I’ve Been So Wrong About The Rapture.

One of the most conspicuous End Times preachers was Jack Van Impe. For 30 years, he hosted an attention-grabbing television program, on which he translated disturbing headline news into a drip feed of conspiracy-tainted suspicions and fear. Van Impe had a commanding delivery, made even more compelling through a rapid fire recitation of Bible verses like he was a walking concordance. As a premillennial dispensationalist, Van Impe became known as a Prophet of Doom. But not for his end times-hooked listeners, eager to hear his reassurance that they will escape the cataclysmic end of the world by being raptured to Heaven.

Van Impe, who died in 2020, had plenty of company in the Darby/Scofield doomsday school of prophecy: Lindsay, LaHaye, Hagee, Dallas Seminary, and Moody Church to name a few. A cursory review of apocalyptic televangelist John Hagee’s popular titles is telling: The Battle for Jerusalem, Earth’s Final Moments, Attack on America, From Daniel to Doomsday. These folks have long had their fingers on the pulse of their evangelical audience, and most importantly, the monsters they’re told that hide under their beds at night. Since Van Impe’s death, the hurry-up Armageddon flames have been fanned even hotter with the Ukraine invasion. Evangelicals have a counterpart to the so-called “Doomsday Clock” – with a Rapture Index now up to “fasten your seat belts” level.

I am not a Tribber. Meanwhile, I chip away on a non-monetized blog, when I could be buying business jets and collect fat royalties from Simon & Schuster like Hagee, if I started peddling my own rapture porn novels. The Rapture pulp fiction oeuvre is one proven money-shaker I would like a slice of. Shoddy prose aside, these books essentially write themselves. Let me briefly outline the prophetic story line  behind my future-casting proposal:

March 2022, and the Ukraine “special operation” continues to bog down. Putin sacks some of his surviving generals and purges his security service of officials blamed for incompetence. Putin dismisses peace overtures and doubles down, and the war segues into bloody urban fighting either mitigated through Berlin-type city-busting, or Syria-style chemical or biological attacks. But the Biden administration has pinky-promised that Ukraine will not fall.

Putin has warned of “consequences as you have never before experienced in your history” if NATO becomes more involved. Russia has already raised the level of their version of DEFCON. This raises the potential for a nuclear duel (triggered accidentally or otherwise), although some analysts conjecture World War III may have already started. Regardless, both sides are digging in for a protracted war. For the servile Russian political machine, nothing is off the table. The Russian “message is not just about Ukraine,” a political scientist in Lithuania stated. Putin has already threatened Sweden and Finland. The Baltic states are wondering, are we next? Moldova feels threatened, as well. One Duma member demands the return of Alaska. Another suggests launching a nuclear missile at the U.S. to ‘send a message’. Another famous dispensationalist, Pat Robertson, is waving the American nuclear flag. “Well, if you do that, we’re going to escalate…We have the firepower to wipe out every Russia city.”

Robertson was once again waxing prophetic about the end-times. This time drawing a dark line connecting Putin (The King of the North) and his Ukraine invasion as fulfilling specific end times prophecies.  “He went into the Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately”.

All this bravado and bluster is great material for my book. But detonating nuclear bombs across Eurasia and North America would yield a half-billion dead. That would make my book a very short one, indeed. Better that I stretch the pre-Trib Rapture eschatology out a little bit. All wars end at some point. Let’s assume a stalemated war continues through 2024, when Donald Trump is once again elected President. He’s prided himself on enjoying collegial relations with Vladimir Putin. In this scenario, Trump campaigns on negotiating a peace treaty. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said peace talks between Ukraine and Russia should be held in Jerusalem. It’s a holy city revered by both Trump and Putin – both have prayed at the Wailing Wall.

A third Holy Temple “will play a key role at the end of days.” For some time now, an Israeli council of Jewish rabbis – a modern-day Sanhedrin – has appealed to Trump and Putin to join forces in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. “I don’t want to build a (Third) Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now,” declares the leader of a right-wing party growing in popularity. If he were still alive, John Walvoord would agree. He repeated a popular urban legend that “500 railroad carloads of stone from Bedford, Indiana, are already en route to Israel” to erect the Temple.

The Holy Temple will be the earthly dwelling place for the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence of God. “For Orthodox Jews committed to reestablishing the Temple, both the present problems of the world and the problems faced by the Jewish people will be solved only by rebuilding of the Temple. This is in total alignment with the pre-Tribulation period that figures prominently in dispensational eschatology:

“The Third Temple will be built before the Antichrist comes to power and takes control of Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean nations. Satan will spiritually defile the Holy Place of the rebuilt Temple by directing his Antichrist to violate the Holy of Holies at the beginning of the last three and a half years of the Tribulation. The False Prophet, the Antichrist’s partner, will then demand that the Antichrist be worshiped as “god” in the rebuilt Temple.”[i]

Trump has been hailed as a King Cyrus figure, enabling the Jewish diaspora to return to Jerusalem.  As with Cyrus, Trump is the Lord’s shepherd to lay the foundations of the Temple. “The Jewish people in Israel love him… like he’s the King of Israel. … he is the second coming of God.”  Trump may revel in his power as God’s man, but is clueless about his prophetic destiny in the unfolding of these last days. “Let its foundations be laid.”’ – Ezra 6:3.

On the other hand, Putin also has supernatural help. He assumed the mantel of emissary of God to restore the unity of Russian civilization with Russian ethnicity, language and traditional spirituality. To the Russian Orthodox church, Putin is “the chosen one” leading the “self-purification of society”.  “God is inside Vladimir Putin,” according to Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov. “Vladimir Putin becomes a living temple.” As the leader of the Third Rome, Putin has the messianic destiny to reign over Christendom from Moscow and throughout the world.

Trump and Putin: “By the way”, Donald Trump Jr. mentioned, “my father had a great relationship with Putin.”  The President was smitten with his Russian counterpart, who “said nice things” about him. And then there is Trump’s son-in-law and confidante, Jared Kushner (an observant Jew). Many have tried to broker the Peace of Jerusalem to no avail. But Kushner made progress in shifting the tectonic plates. Could he be the False Prophet of Revelation 13?

The Anti-Jesus will sign a seven-year covenant with Israel. But it seems we currently have two Messiah/Anti-Christs. [ii] I can use the template from the Book of Daniel to write one man of lawlessness out of the script: “The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time”.  It’s problematic, however, whether either of these two anti-heroes could represent the protagonist of a novel based on good versus evil. I’m leaning towards Mr. I-Alone-Can-Fix-It Trump.

So far, I have my story’s skeleton. I have my character archetypes – careful to disguise the real persons to avoid legal action taken as potentially libelous. Sinclair Lewis’ Buzz” Windrip could do as a good template. A narrative is in place, with the Antichrist and the False Prophet already having appeared on the world stage.

All these years, Van Impe has been preaching a certain truth. It took Trump to make it revelation. It will take me to write the book.  


[i] Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming,  (New York: Penguin, 2009), p. 8.

[ii] Daniel 11:27

Evangelicals and the Holy Weirdo

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25.

I heard a comedian once refer to the Holy Spirit as a “weirdo”. At least in practice, many evangelicals might agree with him.

As a version 1.0 evangelical growing in faith in the 1970’s, my life was immersed in that generation of cessasionists. That is, all supernatural gifts ceased with the Apostles, the theology being that once the Scriptures were committed to velum, God saw no need for extra-Biblical prophecy, healing, ecstatic utterance and the like to continue. The indwelling of the Spirit was not, it was taught, an event subsequent to, but part of the conversion experience.

As a junior camp counselor during Christian Service Brigade, I befriended two of my team members who I saw as “on fire” for God. One evening after our communal campfire, they went off by themselves to pray. They later came back from the forest, reporting they saw the vision of a bright light which they interpreted as the working of the Holy Spirit. Their bunks were cleared the next morning.

One of my uncles married a woman who became deeply immersed in her pentecostal church. He reluctantly got involved as well. And so I asked him how he was getting along, speaking in tongues. His enigmatic reply was, “it helps if I have a few beers in me.” And I remember being invited by friends to their charismatic church. As if on cue, members of the congregation began a conga-line around the perimeter of the sanctuary.. It seemed less spontaneous than contrived performance. So un-Presbyterian. Those personal glimpses permeate my evangelicalism, reinforcing the impression that full outpouring, the experiential reality – means, like some weird uncle – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit à la Benny Hinn is normative.

It’s not. Neither are the so-called evangelical luminaries that go on about their MAGA direct line with God, yet have no connection through the Holy Server. Declarations about what they demand God make happen in America seems to me more like they are trying to lead the Holy Spirit, instead of the other way around. I’m sure many of these self-identified “evangelicals” never personally experienced Jesus in the first place.

It’s this background of negative experiences that had convicted me that the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete – is more a ghostly helper alongside, than the divine spirit that dwells inside the Believer. Nice to have, but not clue in how It works. After all, we have the Bible – the fourth member of the Trinity to guide us. Jesus already spoke to us through that book; what more do we need?. Frankly speaking, we evangelicals – imbued with the scholastic tradition as we are – trust in the Lord with all our hearts but and lean on our own understanding; We often act as if we disbelieve in the Spirit of Jesus.  Or, he is like a topical ointment we apply instead of the heart surgeon we need him to be.

Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit isn’t a side-kick or add-on, he permeates the very soul of every believer. The Spirit divides soul and spirit, both joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. I know the Holy Spirit resides within me. I never intend to quash him, but many times I know I have. And I feel deep inside there is something missing in my innermost evangelical spirituality. I recoil from the words of James Packer, when he says “supernatural living through supernatural empowering is at the very heart of New Testament Christianity, so that those who, while professing faith, do not experience and show forth this empowering are suspect by New Testament standards.” Those are fearful words, especially for those like me prone to lead with a leash so the Holy Spirit doesn’t go out of bounds, and get beyond our control. I agree with one of my spiritual mentors, Roger Olson. “Yes, most Christians are afraid of the Holy Spirit whether they would admit it or not… People tend to be afraid of what might happen if they open the door to the Holy Spirit. They read the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon and in the disciples on the Day of Pentecost and think ‘Well, that was a one-time event and we certainly don’t want that happening in our church!'”

We evangelicals substitute reading verses wrenched out of context for the benefit of our neat little systems to give us the strength we lack through lack of reliance on the Spirit. (Solus Spiritus Sanctus was never laid down as a pillar of Reformation faith). We lean solely on the Scriptures to teach us how to truly trust God.. Deep down, many of us don’t trust the Spirit’s vocation to do that. Fear causes us to recoil from a Christian life filled with joy and power, manifesting the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Dwight Moody had the courage to say “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him”. Could it be that we are afraid that the Holy Spirit would lead us into the sorts of places we’d rather not go? Letting loose of control is scary. Maybe the Spirit is not the weirdo; we neurotic, apprehensive Christians are.

What do you think?

Sending Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine? How The Air Force Could Help You.

[C-17 – U.S. Air Force photo]

A story on the local news featured a woman who collects and sends donated goods for Ukraine relief. She assumes the entire burden – including shipping charges – by herself. There are many 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that are doing the same. Perhaps you are involved in one as well. If so, you’ve learned that transporting air cargo to Ukraine is very expensive – and will become more so as jet fuel is getting very costly. Here’s a suggestion, FWIW:

One of the biggest air freight operators in America is the U.S. Air Force. One major mission is strategic airlift capability. Think C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, and C-130 Hercules, not to mention air refueling aircraft.

Under the Denton Program, U.S. based non-governmental agencies are allowed to transport humanitarian aid at little or no cost to the donor, while simultaneously putting the extra space on U.S. military transport assets to good use. It’s a space –available program where transportation is neither scheduled nor guaranteed, as dictated by prioritizing military need.

Your organization – or one you support – may well be interested in applying for Denton assistance in sending needed non-perishable food or medicine to Ukraine. If everything works out, the USAF will ship it for free.

Online applications and additional information about the DOD Humanitarian Assistance Programs, Denton and Funded Transportation’s Programs, are available at http://hatransportation.ohasis.org

You can also contact Ms. Phyllis Marshall, Program Manager for the Denton Program and Funded Transportation, by phone (703) 697-9628 or email phylliss.c.marshall.civ@mail.mil

Daily Prayer For Ukraine

A group of Ukrainians meeting each morning to pray (International Missions Board)

God of Mercy, for whom no one is beyond the limits of Your love,

May we seek your peace.

We pray for Ukraine.

For the church witnessing in Ukraine and all those who call on your Name,

For refugees and those uprooted from their homes and lives,

For soldiers exposed to danger and civilians who dwell in fear,

For those without food, water or medicines,

For those who have witnessed death and destruction on their streets,

For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one,

For those separated from parents, from children, from spouses and siblings,

For all those providing comfort and shelter,

For those having the power over life and death; that they will choose for all people life,

For the wounded, the dying, and the captive, that you would bring healing of body and soul,

For medical workers ensuring that shattered bodies are put back together again,

For ordinary Russians, that they turn swords into ploughshares and seek for peace,

For world leaders; especially those enabling Ukrainians to have safe passage,

For President Putin and those who choose war; that they instead seek the Lord with all their hearts.

For ourselves, that the Holy Spirit grant us the will to turn our prayers into example, and that we become doers of the Word also.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray./ В ім’я Ісуса Христа ми молимося.

Amen

Russian Mothers versus The Cargo of Death

Mama I didn’t want to come.” A captured conscript was shown on Ukrainian media, getting his message out by the only mean available.  Russian authorities had imposed a total blackout of news from the front – pretending there were no casualties or POWs. Ukrainian estimates hover around 5300 so far, although the Russians simply declare their losses were “many times” less than those of the Ukrainians. As the fighting continues, there are many more Russian dead.  Many of these are youngsters from rural villages and were tricked into fighting; some didn’t even know they were in Ukraine. Troops are disoriented, hungry, and don’t understand why they’re invading.

The current conflict is a tragedy for both combatants. Let’s focus on the Russian side for a moment. Starting at age 18, Russian young men are obliged to 12 months military service. Many are draft-dodging; hiding out for fear of being press-ganged, or even seeking asylum in the U.S.  Conscripts live under squalid conditions, made even more degrading by the informal hazing process called Dedovshchina, frequently involving rape, beatings, and extorting money. The Russian conscript’s status as throwaway doesn’t even terminate with his death.

The Afghan war left some 13,000 bereaved families – although official Russian figures were “significantly  undercounted”. In a process officially designated Cargo 200, the “lucky” dead were known as “Zinkies”, because they were repatriated in sealed zinc caskets. As the Cargo 200 death train chugged along, it often came to an end in a dirty warehouse, with grieving parents traveling to retrieve their son and bury him at own expense. This was not the America that receives fallen soldiers with full military honors. They meant nothing more to the USSR than cannon fodder. A few relatives had the nerve to pry the coffin open, only to find rocks and sand.  In 2014, Russian troops in unmarked olive-drab uniforms masqueraded as “Little Green Men”, seizing all of Crimea. If captured, soldiers were ordered to say they had come as random volunteers during their “vacations”.  Bodies were returned, but were met with a cover-up of the funerals by Russia’s state-controlled media. The remains were disbursed throughout cemeteries to disguise the numbers. Gravestones were unmarked, and mourners were told not to ask questions.

There is some doubt whether Cargo 200 will resume operations in Ukraine. Reports indicate Russia has deployed mobile crematoria to incinerate dead soldiers in-situ to hide the true scale of Ukraine war. “We’ve had a flurry of calls from scared mothers all over Russia. They are crying, they don’t know if their children are alive or healthy,” according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers. The Committee is a well-respected NGO within Russia. Since the 1980’s, it has “played a crucial role in opening up the military to public scrutiny and in influencing public perceptions of military service.”.”  Many demoralized Russian conscripts in Ukraine have pleaded with their mothers to bring them home.

I wish I had met my wife’s uncle Gisbert. But he lies somewhere in a mass grave. Barely 17, he was drafted into the last-ditch Wehrmacht and was killed almost immediately on the Eastern Front. When a soldier dies, its the women left behind who suffer the most. Cremation is forbidden in the Orthodox canon, and those vehicle-mounted crematoria will not replace the all-important rite of consecrated funerals. It is a sin to deny a holy burial for a body violently torn from its soul, let alone allow the grieving family closure under the Church. If internal discontent is simmering in Russia, it is mothers having lost their sons to another pointless war that will raise the temperature.

Walk into any Russian Orthodox church and you’ll see the majority are mothers and grandmothers. Despite the repression of religion during Soviet times, it was these matroskas and babushkas that “refused to allow the flame of faith to go out in Russia”.  Being a babushka in Russia equates to something just short of gaining sainthood. Solzhenitsyn, the keen observer of the minutia in everyday Russian life, evokes the moral superiority of that guardian of the Russian soul, the peasant mother. He writes of his saintly peasant Matryona, as a sacred icon: “the righteous one, without whom, as the proverb says, no village can stand. Nor any city. Nor our whole land.”  Joanna Hubbs adds that Solzhenitsyn “evoked the moral superiority of that guardian of the Russian soul, the peasant mother.”[i] Mothers and grandmothers are the foundation of Orthodox spiritual life, and the preparation for death is at its center. Putin is desecrating the sanctity and memory of these dead. Putin should never underestimate the moral power of a Russian mother.

We are entering the spiritual season when we set our faces towards the Cross, and the Son of Man who suffered many things, even unto death. This Lent, we should pray the spirit of Cargo 200 be rebuked, and take up our cross with those who are suffering, both in Ukraine AND Russia. Especially the women who can’t properly bury the “throw-aways” and are left behind to grieve. Pray for the mothers of sons they’ll never see again. !


[i]   Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia, (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press), 1993, p. 237

Ukraine: The Humanitarian and Spiritual Crisis

While Russia claims it targets only military installations using precision-guided weapons, the ground truth appears much different. Of course, in the fog of war, very little information can be verified. But pictures and accounts of casualties in schools, hospitals and apartment blocks tell a grim story of ordinary people being caught in the crossfire.

The Ukraine invasion has already created an internal humanitarian crisis, especially in urban areas where communal services and utilities have been cut, leaving residents without heat, light – and the most crucial infrastructure for survival – sanitary water. Countless windows blown in by detonations, exposing living quarters to the Ukrainian cold. The less fortunate “de-housed”, missiles or artillery having left them homeless. Panic buying and hospitals filling, leaving food and medicine scarce. Cemeteries filling up. Internment camps. I know; I saw the same human miseries in Sarajevo.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that, as of today, some 368,000 Ukrainians have already fled west, mostly to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. According to an ABC report, Poland is prepared to take upwards of a million refugees. The numbers of displaced Ukrainians may exceed that, give the “strong likelihood that this war will produce substantial refugee crisis.” A list of trustworthy U.S.-based charities addressing these needs can be found here. John Fea has collected evangelical sites as well.

The evangelical church in Ukraine is a strong one. Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Already, churches are mobilizing to support refugees. They are appealing for Ukrainian language Bibles – people are desperate and the Ukrainian Bible Society can’t keep up with requests. A future under Russian rule looks ominous – if the persecution of evangelicals in Donbass and Luhansk is any indication. Looking forward, the strength of Ukrainian believers will be sorely tested.

Do not imagine for a moment prayer doesn’t matter. Pray for Ukraine… Pray for the presence of Jesus to permeate households & hiding places & be a shield & comfort to them. Pray a Psalm – maybe 27 or 31 – as intercession. Let’s pray.” She’s among countless evangelicals coming together – despite differences – to petition God on behalf of those afflicted.  “It is an actual war, and our prayers matter, your prayers matter, one”, an émigré at one Florida church pleaded.

They are desperate for our prayers.”

It may not be God’s will to stop the Ukraine conflict

An opinion piece on Christian Post captioned “Let’s pray for Ukraine AND Russia” elicited one commenter to ask whether people have they “prayed the right prayers”. “It may not be the will of God to stop this conflict,” was the summation.

Wrong prayers come from those which cherish iniquity. Prayers offered wrongly – centered on one’s selfish desires – are like praying to idols. Like the misplaced devotion to empire: making America great again, infatuated with Trump as temporal redeemer. Or, for that matter, by Russians who flock to their Cathedral of the Armed Forces, to light candles before a mosaic depicting the “little green men” who invaded the Crimea. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God cannot be subservient to obedience to whatever empire in which we as “resident aliens” find ourselves.

And God hates those of the facetious “hearts and prayers” genre. The conscience-soothing file-and-forget prayers that have accompanied so many school shootings. Those offered from the lips, bereft of the inmost soul, fall on deaf divine ears.

How, then, should Christians respond?

But the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Such a man was Peter Deyneka, a Russian émigré who devoted his life to sharing the Gospel with those behind the Iron Curtain. “Much prayer, much power” was that godly man’s watchword. I worked with his Slavic Gospel Mission for a time, and saw the truth that God truly does respond to prayer. Sending Cyrillic New Testaments reduced to 3 pages of tissue paper into the Soviet Union may seem like the mouse that roared. But prayer without ceasing reaped a plentiful harvest for God. Once again, Christians are being repressed in Russia and the territories it occupies. We need heartfelt prayer for them, and fellow believers in Ukraine.

Second, before we can pray that God reconcile the warring parties in Ukraine, we must recognize the ways we have distanced ourselves from the voice of God, whether by witness-less complacence, or by braying at the feet of false idols. Making peace ourselves first with God by repentance is the spiritual purging needed to enter his holy presence. This applies to nations as well, as Walter Wink explains: “The pride and self-righteousness of powerful nations are a greater hazard… than the machinations of their foes.”

Third, we know God is actively present in Ukraine – and in Russia. We might not know the will of God, but we are the ones praying for it to be done on earth. And we know God’s character through the very image of his substance: Jesus, who called the peacemakers blessed. We need to acquire the Spirit of peace. One such peacemaker was William Jennings Bryan.

Today, William Jennings Bryan is remembered primarily for being humiliated in the Scopes evolution trial. Yet in the headlong rush towards World War I, he was an indefatigable worker for world peace. (Yes, he was a fundamentalist – but before it went full Fundamentalism, and a champion of “applied Christianity” – before it was derided as the social gospel). “The Gospel of the Prince of Peace,” he wrote, “gives us the only hope that the world has – and it is an increasing hope – of the substitution of reason for the arbitrament of force in the settlement of international disputes.”

Bryan goes on, bringing us to the last point: “And our nation ought not to wait for other nations – it ought to take the lead and prove its faith in the omnipotence of truth.” There comes a time when prayer must be validated in action.  As William Stringfellow phrased it, “there comes a moment when words must either become incarnated or the words, even if literally true, are rendered false.” We are told to repay evil with good: incarnated prayers means putting Christ’s healing influence to bear. The means of accomplishing this are as diverse as those who are the Body of Christ.

As for myself, I plan to seek out Ukrainian refugees as they will undoubtedly filter into our city. I’m in no position to broker peace in Ukraine. But I can offer them the peace of God, peace with themselves, and peace with others. No one has to look very far for ways to offer comfort and in the midst of suffering caused by war and strife.

One concrete way for us all to further God’s reign in Ukraine has been proffered by Pope Francis, who invites “everyone to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace. I encourage believers in a special way to devote themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day.” I will be one with him spiritually in that.

Know Jesus, No Peace.

[NOTE: Follow-on to Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War.]The evangelical thought leaders I’ve described have focused on Ukraine as a binary conflict between two superpowers domination systems – as Walter Wink described them. Empires are hegemonic conquest states. Like a hammer always looking for the next nail, empires like America or Russia exert acquisitive geo-political power. Overlooking our misadventure in Afghanistan (where my son was wounded by an IED) we need only look to Trump’s grandiose scheme to buy Greenland, or China’s menacing of Taiwan.

Military Darwinism determines that the stronger prevail, and we have tried our best to insure we are the fittest. Part and parcel of U.S. support to Ukraine and the “New Europe” is NATO military hardware. Like $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine or a pending $6 billion tank deal to Poland. It raises Russian suspicions that the “West is primarily interested in moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders, and not in spreading democracy and liberal values”. Decisions are based on what military power permits us to do, rather than morally what we should not. Regardless of Russia’s claim, relying on a NATO counterweight results in a spiral of violence. “The last thing Ukraine really needs is arms.” What Ukraine does need is the shalom of a stable internal and external environment. The country would be much better off if unimpeded to develop its economy and improve people’s livelihoods.

Two all-important questions are noticeably absent in this tale of super-world death match: Ukraine itself, and Jesus. Whether Russia or the Western powers prevail in the war likely to come, it is Ukraine that will be despoiled, left in ruins and human despair. Ukrainians would rather live in peace, coerced by neither military bloc, and allowed to engage in mutually beneficial diplomacy with both East and West.  “Diplomats and political leaders appear in danger of talking over the heads of Ukrainian people, while much commentary has ignored the likely consequences of proposals on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.”

Violence can never be justified in the name of Jesus. But we see evangelicals like Dr. Land urging superpower America to go in guns a blazin’. They are accountable, according to William Stringfellow, for “naming each escalation and reescalation of war a way to quicken peace”.  On the other hand, we have Putin-flattering Franklin Graham, giving passive assent interspersed with the lazy sanctimony of “hearts and prayers”.  Leading evangelicals having the gravitas to shape policies and perceptions are either too compromised or too disinterested to act as go-betweens. The absence of evangelicals of stature as credible peace-makers prompted Russell Moore to suggest instead that Pope Francis should work with the region’s spiritual leaders to seek a lasting peace.

Is it that God cannot find an evangelical statesman for this calling?

Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War

Ever since Cain sulked off to form his city, humans have found refuge in building empires. Like hammers always looking for the next nail, empires thrive on exerting power over others. Walter Brueggemann notes that empires have insatiable appetites, intrinsically unable to restrain themselves. The United States is such a totalizing empire. So also is Russia. Translated, Ukraine means “borderland”. And that barbed wire frontier is where these antagonistic empires have squared off.

Most American Christians do not know much about Ukraine, other than it is somewhere between Washington and Moscow..  Estimates indicate some 190,000 combat troops50% of Russia’s offensive capability – is poised at Ukraine’s border. The U.S. government believes invasion is imminent. Facing fierce resistance, it would be a bloody and difficult war, creating an enormous surge of refugees, with devastating socio-economic shock across the European continent and beyond. Those who could not leave Ukraine would face a puppet government imposing harsh conditions, mass arrests and reprisals – not to mention an open sore of mass hunger and displacement. Even a “successful” war wouldn’t cease evil; peace at the barrel of a gun just changes the form evil takes.

How Russia acts – and how the West then reacts – remains an open question: one of the pitfalls of recording contemporary history. Facts constantly evolve; with Russia now annexing Donbass and Luhansk regardless of Ukrainian sovereignty. A number of political observers have insisted that “we need to be clearly on the side of the West.” But how should American evangelicals react?

One avenue – taken by Richard Land – is military deterrence. Land construes the Bible Americanly, believing in a strong U.S. military as a central article of evangelical faith. America is militarily strong and morally right; there are no limits to reordering the world that our God-ordained greatness could not bring about. A neo-con hawk, Land advocates “to arm the frontline states from the Baltic to the Black Sea to make it very painful and costly for the Russians to use military force.” This militaristic view is shared by those many evangelicals who, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “read the Bible with the United States cast in the role of God’s chosen people and carrier of God’s will for freedom in the world.” “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are,” George H.W. Bush once declared. The U.S. in this view, convinced of its own righteousness, is like a church where its foreign missionaries carry guns.

A contrary position held by many evangelicals is, simply put, to leave Russia to its own devices. “Russia did not and does not want to be part of the decadent liberal system”, one evangelical writer declares. He maintains that Post-Christian America is in no position to be the moral judge of the world by imposing “the ‘universal values’ of democracy, human rights, and liberty” upon nations like Greater Russia that don’t want them. In this thinking, Ukraine shouldn’t exist, because Biden’s “woke” America is so corrupted that it is no longer worthy of respect. Another goes so far as to say that if Russia conquered Europe, it would be an improvement. It’s a dystopian view that implies some conflict thousands of miles away is irrelevant to the U.S., which by now should have learned its lessons about policing the world. Yet more than that; it feeds into Dominionist ideologues who proclaim “we’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Doubtless the most visible adherent of this latter view is Trump-admiring Franklin Graham, who sees the rapid decline in American Christianity primarily caused by the ‘progressives’ repudiating God as the source of moral guidance. Putin believes Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, saved through the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church under Kirill – a convenient spiritual ally for the Kremlin – has accused the West of imposing secular values on Russia. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, meeting both with Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.”

“Putin,” writes David Brooks, “has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader.” But by far Putin’s biggest admirer is Donald Trump, who “cannot stop praising him”. “This is genius,‘ Trump declared after Putin helped himself to more of Ukraine. Together, they are “new breed of autocrats… people who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power.” Like President Trump’s Putin envy, evangelical culture is all about the pursuit of temporal power, awash with alpha males wielding supremacy over their mini-hierarchies. For evangelical diplomats, Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump (and likely GOP candidate to take Trump’s old job in 2024) is the genuine article. He offered his admiration for Putin’s savvy in tearing off another piece of Ukraine. “He knows how to use power.”

Again, we should ask, is this how American evangelicals should react? This blog will be exploring that question in the posts to follow.

Ukraine’s Sorrow and Evangelical Guilt

[Note: This post is written as Russia is poised to invade Ukraine. By the time you read it, it may well have already happened].

Putin is ready to launch a blitzkrieg war to crush Ukraine. Like most wars, it will produce nothing of benefit, but inflict death and misery to countless thousands. Could this have been avoided?  Not by American evangelicals. They helped cause it.

Let’s start here in the U.S., where evangelicals overwhelmingly supported a despotic President who flaunted the rule of law and attempted a coup. A man who tried to bribe Ukraine into helping him lie to influence  the 2016. A man who tried to dissolve NATO admired Putin. Both men clever enough to say whatever evangelicals want to hear.

Let’s talk about American evangelicals, whose media constantly barfs out anti-American (and particularly anti-Biden) desinformatsiya. They have become a quasi-religious lobby group who have dismissed Democrats as “just another word for godless”, and who look to enforcing “One Nation Under Their God”.  Whose Dominionist totalism sees no room for democracy – either in America under Biden or in Ukraine joining the godless EU. Whose dispensationalism relishes human suffering because it verifies their nihilistic theology.

Let’s talk about their leaders, like Franklin Graham, having come away from personal audiences with Putin having nothing but praise for his anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, widely reported by Russian propaganda outlets. Not to mention having met several times with Vyacheslav Volodin, sanctioned Putin aide and architect of his takeover of Crimea “to strengthen relationships between the Christians in our countries”. And smoozing with Russian Orthodox spiritual leaders, each bemoaning the “ever-declining moral values in western societies”, and agreeing to joint “defense of traditional morality”.  All this cordiality despite the fact that Putin is repressing Russian evangelicals.

Or, Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families, who spoke for many evangelicals by declaring, “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world”.  We shouldn’t forget wholehearted welcome of Mariia Butina, an FSB honeypot who attended the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of influential evangelicals. “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line,” one connected lawyer mentioned.

Franklin Graham’s latest biblical worldview effort has been to support the Canadian truck blockages. “The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices”, he declares. But what about Ukraine’s freedom? Nary a word, and silence likewise across evangelical media. Not even any wan “hearts and prayers” being pronounced. A queue of Western politicians flying to Russia in a desperate sue for peace, but Franklin Graham hasn’t booked a ticket. And he hasn’t pushed for a trucker’s protest in Moscow, either.

Influential evangelicals like Sen. Josh Hawley thinks it wrong to expand the West’s “liberal order” around the world. Meaning – parroting the views of Tovarich Carlson – there is no reason why the U.S. should help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity.

Ukraine is ripe for the picking, and evangelicals have already picked the side they want to win. They’ve helped make the bed the rest of us will be forced to lie in. Evangelical guilt for Ukraine’s downfall – may God intervene – will be great. Lord have mercy on us all…