Franklin Graham, Ukraine and the Biblical World View

It wasn’t hard to suss out what Billy Graham believed. A self-defined premillennial dispensationalist, his Crusade sermons usually featured some disaster or tragedy he clipped from the newspaper. The world was going to Hell. His steady drumbeat was “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior” right now before its too late. The late Michael “iMonk” Spencer called this house- on-fire tactic, “wretched urgency”. Graham’s political theology was highly influenced by two prominent Presbyterian churchmen: his father-in-law and oil magnate J. Howard Pew, who stood up his career. Both were John Birchers whose anti-communist End Times paranoia fed into conservative politics and evangelical religion. The Birchers are back. And they’re winning.

In the 1960’s, Graham’s creation, Christianity Today, had nothing positive to say about Rousas Rushdoony and the fledgling Christian Reconstruction movement. It was still bent on revivalism in saving America one soul at a time. Dispensationalism held sway, and Russia was foreign enemy #1 of the USA. Even Reagan said that Gog must mean the communist Russia that set itself against God. Anti-communism was a useful scaremongering resource that filled many ministry coffers. “We are like people under sentence of death, waiting for the date to be set. We sense that something is about to happen… We are now on a collision course”, warned Graham. Back then, the Soviet Union was the anti-Christ. Once scorned, Dominionist theology that Christians are ordained to rule and reign is embraced by a majority of evangelicals. “Rushdoony provided a way to sacralize these ideas”. And Putin’s Russia is the darling of the Religious Right. Funny how far evangelicalism had come.

Following Reagan’s “tear down that Wall”, evangelicals began to look inward for enemies of Christ. And there were plenty of domestic targets. Billy Graham maintained that if all of us could come to the cross, Christ is the solution to all the problems that beset America. But evangelicals began to realize slow motion-saving people from the satanic End Times wasn’t immediate enough to bring America back to its founding Christian principles. America’s strongest adversary was itself: abortion, homosexuality and trans-genderism were the sins destroying the national fabric.

The Bible hasn’t changed since the 1960’s, but the evangelical biblical world view has. Jerry Falwell emerged from fundamentalist isolation to wonder, that if a super-majority of Americans still believed in morality, why is America having such problems? “We must look for the answer to the highest places in every level of government.” Falwell – with his “I Love America” rallies –, Pat Robertson, and a host of others set in motion a pro-family political machine, creating partnerships between Christians who never had talked to each other previously. “There are bigger issues now,” as his son, Jerry Jr. explained. “We can argue about theology later after we save the country.” Previously other-worldly focused evangelicals started to contemplate the biblical reordering of society, which would lead to the Second Coming of Christ. Raised on a steady diet of liberal humanist conspiracies, this was an existential war against the satanic control of America. The centerpiece strategy was to seat Christians into the hands of power. Or usurp it, as in the Capitol insurrection – “marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House.”[i]

“As the process of dominion extends the authority of Christians over more and more areas of life,” wrote Gray North, “we will see the creation of a comprehensive theocracy.” Francis Schaeffer claimed he didn’t want a theocracy. But at the same time, as his son Frank recounted, “we were calling for civil disobedience, the takeover of the Republican Party, and even hinting at overthrowing our ‘unjust pro-abortion government.’”[ii] Sara Diamond rightly recognizes Schaeffer as an early influencer of dominion theology.[iii] Rushdoony, once a bête noir had now become the éminence grise of theocratic Christian Right politics.

And so, finally, back to the original question. What is Franklin Graham’s “Biblical World View”? His father was a Johnny-one-note revivalist. Praying that God will save the nation has nothing to do with old-fashioned revivalism. Franklin’s focus has shifted towards the “new normal” mandate to take dominion. Dominionism is “being used to bring together a new and determined Moral Majority for the 21st century.” And Franklin is a believer: “Speaking of regime changes—we need one in this country!”

The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices.” Franklin was hailing the Canadian truckers’ convoy as “riding against oppression”. His father, on the other hand, preached freedom in Christ:  “Have you honestly faced the truth of your so-called ‘freedom’? You see, in reality you aren’t free; instead, you are ruled by your own lusts and desires… Instead give your life to Jesus Christ and discover what it means to be truly free.” It’s quite a jump from saving souls one at a time to saving America, and truckers’ “freedom”. Somewhere along the line, Franklin’s biblical world view lost the simple purity of the Gospel message.

“They shut the churches down. This is what the communists did in Eastern Europe”, Graham warned.  Speaking with Todd Starnes, Franklin reminded him that thousands of pastors and priests were slaughtered under the Soviet Union. The same could be said for today, as the horrors of Bucha come to light. Hospitals bombed, civilians executed, children shot, women raped, churches under siege. Russian soldiers running amok, mercenary death squads, abduction and mass graves, intentional terror targeting – like the train station massacre with “for the children” scribbled on the rockets. Shutting down of churches and killing of pastors – apparently Franklin cannot see that this is happening now!

But hey, who cares? Not Franklin; he’s been as quiet as a mouse over war crimes committed by Russia. And yes, a minister – the Dean of the Slavic Evangelical Seminary in Kyiv – was among the hundreds of murdered civilians. Yet Franklin is preoccupied with refugees coming into America. “What’s going on at our southern border is out of control.”

In 2015, Franklin tried to find some silver lining in Putin’s heavy-handed assistance to the Assad government – which included attacks on civilians using cluster bombs, chemical weapons, and thermobaric weapons. “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East,” Graham said. The truth is different. “Russia’s military intervention contributed to untold suffering for millions of Syrian civilians”.  The same war crimes are being committed daily in Ukraine.

Interesting which sides Franklin Graham’s moralistic worldview picks. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, to have photo-op chats with both Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.” Just before the invasion was underway, he made a plea to pray for Putin – neglecting to solicit prayers for Ukraine. Graham intends to make up for that omission with a trip to preach in Ukraine. (He’s billed it as an Easter service. But it’s not Orthodox Easter (April 24); just another grim day of misery and violence that Ukrainians have suffered for two months. And the days to come will get much dirtier, with the arrival of Russian general Dvornikov – dubbed the Butcher of Syria. With his appointment, many fear “a significant escalation and deliberate ‘terror campaign’ in Ukraine.” Russian media assures its viewers that genocidal vengeance –  a “final solution” – is in the plans.

This is not just total war – Ukraine is a Holy War, with Patriarch Kirill urging true patriots to eradicate scum and traitors. Putin’s war is about the survival of a totalitarian dictatorial regime. Dominionists want to defeat their democratic regime. Graham and Kirill are attempting to reach the same goal from opposite poles. Both, as Kirill defined it, “are talking about human salvation, something much more important than politics.”

Which is why, at Graham’s “Easter” celebration, we’ll hear a hearts and prayers sermon, preaching that sinners need to come to Christ. Meaning everyone aside from Franklin, and his rationalizing and minimizing criminal wrongdoing by Trump. Years of soft-peddling murderous Putin should grieve him deeply as well. Graham praised Putin as inspirational. Either he didn’t listen to Putin’s rhetoric threatening Ukraine since the 2014 Crimean take-over, or chose to ignore his barely concealed hatred – that the “Ukrainian authorities are illegitimate and Russia has to be prepared to act to protect compatriots”. If it were me praising Putin’s high moral standard, I’d be embarrassed to show my face in a Ukraine victimized by a hero who embodies his own Christian values. This is not just a shooting war; there is the second, fundamental war of ideas that drove it. It’s impossible to express remorse for one without repudiating the other. As Mark Silk points out, “as for his issuing a prophetic denunciation of Russia, I’m not holding my breath. It would mean disavowing an alliance he has been involved in for years.”

More fundamentally, it would clash with his Dispensational/Bircher/Dominionist-inspired “Biblical World View”. Ukraine shows us how, that if his theology were realized, it would lay waste to our own country. Maybe the one we should be praying for most fervently on Easter is Franklin himself. And, our future as a democracy.


[i] An online petition calling for Graham’s firing collected more than 24,500 signatures, claiming Graham spread “discredited election conspiracy theories” and “white nationalist terrorism,”– which it contended  led to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. https://julieroys.com/petition-franklin-grahams-firing-capitol-riots/

[ii] Ken Kersch, Conservatives and the Constitution (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019), p. 281

[iii] Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion, (New York: Guilford Press, 1995) p. 246.

Walter Mitty and a Ukrainian Calling.

“An Army of One” was the Army’s recruiting slogan in the early 2000’s. To address its sagging manpower goals, Army marketing research went into reaching the stereotypical male teen, playing video games by himself in the basement all day. The Army concluded the current generation of young people is so individualistic, so resistant to authority and rules, that it has to market military life as the natural home of the free-wheeling unfettered spirit.” A critic saw the base dishonesty in the pitch. “The Army is not, never has been and never will be about one soldier. Individuality has absolutely nothing to do with Army life,” he wrote.  Another commentator remarked, “if you want to be an ‘Army of One’ you probably want to join the Hell’s Angels, not the U.S. Army.”

It’s in that context that thousands have volunteered as free-agent soldiers for Ukraine’s freedom. News reports indicate Ukraine has had little trouble attracting young American men to join in the fight. Under American law, it’s legal for a U.S. citizen to provide combat services as a volunteer – although it is illegal to fight as a compensated foreign mercenary.  The Law of Armed Conflict defines the conditions to needed to recognize a fighter as a legitimate combatant:  (1) they form part of a military command structure, under formal orders and preceded by an “official request”; (2) they display a distinctive badge; (3) they carry arms openly; and, (4) they conform to the rights and obligations of war.

Take for example, a young Ohio man (said to be a rightwing militia member) whose flight was paid by donations through GiveSendGo. (The same Christian funding site was used by “American hero”, Kyle Rittenhouse, who moved on to “make a killing (pun intended) on the evangelical speaking circuit )”. After publicizing his complaints about harsh field conditions, including inadequate supplies of weapons and ammunition, our brave Ohio freedom fighter deserted his post and fled Ukraine. “I have been here 15 days now and still nothing is happening,” another volunteer bitched on a phone interview. “I am not putting up with that.” Perhaps that’s why none of these “armies of one” ever enlisted in the military.

In Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez wrote of how Wayne became an icon of evangelical masculinity: “his toughness and his swagger; he protected the weak, and he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his pursuit of justice and order.” She adds Trump’s “testosterone-fueled masculinity aligned remarkably well with that long championed by conservative evangelicals.” For any number of young evangelical Walter Mittys, the heady battlefield mix of testosterone and adrenaline is the chance to prove their Christian manhood.

But there’s a time when lofty idealism meets grim reality. It’s one thing to rack a high score at the local gun range, or on your Big Game Hunter video game. Or in the woods, shooting at animals that don’t shoot back. It’s quite another when you’re hunkered down in a fetid dirt trench, while 120mm mortar rounds splash all around you. That’s literally the baptism by fire, where even seasoned veterans often lose their nerve – and the contents of their bowels.

A California guy who said he liked “guns, cars, building stuff, basketball, sports and MMA” was eager to get on the battlefield and kill Russians. He had no military experience, but wanted to be a sniper. “They have no experience in doing such a job,” Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian National Legion said. He added that war tourists were an unwelcome – if not dangerous – nuisance. “You are not Rambo, there to single-handedly slay Russians and post your selfies,” a former CIA operative cautioned. His advice was basically: grow up, shut up, and do what you’re told. Just the sort of thing that millenials didn’t want to hear from their parents, either.

Its interesting to note that the chance of seeing combat in the army is low. Only 10% are deployed into front line combat. The remainder are assigned to supporting units: administration, maintenance, logistics, medical, military police, chow hall, etc. Many of these soldiers are doing non-sexy jobs like supervising cargo deliveries or guarding critical infrastructure. That’s the lowered expectations that a Michigan male went in with. A veteran with a 50 year-old back has given up on the idea of slogging through mud with an overweight pack. “I’m a realist,” he says, comparing his physical condition to his service days in the 1980’s. “He suggested that he might drive a truck to transport refugees or bring food into areas of need,” the article comments.

Well, these skills aren’t exactly exclusive to the military. During my years in Sarajevo, people would tell me stories of Serb forces allowing European trophy-hunters to zero in on Sniper Alley. Humans are the ultimate big-game. It nauseates me to think of volunteer killers. It seems odd that so many volunteers drop their teddy out of the crib and go home if they can’t kill someone. If they have to drive an army truck to support the Ukrainian military, that’s not on their adventure bucket list.

In fact, why must it be a military truck? Why not use that plane ticket and fly to someplace in eastern Poland, and volunteer with a civilian refugee aid organization?  Flights from the U.S. to Warsaw are still under $1000. If young Christian men want to serve Ukraine, that’s what I’d recommend.

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

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?