By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 16, 2022
Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, a maverick Jew who taught: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). The crucifixion of Jesus was the darkest day in history, but his resurrection was a divine affirmation that the light of God’s love can overcome the darkness of the world, and will never die.
The crucifixion was a toxic mix of religion and politics orchestrated by a collaboration of Jewish religious leaders with Roman authorities. Today the collaboration of Putin and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church supports genocide in Ukraine. Like the crucifixion, the Crusades and Inquisitions, it’s another toxic mix of religion and politics.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. That’s a moral imperative to assist Ukraine in resisting Putin’s aggression, even as it recalls painful lessons of legitimacy learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. America must do more to combat the genocide in Ukraine than impose economic sanctions and promise war crime trials.
America should convene an international peace conference to condemn Putin’s war of aggression as a war crime under the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, and as an egregious violation of the Just War tradition. Russia is a nominal democracy and Putin must run for reelection in 2024. Russians have so far supported Putin, but such a conference could turn the political tide.
America and NATO nations must also continue to support Ukrainians with the weapons needed to combat Putin’s aggression. Putin has so far resisted a negotiated settlement, and entered into a new phase of aggression to annihilate Ukraine. Putin and his patriarch justify Russia’s aggression as a culture war to defend Russia against liberal Western values.
American democracy has similar political conflicts over changing values, but they are resolved with ballots, not bullets. The primary purpose of religion, politics and law in democracy is to promote peaceful change. America’s Civil War was a failure of democracy, but it provided a useful precedent for Ukraine. Union General W. T. Sherman intentionally destroyed civilian property on his infamous march to the sea, and his atrocities have never been forgotten.
Putin’s atrocities against Ukrainians are far more brutal than those imposed by Sherman in America’s Civil War, and Ukranians will never forget those atrocities even as those nations are destined to remain neighbors. America has Donald Trump, its own demagogue who praised Putin and exploited partisan political divisions to become President; and it could happen again.
America and democracies around the world are in an existential battle to preserve freedom and democracy against a toxic mix of religion and politics. At Easter people of faith need to be reminded that a combination of a peace conference and continued military support for Ukraine is needed for democracy to win the battle of legitimacy against autocracy.
Based on the cost in American blood and billions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, Andrew Bacevich has cautioned against U.S. intervention in Ukraine; but his logic would have prevented America’s intervention with the Allies (including Russia) to defeat Hitler in World War II. See https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/value-whataboutism?utm_source=Main+Reader+List&utm.
“Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has described the war in Ukraine as nothing less than an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. Its outcome, he said, will determine ‘where humanity will end up, on which side of God the Savior.’” Russian World (Russky mir) is the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church and the moral foundation of Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine that is targeting civilians. “Inside Russia, Russkiy mir has found deep religious resonance, especially in the military. According to Dmitry Adamsky, an expert on the Russian military and professor at Reichman University in Israel, Orthodox clergy build troop morale and encourage patriotism. Russia’s official National Security Strategy, approved by Mr. Putin last year, devotes several pages to ‘the defense of traditional Russian spiritual-moral values, culture and historical memory.’ According to a study for NATO Defense College by Julian Cooper, a British scholar, the values in question are a mostly generic list including life, dignity, patriotism and strong families, but they are framed in contrast to those of the West, which encroach on Russia’s ‘cultural sovereignty.’
“In a speech last fall, Mr. Putin deplored what he identified as prevalent cultural trends in Western Europe and the U.S., including transgenderism and ‘cancel culture.’ ‘We have a different viewpoint,’ Mr. Putin said. ‘We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.’ A Moscow think tank headed by Patriarch Kirill, makes the connection explicit: ‘If the actions of our president to recognize [separatist regions in the Donbas] relate to the political, military sovereignty of Russia—that is, we are trying to stop the advancement of NATO, missiles on our borders—then the moral problems associated with the protection of traditional values are aligned, and they are no less important than political and military aspects.’” See https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-world-is-the-civil-religion-behind-putins-war-11647539958.
Michelle Boorstein has warned that Christian nationalists are becoming more radical and are targeting voting in the U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-Calif.) is a founder of the Congressional Freethought Caucus that sponsored a briefing called “God Is On Our Side” on white Christian Nationalism and the Capitol Insurrection. Huffman said “the group has grown steadily in number since it was founded and he wanted to hold the event because White Christian nationalism “is the most important piece of this insurrection people don’t yet understand fully. A lot of Americans look at that day and think: ‘A lot of crazy people acted out.’ But it was far more organized, and it wasn’t just the Trump political organization,” he said. What tied many unconnected people and groups together was a shared worldview that Christianity should be fused with civic life and that true Americans are White, culturally conservative and natural born citizens. While concern about White Christian nationalism in America is today most commonly expressed by people on the left, it is not a partisan issue. Multiple well-known figures on the more conservative side of the aisle have sounded alarm about the danger of conflating Christianity with patriotism, or love of country. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore called it ‘heretical,’ saying linking God and country is akin to idol-worship and is bad for the faith.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/03/18/white-christian-nationalism-raskin-tlaib-democracy-freethought-secular/?utm; see also, On culture war issues, tolerance should be a two way street, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/10/disney-trans-swimmer-lgbtq-issues-tolerance/?utm.
The growing religious fervor of the American right is changing politics. “The Christian right has been intertwined with American conservatism for decades, culminating in the Trump era. Now, many believers are importing their worship of God, with all its intensity, emotion and ambitions, to their political life. At events across the United States, it is not unusual for participants to describe encountering the divine and feel they are doing their part to install God’s kingdom on earth. For them, right-wing political activity itself is becoming a holy act.
…With spiritual mission driving political ideals, the stakes of any conflict, whether over masks or school curriculums, can feel that much larger, and compromise can be even more difficult to achieve. Political ambitions come to be about defending God, pointing to a desire to build a nation that actively promotes a particular set of Christian beliefs.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/06/us/christian-right-wing-politics.html.
The axiom of ballets, not bullets, has long distinguished political transition in democracies from that in autocracies, but increasing gun violence is threatening to reverse that axiom. See http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/12/christmas-musings-on-bullets-not.html.
Putin must be held accountable for his egregious violations of international law and war crimes, even though “Donald Trump has been an enthusiastic advocate for war crimes. He pardoned members of the military accused of war crimes. Since Trump left office, Republicans have been loudly complaining that the U.S. military has become so ’woke’ that it can’t win wars.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/11/trump-war-ukraine-russia-brutality-wokeness/?utm.