War in Ukraine
We are witnessing a stunning and horrific assault on the people and nation of Ukraine, by Vladimir Putin and his allies. Here are some suggestions for Christians trying to discern what the best responses to this violence might be.
Reckoning and Repentance
Putin is a war criminal, and we must resist the temptation to ennoble ourselves by comparison. It is right and holy for Americans in particular to listen to Putin’s ludicrous rationalizations for his brutality, and remember times we’ve allowed our leaders to argue that American wars were legitimate, when they were not.
In late 2002, American leadership had decided to invade Iraq, and spent months convincing the populace that it was the right thing to do it. It wasn’t, and the reasons they came up with to defend their decision were proven in time to be obfuscation and lies. The same can be said of a multitude of American military campaigns in Latin America and Vietnam.
None of those situations is the same as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in terms of geopolitical context and on-the-ground details (Saddam Hussein was guilty of the worst human rights abuses imaginable, and nothing in Ukraine’s contemporary life should be compared to that).
But there is a common thread in the way a powerful nation wages war on a less powerful nation, using a self-serving and dishonest story. Invaders must tell themselves and their people a fiction of their own righteousness. Nobody goes to war believing they are the bad guys.
In order for us to meaningfully confront the lies Putin tells today, we must confess our sins as a nation in all the years leading up to now, and commit ourselves to rejecting false justifications for dehumanizing violence, going forward. We cannot allow brutality to be perpetrated in our society, or in our name throughout the world.
Christians confess and Christians repent. We must reckon with how we have been wrong, in order to do what is right.
The overwhelming brutality of an unprovoked military invasion is a shock to the senses, something we’d all like to believe would never happen, despite the evidence of history. In moments like this, it’s natural to assume that the only possibilities are to outdo the aggressors in aggression, destroy the destroyers, get more bombs than your attacker, or otherwise to submit, or to run away.
Ukrainians are fighting bravely and impressively in defense of their country, but everyone understands that Russia has more troops and bombs to send than Ukraine can defeat on its own. Even if they can prevail militarily, for every day of the war more babies will be bombed in their cribs, and more of the nation will be wreckage whenever Ukrainians are able to rebuild their lives.
The rest of the world, observing this trauma, must resolve not to accept Putin’s aggression, while discerning how to stop the assault without inaugurating world war three.
Never has there been a greater need for creative non-violent resistance to an evil-doer, by people of goodwill. Various sanctions on Russian banks and oligarchs are undermining the financial vitality of Putin’s regime, and proving that helping a wrongdoer feel the pain of their own actions can be a component in changing their decisions going forward. Not the whole solution but a critical piece.
Another essential element of nonviolent resistance is the simple act of story-telling. We are learning that many Russian soldiers are quite ignorant of Putin’s plans for the military campaign they are a part of. Their lives are on the line in this senseless war, and facts about their leaders’ recklessness are essential information for them to understand. As journalistic reporting and crowd sharing of facts abound, some Russians are getting the support they need in understanding that their country is on the wrong side of this conflict. Truth-telling is courageous work, part of the fight that doesn’t involve bullets and bombs.
One more essential way that the nations of the world must creatively respond to this war is the embrace and empowerment of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Ukrainians have fled their homes, and yes this is a story of trauma and desperation. But it is also an opportunity for the greater fellowship of nations to welcome and care for an abused people. Communities are always strengthened by their own hospitality and generosity. But beyond that, imagine a restored Ukraine, years in the future, in which hundreds of thousands of people return home with lifelong bonds of friendship tying them to other nations that helped them in their hour of need. What could be better for peace in the tomorrow’s world than that?
The heart of Christianity is our faith in a savior who did not imitate his abusers. Jesus did not repeat and multiply the domination of those who attacked him. His ultimate triumph in the resurrection and the coming kingdom is a repudiation of the evil inflicted upon him, and upon all who are brutalized by dehumanizing violence. The faithful Christian then asks, How can we confront an evil-doer, without becoming, or behaving like, the evil-doer?
This must be our prayer: Gracious God, bring peace into this story of strife, and show us how to help.
War has descended upon Ukraine, and people are already dying in large numbers. There is no escaping this moment without bloodshed, and the violence of those defending their homes and families is justified.
But there is a path forward from this moment that leads to ever-greater destruction, exponential atrocity. There is also a path that leads to slowly blooming peace and hard-won healing. We who believe in Jesus must follow him on this second path, and commit whatever he asks of us, in service of salvation. For Ukraine, and for the world.
God bless you friends! Pastor Rob Leveridge