By Bob Allen
Ukrainian church leaders called on the global Christian community to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine at an April 28 consultation in London. The event was co-sponsored by BMS World Mission, founded in 1792 by Baptists in England and today closely tied to the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
According to BMS World Mission, 60 delegates from faith-based and humanitarian agencies in Ukraine, Russia, the United Kingdom and across Europe grappled with questions about how the global church should respond to ongoing conflict being viewed by some as a holy war.
A London Consultation Resolution on Ukraine adopted by delegates described “serious challenges in areas of religious freedom, human rights and religious diversity” in Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian separatists.
A “pan-Slavic Orthodoxy” ideal of restoring the so-called “Russian world” to the center of Eastern Orthodoxy prior to Communism “is now monopolizing ideology and practice in these regions,” the religious leaders warned.
“Orthodox confessions that are not affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate face the constant threat of discrimination and persecution,” the resolution said. “Catholics, Protestants and other religious minorities are likewise suffering violent persecution and are in need of our solidarity and advocacy.”
Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, toured eastern Ukraine in April with Ukrainian Baptist leaders. While the EBF delegation did not enter the areas occupied by pro-Russian separatists, Peck said in a blog, they met with pastors from the region who traveled up to nine hours to get to a meeting after being turned back at several checkpoints.
Nearly all the pastors reported that their churches opened doors to people displaced by the conflict. While some were initially reluctant, Peck said, attitudes changed — and so did churches.
“When we bring somebody else’s pain on to ourselves, it changes us,” one pastor put it.
“Of course, I reflect especially on the strained relations between Russian and Ukrainian Baptists at the present time and what we can do as the EBF to provide a space for a coming together, and ultimately healing and reconciliation,” Peck said. “That will not be easy and will take time and some truth-telling on both sides.”
After the resolution signing, BMS Global Ambassador and former Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey joined hands with the former president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia and current president of the Evangelical Faith of Ukraine.
Each prayed in his own language, symbolizing an abiding image from a conference that planners hope will eventually bear fruit of solidarity, justice and reconciliation.
The resolution encouraged the global Christian community “to respond quickly and generously to consolidated appeals for humanitarian assistance” and urged relevant agencies “to collaborate more closely with the Church in Ukraine at the grassroots level to enhance the carrying out of relief efforts.”
It supported peacemaking efforts and expressed “deep concern that Christian communities, which are not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, are suffering disproportionately in the conflict.”
The resolution conveyed “grief and outrage” at the kidnapping and subsequent murder of four evangelical leaders during a Pentecost worship service in 2014, and condemned the seizing of church buildings for use as military barracks and fortresses.
Delegates appealed to the international Christian community “to demonstrate solidarity with the Ukrainian people, particularly with Christians who are suffering persecution in the occupied territories of southern and eastern Ukraine” and committed to “the development of formal and informal partnerships that will advocate for religious freedom and social justice in Ukraine through international networking and the sharing of resources.”
The other co-sponsor with BMS World Mission was Mission Eurasia, formerly Russian Ministries, founded in 1991 just after the collapse of the Soviet Union for evangelism and church planting in the former communist empire.