Explainer  Religious Liberty  Public Policy

Explainer: ERLC sends letter to Congress urging support for Ukraine

On April 24, President Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill that provided continued military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan as they face threats and invasion from terrorists and authoritarian regimes. Recognizing the dire and crucial moment Ukraine is facing, as well as Southern Baptists’ longstanding ties to the country, the ERLC drafted and sent a letter to House leadership urging them to “provide additional support” to Ukraine and other allies under threat from malign actors. 

How the ERLC demonstrated support

On April 12, 2024, ERLC President Brent Leatherwood composed a letter addressed to House Speaker Mike Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries expressing the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s support for providing aid to Ukraine. In the letter, Leatherwood highlighted Congress’ “swift response” in support of Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s brutal invasion and the months thereafter but noted how that support has waned among some within the United States government—to the extent that Congress over time “considered ceasing to fund the defense of Ukraine.”

As the mood toward Ukraine shifted among some in Congress, not due to “a shift in policy stance” but because of “a shift in political expediency,” the ERLC, in keeping with the views of the Southern Baptist Convention and its messengers, urged members of Congress to uphold its commitments to America’s allies, so many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

The ERLC is one of several Southern Baptist voices that issued their support for providing aid to Ukraine. On April 8, Daniel Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Richard Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined with Dr. Yaroslav Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, and Valerii Antoniu, president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, to write a similar letter outlining the unique danger that Ukrainian Christians face and urging Congress to continue in its support of our Ukrainian allies. 

Both letters outlined the existential nature of the threats Ukraine faces, the plight of Christians there, America’s responsibility to support our allies who are under siege, and the SBC’s support of America’s commitment to “help maintain order in the world,” historically, and to “stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine” in this moment of trial.

Why the ERLC offered support

There are layers to the ERLC’s support for aiding Ukraine, which prompted its letter to House leadership. 

In February 2022, at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, Russia invaded Ukraine and waged an unjust and unprovoked war against the Ukrainian nation and its people, thrusting Europe and the world into a period of tumult that continues to this day. Since then, Ukraine, a sovereign state,

Assisting Ukraine in defending itself is an essential piece of our larger efforts to protect vulnerable image-bearers and prevent more innocent loss of life.

Likewise, aiding Ukraine has a direct impact on significant Southern Baptist ministry. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has received many Southern Baptists missionaries and even begun to send out missionaries from its churches and institutions. Ukraine has the largest presence of evangelicals and Baptists in Eastern Europe, and those individuals are facing intense persecution in Russian-controlled areas. As of April 20, TIME reported that:

  • “Protestants were the victims of 34 percent of reported persecution events,” and
  • “Under Russian control 400 Baptist congregations have been lost, 17% of the total in Ukraine”—the equivalent of 8,500 Southern Baptist churches in the U.S.

Through “intimidation, expropriation, enforced conversion, and even murder,” the Russians are trying to crush Ukrainian freedom and stamp out “American religion.” 

As Leatherwood noted in the letter, the Baptist Faith and Message, “the foundational document summarizing Southern Baptist beliefs,” states clearly that Christians “should do all in their power to put an end to war,” which necessarily includes “defend[ing] the vulnerable caught in the warfare.”

Moreover, with “the 1967 Resolution On Peace, Southern Baptists affirmed that the United States has rightly committed to ‘defend the right of self-determination by the people of many smaller countries,'” and “we assured our elected officials that ‘we support them in developing strong and wise policies … and in helping to maintain order in the world.'”

At the heart of Southern Baptist faith and practice lies the conviction that the government has the right and responsibility to defend those under threat. We do not wish to see “forever” wars, but sending additional aid to Ukraine is a critical piece of an eventual end to war.

Furthermore, messengers of the SBC voiced their support for Ukraine at the 2022 Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, in a resolution On the War in Ukraine. In that resolution, messengers stated “That we stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the people of Ukraine who have endured these atrocities … while seeking to defend their country from an invasion by a hostile army.” The ERLC’s letter to House leadership was an avenue by which Southern Baptists continued to issue support for Ukraine in its time of need and urge members of Congress to do the same. 

From its foundational documents to subsequent resolutions over the years, the SBC has a long history of supporting the U.S. government’s right and responsibility to help “maintain order in the world,” generally, and defend vulnerable nations and people and their “right of self-determination,” specifically. The ERLC composed and delivered its letter to House leadership because doing so was an act consistent with its Southern Baptist beliefs. 

Why it matters for Christians

Christians care about human suffering, namely when our brothers and sisters are being subjected to the kind of suffering we’re seeing in Ukraine. While Ukraine is thousands of miles from American soil, Christians in America ought not to remain aloof from its war with Russia. Our brothers, sisters, friends, and fellow heirs with Christ are there, under the thumb of an overreaching dictator seeking to do them harm. Putin is actively working to conquer their nation, steal their freedoms, and force them to pledge allegiance to him and “mother Russia.” 

As Southern Baptists, we should wrench at what’s happening in Eastern Europe. Articles XVI (Peace and War) and XVII (Religious Liberty) of the Baptist Faith and Message, two beliefs that are fundamental Southern Baptist convictions, are being actively and intentionally threatened in Ukraine. And our brothers and sisters are being subjected to extreme suffering because of their allegiance to Christ and their identification with the Baptist faith.

We should remain steadfast in our support of Ukraine as a nation and in our support of our Christian brothers and sisters who are enduring “imprisonment and persecution” (Acts 20:23) and being “exposed to death again and again” (2 Cor. 11:23). As Christians in America, let us use our freedoms to pray and advocate for our friends in Ukraine and our nation’s resources to support them in their days of great need.

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