God and Ukraine
First Presidency statement on the war in Ukraine: "We are heartbroken and deeply concerned by the armed conflict now raging. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has members in each of the affected areas and throughout the world. Our minds and hearts have been turned toward them and all our brothers and sisters.
"We continue to pray for peace. We know that enduring peace can be found through Jesus Christ. He can calm and comfort our souls even in the midst of terrible conflicts. He taught us to love God and our neighbors.
"We pray that this armed conflict will end quickly, that the controversies will end peacefully, and that peace will prevail among nations and within our own hearts. We plead with world leaders to seek for such resolutions and peace."
At times like this I wish the Church would let up on its neutrality a little. This statement is so generic that it could have been written about literally any armed conflict in the history of the world. It doesn't so much as mention the two nations involved by name, let alone that one is entirely an aggressor and the other is entirely a victim. But I get it. This is consistent with the Church's longstanding neutrality in war and international politics, and violating that for even the most clear-cut cases of good vs. evil would start a slippery slope.
During World War II, for instance, the First Presidency said in a much longer statement, "This Church is a worldwide church. Its devoted members are in both camps. They are the innocent war instrumentalities of their warring sovereignties. On each side they believe they are fighting for home and country and freedom. On each side, our brethren pray to the same God, in the same name, for victory. Both sides cannot be wholly right; perhaps neither is without wrong. God will work out in His own due time and in His own sovereign way the justice and right of the conflict, but He will not hold the innocent instrumentalities of the war, our brethren in arms, responsible for the conflict. This is a major crisis in the world-life of man. God is at the helm." The Church didn't even take a stand against Hitler at any point. It tried really hard to keep a low profile in Germany and not upset the Nazi regime in any way. Of course it's going to do the same in Russia, where its dozens of faithful members already face stigma, government suspicion, and significant religious freedom restrictions for being part of a religion that not only isn't the Russian Orthodox Church, but is an American unorthodox church. (Russians, like most non-Americans, are not very impressed with the "worldwide church" line.)
It's also consistent with what we know of Jesus' original ministry. We have no record of Him ever denouncing the wrongs of the Roman government - not cruel and unusual punishment, not slavery, not excessive taxation, nothing. He may have done that during the three decades of His life that we have virtually no record of either, but if so, He kept such activities separate from His preaching of the gospel (though I imagine He still used parables to get around the Romans' free speech restrictions). And herein lays a significant limitation of the mantra "What Would Jesus Do?" Jesus clearly had certain limited, often generic priorities for Himself and His church, with peace being a big one. That doesn't mean every individual follower has to match those priorities exactly and choose no others. Just because He doesn't spell out for each of us which sides to take and which causes to support doesn't mean for a moment we shouldn't take sides or support causes. So with respect, peace in itself is a necessary but not sufficient end goal for my prayers. A Russian victory would lead to peace, and it would be awful. In my judgment, the ideal outcome, and consequently the one for which I'm praying, is this:
1. Ukraine kicks Russia's жопа.
2. Putin and his accomplices are executed for war crimes.
3. Russia gets a new president who gives a проклятие about human rights.
(Also with respect, I am not the slightest bit concerned about the Kyiv Temple or other church facilities that can, if necessary, be repaired or rebuilt without putting a dent in the Church's funds.)
Since I'm not where I want to be in life, praying is about all I can do besides putting a Ukraine flag on my Facebook profile picture, but I have to ask, is it really any more effective? I certainly believe that God has blessed and will bless the people of Ukraine in response to their own prayers for themselves, their families, and their country. But why should mine have any effect on the outcome? Can I imagine God being like, "Hey Ukrainians, I was going to let Putin crush your defenses and place you and your descendants under a dictatorship for forty years, but this kid in America who makes me laugh sometimes put in a good word for you, so I'ma bail you out this time"? I recoil at the thought. So what is the point? Maybe just to let me sleep at night.
I think God is with Ukraine already. I don't want to speak too soon, because the tide could turn at any moment, but as of this writing, Ukrainians have put up a hell of a fight and totally humiliated Putin, whose substantially larger and better-equipped military has captured zero cities in four days. I am in awe of their spirit, their courage, their patriotism. I'm in awe of true leaders like President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who refused an American offer to evacuate from the war zone by saying "I need ammunition, not a ride," and Parliament member Kira Rudik, who isn't taking дерьмо from anybody.
I'm in awe too of all the Russian citizens who are risking imprisonment and lifelong criminal records to protest against this invasion that they know is wrong. For their sakes, Putin and his accomplices need to be held accountable. They can't just be allowed to withdraw and move on like nothing happened. Forgiveness and charity do not include letting dictators and war criminals continue to destroy lives.
College students in Kyiv singing "Mighty to Save" as war rages a few miles away:
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.