Stopping the Hate Can Stop
L a d u s h k i n -- I have read with profound sadness the statement released by the World (and European) Evangelical Alliances jointly with the “Ukraine Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches” on 27 February 2023. (1) This was just prior to their joint gathering in Warsaw from 1 to 3 March. Though Russia, in contrast to Ukraine, does have a functioning Alliance, its Alliance was not invited to Warsaw. The Russians instead met with the Alliances of Central Asia several days later in Antalya/Turkey.
The statement begins by demanding Russia’s capitulation – not negotiations. It reads: We call for “the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine in its internationally-recognized borders”. Yet Russia has had a naval base at Sevastopol on Crimea since 1783. A removal of Russian forces from Crimea could only become feasible once NATO withdraws from the Black Sea region and it becomes a militarily neutral zone.
The next sentence announces that the large-scale (it certainly is not “full-scale”) invasion of Ukraine territory on 24 February of 2022 was “both unjustified and unprovoked”. But the US-inspired, illegal Kiev coup of February 2014 was a profound provocation destroying the very sensitive balance between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Over 13.000 deaths in the Donbass region followed. In the days just prior to 24 February 2022, Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk had increased dramatically. The Minsk II agreements of 2015 were gutted by those who signed them; the Russian proposal for mutually-binding security guarantees published on 17 December 2021 was ignored. Volodymyr Zelensky even threatened the nuclear arming of Ukraine on 19 February 2022.
Actually, the invasion five days later should have surprised no one. For a quarter of a century, dozens of Western academics had warned that NATO’s incessant march eastward would in time incite a very negative Russian response. In his essay in the “New York Times” on 5 February 1997, the renowned US-diplomat and Russia expert George Kennan (1904-2005) had warned that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era”.
This Alliance statement maintains that we believers in Russia are “part of a community that is inflicting harm on others”. That is profoundly true for me personally, as I am a citizen of both Russia and the USA. The latter has been almost continually engaged in war over the last 75 years leading to the death of millions. The Soviet Union/Russia may smite its breast regarding its involvement in conflicts such as Ethiopia (1977) and Afghanistan (1979).
As stated in the paper, Ukrainians feel vulnerable. That certainly is also true for Russians, as they are surrounded by 31 countries belonging to NATO. In the nuclear age, we are all endangered and vulnerable.
In the failed belief that they were supporting national unity, Ukraine’s Baptist Union - as well as two Pentecostal ones - had signed a statement on 3 July 2012 protesting the proposal to introduce Russian as a second official language in certain regions of Ukraine. (2) That was the “monist” view from Western Ukraine as described by the British historian Richard Sakwa. According to him in 2018, only a pluralist, multi-lingual and federative structure could preserve Ukraine’s unity as a state. (3)
Perhaps Russia’s evangelicals have also been less than prophetic. We have remained relatively aloof and repeated ever since Maidan that “Ukraine is not our war”. (4) We have failed to “grab into the spokes” (Bonhoeffer) of the carriage headed towards destruction. Russian evangelicals would respond that they have no access to the carriage in question – the church is not a political entity. But politics also involve issues of morality.
The bare minimum would be to help stop the hate – first of all among us in our own circles. In the end, only a lessoning of hatred can lead to negotiations. I laughed out of shock and pain when I first noticed in January 2010 that Vladimir Putin was appearing on the title pages of Western magazines with horns or a thick, narrow moustache. But that was the start of someone’s serious, deadly campaign on the path to war. Is hatred a result or a cause of the current war? It is both, but it’s above all a cause.
The World Evangelical Alliance can only remain true to its name if it refrains from highly partisan geo-strategic statements. Russia has clearly lost the popularity contest in Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world, but affairs look very different in the Global South and East. We in Russia want the Alliance to remain whole. We love and cherish our Western friends and do not want to live without them. We do not relish new, parallel church structures. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). May God grant us his mercy – and peace negotiations.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Ladushkin, Kaliningrad region, 20 April 2023
Note: The author has been a member of Russia’s Evangelical Alliance since its inception in 2002.
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 #23-03, 796 words.
(1) The WEA statement: “https://worldea.org/news/21816/evangelicals-issue-a-joint-statement-on-ukraine-one-year-after-the-full-scale-russian-invasion”
This article also appears in Russian on this website, see "Statya 2020-23".