How should Christians respond to the War in Ukraine?1
(photo credit: Reuters)
As we speak, the largest war on the European continent since World War II has begun. In our media-centric world, as Christians we must ensure that we are allowing the Scriptures to guide our thinking first. The situation in Ukraine could be simply described (an aggressor invading an innocent people), yet the story and motivations that lie behind this war reach back well over one hundred years.
The same is true for a Christian theology of war and peace - no simple blanket statement can guide us.
Below I will walk through some questions to guide you and hopefully lead you to further prayer and understanding. Yes, it is hard work to understand all that is happening and to be critical thinkers, which Christians are called to be.
“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).
“But test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
I also want to help provide resources to aide in our quest. My goal below is not so much to provide answers per se, but to help equip you and guide you to ask the right questions, have meaningful resources at your disposal, and learn how to pray for Ukraine and Russia through a Christian worldview. Hopefully as we end, you will be better equipped to answer the question: how should Christians respond to such a war as we are seeing?
DISCLAIMER: By providing sources below, I am not also providing an endorsement of whatever platform may be referenced (i.e. I do not fully endorse Jordan Peterson’s podcast, for example, and can’t recommend you listen to some of the other episodes on his platform). I am only providing links to experts in their field that can help you along this journey. Many of these sources are also not from Christian thinkers and authors, per se, as not all of their worldviews will be that of a Christian. Keep this in mind, but glean from their wisdom!
Why is Russia invading Ukraine? What is the history that is leading up to this moment?
I am no historian by trade, so don't look to me as an authority (even if I pretend to be an amateur historian!). We must recognize the long and complex history of Russia. Many wars have been fought on the very same battleground as today. One thinks of the famous poem by Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” describing a specific tragic event within the Crimean War of 1854 where many perished. Because of the complexities involved, no short 2-3 minute video suffices if you really want to try and have a foundational understanding.
Here is an interview of Dr. Frederick W. Kagan. He is a former professor of history with a PhD in Russian and Soviet military history from Yale who has spent his life researching and understanding Russian history. This interview from him below is most helpful to understand Russian history and potential motivations leading up to this moment in Ukraine. (Again, disclaimer: I don't give unfettered endorsement for Peterson or his platform. I simply haven't found another interview by such an expert that is as helpful as this one):
If you are a reader, here are resources below that I have read/interacted with to recommend:
A Concise History of the Russian Revolution: Richard Pipes
(For a longer treatment - The Russian Revolution by Pipes)
Nicholas and Alexandra - The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert Massie
(A book I have not interacted with but have been told is an excellent resource for history leading up to modern times of Russia):
Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire - David Remmick
2) How do I navigate media during a time of war?
Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder from the Foundation of Critical Thinking have written a very helpful booklet on “Detecting News Media Bias and Propaganda” that helps equip us with critical thinking tools as we absorb media, which I highly encourage you to purchase. You could also listen to an interview on this topic from Dr. Elder here.
It is most important to understand that in war, situations are ever changing and stories will often be missing context. Propaganda and news biases are at their highest. Learning to be a critical thinker and navigating the very complex world of our current media forms in time of war will only aide you in your prayers and growth as a Christian during this time.
Also, if you haven't explored the resources from the Center of Humane Technology, they also provide excellent resources in navigating our curent media and its forms, which I highly recommend.
3) How do I develop a biblically informed response to war?
The Scriptures, as well as Church History, are most helpful in an attempt to answer this question.
Against War, Praying for Peace, Fighting for Justice
In brief, we must first recognize that war and violence were not a part of God’s original plan for this world. It belongs to the kingdom of this world, to the “prince” of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the cosmic powers that belong to his kingdom (Ephesians 6:12).
The prophetic vision of Isaiah concerning the future when Jesus returns to this earth is one of peace, where humankind will no longer learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4) because in that future world, there will no longer be wickedness and death in this world but only wholeness and Life (Revelation 21-22).
As Jesus prays in his famous prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), and also as he describes those in his Kingdom as blessed who are “peacemakers” (5:9), we should desire and seek to provide the world a glimpse of such a peaceful future that is coming to this world. Christians should be the example of this. Finally as we recognize that death is of the Enemy, and those who die without knowledge of Christ and his salvation will be eternally separated from him forever, we should mourn death and mourn war, and pray constantly for it to cease. This also does not exclude us praying for Russia, the aggressor and rather obvious enemy in this context (Matt. 5:44).
Nevertheless, in our broken world, war happens. There is a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:8). War can come from both just and unjust motivations, and it is our responsibility to discern which it is sourced from, which guides us on what we do support or protest against. Christians cannot and should not support unjust wars, but as a last resort, be willing to fight if it is necessary to defeat an enemy if it is for a just cause.
As imperfect as it is, a helpful theory that is at our disposal as Christians is often referred to as the “Just War Theory.” Attributed to Saint Augustine of the fourth century, it provides the Christian with steps to consider before war is taken up. This eight minute video is helpful to guide us through this teaching of “Just War” from the Catholic Church:
4) How can I tangibly help the Ukrainians right now?
We have an opportunity right now to help and support Ukrainian refugees being received through a network of churches within the Czech Republic. You can learn more about that here:
5) Thoughts from Pastor Daniel
I want to provide in closing some thoughts on our own nation during this time. Knowing that we are Christians first before American citizens, a fair question that we should be willing to ask is this: do we immediately support any response from our own nation to the war in Ukraine? Has the USA played any role leading up to this conflict? Is there anything we as a nation can learn from this horrible situation in Ukraine?
Keeping our allegiance first to Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit beneath the authority of Scriptures reminds us that we are indeed first beneath a different authority, as we do indeed have permission to critique our own nation, even if it is our homeland which we dearly love. I want to provide some questions for your consideration that this war should stir within us as a nation, as well as an ending note for you and I concerning prayer:
- After World War II, America has been the global dominant force in our world. We have performed military operations all over the globe, many in nations which do border Russia, and installed our own military bases on almost every continent. We are reminded of the more recent invasion of Iraq, our own war in Afghanistan, and our meddling with Libya and Syria. We are reminded of our own drone program, often secretive beneath every president since G.W. Bush, and even last year how we accidentally via drone killed a man and ten members (seven which were children) of his whole family in Kabul (https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/29/asia/afghanistan-kabul-evacuation-intl/index.html). We must be willing to ask our own nation questions of the just nature of our own global operations - are all of them necessary? Are many of them unjust? How many innocents have died from them? I am no expert, but I firmly believe Christians have the right to ask such questions as we observe the horror of this war in Ukraine. Hopefully this will be an opportunity as a nation to do our own self reflecting, and Christians can stand and speak truth to wherever it must be spoken to, even if it is our own nation (1 Timothy 3:15).
- Pray. Please do not discredit the effect of your own prayers during this time. Be generous to our friends in the Czech Republic so they can care for these refugees. Pray for God to stop the hand of the aggressor, for peace to reign, and for righteousness to prevail. Pray for reason to be restored to Putin, that he may cease this unnecessary war where innocents are dying. Pray for the churches in Ukraine to be true lights of hope during such a national crisis, and pray for many to come to know the salvation of Jesus through this time. Plenty of stories are abounding of God's work right now in the Ukraine, as well as glimpses of how church ministry looks in Ukraine right now. Stay up to date and do not cease to pray!
Hopefully this is all helpful to equip you to navigate all that is before you!
- Pastor Daniel Nelms