Religion, State, Society, and Identity in Transition
Ukraine / Rob Van Laarse, Mykhailo N. Cherenkov, Tetiana Mykhalchuk and Vitaliy V. Proshak, eds. WLP, 2015
The Ukrainian Maidan revealed both a non-random and non-trivial connection between Protestantism and protest. The Revolution of Dignity and Freedom combined in itself a declaration of social justice and a civilized choice of European values. On the one hand, this Revolution mobilized the social potential of Protestant churches; however, on the other hand, it divided them according to theological views. It is the first time Ukrainian Protestants began to ask themselves a number of questions: ‘What does it mean to be a Protestant? What does it mean to be a Ukrainian? And what does it imply to be a Ukrainian Protestant?’
Maidan immediately challenged the remaining remnants of the Soviet past and Soviet-era church structures, and led to the creation of a truly Ukrainian society. Maidan also led to the creation and formation of a Ukrainian, not a post-Soviet, Protestantism. In the context of that interpretation of Maidan, the formation and progress of civil society, and self-determination of the whole nation is inseparably linked with the socio-political activity of the churches, particularly with the potential of protest by Protestants.
The author is going to examine this connection, taking into consideration his own experience, meetings with Maidan representatives, a review of church documents, and the personal reactions of Protestant leaders. Various Protestant views of the reality of Maidan are collected in two significant publications: ‘Maydan i Tserkva’ , and ‘Tserkovʹ na Maydane’ (Protestant authorship), as well as other internet publications. Internet publications have their own peculiarity, format, degree of credibility, relevance, etc. However, these ‘electronic’ documents are very important, because of their exclusivity, relevance, and lack of censorship.
It is impossible to make conceptual conclusions without an analysis of various online materials, which could clarify a connection between Protestantism and protest in the context of Maidan. I am going to investigate the Protestant positions on and reactions to Maidan’s reality only within the framework of Protestantism itself. For a long time there has been a tradition of students of religion, sociologists, historians, etc writing about Protestantism, however now Protestants have started to talk about themselves. The Protestant reaction to the events of Maidan is not accidental or casual. It should be investigated and considered.
The structure of the following text will include the author’s hypothesis, a chronology of events and reactions, typology of different views, key interpretations, and possible applications and perspectives.
Hypothesis: a connection between Protestantism and protest in the context of Maidan indicates an untapped potential of Protestant communities, which could be used in the European integration of Ukraine, and in the process of development and formation of its renewed identity and comprehensive modernization. Maidan became a place, an event, a subject, or a path to a new identity for Ukrainian society and Ukrainian Protestantism. It is no coincidence that Maidan provoked very active Protestant reflection. This phenomenon of unprecedented reflection on protest makes it reasonable to propose a hypothesis of a connection between Protestantism and protest.
Chronology of events and reactions: all the way from EuroMaidan to the Revolution of Dignity, from conflict between the people and the state to Russian aggression against Ukraine
On the night of November 21, 2013, after the Ukrainian government suspended preparations for signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, protests began, which became known as ‘EuroMaidan’.
Among the protesters were both private individuals and Ukrainian citizens, who wanted to live, study and work in a civilized European society. Generally, the majority of EuroMaidan participants were students and interns, who knew their own worth, spoke foreign languages, valued their freedom, and sought to put their talents to good use.
At four o’clock in the morning on November 30th, government forces brutally dispersed the EuroMaidan protesters. The students were able to take shelter in St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. That evening, tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Michael’s Square. They protested against the government’s use of violence. If dozens of people, supporters of a European direction for Ukraine, were at EuroMaidan, then thousands of people were in St. Michael’s Square, to protest against the violence and unlawful actions of the Ukrainian government.
The Pentecostals were the first among the Protestants to react to the latest developments. Nykolai Synyuk, first deputy of the Head Bishop of the Ukrainian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith declared that,
Last night radically changed the established views among Ukrainian citizens regarding those who ‘do not bear the sword in vain’ – referring to the military and police. An evangelical principle says: ‘Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good… for he is God’s servant for your good… for he is… an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Rom. 13:4). This principle was reversed. Those who gave the commands to beat peaceful citizens, are answerable not only to criminal law, but God’s Law as well… brute force was always a sign of weakness both in individuals and in power structures.
On December 2, 2013, Mykhayl Panochko, the head of Ukrainian Pentecostals, made an appeal ‘regarding the situation’. He said,
The believers of the Ukrainian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith were troubled to learn about the severe beating of peaceful protesters, young boys and girls, by the special police force ‘Berkut’ on November 30th. It is an obvious depreciation of human life and health and a violation of human rights and dignity. These unconstitutional actions of our government and power structures lit the fire of national wrath. We thank God that our Ukrainian nation showed its tenacity and completely peaceful character of protest. It is indicative of the love of freedom and wisdom of our nation.
On December 5th, an Interconfessional Prayer Tent was opened for everyone at Maidan. This Prayer Tent was set up by three leaders from New Life Church (The Alliance of Independent Evangelical Churches), and Transfiguration Church (All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians Baptists). The Interconfessional Prayer Tent became a center of Protestant activity: prayer, practical help, evangelism, and medical assistance. It was created without any ‘political’ agreements with church leadership. This ‘local’ initiative united hundreds of patriotic Protestants, various informal leaders, and independent pastors.
Meanwhile the official Baptist leadership preferred to keep silent, even accentuating its absence of activity. Vyacheslav Nesteruk, the President of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians Baptists, said to Russian Baptist journalists,
We always try to be apolitical. We understand that everything that is going on around us occurs by the will of God. The current very complicated political situation is wholly the result of decisions of our government. We have no activity at Maidan. We are trying to keep quiet and maintain neutrality… Of course, we are dependent on our politicians. We have no influence on them.
It is noteworthy that this interview was obtained on November 28, 2013, which means it was before the brutal dispersal of students at EuroMaidan on November 30th. However, the interview was only published on the official website of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians Baptists on December 10, 2013. By that point the word ‘neutrality’ was interpreted as undisguised provocation, and this interview was used to put pressure on Ukrainian Protestants. It seems as if it were an act of ‘information warfare’ against Ukraine.
This interview was spread around by the Russian mass media. An immediate reaction to this was expected: Ukrainian Baptist theologians produced an open letter, ‘a declaration of dissent,’ on December 11th, which declared,
The Baptist Church, from the very first days of its existence, has stood up for freedom and justice. The independence of the Church from the state (the seventh Baptist principle) does not mean political indifference, asociality, or isolation of the Church from the society. Ukrainian Baptists welcomed the independence of Ukraine and have served our nation through the social and spiritual potential of church communities. Baptists are the part of the Ukrainian nation; therefore, they respect the people’s choices and freedom to defend these choices through peaceful demonstrations. Evangelical Christians cannot be apart or ‘neutral’, when authorities abuse their own power, when peaceful people’s blood is shed, when courts make unconstitutional decisions, when security forces defend not the people, but the authorities. Participation in demonstrations is the personal responsibility of each believer; this responsibility is inseparable from faith, and expresses itself in civil liability.
On December 11, 2013, when a new assault occurred, dozens of Protestants (youth leaders, pastors, even bishops) were among the protesters. Their participation completely refuted the declarations of the first Baptist Union spokespersons that ‘we are not active on Maidan’. It made clear the range of theoretical and moral opinions within Protestant circles; in other words, the differences between the still ‘Soviet’ group of ‘spiritual’ leaders, and the new wave of informal Ukrainian church leaders.
On December 18, 2013, a significant new interview appeared. This was an interview with Anatoliy Kalyuzhnyy, the leader of the Alliance of Independent Evangelical Churches. In this interview this well-known Protestant leader evaluated the actions of the authorities, the ‘Interconfessional Prayer Tent,’ and the reactions of Protestant communities. He said,
Approximately 50-70% of churches refused to join us, they showed passivity and indifference. Now many church leaders understand that there is much to gain from support of the authorities. Many leaders of Protestant churches are still intimidated. They are silent, afraid and awaiting developments to see which side to join. This is sad, because the Church is like the conscience within each of us, and speaks regardless of people’s desire to hear it. Every authority would like to have a controlled Church in their pocket. Thus they seat us next to them; they try to trick us into saying what they want to hear from us. However, if a person is responsible before God, then he will speak only the truth, not what others want to hear from him. Such a person must be courageous. The Bible many times says that we need to speak only the truth and stand for truth. If we as Christians do not take risks in our faith, then there is a need to ask: ‘Is this faith real?’
On January 15, 2014, the Ukrainian Catholic University organized an interconfessional roundtable ‘Theology in the context of Maidan’ in Kiev, where representatives of Protestant, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches presented their vision of Maidan and the views of their churches. Particularly, pastor Mykola Romanyuk called on Protestants to learn the lesson of ‘hermeneutics and theology’,
We act as we believe. We believe according to our interpretation and application of Scripture. Our Baptist and Pentecostal hermeneutics (and theology) of social matters has been formed both by Anabaptism and the framework of totalitarian systems. Hence many ministers, pastors, leaders have that fear and unwillingness to see, respond, and be a part of social processes. Hence there is a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to know one’s own constitutional rights as a citizen. Even the apostle Paul enjoyed his rights as a citizen of the Roman empire. I could also add to this the brave speeches of prophets from Moses to John the Baptist against the authorities. We really need to change our theology from declaratory to practical, because we have no right to be better, more peaceful or more saintly than our Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist or the apostles. Their faith did not preclude civic responsibility, and that responsibility was not suppressed, but declared in public. A careful study of the New Testament will reveal the responsibility of church leaders to stand up to sin not only in the context of church communities, but also in the context of a whole nation by pointing out the sins of the authorities.
On January 16, 2014, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed the ‘Dictatorship laws’, which toughened punishments for protesters, and made many civil and church initiatives unlawful. In response, on January 17th, Protestants organized the roundtable ‘Maidan and the Church: the mission and social responsibility of Christians’. The round table passed a resolution, which stated,
The Church abstained from the political speculations on the Association Agreement with the European Union. However, now the Church cannot straddle the fence when the people’s blood was shed at Maidan on November 30, 2013. In accordance with our moral responsibility before God and society, the Church must call this carnage of peaceful people a crime, condemn the guilty, and help the victims. The Maidan in Kiev and protests in other regions show people’s constitutional demands for respect of their freedom, dignity and rights; calls on authorities to follow their constitutional function for a common good; and calls on authorities to not abuse their power. The Church reminds us of God’s commandments of love and forgiveness for both the government and the protesters; because without these commandments the demands of justice can end in chaos and violence. We are calling on all to do their best to find a peaceful solution to this conflict.
The roundtable ‘Maidan and the Church’ united Protestant activists of different communities (Pentecostal, Neo-Pentecostal, Independent Missionary, Baptist, Reformed, and Lutheran). It revealed the faces and positions of the real leaders who showed their worth during the developments of Maidan. These leaders are Oleg Magdych, Oles Dmytrenko, Ralf Haska, Anatoliy Kalyuzhnyy, Peter Marchenko, Valeriy Antonyuk, Andrey Shekhovcov, Peter Kovaliv, Denys Gorenkov, Sergey Gula, Sergey Tymchenko, Alexey Satenko, Ivan Rusyn, and Alexander Bychkov.
The Protestant leaders, by supporting the protest, were calling on people to explore every avenue to direct that protest in a peaceful, constructive and ‘Christian’ way. Peter Kovaliv said,
Not many Christians came to ‘EuroMaidan’ compared to the thousands who came together with others to protest against lawlessness, crime and arbitrary rule by the authorities… If the authorities consciously proceed in a criminal way instead of acting for the good of the people (Rom. 13:4) and punishing offenders (Rom. 13:5), then we need to express our protest. Paul was sentenced to prison undeservedly; therefore, he organized a ‘sitting protest’ in the prison until the Roman authorities apologized to Paul for their unlawful actions (Acts 16:37-40). We also need to remember that the government system of Ukraine is different from the state system of Roman Empire, when New Testament authors were writing. According to the Constitution of Ukraine the highest authority belongs to the nation… It is precisely this position that Christians came to express through their protest. Meanwhile we need to remember that just protest must make use of just methods… Today pastors, bishops, church leaders, and all real Christians have a unique opportunity to support a peaceful national protest against evil and lawlessness, to defend this movement from the unjust methods of authorities, and to participate in bringing real spiritual and moral revival and renewal to our country.
The peacemaking potential of evangelical churches became especially needed after the escape of President Yanukovych, and when Ukraine had a de facto new government. In that period of time, fear hovered over our country of an expansion of conflict in south-eastern Ukraine and a split. On February 24th, ‘The Word of Reconciliation’ by Valeriy Antonyuk was published. The Baptist leader, remembering the apostle’s words, ‘In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:19), laid stress on the need for a restoration of legitimate power. He argued,
We supported the demands of the Ukrainian nation against arbitrary rule by the authorities. Now it is very important to restore justice in the country, form a government of national trust, and ensure an honest presidential election.
At that time, it seemed the time of ‘zealots’ had come to an end, and the time for peacemaking, unification, and restoration had come. Vladyslav Bachynyn said,
A nation cannot consist only of zealots. The history of every nation has periods of time when it needs fanatically selfless activists. However, these periods of time must give way to a new epoch sooner or later. Then, new heroes, new ideas are needed… Simon the Zealot, by communication with Jesus and the influence of the Good News, understood that all people have need of God’s salvation: the Jews and the Gentiles, peaceful people and military men, the Zealot-radicals and the Roman invaders.
However, no sooner had the confrontation between the authorities and the nation ended, when new aggression by a neighbouring state commenced. This aggression both mobilized and divided Ukrainian society once again.
During Russian intervention in the Crimea, the evangelical Protestants expressed their solidarity with the new Ukrainian government by standing up for the unity of the country. In this context, the idea of ‘protest’ assumed the aspect of national loyalty and condemnation of external aggression. It implied that the protest was redirected outward. On March 14, 2014, the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine suggested ‘the spiritual initiatives’ of a solution to the critical situation in the country, which stated,
Condemning the military aggression of the Russian Federation, we are calling on the Ukrainian nation, regardless of religion, denomination or belief, to intensify your prayers to God for a restoration of peace and a cessation of provocations, fratricide, escalation of conflict in the Crimea and other Ukrainian regions. We ask you to organize Prayer Assemblies in churches and central squares in all cities and villages of our country, praying for the peace, unity, integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Appeal to the Ukrainian authorities to join this initiative, praying to God, asking Him to give wisdom and guidance in public administration at this especially difficult time for our country.
The next form of Protestant ‘protest’ was expressed by casting blame for the pro-Russian mutiny after the creation of separatist ‘people’s republics’. On June 3, 2014, the Ukrainian Interchurch Council adopted a resolution ‘The Church in times of social chaos’, which appealed to Protestants:
To be a national conscience, by calling on society to uphold national dignity, morality, peacemaking, and law-abidance, and appeal to people to condemn immorality, aggression, violence, and illegal actions. According to the official (Biblical) position, the Church must be objective, unprejudiced, and independent from the secular authorities, political or business systems.
It is interesting that the collective declarations of Protestants are notable for demonstrating greater resoluteness than the documents of individual churches and unions. Take for example the 27th Congress of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians Baptists which could not adopt the resolution called ‘Appeal to the churches of Evangelical Christians Baptists and all Christian communities’, because it contained a condemnation of the ‘annexation of the Crimea’ and ‘Russian military aggression,’ the support of a ‘European direction’ and the new ‘duly-elected President,’ despite the fact that Baptist leaders had put their signatures on all documents of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which contained the same theses.
It is significant that Protestants distinguished clearly between protest against illegal authority (Maidan), and a mutiny against legal authority (the ‘people’s republics’ of the Donbas). In the first case, there was silent approval, in the second – silent condemnation. It means that there were some socio-theological criteria with respect to authority (legal or illegal, chosen or self-appointed) which allowed shifts in the church’s position from loyalty to protest, and vice versa.
Therefore opinions concerning the protest evolved through several phases: from protest against protest to protest against authority, then to joint (uniting the authorities and the nation) protest against external aggression; from naïve neutrality to awareness of one’s own socio-political commitment, then to an understanding of one’s own independence, to a certain degree of loyalty (to a dialectical unity of loyalty and independence).
There is another possible transition that is only now being experienced. It is a transition from loyalty to one’s nation to protest against its lawlessness, legal and moral nihilism, xenophobia, and the ‘tyranny of the majority.’
Typology of different views on Maidan
There is an entire spectrum of Protestant views on authority and protest. However four typical views can be classified:
The first view can be called conformist-sectarian: we are apolitical; the Church is not of this world; we do not criticize and do not cooperate; it is not our battle (this position is typical for the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals, for the radical fundamentalists and ‘biblical separatists’).
The second view is pro-authoritative-pragmatic: we are ready to be loyal to any authority in exchange for gaining goods for ourselves; we are loyal to the authority for the sake of our own part in power (the most popular example of this position could be the Embassy of God Church in Kiev and its leader, Sunday Adelaja).
The third view is critical-destructive: we will always criticize everyone, not taking any responsibilities upon ourselves (this is the position of Protestant ‘armchair quarterbacks’, offended bloggers, and ‘perpetual revolutionaries’).
The fourth view is critical-constructive: we need to speak the truth both to authorities and the nation, to be a prophetic voice and the conscience of the nation, also to be supportive, the most able-bodied and responsible part of society (the Protestant mainstream shares this view).
Attitudes towards Ukraine and its civilized choice between Europe and Eurasia vary from indifference (religious-cosmopolitan insensibility to national and civilizational issues) and Soviet transition (focus on the past and its prolongation) to the opposite radical orientations towards the rising Eurasia (around Orthodox Russia for the present) or the old Europe (prosperous so far, however less and less Christian):
The first attitude is sectarian-indifferent: it does not matter to the Church which country it is in or where it is; the only thing of importance is its own agenda.
The second attitude can be called pro-Soviet: we are afraid of Europe, and not ready to live according to civilized rules; we do not know Eurasia, and are not sure of it; therefore, we prefer to live in a state of post-Soviet transition. Therefore, Ukraine needs to live in the shadow of Russia, and consequently the Ukrainian culture, economics, politics, and religion will be in a ‘shadow’.
The third attitude is Eurasian: Ukraine needs to redirect itself to the Eurasian Union; to dissociate itself from ‘immoral’ Europe; to defend its own ‘traditional values’ against the ‘universal’; to forget about free markets and democracy, about religious freedom and human rights.
The fourth attitude can be characterized as pro-European: the place of Ukraine should be in Europe; the country needs comprehensive modernization and ties to Western business, political and spiritual culture.
Maidan as a socio-theological issue: conflict of interpretations
The differences between the above-named views are based not only on political preferences, but theological views, and methods of reading and interpretation of the Bible. The post-Soviet Protestants for the first time came to consider the issue of authority in the context of issues of freedom, dignity, civil responsibility, lawfulness, and morality. It means that the issue of authority became a subject of theological comprehension, not unconditional adoration.
The different attitudes towards authority and possible protest against it arose from a conflict of two widespread interpretations of authority: mythologization and demythologization.
Maidan seems a radical demythologization of authority to young Pentecostal theologian Anatoliy Denysenko. He said,
After Sergey Nigoyan’s death by a bullet wound on Hrushevskoho Street, many of us began to understand in a new way the words of the apostle Paul, ‘obey the governing authorities.’ It was Sergey Nigoyan who held a poster on which was written, ‘God speaks by the voice of a nation.’ The authority is the nation. President Yanukovich and his whole suite are only representatives of the people called wage workers. However, it was found that these workers were evil, and like in Jesus’ parable, they destroyed the vineyards, and did not bring money to the proper owner.
Everything that was said about Ukrainian authorities could be applied to Russian authorities as well. Therefore, Maidan is a symbol of the demythologization of authority, and demands that authorities be held accountable to the nation.
Generally, in the context of Maidan, the Bible was read keenly and topically and, in turn, Maidan was seen in the context of the Bible as a ‘spiritual’ event. Because of this dual socio-theological perspective, the differences between imagined and actual, between false, self-appointed authority and legal, responsible authority seemed clearer to the people.
The anti-protest and governmental-loyalist interpretation of Maidan arises from a mythologization of authority. Many Russian Protestants consider Maidan a rebellion against legal authority. The Russian Baptists expressed this opinion through a special resolution at the XXXIV Baptist Congress (May 30, 2014). Their resolution states,
We declare our commitment to Biblical teaching, which does not accept violent upheaval, nationalism and resolving socio-political conflicts without political negotiations. ‘Do not join with rebellious officials’ (Proverbs 24:21).
There exist both sacralization of authority and its alienation from the nation, which cannot change anything, and should not attempt to do so. The Bishop of the Russian Evangelical Church Pavel Zhelnovakov expressed the prevailing opinion among Russian Christians of the Evangelical Faith (some of whose leaders are missionaries from Ukraine) on the situation in Ukraine,
We as contemporary Christians need to remember the way the Kingdom of God can be built on the earth. Curiously enough, the truth was revealed to the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar in the time of the prophet Daniel (Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45). It is tempting to help that stone, which destroys all evil, to break away from the mountain as soon as possible. However, the Bible says clearly that the stone ‘was not cut out by human hand’. On this evidence, there is no sense in arguing for the necessity of a Christian approval for ‘EuroMaidans’ and other forms of seeking freedom through violence. According to the words of Jesus Christ, blessings can be brought by peacemakers, not by people with bats and stones in their hands.
Trying to justify this myth of authority, its advocates created a new myth of Russia and the crafty West, which opposes the sacred triad of power ‘orthodoxy-autocracy-nationality’. A pastor in Donetsk, Andrey Puzynyn, has tried to portray Maidan and the following developments as ‘a civilized break’, however he does not offer any moral arguments against ‘the revolution of dignity’. Andrey Puzynyn argues,
According to Russian understanding, there is a clash of civilizations between the West and Russia. In this context, the Russian Federation is a bearer of traditional values, while the West is a bearer of liberal values. According to the Russian perspective, Maidan is a mutiny and associated with the image of radical masked nationalists, who are throwing ‘Molotov cocktails’ at law enforcement representatives, who are forced to resist this lawlessness while, the legitimate President was forced to escape from the country to the Russian Federation.
The author of that statement follows the mythological logic, contrasting Russia and the West, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, tradition and liberalism, and law and protest. In these dichotomies, the first part is treated as sacred, and the second part is demonized. Why? Because of established civilizational differences. Since Ukraine is on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian protesters must accept Russia’s civilizational framework, where order is more important than freedom, personality, human rights and dignity.
However, the references to ‘a civilizational break’ do not explain why some churches are able to speak truth to authorities, while others are ready to do what the authorities tell them. Roman Nosach was right, saying that Maidan revealed a problem of church naivety, submission to the influence of authority and a readiness to be in a state of dependence. ‘As it turned out, we more often believe in political propaganda than our brothers and sisters in Christ.’ It became clear that fear and lack of acceptance of protest is a symptom of a deeper problem of a fear of freedom, state paternalism, peer pressure, and immaturity.
Hence there follows the task of comprehending the national theology of liberation. A pastor from the Lugansk region, Yuriy Symonenko, understands Maidan as an uprising of a province against the empire (rebellion of Ukraine against ‘the Russian world’), a protest of free people, whom God has set free. While the Russian Baptists were delivering a eulogy for Putin, and blaming the ‘mutineers’ of Kiev, pastor Symonenko was asking uncomfortable demythologizing questions,
As I was watching Maidan develope, I saw clearly God’s hand taking power away from a thief, who would dare to mock his own promises to the electorate. Who do you think was right: Nabal, who accused David of mutiny, or Samuel, who anointed David while Saul was alive; Jehu, the self-proclaimed Israelite king who killed King Ahab, or Queen Jezebel, who condemned Jehu for his mutiny, and was consequently killed by Jehu?
The demythologizing approach to authority provides space not only for protest, but also a nation under imperial authority finding itself, its land, and its God (to Whom all power belongs). In this context, Maidan is the long-awaited and difficult Exodus from the USSR, the path of the Ukrainian nation to its own identity. In our case, this way leads from the Soviet past to the European future, from an atheistic society and formal religion to a Christian revival.
The Exodus metaphor applies not only to the nation, but also to the Church, particularly, post-Soviet Protestants. Taras Dyatlik prognosticates,
The Exodus of the Evangelical Church from its Soviet heritage will be very difficult and painful. The ‘Iron Curtain’ fell politically; however, unfortunately, it did not fall in the hearts of many Christians. There will not be any social change or change in our communities, which we are a part of, without a revolution in our hearts… Perhaps God will renew His Church through the political crisis in Ukraine; then social change will be possible through a reformation in the Church. Perhaps God prepared for us a path similar to South Korea’s and that of quite a number of the African countries (Christians of those countries have already gone through the post-colonial crisis of worldview and values), so that we could serve other countries, nations and churches through our missionary potential.
What makes the Ukrainian situation unique is that the society became free before the Church gained its freedom. Oleg Turlak suggests that Maidan is the judgment of free society over the not-yet-free Church. He argues,
Members of evangelical churches had been nurtured in ‘the best’ Soviet traditions of conformity and loyalty. Many evangelical believers do not even understand why there is a need for freedom in their country, and do not believe that some day this freedom will come to the territory of the CIS. Maidan and these evangelical communities are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Perhaps decades will pass before change occurs in churches. I hope that the new generations of young Christians, who are not familiar with a burdensome and contradictory totalitarian past…, will think in a new way, and interpret and apply the Scripture in a different way. I do not know what the future Church will look like; however, I hope that the Church will be other, free. Honestly, I do not really believe that I will live to see those days.
Possible applications and perspectives.
Maidan again raised a question which is very familiar to Protestants about the very difficult moral, civil and theological choice between saving ourselves and transforming this world, between stability and freedom, between readiness to serve the nation and fear of the wrath of authorities, between resistance and submission.
Two old and dangerous Christian myths were tested in the fire of Maidan: the myth of the neutrality of the Church in the context of conflict, and the myth of ‘blind’ belief that ‘there is no authority except from God’ without any exception.
In the context of Maidan, Protestants saw the birth of a new Ukrainian Protestantism and a change of leaders. Now there is a need in Christianity for ‘open’ wholesome ecumenism, joint struggle, Christian solidarity with a nation, and a prophetic voice.
As it has turned out, the Church can be above the conflict and within it as well. The Church is at Maidan, and Maidan is at the Church. The social protest was transferred to the Church, and divided church members into a passive majority and an influential minority, conformists and radicals, ‘the Zealots’ and ‘the Doukhobors’. The divisions in the Church were spatial-temporal; in this regard, a demarcation between the Ukrainian and Russian Protestants is not only the consequence of political and state divisions, but also a rupture of the last link with their common Soviet past.
Maidan sharpened the popular demand for some correction to Ukrainian Protestant theology, especially on the issue of missions and social stance, ecclesiology and ecumenism, national and Christian dimensions of identity, understanding of the links between dogma and social practice.
Oles Dmytrenko has optimistically said that Maidan became the point of no return, the decisive choice of freedom, and the Church cannot but follow society in this uncompromising demand for freedom. He argues,
Maidan already brought us and will bring us to the formation of a free, highly civilized, morally strengthened Ukrainian nation. It has been in the making since 1991. The events of 2004 were the starting point for active progress. However, now is the most important period. It is a new heavy wave which does not depend on the geopolitical preferences of our politicians.
Maidan needs to be understood as a revival and the first impulse of the influential Christian minority. It is the destiny of the minority to understand the value of freedom and to defend it. This raises the question of the social basis of Maidan and the development of Ukraine after Maidan. ‘The influential minority’ could become the basis and guidance for real change. In 2009 I introduced this missiological term; nowadays, it has become quite relevant to our interdisciplinary discourse. The economist Alexander Paskhaver has focused on the role and function of the moral elite and active minorities, where the Protestants especially stand out. He says,
An active minority sparkplugs a passive majority… It is the optimal way for Ukraine to reunite with Europe. We could do this only if we will become Europeans, this means to adopt their values, ethical taboos, views, behavioral patterns, stereotypes. Thereby, we will enrich our Ukrainian identity.
He assures us that,
The values and convictions of the ordinary people are precisely the crucial factor determining differences in the level of development of countries… Looking at the Christian world, we see that Protestant countries are the most developed, followed by Catholic countries , while Orthodox countries are the least developed of all.
In other words, the hope of modernization of Ukraine in a civilized Europe lies in the reception of Protestant ethics and values and a Christians worldview. Theologians agree partly with this optimism for a European future for Ukraine, by interpreting it ‘spiritually’, not in economic terms. The head of missions for the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians Baptists, Stanyslav Gruntkovskiy, argues that ‘Ukraine could be “a spiritual granary” for all of Europe.’ If this mission were interpreted widely, then it could be a vision and motive for not only spiritual transformation, but comprehensive transformation of Ukraine,, which it could then extend to all of Europe..
If Ukrainian Protestants were previously known as much for their activity in missions as for their passivity in politics, then recently mission and politics, theology and social responsibility were integrated into a holistic vision of responsible and influential Christianity. According to Anatoliy Denysenko, Maidan became a symbol of the return of the Church into politics with a more balanced and deeper understanding of its own responsibility. He says,
EuroMaidan divided Christians into those who advocated European values, and those who were against them. Maidan is uniting all Christians who support universal Christian values. Maidan is a concept which unites all who care about the future of our country. On the one hand, the Church must be apolitical in the sense that it cannot join any political movements. On the other hand, the Church must be active politically in the sense that it cares about the situation in the country.
In spite of some contradictions, all the above mentioned approaches and interpretations set the socio-political framework which embraces a wide range of Protestant missionary and social activity. In this wide sense the word “mission,” as used in evangelical churches, consists not only in solidarity with the protest or the Christian adaptation of this protest (direction to a non-violent and constructive channel), but also in the future transformation of ‘the society of protest’, a transition from protest to a peaceful life, participation in laying a new ideological foundation of a pro-European and pro-Christian Ukrainian identity at the same time. The more that Protestants will be Ukrainian the more Ukraine will be Protestant. The more that Protestants will be European the more Ukraine will be European. Europeanization without a Protestant ferment is no more than strong secularism and weak freedom. The Ukrainian Protestants can unite within themselves the vitality of traditional Christianity, European civilization and reformational dynamics. There is a hope that Protestants will show more unity in responsibility for the future of their country and formation of a new Ukrainian society, than in their attitudes regarding authority and protest.