “There is currently no opportunity for (useful dialogue with the Ukrainians). Every information from our end invites criticism and prevents us from serving Christians remaining (in Donbass) and all those in extreme need, including ones open to the Good News.”
In October, a leading Ukrainian Baptist prophesized to a Russian friend that the Ukrainian army would be marching across Red Square on 9 May 2023. It will take developments on the ground this winter to force any abridgement of such views.
It strikes me that Moscow Protestants and I are not always on the same page. Their read on affairs is shaped heavily by mainstream media both in Russia and the West; they of course also have all kinds of personal ties to Ukrainians. I rely mostly on left-leaning alternative media largely in the USA and UK. And why do I trust them most? They have interpreted the US’ foreign wars at least since Korea correctly and see no strong indication why they should err this time around. An important note: “Left” and “liberal” in the US context are by no means synonymous.
Allow me to list a few of very many alternative news sources. On the left: Brian Becker, Medea Benjamin, Max Blumenthal, Stephen Cohen, Consortiumnews, Counterpunch, Gilbert Doktorow in Brussels, Tulsi Gabbard, Glen Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Jackson Hinkle, Abby Martin, Aaron Maté, Ray McGovern, The New Atlas from Thailand, John Pilger, The Real News, Jeffrey Sachs, Oliver Stone, Matt Taibbi, Richard Wolff.
The Right on occasion wants peace only with Russia (not China): „antiwar.com“,Tucker Carlson, The American Conservative, Henry Kissinger, Doug Macgregor, ex-ambassador Jack Matlock, John Mearsheimer, Alexander Mercouris, Ron and Rand Paul, Scott Ritter.
German voices on the left include: Ulrich Heyden in Moscow, “Junge Welt”, Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, Oskar Lafontaine, Sahra Wagenknecht.
A word on dissident Protestant media in Russia: The Youtube-channel “Vzglad s Nebesnoi” (A Glimpse from Heaven) is headed by Albert Ratkin of Kaluga. As bishop, Ratkin heads a small band of dissident Pentecostals. (Tiny pockets of dissident Lutherans have also participated.) Yuri Sipko, president of Russia’s Baptist Union until 2010, is shown in some pieces attacking Kremlin policies mostly on Ukraine. Recent pieces include the title: “The FSB and its Colleagues in the ROSKhVE (Ryakhovsky’s union) are Covering for the Church”. An interview with Vasily Pechko, a Pentecostal pastor in Sacramento, is entitled: “ROSKhVE-Head Sergey Ryakhovsky’s Hands are Covered with Blood”.
During 2021, Ratkin’s group was allied with the “Russian Evangelical Alliance” now headed by the Baptist Vitaly Vlasenko. For obvious reasons, Russia’s official Protestant unions keep their distance to Ratkin’s group.
What Could be a Christian Reaction?
It is easy (and necessary) to claim that the massive expansion of hostilities by Russia on 24 Feb. 2022 was excessive and an overreaction. I too have spent my entire life as a proponent of pacifist positions. But sadly, I have no assurance that a voluntary exit of Russia’s followers in Donbass to Russia proper (an ethnic cleansing) nor massive, Western-style sanctions would have halted the eastern advance of NATO. Alexander Mercouris and others point out that Angela Merkel and Francois Macron “never really believed” that Russia meant business. They reckoned to the end that x-amount of euros would be sufficient to convince the Russians to reconsider and drop their “red lines”.
The ball is in the Western court. This global crisis will not abate until US foreign policy accepts the existence of a multipolar world and rejects the unipolar Wolfowitz Doctrine from 1992. As long as the USA cannot tolerate the appearance of new superpowers such as Russia, China and India, there will be no peace. Regional powers (Germany and even the UK) are content to play second-fiddle to a superpower. Yet that has not been true for certain large or ancient powers (Iran). Peaceful economic competition within a multipolar world is the only possible global option from here on out.
Will the Protestants of Russia and Ukraine ever talk with each other again? Around five years ago, young Baptist friends from Western Ukraine assured me that politics were a dirty and devilish business. Today, they are sitting out the war in Germany.
Considerable ink has been invested over the past two decades to describe the “modernisation” of the Ukrainian Baptist movement. Protestants there no longer care only about themselves. Or as Antoniuk assures: “The church is not a part of the government, but it is a part of society.” But following the North American precedent, Ukrainian Baptists have jumped whole-hog into state affairs, including the military realm.
Yet a Moscow leader believes this “modernisation” has not affected the “bottom” 60% of the Ukrainian church. It is above all the young, the Western-educated intelligentsia, that has pushed this transition. Once the shooting has stopped, it’s the old 60% that will be capable of renewing the millenia-old ties within “Eastern Slavonia” (we’ll skip the term “Rus”). The 60% have not slipped into a simplistic, one-dimensional world view describing most everything east of the River Bug as reprehensible. “Unpolitical” is old-fashioned and uncool – but ít leaves the door ajar for conversation and reconciliation once the killing has stopped.
Peter Dudnik is a Pentecostal pastor and long-time humanitarian worker in Slaviansk in the political West of Donetsk region. He assured me in Slaviansk on 1 April 2015: “When you see the people’s pain, identifying the guilty party is no longer important. Only one big question still remains then: ‘How can I get this suffering stopped?’”
Facebook indicates that Dudnik is still serving in Slaviansk. A Moscow pastor claims that although 80% of the Baptists have left Ukraine, the churches remain full. May we all live to see a better day and a revived church.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Ladushkin, Kaliningrad region, 30 December 2022
A journalistic release for which only the author is 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 #22-16, 2.672 words.