The Problem of Selective Grief
M o s c o w — Since 7 July, the registered Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Crimean peninsula are legally split. On that date, delegates from 28 congregations gathered in Simferopol to transfer their membership from Kiev’s “All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” to Moscow’s “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”. Their association of Crimean churches will now be a branch of the RUECB’s southern region. Head of this new grouping is Alexander Maikan of Alushta (near Yalta). Not in attendance were the roughly 39 congregations headed by Pastor Veniamin Yukhimets of Yalta.
During his closing words in Simferopol, RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov assured that the involvement of his union was motivated solely by the “desire to support the churches and their service under new circumstances”. Yet the RUECB intends to remain open for cooperation with all Baptist communities in the Crimean Republic “irregardless of the legal status they have chosen”. The RUECB had stressed repeatedly that the Crimeans themselves need to decide the matter of their national membership.
Yet in a heated response from 10 July published initially on Moscow’s “Portal-Credo” website, Mikhail (Mikhalko) Cherenkov of Irpen/Ukraine concluded that the leaders of Russia’s Baptist Union were no longer brothers. Cherenkov claimed in his article that Valery Antoniuk, president of Kiev’s union, later accused the Moscow leadership of distributing one-sided information; that their interpretation of events carried “a Russian imprint”. Citing a full calendar, Antoniuk had declined Smirnov’s invitation to attend the Simferopol conference. According to Cherenkov, the Ukrainian President had every reason to avoid the “shameful act”.
The Russian-born Cherenkov concluded in his piece: “’Crimea is ours’, said Putin. ’Crimea is ours’, repeated Smirnov. . . . But I am no longer naïve. I once felt sorry for our Russian brothers, I felt their hurt and oppression, their humiliation and degradation. Now I see they themselves are also servants of the Leviathan. They are not only unhappy, they are also co-guilty. Forces from above have smashed in their front teeth, so now they are using the remaining ones to bite those who are lower, weaker and defenceless.”
Dr. Cherenkov, probably Ukraine’s best-known evangelical intellectual, is the leading deputy of Sergey Rakhuba’s Wheaton/Illinois-based “Mission Eurasia” (once “Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries”). He also directs its partnership with the UK’s “Baptist Mission Society”.
In a later interview in Moscow, Smirnov reported that the group remaining apart from the RUECB had registered several days prior to 7 July as an independent religious entity within Crimea. He claimed in this interview that the group willing to join Moscow had already expressed its readiness to do so as early as February 2014, but that the RUECB had cautioned them to remain patient and wait.
An aggrieved Grigory Berg, RUECB-Pastor in the arctic city of Murmansk, responded to Cherenkov’s essay in a letter on 21 July: “Crimea is not ours, and it is not yours!” he proclaimed. Who knows what will be in 30 years? The powers-that-be have been redrawing the map for centuries. The issue of Crimea does not need to concern the church one iota. Did Jesus and his disciples spend their time lashing out at the occupying powers? “Come to your senses!” he exclaimed. “The church should not be fighting for geographic territory, but rather for human souls!”
Berg decried Cherenkov’s charge of “creeping annexation” as extremely harsh and reported on the deep love and admiration Russian and Ukrainian Baptists had once felt for each another. He vehemently rejected the claim that the Russian partner was now devouring the Ukrainian one. The pastor also described the RUECB’s reaction as logical and selfless.
A commentary by the blogger “Vitaly” on the Latvian “Baznica” website noted how the other national Baptist churches had responded when the Ukrainian one – the largest within the old Soviet council by far – pulled up stakes and moved from Moscow to Kiev in 1990. Back then, no one had accused the Ukrainians of being traitors or separatists tearing apart the brotherhood. One had instead assured that the Ukrainians were in any case “not departing from God”. “Vitaly” claimed in closing that pro-Maidan voices like Cherenkov and national security chief Oleksandr Turchinov were “bringing shame to all Baptists”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 18 August 2015