In many ways this is far more of a reflection on our last meeting on April 7th than a summary, which would be difficult, given the range of topics we briefly mentioned.
Our reading was from Jeremiah chapter 23 about true and false prophecy: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way.” (verses 21 and 22).
Jeremiah’s situation was one of extreme national tension, one in which disagreement could easily flare up into anger and accusations of betrayal. Threatened by the Babylonian invasion people were desperately looking for leadership how to respond to the danger. The reaction of many was to resist, trusting in God who would protect his own people against the overwhelming might of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah’s “wisdom” was the reverse- accept the invasion as a consequence of their own foolish policies, learn the lesson from it, and “seek the welfare of the city” where you are in exile (chapter 29, verse 7). Little wonder that Jeremiah was branded a defeatist and a traitor, opposed by all the “patriotic” prophets (see chapters 27 and 28 for the dramatic story of the conflict between the two).
In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine we are confronted with two (at least) conflicting versions of its causes and consequences. One, presented to us consistently in our own media, depicts Putin as an autocratic leader (compared by some to Adolph Hitler) who is determined to restore the Russia he knew from his younger days of the Soviet Union, has always seen Ukraine as an integral part of the Russian State (or “Empire”?) and is prepared to use brutal force to destroy its independence and bring it once more under Russian control.
But there is another narrative, even if we accept the truth of some elements in that first account. First a quote from an article written in 1999 for the World Socialist Website, dealing with the war against Serbia, justified then as needed to protect Kosovo and its Albanian population:
“the dismantling of the USSR has created a power vacuum in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia that makes a new division of the world inevitable. The principal significance of Yugoslavia, at this critical juncture, is that it lies on the Western periphery of a massive swathe of territory into which the major world powers aim to expand…….. Unfolding is a struggle for access to the region and control over its raw materials, labor and markets”.
The expansion of the European Union and NATO eastwards to Russia’s borders is then understood as part of this reaching out to the East, with the destruction of an autonomous Russian economy in the 1990s as part of the same process, a bitter experience that precipitated Putin into power to seek its reversal.
Today the current conflict in Ukraine is depicted as the result of Russia’s power grab in Crimea and the Donbass. But to quote Jacques Baud, a former Policy Chief for United Nations Peace Operations:
“The referendums conducted by the two self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in May 2014, were not referendums of “independence”…… to separate from Ukraine, but to have a status of autonomy, guaranteeing them the use of the Russian language as an official language. For the first legislative act of the new government resulting from the overthrow of President Yanukovych, was the abolition, on 23 February 2014, of the…… law of 2012 that made Russian an official language…… This decision caused a storm in the Russian-speaking population. The result was a fierce repression against the Russian-speaking regions (Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk) which was carried out beginning in February 2014 and led to a militarization of the situation.”
And what of attempts to end the war by negotiation? Richard Miller, Professor Emeritus in Ethics and Public Life at Cornell University, in a “CounterPunch” article of April 28th, says:
“Ukraine-Russia negotiations aiming at Ukrainian neutrality could have provided an off-ramp from carnage. On March 16, the chief Ukrainian negotiator and the chief Russian negotiator separately declared openness to such a settlement, openness affirmed by Zelensky on March 21. Progress was impeded by Biden’s naming Putin ‘a war criminal’ on March 16, his declaration the next day that ‘Putin is ‘a pure thug,’ and the March 20 assertion by the US ambassador to the UN, ‘the Russians have not leaned into any possibility for a negotiated and diplomatic solution.’…… These hypotheses ….. support impeding those negotiations as doomed endeavors when counterforce was needed, despite the continued carnage it guaranteed.”
Our own Liz Truss speaks of the need to drive Russia completely out of Ukraine. There have been suggestions that the Russian Orthodox Church should be expelled from the World Council of Churches for its support of Putin and his “special military operation”, although other Christian groups refuse to shut down communication, recognising that there is not one simple story of good and evil in this situation.
So who are the false prophets and who is speaking God’s wisdom in this crisis? And how can we tell the difference?