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General Synod digest: call to respect Ukraine’s sovereign status

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, presents his report

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, presents his report


THE Russian invasion of Ukraine was lamented by the General Synod on Monday, after a debate that started on Friday afternoon and was adjourned over the weekend.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, introduced the motion. He said that it was important to debate the topic, both because of the wide impact of the conflict, and because of the prominence of a church aspect to the war.

Ukraine’s sovereign status must be respected, he said, but it did not follow that military force alone would suffice to reverse Russia’s territorial gains.

Bishop Baines highlighted a section in the discussion paper that accompanied the motion and that urged the Government not to pursue wider geopolitical aims under the guise of helping Ukraine. Bishop Baines also posed questions about the “serious human damage” that sanctions inflicted.

Jane Evans (Leeds) supported the motion, and described the situation in Ukraine as “complex, delicate, and not as black and white as we might like to think”.

Fr Stephen Maxfield (Greek Orthodox Church) emphasised that “nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies this war.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury praised Bishop Baines’s “magisterial” speech, and emphasised that “peacemaking requires humility and sacrifice”. He noted, however, that peace also “needs confrontation” sometimes, as Jesus had demonstrated “with those opposing him”.

Archpriest Stephen Platt (Russian Orthodox Church) thanked the authors of the discussion papers for a “nuanced and sensitive response”, and urged the C of E to keep its channels of communication open

The war was “atrocious and unjustifiable”, Fr Platt said, but he also quoted Pope Francis, who recently said: “We do not see the whole drama behind the war.”

Clive Scowen (London) proposed an amendment to add “justly” to the call to pray that “the war in Ukraine be ended”. “Peace without justice is not justice at all, and will not last,” Mr Scowen said.

Bishop Baines said that he would not resist the amendment, as “you can’t argue against justice”; but it was important to consider who decided “what equals a just solution”.

The Revd Shaun Morris (Lichfield) spoke about his family’s experience of hosting refugees from Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine. “There can be no reconciliation without forgiveness, and no forgiveness without repentance,” he said. It was hard to see how repentance could be reached if Russia did not leave the Donbas and Crimea.

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, spoke on the nuclear aspect of the conflict, and reminded the Synod that such weapons were unique in the “existential threat” that they posed.

The amendment was carried.

A second amendment, moved by the Revd Jack Shepherd (Liverpool), which sought to bolster the paragraph on refugees by adding “hospitality” to the offer of “long-term refuge”, was also carried. Again, Bishop Baines welcomed the amendment, but asked why, if the UK was being so generous with hospitality, more was not being done for those who fled Afghanistan last year.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesArchpriest Stephen Platt (ecumenical representative for the Russian Orthodox Church)

Canon Martin Gainsborough (Bristol) expressed concern about the breakdown of a rules-based international order, and said that it was important that this should be regained for the sake of security in Europe.

The debate was adjourned. When it was resumed on Monday morning, Nadine Daniel (Liverpool) referred to her experience of working with refugees, and said: “We are called and impelled by Christ to offer hospitality.”

The amendment was carried.

A further amendment was moved by the Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich), on Mr Scowen’s behalf, to call on the Government to secure a “just peace” rather than a “negotiated peace”. “This is the end we want to achieve by the means of negotiation, and other means as necessary,” Dr Richmond said.

Bishop Baines did not resist the amendment, but said that it was important to focus on negotiation as a means. He would have preferred the term to be kept alongside “just”.

Daniel Matovu (Oxford) spoke of the experience of “black and brown refugees from Ukraine” who had faced discrimination as they fled the country. Europe’s response to the refugee crisis suggested that it was “justice just for white Ukrainians”, he said.

Ms Evans spoke again to emphasise the importance of negotiation.

After a show of hands on the amendment was too close to call, a counted vote was held. The amendment narrowly lost by 147 to 137, with 29 recorded abstentions.

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, thanked those who had supported the joint appeal by USPG and the diocese in Europe. He said that the Church should be “careful about our language” when it came to the war — to speak of peace, and to avoid the “demonisation” of Russian people or culture.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Canterbury), said that the Church must pray for a “calibre of leadership that isn’t simply going to be looking at their own self-interest”.

The Revd Professor Morwenna Ludlow (Exeter) drew attention to the so-called “Russian world” ideology, and a rebuttal of it by a group of Orthodox theologians (News, 25 March). It was important, she said, to “express our true Christian values”.

In his closing remarks, Bishop Baines reiterated his view that “nothing justifies what Putin has done”; but to understand the conflict it was necessary to “look through the lens of Russia, and Putin in particular”. He said: “In all the complexity, we need to pray simply, and with very few words: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

The motion was carried: by 323-2, with two recorded abstentions. It reads:


That this Synod, committed in Christ to support peacemakers and to work for the reconciliation of humanity to God in a world marked by division and conflict:

(a) lament Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the suffering and terror experienced by Ukrainians and the repercussions and anxiety felt globally for our common future;

(b) urge all Christians and people of faith to pray that the war in Ukraine be ended justly, that the risk of strategic miscalculation between conflicting parties be avoided and that the Russian people find respite from an authoritarian government;

(c) call on each diocese and each parish to work towards providing long term refuge and hospitality to refugees from Ukraine and other conflicts and forms of danger, and to contribute to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Appeal or the appeal organised by USPG and the Diocese in Europe;

(d) call on Her Majesty’s Government to work to secure a negotiated peace that provides for the flourishing of relations in Ukraine and between nations in Europe and to provide a generous response to those seeking refuge from the conflict.

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