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Interfaith Inform: March 29, 2022
Kaufman Interfaith Institute

www.interfaithunderstanding.org

Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
In the midst of the sin and evil of war, let us work for peace
 “War is sin. War is evil. … Since before recorded time. Through the centuries. Now. You might say that our inhumanity to others is a sobering characteristic of being human.”
These words were written by Diana Butler Bass, Christian author, independent scholar, and columnist, in a recent article discussing the horrors occurring today in Ukraine.
Bass continues by noting something else painfully true: “We’d like to believe that religion makes this inhumanity better – we preach good sermons about this, theologize endlessly on love and peace – yet know differently.”
She notes that while there has been a decline of religious practice in the western countries of Europe, Orthodox Christianity is growing Europe’s eastern countries including Russia and Ukraine. In countries like Russia, there has been an attempt, she writes, to “recreate an imperial Christian state … uniting political, economic, and spiritual power into an entity to control the earthly and heavenly destiny of European peoples.” 
She sees in contrast, a different style where the future affirms the historic faith, “but is open, tolerant, and creative, not merely as a vassal state of neo-imperial Russia.” Bass concludes, “Make no mistake: the war in Ukraine can rightly be seen as a religious war, a specifically Christian – even Orthodox Christian – one.”  
Bass recalls that the beginning of Christianity in Russia and in Ukraine is traced back to the 10th century with the conversion of Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr in Ukrainian) the Great. Following his baptism in the Dnieper River in Kyiv, he installed Christianity as the state religion.  Bass called the current invasion a kind of crusade to “recapture the Holy Land of Russian Orthodoxy, and defeating the westernized (and decadent) heretics who do not bend the knee to Moscow’s spiritual authority.”
It is also a conflict over power and control. Bass notes Ukraine’s strong national identity does not insist on a uniformity in religious belief. Its president is Jewish, and the constitution protects religious freedom.  Catholic and various Protestant churches thrive in areas controlled by the Ukrainians. Not so in the Russia-backed areas.  
“In the eastern regions of Donbas,” she writes, “pro-Moscow authorities forced non-Russian Orthodox churches to register and have waged a persecution campaign against Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even other Orthodox who do not recognize the authority of the Moscow church.”  Bass is not suggesting that this is being enforced by the religious authorities, but notes the different levels of religious freedom experienced.
The article was sent to me by a friend and faithful Insight reader who is also a practicing Orthodox Christian. She was responding to an earlier Interfaith Insight column discussing the invasion of Ukraine and some of the religious issues involving the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Another response came from an Orthodox priest who pointed out that the religious situation described in my Insight was more complicated than I had suggested. I certainly know that and appreciated a nearly hour and a half video interview with Fr. John Strickland, Orthodox priest and Russian historian, who urged us to look at the historical background in order to understand the war in Ukraine. The introduction called on all Christians to respond with love and to pray for peace. Fr. Strickland pointed to the dangers when nationalism is mixed with religious fervor. He also noted that neither the patriarch of the Moscow church nor of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches supports the war but calls for peace.
I now know a bit more but am still convinced that it is still more complex than I (or Bass) understand. Nevertheless, the carnage and destruction, deaths and violence against innocent civilians, and attempts for one country to control its neighbor, can’t be justified as a pure religious matter.  Sin and evil, often enhanced by political power, are present and must be addressed.  
Bass is also known for her writing about her own religious journey that led her to a broad understanding of her own faith and the importance of encouraging multiple faith expressions. Religious freedom requires hospitality and a respect for diversity and pluralism. In our own country we still have much to learn in accepting difference.
“Hospitality and diversity are intimately related,” she writes. “I think there are Christian groups, and Jewish groups and Hindu groups and Muslim groups and all kinds of different religious communities, that practice it quite well. But as a country, we really struggle.”
As one working for interfaith understanding, I urge that we all, regardless of our faith or philosophical commitment, decry the sin and evil of war, seek the welfare of all, especially the innocent civilians caught up in this war, and seek and pray for peace.

2022 Interfaith Academic Consortium Conference 

April 6, 2:00 PM & 7:00 PM

This conference will feature Dr. David Nirenberg, Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton N.J. His leactures will explore the relationship between race and religion in history and today, as well as, the past and present landscape of anti-judaism.  

For an archive of previous articles
click here.
 
For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see this week's Ethics and Religion Talk column hosted on The Rapidian.