By Bob Allen
The heads of the Baptist unions in Ukraine and Russia met April 8 for the first time since a political crisis began last November putting the two nations on the brink of war.
Presidents of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists issued a joint statement indicating the two groups want to continue their strong fraternal relations despite geopolitical differences.
Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, said the meeting demonstrates “that the gospel we believe in transcends political differences between nations and unites us in an overall concern for peace and reconciliation in Christ.”
Vyacheslav Nesteruk, head of the 2,300-church and 125,000-member Ukranian Baptist Union and President Aleksey Smirnov of the 1,800-church and 76,000-member Russian Baptist organization, called on churches “to pray continually for peace between our peoples as well as for those who have suffered during the course of the recent political stand-off.”
The Baptist leaders pledged “our sincere willingness to pray and support deeds of fraternal dialogue and the promotion of peace in the Russian and Ukrainian societies.” They appealed “to all who are responsible for the future of our countries to hold firmly to the principles of freedom of conscience and confession as well as the non-interference of the state and political forces in the internal life of religious organizations.”
They condemned “acts of violence and brutality against persons as well as the resolution of political problems by military means” and appealed to members of various religious groups “to contribute to the process of forgiveness and agreement between our peoples.”
“We mourn those killed in mass clashes on both sides of the conflict, both among the public and combatants,” the statement said. “We call on our brothers and sisters in the churches of Russia and Ukraine to pray for a peaceful resolution of the political confrontation between our two countries.”
The statement called on both the Ukranian and Russian people “to make every effort to avoid any provocations, to retain in their hearts love for the neighbor, to respect his human dignity and religious beliefs.”
Finally, it affirmed, “We are ready, regardless of our circumstances, to cooperate further in proclaiming the gospel in our own countries and throughout the world.”
Both groups are members of the Baptist World Alliance and the European Baptist Federation, one of six BWA regional fellowships that combined represent 228 member bodies in 121 countries numbering nearly 40 million Baptist Christians worldwide.
“Ukraine still has some tough days ahead, and we will continue to pray for its leaders and its people,” Peck said.