Christians and politics in Ukrainian crisis
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Motorola interprets evangelical mission work
William Yoder, Ph.D.
1. After the flight of West-Ukrainian forces from Donetsk airport, a report from the legendary pro-Russian officer "Motorola" (Arseny Pavlov) surfaced on "Youtube" etc. on 22 January. In the film, Motorola brandishes a solar-powered player with inspirational recordings from Dr. Charles Stanley. Stanley is founder of "In Touch Ministries" and Senior Pastor of Atlanta's "First Baptist Church". According to this officer, all of the fallen, West Ukrainian soldiers were outfitted with such a player. Motorola, clearly no specialist on evangelical affairs, interpreted Stanley's call to stand strong with the prospects of a glorious place in paradise in the case of death as an attempt to "zombify" troops. Motorola meant apparently that they were being pumped full of death-defying courage.
Despite possibly laudable intentions, this episode leaves Russians and Eastern Ukrainians with the impression that the USA is rounding out the military outfitting of pro-Kiev troops with a spiritual and ideological one. The Atlanta mission can of course easily rejoin that it would also offer its services to the other side if given the chance.
2. One can speak of a stalemate in the current discourse between the Protestants of Russia and Ukraine. A conversation of Protestant church leaders from Russia with Protestant and Orthodox ones from Ukraine took place in Wuppertal/Germany from 20 to 22 January. Host was – as had been the case in Oslo in mid-September – the national Bible society.
The Wuppertal gatherings will be remembered for their modesty. Except for the Methodist bishop Eduard Khegay, all Russian participants were related to the Charismatic-Pentecostal "Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith" (ROSKhVE) or the "All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical-Christians" (VSEKh). ROSKhVE-Bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky was represented by his primary aid, Bishop Konstantin Bendas. As had been the case in the strictly-Protestant conversations in Jerusalem on 10 April of last year, neither the Lutherans nor Baptists of Russia were represented – the Baptists were not even invited. Yet Valery Antoniuk, head of the large Ukrainian Baptist Union, was present. The official communiqué on the event made no concrete statements on the topic of peace
The conversation between the leadership of the Russian and Ukrainian Baptist unions in Minsk on 27 November also did not lead to recognizable, positive and concrete results.
3. In Crimea, both Russian Lutherans and the aforementioned ROSKhVE have established new structures aligning themselves with the Moscow-led churches. Seven of eight Lutheran congregations intend to join the Russian church. That re-shuttling appears to have run into difficulties among Baptists: Nearly half of their 60 congregations continue to prefer relations with Union headquarters in Kiev.
4. On 21 January, US-General Ben Hodges handed out medals as thanks to injured Ukrainian soldiers in a Kiev hospital. According to reports, these medals – also called "coins" – are now being transferred into concrete merit on eBay. Russian Protestants are astonished and amused that the US would so brazenly announce its support and participation in the struggle of the West-Ukrainian forces.