Does being a Christian mean that I am opposed to Russia invading Ukraine? Does it mean that I am opposed to the United States getting violently involved in the conflict to protect Ukraine? If I, as a Christian, am pro-life, what would I say if President Biden asked me for my opinion on how America should respond to recent events in Ukraine?
The first thing I would try to explain is that I don’t think that being a Christian means that one must take the position that the governments of this world must embrace pacifism. Of course Christians are commanded to love to their enemies, to do good to their enemies, and to seek peace and pursue it. This is based not only on the commands of our Lord and of his apostles, but also on a strong pro-life understanding that all humans are created to reflect the image of God. To take the life of another human is to destroy an image of the God we serve. Because of this, many assume that Christians should all call the governments of this world to “turn the other cheek”. That’s not actually my understanding of what the Bible teaches. I don’t believe that Jesus and Paul’s instructions for Christians to love their enemies and do good to their enemies was ever intended as instructions for how the governments of this world are to respond to evil.
To the contrary, in Romans 12 and 13, Paul explicitly contrasts the attitudes and actions of Jesus’s disciples with the attitudes and actions of the governments of this world. Paul instructs Christians to “bless those who curse you” (12:14), to “repay no one evil for evil” (12:17), and to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (12:19). Rather than retaliating against enemies, Christians are commanded to overcome evil with good, by giving food and drink to their enemies when they are in need (12:20-21). Then Paul immediately proceeds to say that God “institutes” all the governing authorities as he sees fit (13:1), which is why they “do not bear the sword in vain” (13:4). God institutes these sword-bearing governing authorities as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4).
The point I would try to stress to Mr. Biden is that Paul forbids disciples of Christ from ever engaging in the very activity that he says God uses governments to accomplish, namely the the taking of vengeance against evildoers. We as Christians are to leave vengeance to God, who has promised “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” (12:19). This doesn’t mean that God wants Russia or Ukraine or the United States to act violently, but God does institute (or “organizes”) them and their swords to bring about as much good as possible for his disciples. Part of the good he works to bring about is specifically the punishment of wrongdoers so as to keep evil in check.
I do believe this implies that there are certain “sword bearing” activities that governments take towards their enemies that Christians are forbidden from participating in. But I do think it’s a misunderstanding to think that Christians have a responsibility to try to get their governments to try to take a pacifist position. This is to act as if the New Testament gives instructions on how to reform the kingdoms of this world, when in reality, Jesus came to establish a kingdom that is not of this world.
So what do I think that President Biden should do about the crisis in Ukraine? The most important thing I would stress is that whatever my opinion is – as a Christian – should not be taken as a distinctly Biblical teaching about what Mr. Biden should do in Ukraine. The Bible just doesn’t speak to that directly. Mr. Biden’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. Mr. Putin’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. The kingdoms of this world fight for their self-interest, while we die to ours. Their primary concern is with whatever is most practical. Our primary concern is with what is most faithful. They rely on the power to threaten and take life if necessary, while our confidence is in the power of self-sacrificial love and the hope of resurrection.
In this light, my allegiance to the enemy-loving Jesus probably means that whatever foreign policy advice I might have to offer Mr. Biden might not be very “street smart” when it comes to the best way to lead the American military. Although most Christians, including myself, have plenty of different opinions about how the United States (or Russia or Ukraine for that matter) should handle this situation, the Bible doesn’t give any specifically “Christian” guidance for how to run the governments of this world.
So with that somewhat strange point being stressed, what would say if Mr. Biden asked me what I think he should do about Ukraine? First, I would encourage him to act slowly and think very carefully. There have been numerous examples over the years of the United States acting rashly and violently towards enemies, in what turns out in hindsight to be quite foolish.
I would also encourage Mr. Biden to consider the long-term consequences of his actions. Violence almost always looks like a solution in the short run, but in the long run, violence almost always leads to more violence. How would American intervention against Russia be used in Russia and other countries to harden more people against the United States and be used to recruit a stronger anti-US sentiment in the future? I would encourage Mr. Biden to think about just how little has been accomplished in the middle east after decades of involvement. And if Russia is repelled, and Ukraine regains their peace and sovereignty, how long will this last before they expect us to get involved again?
If Mr. Biden asked for my advice, I would ask him if all other avenues have been exhausted. Have all possible diplomatic solutions been tried? Have we exhausted all attempts to dialogue with Putin? I know the media tries to make him out to be a Hitler-type madman, but ever since the cold War, the US has been able to maintain mostly peaceful relations with Russia. What changed? Is there anything we can possibly do to reopen the door for dialogue and peaceful negotiations?
I also would ask Mr. Biden to consider the costs of getting involved. The Federal Reserve is already struggling as they try to control high inflation without crashing the economy. What kind of impact will it have on the poor if they are asked to finance war expenses on top of everything else?
I would also encourage Mr. Biden to take a position that is principled, and consistent. If he views Ukrainian lives as worth defending, why stop there? Why not defend other innocent life? A great place to start would be to start defending the innocent lives of unborn children at home. If Mr. Biden recognizes Ukrain’s secession and independence from Russia, would he be consistent in peacefully recognizing the independence and sovereignty of one of America’s own states if they were to secede from the United States?
Finally, after what has hopefully been a kind and respectful dialog with Mr. Biden, I would ask for permission to ask a more personal question. Mr. Biden, as a Catholic, claims to follow Jesus. I would ask, “Mr. Biden, how do your reconcile your position as Commander and Chief of the most powerful military in the world with your profession to follow Jesus? What difference would it make if your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus were to surpass your allegiance to the United States? What difference would it make if your allegiance to Jesus were even more important than your allegiance to the Catholic church? Is there a chance that you would be willing to forsake everything else, be immersed in baptism, and begin a new life as a disciple of Christ? Would you be willing to become a citizen of His kingdom, and place your hope in the way of the cross and resurrection? Will you become a part of His church? Until Jesus comes back, there will always be plenty of violent men and women who will happily fill the role you currently fill. But in the long run, what hope does this way offer? When Jesus returns, and his enemies are defeated, don’t you want to make sure you are on his side?”
And finally, I would assure Mr. Biden that I am praying for him, and for Ukraine, and for Mr. Putin and for Russia. Because at the end of the day, I am confident that the prayers of faithful Christians will accomplish much more than violence ever will.