By / Mar 11

As Russia continues to illegally wage war on Ukraine, new information breaks every few days, especially as this conflict is lived out in a digital age that offers 24/7, real-time access. Below are several important developments that you should know and pray about. 

Refugees flee to neighboring European countries. 

According to United Nations data, over 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine since February 24. (The total population of the country is around 44 million.) A spokesperson for UNICEF told NBC News that at least half of them are children, some of whom have been forced to travel on their own. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that this is the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The majority of Ukranians who have fled the fighting have gone to neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania. Nearly 100,000, though, have gone to more distant countries such as Germany, France, and the U.K. Around 1.33 million people arrived in Poland, according to Poland’s embassy to the European Union, and Germany’s interior ministry registered a total of 80,035 refugees. 

Russia accused of bombing a children’s hospital

On Wednesday, the Russians proposed a 12-hour ceasefire to provide evacuation corridors from select cities such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. But during that time period, Russian forces reportedly bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol that killed three people, including one child. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the bombing was “proof of a genocide.”

The United Nations Human Rights Office says that at least 549 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. 

Governments and multinational corporations impose additional sanctions on Russia

President Joe Biden announced a U.S. ban on imports of oil, natural gas, and coal from Russia. U.S. imports from Russia account for only 8% of America’s energy, of which only about 3% was crude oil. The EU also plans to cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds this year, and the U.K. says it will phase out “the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.”

The U.K. has also frozen the assets of seven Russian oligarchs, including one that owns an English soccer team. Additionally, the U.K. has made it a criminal offense for Russian aircraft to enter British airspace. 

A number of international companies have also imposed voluntary sanctions. The list of companies includes Apple, Disney, Ford, MasterCard, McDonalds, and Visa. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced they would be pulling some products from the country.

“The private sector is united against Russia’s vicious war of choice,” said President Biden. 

Russians shut down Chernobyl nuclear plant

On the first day of the invasion, Russian forces seized control of the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The plant was disconnected from the state’s power grid which led the Ukrainian government to warn of possible radiation leak.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says there has been “no critical impact” to the safety of Chernobyl. According to IAEA, the “heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at #Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant [is] sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply.”

Ukraine’s energy minister said the country is doing “everything possible” to restore the electricity supply to the power plant “as soon as possible.”

U.S. denies transfer of Polish fighter planes

Poland offered to provide more than two dozen military aircraft to Ukraine. The government of Poland said it could transfer its 28 MiG-29 fighter planes to a U.S. military base — Ramstein Air Base in Germany — where they could then be given to the Ukranians.

But the chief spokesperson for the Pentagon and the head of the U.S. European Command both announced that the U.S. wouldn’t take part in an agreement to give warplanes to Poland after it sends its fleet to Ukraine. “We do not support the transfer of the fighters to the Ukrainian air force at this time and have no desire to see them in our custody either,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby

As this tragic war wages on, Christians should fight for peace through persistent prayer and advocacy in our sphere of influence. Our hope is that God, in his sovereignty and mercy, can bring this conflict to an end and spare lives. The Bible says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). We ought to fervently pray that God would turn President Putin’s heart away from war, that he would protect those in harm’s way, and that he would give leaders in the U.S. and around the world the wisdom and fortitude to do what’s right.  

By / Mar 10

“I need ammunition, not a ride.” Those words sound like they could have been taken right out of the script for Band of Brothers. Instead, they were supposedly spoken several weeks ago in the context of a present war by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he politely rejected an offer from the United States to evacuate him from his country ahead of Russia’s cruel and violent invasion. 

Zelenskyy, a former comedy actor, was elected president of Ukraine in 2019 on 73% of the popular vote. Presenting himself as an “everyman” and rejecting the pomp that usually accompanies high office, he was elected on the promise of eliminating corruption and negotiating peace in his country’s war-torn regions. In his mid-40s with a family that includes two young children, Zelenskyy seems the least likely candidate to be leading the military defense of his overmatched nation. No one would have blamed him for taking the offer to evacuate.

C.S. Lewis and the four cardinal virtues

It’s been nearly eight decades since the last large-scale ground invasion of a sovereign European nation by another nation. As Nazi bombs fell on his native land during that worldwide conflict, a university professor by the name of C.S. Lewis, himself a veteran of the First World War, gave a series of radio broadcasts that would later become the book known today as Mere Christianity

In a time of great uncertainty, Lewis’ voice filled the airwaves with a message of hope. In a world of violent division, Lewis offered his fellow citizens the opportunity for unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ. With his words he sought to construct a section of solid ground to steady the wobbly feet of a war-weary people. Those talks are still widely read today.

In his presentation of “mere Christianity,” Lewis briefly treated the four cardinal virtues — character traits that “all civilized people recognize.” These virtues are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. In his brief treatment of fortitude, Lewis defines the virtue as “both kinds of courage — the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain.” He then writes, “You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.”

The importance of fortitude (courage)

It’s this last point that interests me. How does fortitude, or courage, apply to the practice of all the other virtues? Lewis doesn’t elaborate further in Mere Christianity. If you want his deeper thoughts on the subject, you must turn to The Screwtape Letters, written during that same Second World War-period, in which the senior demon Screwtape advises his nephew demon Wormwood on how best to tempt human beings.

In letter 29, Screwtape references the war and turns his demented attention to the subject of how to use war to tempt humans away from God and virtue. Here Lewis writes, from the perspective of the demon, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky” (Mark 15:15).

Without courage, Lewis says, you can’t have any true virtue, because courage is necessary to persevere in any virtue through trial and danger. Without courage, our mercy will fail as soon as opposition arises. Without courage, our honesty will give way to deceit as soon as the pressure mounts. Without courage, we are victims to the whims of circumstances beyond our control. One needs courage or all virtue fails.

No one knew how Zelenskyy would respond in leading his country in the face of a demented tyrant with intimidating military power at his disposal. Thus far, the leader of Ukraine has shown the world that, contrary to what we’ve seen among many global leaders recently, virtue is not dead. In Zelenskyy, the world is watching courage on display, and he deserves our full support. As we mourn for the people of Ukraine, we should rejoice in the example of virtuous fortitude on display in Zelenskyy and so many others in Ukraine.

Cultivation of virtue depends on living pictures. We need to see examples of virtue being lived so that we will have well-trod trails in the wilderness of our own experience to follow. Christian people have always understood this. We know that we can only love and learn how to love by looking to the God who is love (1 John 4:16). Christ himself said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How does Christ love us? Courageously, all the way to the cross and beyond.

Christ embodies all true virtue perfectly, including the courage that holds it all together. But in the example of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, we see an imperfect man willing to give his life for his country, and we are reminded that courageous virtue can still be found in unexpected places.

By / Mar 4

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss war refugee estimates by the UN, the State of the Union address, and SBC president updates, including Ed Litton not running for reelection and Willy Rice running for election. They also talk about how war reveals objective truth and a new ERLC resource for information regarding the Mississippi abortion case. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. War refugees | Axios: UN estimates 1 million refugees from the crisis
  2. French president talks to Putin | CNN: Macron believes “worst is yet to come” for Russian invasion
  3. State of the Union | BP
  4. SBC president updates | BP: Ed Litton announces he will not run for reelection and  Pastor Willy Rice announces run for SBC president
  5. Baseball | Yahoo Sports: MLB cancels Opening Day

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By / Mar 1

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Biden announced last week that the United States, along with Allies and partners, will be imposing “severe and immediate” economic sanctions on Russia.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said in an address last Thursday. “Today, I am authorizing additional strong sanctions and new limitations on what can be exported to Russia. This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time.”

Here is what you should know about the economic sanctions being imposed on Russia.

What are sanctions?

As applied to international relations, the term sanctions refers to coercive measures taken by either nations or international bodies to deter, punish, rehabilitate, or shame foreign countries or foreign nationals into changing their behavior. Sanctions generally take one of five forms: diplomatic, economic, individual, military, and sports. The type of sanctions by the Biden administration are a mix of individual and economic sanctions.

Individual sanctions target individual foreign nationals who have the power or influence to change an unwanted policy or because they are connected to a leader who does.

Economic sanctions are the withdrawal of customary trade and financial relations for foreign and security policy purposes. (“Customary” refers to the levels of trade or financial activity that would probably have occurred in the absence of sanctions.) Economic sanctions can take numerous forms, including freezing of economic assets, restraints on capital, restrictions on trade, and reductions in foreign aid.

What sanctions have been imposed?

Biden has imposed sanctions on six Russian elites and their family members: Sergei Ivanov (and his son, Sergei), Nikolai Patrushev (and his son Andrey), Igor Sechin (and his son Ivan), Andrey Puchkov, Yuriy Solviev (and two real estate companies he owns), Galina Ulyutina, and Alexander Vedyakhin. According to the White House, “these individuals and their relatives directly benefit from their connections with the Kremlin.” These sanctions cut these men off from the U.S. financial system, freeze any assets they hold in the U.S., and block their travel to our country.

Individual sanctions have also been imposed on 24 Belarusian individuals that have supported the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The U.S. and the European Union are also planning to put sanctions on Russian President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. 

More broad based economic sanctions include severing the connection to the U.S. financial system for two of Russia’s largest financial institutions, Sberbank (and its 25 subsidiaries) and VTB Bank (and its 20 subsidiaries). 

The White House says this action will restrict Sberbank’s access to transactions made in the U.S. dollar. Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets, is heavily connected to the global financial system, and is systemically critical to the Russian financial system. This action will ​​ freeze any of VTB’s assets touching the U.S financial system and prohibit U.S. persons from dealing with them. VTB holds nearly one-fifth of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets, is heavily exposed to the U.S. and Western financial systems, and is systemically critical to the Russian financial system. Sanction are also imposed on three other major Russian financial institutions and their 34 subsidiaries 

New debt and equity restrictions are also being put on 13 Russian state-owned enterprises and entities: Sberbank, AlfaBank, Credit Bank of Moscow, Gazprombank, Russian Agricultural Bank, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Transneft, Rostelecom, RusHydro, Alrosa, Sovcomflot, and Russian Railways. These entities, says the White House, including companies critical to the Russian economy with estimated assets of nearly $1.4 trillion, will not be able to raise money through the U.S. market. This action will limit the Russian government’s ability to raise money for its war in Ukraine.

Restrictive measures have also been added that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions.

The U.S. has also joined other countries in ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system, which ensures those banks are “disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally.”

A broad range of restrictions have also been put on exports that could help Russia’s military. Exports of nearly all U.S. items and items produced in foreign countries using certain U.S.-origin software, technology, or equipment will be restricted to targeted military end users. These restrictions apply to the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Russia. 

Who in the U.S. has authority to impose sanctions against Russia?

U.S. law gives authority to impose sanctions to both the president (through executive orders) and the legislative branch.

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) gives the pres­id­ent broad powers to declare an international emergency and impose economic sanc­tions if there exists an “unusual and extraordin­ary threat, which has its source in whole or substan­tial part outside the United States, to the national secur­ity, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” Congress has the ability to pass a resolution to terminate such emergencies, but the president could veto such a resolution.

Congress also has the authority to impose sanctions, but they more commonly build on existing sanctions programs that are introduced by the executive branch.

Who actually imposes sanctions for the U.S. government?

Economic sanctions are typically administered by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Currently, OFAC administers 37 different sanctions programs, which does not yet include the new Russian sanctions.

By / Feb 28

On Feb. 24, the world watched in horror as Russian forces, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, began the invasion of neighboring Ukraine in an unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression. Airstrikes, heavy artillery, and infantry rained down on cities across Ukraine, including the capital of Kyiv. Through real-time updates on social media and wall-to-wall coverage on news outlets, we are able to see the horrors of war as never before. The Ukrainian people are proud and have valiantly continued to fight for their country against the Russian invaders who have been sold a bill of lies by the Kremlin. Putin, a totalitarian leader, is set on returning Russia to a past era of world dominance.

Images and videos have poured in to highlight the resiliency and determination of the Ukrainian people and the widespread support from all around the world. Alongside a recognition of the virtuous heroism on display from men and women throughout Ukraine, there has also been a resounding call from nations and people around the world rightly labeling this deadly invasion as evil and morally unjustifiable. It is nearly impossible to see what is taking place in Ukraine and to turn a blind eye toward the horrors of war and the reality of human suffering on display. Families have been ripped apart, civilians murdered, and thousands of soldiers have already been killed. While there are fringe voices aligning themselves with the Russian regime and its strong-man mentality, it is striking how unified voices have been in support of the Ukraine people under the incredible leadership of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Objective evil

One of the many things this crisis is revealing through the level of unified Ukrainian support is that there are certain objective and innate moral truths in the hearts of human beings all across the world. People from across political and ideological viewpoints are acknowledging these moral realities at play here, whether they recognize it or not. We are correctly calling this invasion evil and the intentions of the Russian regime morally wrong. And this is all taking place as our societies routinely act as if ethics is subjective and simply a human construct.

It is nearly impossible to see this type of devastation and the loss of human life in war as morally inconsequential or permissible. It is objectively wrong. In the comforts of peacetime or a relatively safe environment, it is easier to placate the claims of moral relativism or nihilism as we delude ourselves into acting as if objective moral categories do not exist or that we ultimately define our own realities. These tragic and devastating events can serve as a helpful reminder for all of us that deep down, each of us knows that there is an objectivity to good and evil — even if we suppress those truths in our unrighteousness and pride (Romans 1). This suppression is clearly seen today as the rallying cry of our age is moral autonomy and a hyper-individualism, where what is ethical and good is simply what we want to be true.

The foundation of morality

But God has created each of us in his image and with the capacity to know good and evil. In our sin, we delude ourselves into believing the lies that we are morally autonomous and independent of him who created us (Gen. 1:26-28; James 1:17; Roman 2:6). But as apologist Cornelius Van Til wrote in Christian Theistic Ethics, God did not create us as “intellectual and moral blank[s].” He created us to know him as well as certain truths about ourselves and the world around us. Without a Creator and created order, evil itself wouldn’t bother us or cause us to well up with righteous indignation like many of us are in light of these tragedies. Theologian Thomas F. Torrance explains this in Divine and Contingent Order writing, “evil would present no problem to us at all—we wouldn’t even be aware of it—if there were no objective and coherent rational order.” 

As created and dependent beings, we simply can not avoid using this type of moral language in light of these tragedies. It is rooted in our creation as image-bearers. In light of war and tragedy, we lose the ability to hide behind our false visions of subjective morality. But in moments like these, we are confronted with this fact — none of us truly live independent of God regardless of what we tell ourselves or what truths we suppress in our desire to be like God, defining what is good (Gen. 3:4-5).

As we continue to pray for the people of Ukraine and support various efforts to aid them in their fight against these invaders, let us remember the truth that what is taking place before our eyes is evil, but good will ultimately prevail — if not in this life than in the next (Revelation 21-22). We pray for peace and for justice because we instinctively know, as God’s image-bearers, that what we are witnessing through this devastating crisis in Ukraine is a battle between good and evil. No matter the intent of the Russian regime to alter the truth or peddle misinformation, there are objective moral standards that God himself has communicated to humanity through his world and in his Word.

By / Feb 25

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the decline of global democracy, and the Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial. They also talk about the Queen’s recovery from COVID-19 and pursuing racial unity in the SBC. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. NBC News – Russia Launches Illegal Invasion of Ukraine
  2. Russia launched attacks on Ukraine from multiple fronts
  3. Putin’s speech
  4. Ukrainian president as a target
  5. Axios – Global democracy declines for 16th year, annual index finds
  6. CBS News – Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial
  7. NBC News – Queen postpones more events after Covid positive

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By / Feb 25

If justice were to prevail in Ukraine, Russia would cease military operations, withdraw from the country, return Crimea and Donbas to Ukrainian control, publicly apologize, and provide restitution to Ukraine — and Vladimir Putin would resign the Russian presidency and turn himself in for a war crimes trial. Absent divine intervention, that will not happen. What, then, can we hope and pray for? What would a just end to the Russo-Ukrainian War look like? 

In my recent book on just war, I stressed the importance of working to achieve justice and peace in, through, and after war. Many debates about just war focus overmuch on the justice of starting wars. Was it justified to invade or not? (Spoiler: no). But justice demands much more of statesmen than that they fulfill a short checklist of criteria, as if just war were designed to be a permission slip for invasion. 

For a war to be just, it must result in lasting conditions of justice and peace in the aftermath — even if flawed and fallible, as all orders of justice and peace are in this fallen world. Russia cannot achieve justice in the aftermath of an unjust invasion, and whatever peace might befall Ukraine in the wake of a Russian conquest would be the peace of tyranny. As Tacitus said of the Romans, so too the Russians might succeed in creating a desert, and calling it peace. There is no justice in a Russian victory. 

What do justice and peace look like for Ukraine?

The harder question is for the Ukrainians and the international backers who are providing it with weapons and moral support and waging economic war on Russia through sanctions. What kind of justice or peace can we achieve? Is any achievable? Do we have any reasonable chance of success?

That depends on the course of the war, and it is hard to say in advance what might happen. But we can think through some scenarios. One scenario might look like this: If sanctions hurt hard enough, and the Ukrainian military holds out long enough, Putin may decide to shorten the war and only hold on to small portions of eastern Ukraine and Crimea and pull back from the rest. He will have proven his point about his ability to hold Ukraine hostage — indeed, hold European security hostage — and could likely count on the Ukrainian government being effectively cowed into submission for the foreseeable future. 

In that case, lasting peace may require Kyiv and its international backers to agree to some kind of permanent neutrality, as Finland and Austria agreed to after World War II. Ukraine’s president hinted at his willingness to consider such an outcome in the opening hours of the invasion. Neutrality would allow something like normal life to continue in Ukraine and reduce the likelihood of renewed fighting. It would also enable economic life to resume, along with international aid, investment, and development, helping Ukraine escape the trap of state failure and frozen conflicts. 

Here is another scenario: Russia seems to win a quick victory, then gets bogged down in an intractable insurgency in western Ukraine and in the big cities. The war drags on for years and destroys much of Ukrainian infrastructure and civic life, yet in the end the Russians are forced to withdraw, much as they were from Afghanistan in 1989. 

In that case, Ukraine would be whole, free, and seemingly at peace. It would also be shattered, impoverished, and dangerously prone to civil war between its pro-western half west of the Dnieper and its Russian-speaking population primarily on the east side.

In this scenario, justice and peace would require a much larger, longer, and more expensive international effort to bring Ukraine back into the family of nations. It would require billions in reconstruction and stabilization assistance, and possibly a U.N. monitoring mission to ensure Russia stays out and Ukrainians stay together. 

How do we relate to Russia after the war?

In either scenario, the hardest part of the question is how the world should relate to Russia after the war. Just war requires justice and peace for all combatants, not just the victor or the victim. How do we work toward justice and peace with Russia when its government has been guilty of one of the most flagrant, dangerous, and lethal acts of international aggression in generations? 

That will, again, depend on the manner of the war’s end and the Russian government’s behavior. Assuming Putin retains power and remains unrepentant, it is likely the United States and its allies will have to move toward something like the Cold War policy of containment. Keep sanctions in place, move to isolate and cut off Russia from the resources of the developed world, and work patiently — and peacefully, so far as possible — to limit and push back on Russian influence throughout the world. It will be a generational effort.

If Putin loses power — as Soviet leaders did in the aftermath of their defeat in Afghanistan — then the world has both greater opportunity and responsibility. The last time Russia went through a regime change, the world squandered the opportunity to help Russia transition to a more just, transparent, accountable regime that respects human rights and human dignity. Instead, Russia spent the 1990s deteriorating into a corrupt oligarchy, and the 2000s into a restored and rearmed authoritarian great power implacably opposed to the free world, all while the developed world took a holiday from history and lost two wars fighting terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. 

We should not aim at violent regime change in Russia — the stakes of provoking a nuclear power are too great. But if Putin brings himself down through folly and overstretch — and videos of anti-war protests across Russia in the opening days of the invasion suggest Putin’s grip on power is not as solid as he wants the world to believe — we will face one of the best opportunities in 30 years to help a great power move — at last — toward greater justice and peace. It would be a herculean undertaking, but to fail again would invite catastrophe. 

By / Feb 25

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and launched attacks on cities and airports throughout the country, including near the capital, Kyiv. According to The New York Times, “​​Russian troops moved across the Ukrainian border in multiple areas at once, landing in the port city of Odessa in the south and crossing the eastern border into Kharkiv, the second largest city.” The attack sadly unfolded exactly in line with President Biden’s repeated, dire predictions. Putin, who wields the largest estimated nuclear stockpile in the world, threatened that nations “will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history” for interfering with his invasion.

Ukrainian forces are fighting back and have reportedly shot down six Russian fighters and a helicopter but in all likelihood are no match for the powerful Russian forces. Ukrainian President Zelensky announced that they “will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country” and urged his countrymen to “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.” Ukraine has a population of more than 44 million people, and panic swept over the country this morning as many could see and feel the impact of the initial attacks with runs on banks and gas stations being reported. Images of long lines of vehicles fleeing west have been widely seen. 

This is the largest ground invasion in Europe since World War II. More than 40 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed with dozens more injured. Both figures are expected to rise. 

In addition to the senseless loss and destruction of human lives, there are multiple reasons why we should care about what’s happening between Ukraine and Russia. These reasons are grounded in geopolitical perspectives, humanitarian concerns, and biblical realities.

Ukraine is a sovereign country and a U.S. ally

One of the reasons why Russia’s illegal invasion is so important to pay attention to is because Ukraine is not only a sovereign country but also a democratic partner of the United States. Global leaders cannot invade other nations and claim territory without consequences. Ukraine not only has strategic importance to Europe, but also to the United States. Although Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is aligned with the United States and other NATO nations in Eastern Europe. As former Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor stated, “if Ukraine succeeds, we succeed. The relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security, and Americans should care about Ukraine.”

Putin plainly wants to undo the post-Cold War settlement, restore Russian arms and glory, and force the world to recognize Russia’s place as a global superpower on the international stage. This act of aggression and destabilization fundamentally shifts the previous world order and also further emboldens other authoritarian leaders to seize power around the world.

Cyber attacks could trigger Article 5 of NATO

Although President Biden has emphatically and repeatedly stated that U.S. troops will not be sent to Ukraine, it is possible that Putin will push his attack outside of Ukraine and into neighboring NATO nations. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that “ . . . an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” NATO has added “cyber” to the definition of possible attacks that could trigger Article 5. 

While it is possible that Putin could attack a NATO nation through traditional means, it is thought to be more likely that cyberwarfare could be used. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has outlined two ways the U.S. could be drawn into the conflict through digital warfare: the deployment of cyber weapons in Ukraine that spread to neighboring NATO countries or retaliation against western sanctions through direct cyber attacks targeting key U.S. and NATO member-nation infrastructure.

Russia’s invasion could cause a refugee crisis in Central Europe

As the first attacks were waged in Ukraine, citizens quickly began to flee west, with many attempting to seek refuge in Poland. It has been reported that as many as 5 million people could be displaced as refugees by the war, creating the largest influx of refugees in Europe since the Syrian crisis in 2015. 

Poland has already begun preparing to receive these refugees by setting up hospitals and reception centers at its border. The Polish government has also announced that they will accept up to 1 million Ukrainian refugees if necessary. Other Central European nations have also pledged to host refugees and offer humanitarian aid as the situation unfolds, and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on these governments to open their borders and has promised support for those that do. As the crisis continues and violence potentially spreads, Western Europe and the United States must also make preparations to open its doors to these vulnerable refugees. 

The Ukrainian Church

Ukraine is home to a vibrant Church and a number of missionaries. Joshua Tokar, director of English language services at Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary, noted, “Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The church is very strong. As far as Europe is concerned, the Ukrainian church is perhaps the strongest and is doing the most for education, training, and sending out workers.”

Many serving in Ukraine have made the difficult decision to relocate out of the country while others have chosen to remain. As Russia invades and potentially seeks a regime change, it is likely that these Christian brothers and sisters, as well as those of other religious minorities, will face intense persecution and human rights abuses. Those that have chosen to stay are committed to meeting the needs of their neighbors as they are able and have said, “When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.”

What’s next?

The European Union announced announced the strongest package of sanctions ever delivered by the coalition of nations against Russia. The United States had already sanctioned two Russian banks and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, and in an address to the nation today, President Biden, alongside the G7 leaders, announced additional, more severe sanctions on four more Russian banks and on some exports to Russia. It has also been reported that President Biden could consider massive cyberattacks against Russia for its actions, if provoked. The president had already repositioned thousands of troops in NATO countries in Eastern Europe and announced today the sending of additional troops to Germany and NATO’s Eastern Flank to bolster the alliance’s efforts.

Here in the United States, the crisis will continue to increase already high gas prices as Russia is the world’s second largest natural gas producer and third largest oil producer. Punchbowl news reported, “As of 5:30 this morning, the price of WTI crude oil was $100 per barrel, the highest it has been since 2014. The White House has said that it may release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help keep U.S. gas prices down.”

As Congress attempts to finalize and pass an omnibus spending bill funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year ahead of the March 11 deadline, there will be growing pressure for the inclusion of additional defense and humanitarian aid in the spending package. 

A call to prayer

Ultimately, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine. We should urgently cry out to God in prayer for the people of Ukraine. We’ve listed a few ways you can pray specifically below. And this guide from Send Relief has additional suggestions.

  • Pray that Christians and missionaries in Ukraine would hope in the Lord and that many would come to saving faith in Christ through their witness.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine as war begins and that their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray that those fleeing the country and those who will be unable to return home will find a Christlike welcome and a home in a new nation.
  • Pray for President Biden and global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions and attempt to respond with wisdom and discernment.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from Ukraine and not pursue additional aggression.

In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.

By / Feb 18

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the ERLC’s board of trustees voting to move forward with the sexual abuse assessment of the SBC, a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the pandemic slowing and becoming endemic. They also discuss evaluating our social media engagement and the SBC’s history within the pro-life movement.

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  1. Sexual Abuse Assessment of the SBC 
  2. Russian amassing more troops on Ukrainian border
  3. Russia invasion likely in next few days
  4. U.S. sends more aid to Poland as preparation for conflict continues
  5. America’s uneven pandemic off ramp

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By / Feb 3

The tensions mounting between Russia and Ukraine are cause for grave concern. As Vladimir Putin teeters on the edge of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, many are understandably voicing deep concern about the potential ramifications for the world order. But often lost in this conversation are the citizens of these countries who will suffer greatly in the face of conflict. And for me, the situation in this particular region is deeply personal.

I was born in Bucharest, Romania, and adopted as an infant. My family is built through adoption, and I have a brother from Romania, four siblings from Russia, and a cousin from Ukraine. Over a decade ago, I visited Romania. As I strolled through the streets of Bucharest, the remnants of communism existed in the bleak, colorless buildings that lined the streets — a visual reminder of its former life as the Socialist Republic of Romania. Like many of its neighbors, Romania was a Communist country for decades, and its citizens lived under a brutal dictatorship. The people of the Eastern Bloc were isolated from the rest of the world and faced issues such as starvation and poverty. But the year 1989 turned out to be a pivotal year for the countries in the Soviet orbit as unrest ultimately led to reforms.

It was then that the Iron Curtain fell. Unfortunately, after initial democratic progress was made, Russia now finds itself looking increasingly like an authoritarian regime. The Russian government is a particularly severe violator of religious freedom, earning the designation as a “country of particular concern” from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). According to USCIRF, “in 2020, religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated. The government continued to target “nontraditional” religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges. Russian legislation criminalizes “extremism” without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.”

Praying for the people of Ukraine and Russia

In a globally-connected world, what happens on the other side of the globe affects all of us. As my colleague Jason Thacker writes, “The tensions in Eastern Europe should concern us all given the worldwide effects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only does the prospect of a ground war raise concerns about major unrest in the region, untold loss of life, and the possible inclusion of other major powers in the conflict, but this situation also indicates what Russia may seek to do in the coming years.”

But more than that, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine and Russia. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” People will dialogue and debate about what our response to the crisis should be, but, above all, we should endeavor to pray for the people in those two countries. Here are a few ways you can pray:

  • Pray for Christians in Ukraine and Russia, that they would not place their ultimate trust or hope in government leaders, but would firmly fix their eyes on the Lord. 
  • Pray for the missionaries in both countries, that they’ll continue to boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel and that many might come to a saving faith in Christ.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine and Russia, that amid the geopolitical tensions, their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray for global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions, that they would act with wisdom.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from conflict with Ukraine. 

Times of trial and suffering are often used by God to draw people to himself. And we should ask, seek, and knock with confidence that this would be the case with the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine. In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.