…the war [between Russia and Urkraine has been cast] in terms of good versus evil, with Ukraine’s true believers on one side, and the fake Christian Putin on the other. Personally, I am much more skeptical about the genuine faith of some evangelicals that have tethered themselves to politicians that for decades have kept us involved in preemptive, interventionist, and illegal wars which killed and displaced millions of people. Many evangelicals have basically given neo-conservatives and neo-liberals in our government a blank check when it comes to being involved in endless wars. Perhaps it’s time to put quotation marks around the word “evangelical.”
Mindy Belz has positioned herself as an apologist for the “It’s all Putin’s fault” narrative in an article she wrote in the Wall Street Journal on March 3, 2022 titled, Ukraine’s Believers and the ‘Christian’ Putin. The quotation marks around the word Christian suggests skepticism about the genuineness of Putin’s Orthodox faith, and allows Ms. Belz to cast the war in terms of good versus evil with Ukraine’s true believers on one side, and the fake Christian Putin on the other.
Personally, I am much more skeptical about the genuine faith of some evangelicals that have tethered themselves to politicians that for decades have kept us involved in preemptive, interventionist, and illegal wars which killed and displaced millions of people. Many evangelicals have basically given neo-conservatives and neo-liberals in our government a blank check when it comes to being involved in endless wars. Perhaps it’s time to put quotation marks around the word “evangelical.”
But not Ms. Belz, she is concerned that some evangelicals have been “Lured…by statements suggesting Mr. Putin is pro-church, antiabortion and anti-same-sex-marriage.” Therefore, “some religious conservatives have been reluctant to acknowledge the Russian leader’s expansionist aims.”
Apparently, Putin’s expansionist aims are obvious to Ms. Belz, and she thinks they should be for everyone else too. Yet she is completely ignoring the insurmountable material reality of the massive eastward expansion of NATO as a reasonable and plausible explanation for Putin’s action in the Ukraine—as ugly and horrifying as that may be.
Since 1998 fourteen countries have been absorbed into NATO from the Baltic states and former Warsaw Pact. This means that America and NATO can potentially establish military bases, deploy troops, and install ballistic missiles all around the Russian Federation.
At the 2008 Bucharest Summit Georgia and Ukraine were promised eventual membership in NATO. In protest Russia announced that it would consider NATO expansion into boarder countries a direct threat to its national security, and said they would do “all they can to prevent Ukraine’s and Georgia’s ascension into NATO.” Russia did exactly what they said they would do, first in Georgia, and then the Ukraine. This should not have been a surprise to anyone who was listening. Yet to this day, the US refuses to acknowledge any of Russia’s security concerns.
Also, Bosnia & Herzegovina have enjoyed a cozy relationship with NATO since the early 1990s. In 2006 they joined the Partnership for Peace, and in 2010 they were invited to join the Membership Action Plan as stepping stones to becoming full NATO members.
Since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, Finland and Sweden have indicated their intention to join the alliance. Indeed, as recently as 5/16/22, the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnel promised that Finland’s and Sweden’s application to NATO would be fast-tracked, and he hopes that congress would approve it by August of this year. If membership is granted to these applicants it would be a total of nineteen countries added to NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it means that Russia would be essentially surrounded.
Of course, none of this matters to the warmongers at the White House and in the Congress on either side of the aisle. They have their propaganda arm in the mainstream media steadily pushing the strategic lie that this is all Putin’s fault. He is the aggressor, and he is trying to reestablish the old Soviet Union. Unfortunately, many evangelicals either aren’t paying attention, or they’ve already believed the lie. The truth is that NATO is an offensive alliance, not a defensive alliance.
Moreover, what does Ms. Belz mean when she writes about “statements suggesting” Putin is prochurch, antiabortion, and anti-gay marriage? Does she mean that these are not in fact Putin’s views? Or does she mean that even if these are his true convictions, his ill-liberal political bent should be weighted more heavily by evangelicals than his stance on social issues when assessing his Christian bona fides?
What is conspicuous by its absence in Ms. Belz’s article is whether or not these traditional views on social issues are held by the neo-liberal government in Kiev, the protestant churches she claims to speak for, and the new Orthodox Church in Ukraine which broke away from the Russian patriarchy at the behest of the American State Department under Secretary Mike Pompeo.
As a whole the people of Ukraine are nearly as conservative on social issues as are the people of Russia. Evangelicals in Ukraine seem to be holding the conservative line on these issues but are increasingly being pressured by LGBTQ+ activists to soften their position. The metropolitan of the new Orthodox Church in Ukraine was caught on a prank call agreeing that the church in Ukraine needs to soften its views on LGBTQ+ issues and adopt positions more consistent with European values. This is in stark contrast to the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church which sees the whole trajectory of religious and political institutions in the Ukraine as one big gay pride parade. And he is not completely wrong on this point.
Finally, Ms. Belz cites the former finance minister in Ukraine, Natalie Jaresko. Ms. Jaresko stated that Putin cannot stand to see “a Slavic nation on his border that has a successful democracy, albeit messy. He cannot abide an example of democratic success next door while he remains an example of oppression.”
One wonders why Ms. Jaresko, a US citizen and former U.S. Department of State official, was appointed as Ukraine’s Minister of Finance in the first place if Ukraine is such a shining example of democracy? As it turns out, many of Ukraine’s top ministerial posts are held by foreigners from the US, Lithuania, Georgia, and elsewhere. Many more lower ranking positions are also held by foreigners.
Needless to say, none of these foreigners running the government were democratically elected by the will of the Ukrainian people. They were all appointed because of outside pressure from Western institutions such as IMF, EBDR, WTO, the European Union and the U.S. Department of State. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that Putin is viewing Ukraine as anything close to resembling a successful democracy. The facts would suggest that we shouldn’t either.
Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary serving in North Africa and the Middle East.
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