Ukraine (MNN) — The “flesh and blood’ battles over Ukraine are raging, but the spiritual battles are equally monumental. Whereas Putin is destabilizing the unity of Ukraine, Satan is destroying the unity of the Christians in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). That’s the word from a supporter of Russian Ministries.
Russian commentator Vladimir Pastukhov says: “War has been declared not on Ukraine but on the West: on its policy, ideology, way of life, values, and way of thinking. This is a ‘holy’ war; that is, an ideological and religious one, which is condemned to become total.” (novayagazeta.ru/politics/62873.html).
The spiritual battle is evident on several fronts:
Eurasian Christian ministries with offices in Ukraine are being marginalized by their Russian brethren. Ukrainians are no longer welcome to conduct seminars in Russia. Venues are being relocated from Ukraine. A Christian, Russian-language Web site for children is considered suspect because it originates in Ukraine. Crimean Baptists are now split over allegiance to headquarters in Ukraine or Russia. Rants by believers on Russian Facebook are devoid of Christian love.
The conflict over Ukraine has created division among evangelical Christians in the Former Soviet Union. The Russians swallow the government-controlled media propaganda and accuse the Ukrainians of blindly accepting Western standards:
a) The EU represents the dissolute western culture with its promotion of the GBLT agenda, so by opting for the EU, Ukraine will sink into immorality.
b) The West is being hypocritical in condemning Russia, while it has violated many international laws, e.g. regarding Kosovo, Iraq, Vietnam, etc.
Russians also claim that:
c) Scripture tells us to respect our rulers and laws; those supporting the coup in Ukraine are violating God’s law. And Putin must be obeyed because his authority comes from God.
d) Those supporting the interim Ukrainian government are supporting the violence that created the present conditions.
e) Christians should be concerned with heavenly matters and not be involved in politics
f) Justice (a Biblical virtue) is served by returning Crimea to Russia, because it was unjustly severed in 1954.
Whereas Russian Christians, citing the above 6 points, consider themselves morally superior to their Ukrainian and European brethren, the Ukrainians focus on the freedom from the abomination that characterized the Yanukovich government. Because Russian Evangelicals have aligned themselves with the official propaganda, the Ukrainian brethren lament the fact that the former are blindly supporting aggression and the widespread falsehoods broadcast over Russian media. Central Asian Christians who get their news exclusively from Russian TV channels are equally dismayed at Ukraine.
The predominantly Orthodox majority in Russia has always viewed evangelicals as subversive. Today this is compounded by official Russian propaganda which plays up the fact that the interim, “illegal” president of Ukraine is a Baptist–that is, “not one of us.” (The Russian racist mentality continues to discriminate between “them and us.”) So, the Russian brethren’s new nationalist spirit also appears to be an effort to prove that they are not “foreign agents”–the new pejorative.
A Belarus pastor points out that Russia has never repudiated its communist past. Russia never had a Nuremburg trial or sent KGB operatives to jail. In fact, all of its sordid past was covered up and the archives closed. Russians excuse themselves by laying all the blame on the USSR. Yet the USSR is still strong in the hearts of the Russian people, a significant number of whom would call themselves “atheist Orthodox.” Putin called the fall of the Soviet Union a great tragedy and the recent toppling of the statue of Lenin in Kiev a violation. Pro-Russian protestors in Ukraine and Russia wave the old hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag with religious fervor. Popular Russian newspapers are still entitled “Soviet Sport” and “Moscow Komsomol.” While it persists in living in the past, Russia continually imagines external threats: Jews, the US military, fascists, West European liberalism and immorality, etc.
Russia’s newly-resurrected messianism is a way to combat those external forces. Putin is not only leading the charge, he incarnates Russian messianic exceptionalism. Russians are proud to be neither East nor West. This produces, among other things, the beatification of the likes of Joseph Stalin, as you can see in the banner being carried by a pro-Russian demonstrator.
Yet Ukraine is not without guilt. A Ukrainian pastor says that Ukraine is suffering the present turmoil because it has failed to respond to God’s call to be salt to the nations of the Former Soviet Union. For the past 25 year, Ukraine enjoyed the most favorable conditions for the spread of the Gospel in the FSU. The first missionaries to Russia in the 1990s came from the Ukraine, and they established scores of new churches. Ukraine launched many of the evangelism programs that were duplicated in Russia and beyond.
But spiritual apathy and materialism entered the churches and corruption multiplied among government leaders. In 2004, God gave Ukraine a second opportunity to reject the Soviet past and pervasive corruption, but it was wasted. So, according to this pastor, God, who loves Ukraine, is allowing the present unrest as a chastisement, so that His people will repent and the land be healed (2 Chron 7:14).
There are some positive signs, e.g. public prayer is again promoted, and the churches are again full. The unrest has created a new spirit of brotherhood. Prayers are jointly led by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. Crimean Tatars have opened their mosque to a Ukrainian Orthodox church confiscated by the Moscow patriarchate. Ukrainians of all confessions are praying together and fasting, and they ask the rest of the world to stand with them in prayer. Evangelicals see a miracle and an answer to prayer in the fact that the occupation of Crimea was bloodless.
(Guest writer: name withheld for security)