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Image: Contributor / AFP / Getty Images. A woman holds a “Stop the war” placard in central Moscow during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on March 3, 2022.

I have been wrestling with the provocative assertion by Elie Wiesel, Romanian born Jewish Holocaust survivor:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

I have explored this in “Take a Stand“, and “A Problem of the Wrong Question“; I suspect I’ve been looking for loopholes, but Jayson Casper’s post blasts through any safe theorizing.

Casper notes that there have been numerous prayers for peace uttered by many Russian Christians. But there has not been a word of condemnation of the unprovoked war/invasion of Ukraine.

Here is an excerpt from Casper’s interview with Taras Dyatlik, the Overseas Council regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Evangelical Churches:

Your [religious] unions have congratulated Putin, giving thanks for freedom of belief [but] the time has come to make use of that freedom.

Dyatlik accused his Russian colleagues of buying into national rhetoric—first in 2014, when Russian-backed forces invaded the eastern region of Donbas—and again today. But “begging on my knees,” he leveraged his reputation with the heads of Russia’s evangelical unions—while acknowledging their difficult reality.

“You fear prison,” he said. “[But] do not be faithful to Putin. Be faithful to the body of Christ.”

This will be Costly

New amendments to the Russian criminal code introduced a penalty of up to a 15-year prison sentence for “fake” claims about the violence in Ukraine, as authorities crack down on Russians who call the “military operation” a “war.”

What would you do? It’s easy to say the right thing here, but Russian Christians risk real fines and prison terms.

The head of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists said “Your silence now is the blood and tears of Ukrainian children, mothers, and soldiers—that is on your hands.”

Here again are the Echoes from a Birmingham Jail. When people of good will remain silent about injustice, as Martin Luther King Jr. appealed, injustice reigns.

This is not about taking a side; I am not advocating being “anti-Russian”; we’re in a precarious time when partisan hatreds are fomented to be as unjust as the injustice being bombed on the Ukraine.

When Sermons are more than Words

It is about taking a stand – not being silent or ambivalent about the obvious injustice of the war on Ukraine. And this is more costly the closer one is to the conflict. For example this last Sunday a Russian Priest was arrested for delivering a sermon against the Ukraine War.

On what is known as “Forgiveness Sunday” in the Orthodox calendar, Father Ioann Burdin of the Resurrection Church in Russia’s western Kostroma region was arrested for making anti-war statements in his sermon, and for publishing a link to an anti-war petition on his parish’s website, the BBC‘s Russian service reported:

“The priest ‘committed a public offence aimed at discrediting the Russian armed forces which are conducting a special military operation’ in Ukraine, according to a police report quoted by the Media Zona website. He told parishioners about ‘‘Russian troops in Ukraine shelling the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv and killing citizens of Ukraine—brothers and sisters in Christ.'”

What’s in a Word?

Meanwhile Pastor Pavel Kuznetsov simply wants the correct word used:

“Many believers in Russia are praying about the ‘situation’ in Ukraine. The situation is called WAR,” [a pastor near Kyiv] wrote on Facebook. “And when you pray again, tell God it’s war, and we are being killed here.”

The time has come when each of us must call things by their real names, while we still have a chance to escape punishment from above, and prevent the collapse of our country,” stated an open letter signed by a group of Russian pastors and other Protestant leaders. “We call on the authorities of our country to stop this senseless bloodshed!”

What Good is Your Freedom?

Russian Protestants have tended to stay away from politics for decades in a kind of cold peace with the Kremlin in order to enjoy a modest amount of religious freedom, but as Dyatlik said, “it’s time to make use of that freedom.” What good is a freedom if it is not used to further the freedom of others? When people of faith were routinely accused by Soviet authorities of being anti-government, Russian Christians said they were believers not politicians.

I understand this; if you’ve read my more political posts, you will know that I am strictly nonpartisan.

I understand how Russian Christians see how their posture to the government is consistent with the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

But “as far as it depends on you” is not in question any more. Peace now does not depend on Christians remaining silent – it depends on Christians speaking up: speaking with God in prayer, and speaking against obvious injustice in the public square.

Admittedly, this will take extraordinary courage for the historically timid Russian Evangelicals. Admittedly this will force all Christians to recognize what it means that Jesus is Lord, not Putin (nor – let it be said – any political leader).

Not a Call to Arms

The anti-petition in Russia reads:

We, Christians, cannot stand idly by when a brother kills brother, a Christian kills a Christian. Let’s not repeat the crimes of those who hailed Hitler’s deeds on Sept. 1, 1939.

No one should mistake this as a call to arms, or to take justice into one’s hands (see the Roman’s passage above again).

This is a call for the faithful to pray – pray like you’ve never prayed before; pray in such a way that admits you cannot answer your own prayer.

This is call to speak up – speak out against injustice, to not be silent or look the other way.

This is a call to nonviolent noncooperation done in the furious love of God (as Brennan Manning put it) that demonstrates our trust in His ultimate Sovereignty.

Roman Soloviy, director of the Eastern European Institute of Theology in Lviv, lamented and encouraged:

“Most likely, the occupiers will only increase their efforts, destroying our country and lives. Therefore, we cannot give up. … Amid chaos, pain, and death, we must remain God’s instruments of comfort, help, and hope.”

“No political interest or goal can justify the deaths of innocent people. War destroys not only Ukraine, but also Russia—its people, economy, morality, and future.”

For the full article see Jayson Casper’s “Hundreds of Russian Pastors Oppose War in Ukraine.”

Now is When Silence is Not Golden

How is this Russian occupation any different from the Roman occupation of Palestine over 2000 years ago? And what was Jesus answer in the midst of occupation?

The harvest is great, but the the labourers are few – therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more labourers into the harvest field.

For more see “A Pacifist Prayer in a Time of War.”