A Pastoral Letter at this Time of War
The Revd Bruce Thompson, Chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District.
The war in Ukraine is deeply worrying and raises all sorts of questions for us.
An initial response would be to pray in silence for all those who suffer the consequences of this brutal conflict on our continent; we are, after all, in shock that this should happen. Even the destruction of cities and the flight of refugees on our TV screens throughout this century could not have prepared us for the eruption of violence so close to home. Watching Putin deliver his not so subtle threats as to what he would do if NATO members or others hinder his so-called ‘demilitarisation’ of Ukraine is utterly chilling. For many of us this brings back those fears we thought we had left behind after the Cold War ended. It is important to acknowledge that it is not wrong or irrational to be fearful of how this war could develop; of course, we earnestly pray that it won’t and that a ceasefire comes soon. However, we do know from our understanding of history that it is easy to begin a war but very difficult to stop one. We also know that wars in Europe have had a habit of spilling over borders. It is understandable then that we should be worried.
The second thing we know is that Ukraine is not a faraway place made up of people we know little about, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain speaking of the Sudetenland and his efforts to maintain some form of peace with Nazi Germany in 1938. Ukraine is a familiar country for many in the UK owing to the opening up of borders in recent decades; its citizens are members of our communities, colleagues at work, and neighbours on our street. Similarly so, the Baltic nations: Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania that also border Russia; not to mention Poland and Moldova to Ukraine’s west, as well as Russia too. There are people in our county who are devastated about their loved ones trapped in Ukraine, and others who are fearful should the conflict spread. We owe it to our neighbours to be mindful of their deep concerns and to be extra careful how we speak or react in their presence. Our neighbours need listening ears and understanding hearts at this highly charged moment.
Additionally, I think we need to be aware of the price many are willing to pay for liberty and justice. All too often we have taken democracy and freedom for granted. Today, Ukrainians are dying on the streets, in fields, and along the roads to prevent their independence from being taken from them. The older generation of Ukrainians know what it is like to live under a dictatorship; those who went before them suffered under Stalin’s reign of terror, they went hungry, their intelligentsia - journalists, poets, novelists, philosophers, and teachers - were sent to gulags in Siberia. It would have been unthinkable for a Jew to be elected President of Ukraine just a short while ago, yet President Zelensky, a descendant of Holocaust victims, heads a nation where one in four victims of the Holocaust hailed from. The people of Ukraine do not want to go back to an age of tyrannical rule. If people are prepared to fight to the death for their right to self-determination, even to the point of giving up their jobs, homes, and families in safe places, to travel back to Ukraine, what price are we willing to pay for ours? We should not underestimate the fragility of our own democratic system, we should treasure it as something sacred. Nor should we overlook the threat to our way of life from Putin, who appears to have little concern for the consequences of his despotic behaviour. Russian interference in elections on both sides of the Atlantic have been of much concern for a number of years. We should do all we can to be better informed on what is happening in our world and seek discernment so that the fake messages are sifted out from the facts. For now, we can expect another inflation rise and it is vital that some of financial protection is provided for the poor amongst us. Furthermore, owing to the seismic shift in geopolitics over recent days, we should expect a wholly different approach to defending, not only our own island nations, but also those who share our values.
Where we can most clearly respond as Christians, is to campaign tirelessly for those fleeing war to be given a hospitable welcome, or, if possible, to exercise that hospitality ourselves. For this to happen, our Government has to change its approach to refugees and migrants. This war has created the greatest exodus in Europe since the Second World War; we cannot leave countries elsewhere in Europe to bear the burdens alone, which would only create further destabilisation. We are expected to love our neighbours, and today we have many neighbours in need. It would please Putin to see the West arguing amongst itself about refugees, he wants us to be divided; we need to be united in our response and show him that love is stronger than hate. So please write to your MP urging them to work towards receiving a fair share of Ukrainian families to the UK.
Finally, as disciples of Jesus, let us remember that we are called to not only pursue peace, but also strive for justice; the two go hand in hand. Many in our churches and wider communities fought and died for the freedoms we have enjoyed these past eight decades, others are doing so right now. We remember them all in prayer, thanking God for their sacrifice. We pray for members of our own military, who serve round the clock to protect us; and for those politicians who are taking the most difficult decisions of their lives. We also pray for those who travel to the borders and reception centres to console the distraught; and we pray for ourselves, that in this time of great anxiety we may not lose sight of the ongoing significant roles we play in our interaction with others.
May God bless us all, and may God bless those in need this day, that we may all live in peace and justice.