In 21st century America, politics is a religion, but in eastern countries, religions are political.
A failure to recognize this has repeatedly led mainstream news to diminish the motivating role of religion in geopolitical conflicts like the kind between Ukraine and Russia this week.
It is common to remember the atheistic government of Cold War USSR and to show sympathy toward parts of Ukraine seeking religious independence from Russia.
Others try to identify with Vladimir Putin’s personal faith in the more conservative Russian Orthodox church. Neither bear much resemblance to the gospel of the grace of God.
According to recent polls, as little as 32% of Ukrainians are certain God exists, though 91% keep icons at home like Americans keep Bibles.
For years Russia has had a ban on evangelism and religious meetings that are not approved by the state (read Orthodox) religious authorities.
Understanding the people and motives of these countries requires understanding religious ideas such as the Great Schism, Patriarchates, autocephaly, and ecclesiastical property. Religion is used politically.
Both countries claim history back to the “baptism of Rus” where Vladimir the Great converted to Christianity (by water baptism) for political advantage and solidified religious formalism in Kiev and Moscow for centuries afterward.
In either place, saved Bible believing Christianity would be rare, making the work of an evangelist there very important but peculiar.
What are we to do? Our apostle said, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Cor 10:3) and to pray for authorities to lead in “quiet and peaceable” living (1 Tim 2:1-2). Where people are dying, salvation is needed.
Whether Ukrainian Orthodox or Russian Orthodox, both need to know the preaching of the cross for salvation without sacraments, works, patriarchs, and icons.
While it is popular to view political positions without an eye toward beliefs, we must see more clearly. The world is divided by religion, and we are ambassadors of God’s grace.
For His purpose,
Justin “minister of reconciliation” Johnson