William Yoder, Ph.D.
An American view from Moscow
M o s c o w — 1. We must refrain from drastic, exaggerated and unhistorical statements. The Baptist Alexander Turchinov is not Martin Luther King and Viktor Yanukovich is not Hitler. Unfortunately, there are fascist elements present within the Ukrainian government and also extremist Cossack elements active in Donbass. But Poroshenko is no Hitler and Putin is no Stalin. The extreme political situation of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote during World War II (the necessity of murdering a tyrant) has not cropped up in recent Ukrainian and Russian history.
We will not call people on the other side nasty names: Eastern Ukrainian troops are not generally «terrorists» and Western ones are not generally «fascists».
The phrase that we will standing up for our country «until the end» («do kontsa») has no real meaning. Where is the «end» located? None of us would favour turning our globe into ashes – the ultimate «end».
2. We will accept the views of «dissenters» as legitimate. He or she has not been paid, bought nor frightened. They truly believe the opinion they are expressing. We will be very reluctant to assign sinister and evil motives to the reasoning of the other side. We cannot look into their hearts in a way which only God can. We often do not even understand how we arrived at our own opinions.
We will try very hard to understand the reasoning of the other side. How do my statements affect fellow believers on the other side of the barricades? Political statements by church leaders can have serious consequences for fellow believers on the other side.
3. Pro-Western Ukrainian Protestants have defended their position by claiming they are «with the people». How is that significant? Does this imply that the Russian church should not be with its people?
Ukrainian believers are called to be loyal, law-abiding, honourable citizens. They need to demonstrate to the government their good intentions and their desire to work for the good of all. The same is true for Russia — both sides need to accept that. One cannot expect the citizens of Russia to take the sides of the Ukrainian government, nor vice versa.
Russians generally will not call their own government the aggressor and will not bless the political upset on Maidan. They will refrain from doing so not because of fear, but because they do not see conclusive evidence proving that Russia is the sole aggressor.
At the same time: Russians must accept that a majority of Ukrainians have chosen to take a pro-Western course involving separation from Russia. Russians cannot expect fellow Ukrainian believers to condemn the West. That decision must be made in Ukraine.
4. A totally apolitical church is impossible. The Protestant church in the USSR wanted to be such, but political statements were repeatedly forced upon her. A politically abstinent church could only survive as a sect on the very fringe of society. The Reformed German state president Gustav Heinemann (1899-1976) pointed to a better way to defend the church: Christians should be active in as many political parties as possible (except for the extremist fringe). Political variety is a key for the church’s defence. That is the best way to prove that the church is not the servant of any specific government or movement.
5. Churches point in the general direction – details are to be left to the individual citizen. Churches uphold peace, love for all races, ethnicities and cultures; they uphold family values and religious freedom. How guilty are the USA and Russia for the present war in Eastern Ukraine? Christians can and should offer their opinions, but they must also stress that they are not speaking in the name of their church. Crimea is essentially an issue of detail. Churches are not called to take a position either way – its members may. Churches do not speak as individuals do. The two dare not be confused.
6. Politics are an endless chain of reactions. What started the present Ukrainian conflict? Did it begin with the takeover of Crimea in 2014, with Maidan in 2013, or with the heated discussions on «Holodomor» (famine)? How about Stepan Bandera in the 1940s and civil war in the 1920s? Assigning blame to one side is a highly problematic endeavour.
7. The 92-year-old, retired German politician Egon Bahr reminded recently that governments are rarely driven by lofty ideals – they are instead driven by interests. «Democracy and human rights are never the issue in international politics. At issue are the interests of individual states.» Christians should keep their feet on the carpet; revolutionary fervour is a problematic ally.
By the way — Oslo
An official meeting of Ukrainian and Russian Protestant church leaders is scheduled for Oslo/Norway on 9 September. In contrast to the initial, largely unsuccessful meeting in Jerusalem on 10 April, the Russian Baptist Union will be represented this time. Organizing the event from the Russian end is Moscow’s «Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia».
Smolensk, 2 August 2014