Dear brothers and sisters,
I confess that when we had the bush fires, I got up every morning and checked my fire ap; when we had covid (amazingly how quickly Putin has made that disappear!) I listened dutifully to the figures put out by government; and now we have the Ukraine war, I was tempted to do as I did with the Iraq war – follow it endlessly on TV. The Russia/Ukraine war is the first TikTok/Internet war. Given my feed – I think Tik Tok has finally decided that I must want to see videos of Ukrainians killing Russians, rather than the other way round. I don’t want either. I don’t want to hear the endless experts pontificating about how Putin will win/lose. There are no winners in this. I also feel confused and not sure that I really know anything. How ironic that in the first multi-media internet war – we are swamped with information and yet know so little. But we feel it!
I’m sick of it all. Sick of the glorification of war. Sick of social media being used as a weapon of war. Sick at the thought of Ukrainian and Russians tonight going to bed mourning the loss of their sons and daughters. Sick at the politicians who want to outdo each other in their machoness – for example I’ve just listened to Liz Truss, UK government minister, encourage UK private citizens who ‘feel like’ they want to fight in Ukraine, to go – after all they are fighting for the freedom of Europe (I remember the good old days when we had an army that did that!). Even Peter Tatchell is encouraging his followers to sign up and kill Russian soldiers (he of course talks about ‘defending Ukraine’ – but it’s the same thing).
I’m sick of the way that every Woke warrior manages to bring their personal obsession into everything. Whether it’s John Kerry expressing concern that President Putin will help us to stay on track with climate change; or Janal Forsyth informing us that Putin gets away with it because of his ‘white privilege; or healthcare writer Bruce Y Lee telling us in Forbes magazine that Covid 19 will be one of the real winners of the Russian invasion. The concern of some in the UK military is that soldiers need to be offered vegan uniforms (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/02/27/soldiers-call-vegan-uniforms/?utm_content=telegraph&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1645992803-1.
Even the head of MI6 had to make the war about sexuality – he tweeted (I must admit I thought this was a parody account – but it is for real) – “With the tragedy and destruction unfolding so distressingly in Ukraine, we should remember the values and hard-won freedoms that distinguish us from Putin, none more than LGBT+ rights. So, let’s resume our series of tweets to mark #LGBTHM2022 LA”. Yes, I’m sure that’s what the brave Ukrainians are fighting for – LGBT+ rights! But the insaniest of all is the transactivist who tweeted that the belief that sex was binary and immutable was the real cause of the war.
I’m sick of the ‘anti-woke’ or ‘Christian’ culture warriors who have more than a sneaking admiration for Putin and think that he may well indeed be the champion of the Right. I just cannot see how you think invading another country is ‘defending Christ.’ Did Christ ask for this?
I’m sick of the hysteria and the stupidity. E.g., Oprah removing Tolstoy’s “War and Peace’ from her book club, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It seems she knows as much about Russian literature as Whoopi does about the Holocaust! Or Russia being kicked out of Eurovision – that will teach them!
I’m sick of the seemingly endless flow of bad news – a couple of years ago we were all going to burn to death on a dying planet. Then we were all going to die because of Covid. Now the world is apparently heading for a nuclear conflagration – if we don’t all drown first!
It is little wonder that the ABC here in Australia had an article on how to handle the stress of hearing about war (because of course what really matters is how we feel about things); and Fox news ran a piece with psychologists explaining how parents should talk about the war in Ukraine to their children. We are a society in a permanent state of neurosis!
The Good News?
That’s the bad news. But what about the good news? How is the church, the pillar and foundation of the truth, the proclaimer of the good news – doing in that area? To be honest not all that well. My observation is this – that we largely just copy the reaction of the world around us – and baptise it with Christian jargon.
It is very easy to get caught up in the depression, excitement and simplistic partisanship of great issues in today’s social media world. Because everything is politicised into a meme, we very easily take sides. But should we?
Now – I need to be very careful here. What I am going to write is for Christians – I don’t think most non-Christians have the framework with which to understand this. My fear is that a lot of Christians don’t either. (Of course, my other fear is that I could just completely have misread this).
I am talking here about the Church and the Gospel. I’m not talking about the political views. There are plenty of those. I’m not saying that we should not be informed nor that we should not care. I’m not saying that we should not be amazed at some of the good things we see happening – such as the leadership shown by the Ukrainian President (such a contrast to the Afghan situation). If you are interested, I have added a list of helpful articles at the end of this letter. I’m not seeking to defend Putin or pick the wrong side. But what I am talking about is the Christian reaction.
Pray for Ukraine
Let me give an example. When we use the phrase ‘pray for Ukraine’ what are we saying? Surely all of us should be for prayer? Indeed. But I suspect that we use the word ‘pray’ in the same way that Nicola Sturgeon talks about ‘sending strength’ to Ukraine. It just means that we support Ukraine. It’s not just that we are praying for the area where the fighting is taking place. We are identifying with one side (perhaps justly). If that is not the case – let me ask you how many churches will be holding ‘pray for Russia’ prayer meetings? Why not? Christ tells us that we are to pray for our enemies – if indeed Russia is our enemy. (As an aside I’m intrigued as to how many Christians are showing a great interest in the imprecatory psalms!).
It’s amazing how we just pick sides. This is of course nothing new. In numerous wars ‘our boys’ have gone off to war blessed by the Church. We know who the bad guys are, and we know who the good guys are. It is usually only in retrospect that we come to realise that perhaps things were not as black and white as we thought. The invasion of another country is a serious and usually wrong thing. But it’s not as if we haven’t done it in recent years. If we are going to preach against violating another nations sovereignty then as Paul told the Romans “At whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same thing’ (Romans 2:1). ‘Oh, but our cause was just – God is on our side’. But Putin thinks that his cause is just, and that God is on his side. Again, that is not to justify Putin or to accept his claims – but it is to urge us to be very careful about claiming that the Lord is with us. This is not a case of what is called ‘whatabouterry’ or false equivalence. I’m not arguing that the invasion of Iraq or the bombing of Libya, or the invasion of Afghanistan is the same as Russia invading Ukraine – but I am suggesting that it is more complex than the simple ‘good guys (obviously us), bad guys narrative.
But surely the Ukrainians are a wonderful democracy and Russia is a despotic regime? Yet I listen to Russian and Ukrainian Christians who have very different perspectives and some who have very similar. The truth is that the situation is much more complex than the war being fought out on the Internet. Both Russia and Ukraine have deeply embedded corruption in their systems. And so does the West. Praying for and supporting the Ukrainian people is good. But not over as against the Russian people. Besides which it is naive to think that the Russian Orthodox Church is going to unite against the Russian government!
Fighting for the West
Some argue as though this is about fighting to save the West – is it? And even if it is, what if the West is not worth fighting for? Or what if our greatest enemy is not an authoritarian Russia, or China, or an authoritarian religion like Islam. What if the enemy is within?
At the beginning of the 5th Century Augustine faced a similar if greater situation. The Roman Empire, which had been a Christian empire for just over a century, was about to be overrun by the Barbarian Goths. So, in 413 he began to publish his classic book, The City of God. It took 13 years and is one of the greatest books ever written – and it is so apposite to our current situation. I know of nothing like it – and of very few Christian thinkers and writers who are producing this kind of biblical thinking today. Augustine argues that there are two cities – not Rome v’s Babylon or any other city. It was rather the heavenly city against the worldly. Augustine did not fear ‘the barbarian’ enemy taking over. Because he knew the enemy was ultimately a spiritual one – and he knew that Rome was bound to fall because it had turned away from the living God. “Indeed, the only cause of their [Rome] perishing was that they chose for their protector’s gods condemned to perish.”
There are so many quotes but let me share with you just a few – I won’t insult you by applying them to our current situation – you can do that for yourself.
“Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but what is worse, as many masters as he has vices.”
“What are kingdoms without justice? They’re just gangs of bandits.”
“Pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation – when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end and becomes a kind of end to itself.”
“… the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.”
“He who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice nor love the vice because of the man.”
““The earthly [city] has made for herself, according to her heart’s desire, false gods out of any sources at all, even out of human beings, that she might adore them with sacrifices. The heavenly one, on the other hand, living like a wayfarer in this world, makes no false gods for herself. On the contrary, she herself is made by the true God that she may be herself a true sacrifice to Him.”
“The good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world’s happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.”
“The whole of history since the ascension of Jesus into heaven is concerned with one work only: the building and perfecting of this “City of God.”
“It is greater felicity to have a good neighbour at peace, than to conquer a bad one by making war.”
“Your wishes are bad, when you desire that one whom you hate or fear should be in such a condition that you can conquer him.”
“For to the just all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not the punishment of crime, but the test of virtue.”
“And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God . . . while the good pray and praise.”
“In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.”
““God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
I’ve seen Christians almost rejoicing at people being killed. I’ve seen the anger and rage on all sides. I’ve heard Christians who are neither from Russia or Ukraine, talk about ‘their’ side and display information about deaths and kills as though it were a score card. Last week I had a message from a Christian who was upset that I did not recognise that Putin was just trying to defend the Slavs, and another from someone who thought I did not recognise the evil in Russia. I’m sick of it all. I can hardly bare to watch the news.
The Church has lost its way. Like the world we judge people by their political opinions. The dividing line was whether you wear masks or not. Or whether you believed in climate change or not. Then it was CRT and racism! Now it’s your views on Ukraine and Russia. The curse of social media just magnifies these divisions.
There is a better way. The original inhabitants of what we now know as Ukraine were the Scythians. Where have you heard that name before? Colossians 3:11. “Here there is no Gentile of Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all”. To the Colossians and Romans – the Scythians were the ultimate savages – worse than mere barbarians. They were the Cossacks who killed, ravaged and destroyed. And yet here in this one church in Greece – there were Greeks, Romans, Jews, Barbarians and Scythians. Made one by Christ. Sanctions, Molotov cocktails, guns, Ukrainian flag emoijs, sending ‘lethal aid’ (as the Australian government so euphemistically put it), and nuclear weapons are not going to bring peace. Only the Gospel can do that. Which is why I can both weep and worship.
See you soon,
Yours in Christ,
This song expresses something of my hatred of, and despair at, war.
If you want to be better informed of a wider perspective, then these articles are helpful. (Please note I am not endorsing everything in them…!)
Putin is mad and bad – https://unherd.com/2022/02/vladimir-putins-dangerous-madness/?1646001736997
Putin is the Saviour of Russian Christianity – https://unherd.com/2022/02/putins-spiritual-destiny/?1646001828518
And this brilliant essay from Dominic Sandbrook on the history of Ukraine – https://unherd.com/2022/02/kyiv-will-rise-again/?1646001932487
Or this from Jennifer Oriel which summarises how this happened: “Like any bully, Putin picks his targets. Ukraine was made vulnerable by years of official corruption so severe it destabilised government, bled the economy, weakened defence forces and discouraged NATO members from welcoming it into the fold. Its fall sends a message to democracies that they must choose a side in the coming cataclysm where Russia and China unite in a war against the free.” https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/ukraine-invasion-nations-must-choose-sides-in-the-age-of-tyrants/news-story/4a0ff8938a7b8ab6a31f14a1eb83ef7b?utm_source=TheAustralian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial&utm_content=TATodaysHeadlinesSubAM
Or the weakness of Western leadership as again brilliantly described by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – https://unherd.com/2022/02/our-rulers-are-a-bunch-of-weaklings/?1646002257927
If you want to understand the historical background to this – https://www.spiked-online.com/2022/02/26/the-peace-that-could-have-been/#.YhvTswaT0iE.twitter
Many Christians are more than happy to cite Peter Hitchens. He has a lot of experience of Russia and his views are a little bit different to the mainstream – I suggest you read it….https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2022/02/peter-hitchens-the-west-acts-tough-with-russia-because-were-just-too-feeble-to-stand-up-to-our-real-.html
“I’m told I am supporting the invasion by saying we provoked it. But if I warn a child that, if he annoys a wasp, it will sting him, am I supporting the wasp? I am accused of treachery, or of being an apologist for Russia, for urging a different view on this crisis. Surely this is how dissent is treated in dictatorships. I write this as a British patriot. How was it in our interests to provoke a war we cannot win, and cannot even fight, against a country which is not, in fact, our enemy?”