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Ukraine Crisis Needs Respectful Dialogue to Reach Peace

The crisis in Ukraine could be attributed to the lack of sympathy for democratic practice. Repeated fisticuffs in Ukraine’s parliament were one indication of that deficit.
Why was it not possible for the protesters on Maidan Square to wait for upcoming elections, initially set for March 2015, then moved forward to December 2014?

Henry Kissinger noted in his March 6 Washington Post article that East and West Ukraine had never gotten around to appreciating compromise. Both parties “have not been willing to share power,” he said.

Once the Western party was in power, the East responded by splitting off the Crimea. This brings us to the East Ukraine crisis.

In the German magazine Der Spiegel, ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schröder conceded on March 9 that lopping off Crimea from Ukraine had been a clear infraction of international law – as had also been the case in Kosovo. One injustice caused the next.

Russian Christians now celebrating the apparent return of Crimea should not forget the unfortunate chain of illegalities causing it.

A Moscow Baptist compared the presentation of Crimea to Ukraine on Feb. 19, 1954, with a wedding that ignored the need for a marriage contract.

The groom promises his beloved heaven and earth, but then demands that a portion of his gifts be returned upon divorce.

Some reports claim the presentation of Crimea to Ukraine was Nikita Khrushchev’s doing, as he had hoped to curry favor among the Ukrainians by presenting them with a token gift.

Who would have thought that 60 years later a divorce would be imminent?

Even the most conciliatory statements from the leadership of Ukraine’s largest Baptist union exhibit a clear political preference in this divided nation.

Kiev’s Protestants speak of “Ukraine,” yet usually they are speaking only in terms of West and Central Ukraine.

Those truly concerned about national unity would express themselves differently. Russians have the impression that West Ukrainians can only think in terms of their own side.

More than a few Protestant articles in the West are euphoric regarding the naming of Alexander Turchinov, who occasionally preaches in a Baptist congregation in Kiev, as acting president of Ukraine.

Russia’s faithful are more sober regarding developments. A Baptist heading a coup-instigated “illegal” government with at least five far-right ministers does not make for great Baptist PR in Russia. Russia’s tiny Baptist flock is worried about the long-term consequences.

I do not believe the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and Russia’s other larger Protestant denominations will support the new Kiev government at the expense of Vladimir Putin’s administration.

This is not primarily because they fear Putin. Rather, they don’t recognize any clear moral superiority on the part of the Kiev government, even though Russians are clearly “in the know” regarding the local sins and shortcomings of their own government.

A March 13 statement from the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists (RUECB) read: “Let us not claim that God is on our side and against the others! God is above and beyond our petty preferences and loyalties. In the political sphere, God is not for one side at the expense of the other.”

Despite the unavoidable contradictions in our political assessments, being one in Christ has consequences that express themselves in public life. Let me offer two.

  • The heated atmosphere at present results in belligerent and unbridled language.

For example, a Christianity Today article reported Turchinov speaking of the “unprecedented cruelty and brutality of the dictatorial regime.”

Such exaggerations happened on both sides of the barricades and traveled at least as far as Washington. We need linguistic disarmament. Only a cautious and respectful diction can point the way toward peace.

  • Putin-bashing does not sit well on a Christian frame.

“The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one,” Kissenger said. Schröder is lambasted for being a friend of Putin, but this could serve the cause of peace. More than a few contacts could be struck up via the Schröder-Putin connection.

Yet the political-strategic aspect dare not remain central. More important is the question: How does God think and what is he expecting from us?

God is impartial and finds himself beyond the battle; he does not struggle for West Ukraine against East Ukraine – nor vice versa.

Acting President Turchinov is in need of our prayers. Can he at least keep the remainder of the country (without Crimea) in one piece? Can he defend moderate forces against the onslaught of the radical right? His task is not an enviable one.

I write because most Russian Protestants will remain silent for psychological, educational and linguistic reasons. This doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking.

I hope that Western Christendom will notice the existence of other, alternative perceptions.

I believe that recognition is vital for future co-existence. We can make progress only if we first of all understand how things really are.

William Yoder is a Baptist church worker and journalist living in Orsha, Belarus, and working in Moscow. You can find out more about Russian evangelicals in the Ukraine here.