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Russian, Ukraine Baptists voice political divide

NASHVILLE (BP) — The Russian and Ukrainian Baptist unions have each cited biblical principle in justifying their opposing views of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, but they appear to still maintain fellowship beyond their differences, historian Albert Wardin told Baptist Press.

The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) stirred controversy at its May 30th congress in St. Petersburg, when it cited Proverbs 24:21, “Do not join with rebellious officials,” in questioning the Ukrainian revolution. Russian Baptists also wrote a letter praising Russian President Vladimir Putin as a champion of civil peace and harmony in Russian society, Wardin said.

Conversely, Ukrainian Baptists support the Ukrainian revolution as a Christian response to governmental corruption while also condemning Russian Baptists’ praise of Putin.

“The Russian union [of Baptists] still respects the president of the Ukrainian union [of Baptists]. So I don’t think there’s any breaking of real fellowship,” Wardin told Baptist Press today (July 28). “When it all comes to pass, I think it can be pretty well overcome. But for the time being, the politics really divide them. They go their separate ways right now. They’ve both expressed different views in their press releases.”

Wardin, the author of many books on the history of Baptists and other Protestants in Eastern Europe, relayed information in an email update from William Yoder, media spokesperson for the Russian Evangelical Alliance in Moscow. The Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists justified the Kiev uprising by citing Christian Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s opposition to Adolf Hitler’s Jewish genocide.

“The Ukrainian Baptists justified their rebellion by explaining that they could do nothing other than to support their nation. In an interview with the [RUECB] news service, the president of the Ukrainian Baptists [Valery Antoniuk] explained the church finds its strength and standing on the side of truth,” Wardin said.

Antoniuk told the news service, “If a people speaks the truth, seeks justice, wishes freedom from corruption and desires honest living, then Christians are always called to support that. We can never serve the people adequately if we do not love the land in which God has ordained us to be born and to serve.” Antoniuk quoted Bonhoeffer, who said in opposing Hitler, “Obedience to tyrants is equal to disobedience towards God.”

“And so it’s sad,” Wardin said. “Two Baptist groups, the same denomination … they look upon themselves as brothers, and then yet they take such different political views.

“Is it right to rebel? Well, the Russian Baptist union says no, and the Ukrainian Baptist union says yes, because this was an unjust and corrupt regime [in Ukraine]. And so you have the two sides,” Wardin said. “I think they do have a good respect [for one another], the presidents of the two unions, yet they’re taking two different positions.”

Top Moscow Baptist leadership has expressed a positive relationship with Antoniuk, Yoder told Wardin, referencing a statement by Antoniuk deputy and Ukrainian pastor Igor Bandura voicing optimism regarding future relations.

“We [believers] possess the light of Christ,” Bandura is quoted on the RUECB website. “If we Christians in Russian and Ukraine watch the flow of information very closely and sift out the false, we will in the end arrive at the objective ‘truth.’ This will unite us anew; ‘blessing and unity’ will be the final outcome.”

The relationship between Russian and Ukrainian Baptists became strained after the Ukrainian uprising unseated pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, with pro-Russian forces subsequently overthrowing leaders in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the May election of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and pro-Ukrainian leaders in central and western Ukraine, pro-Russian nationalistic rebels continue aggression in eastern Ukraine. Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine this spring and is seen as continuing his support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).