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Synod debates what justice might look like in Ukraine

11 July 2022

Sam Atkins/Church of England

RUSSIA’s invasion of Ukraine was lamented by the General Synod on Monday, after a debate that focused on the importance of justice, negotiation, and peace-making.

Several amendments were made to the motion, which had been introduced by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, on Friday afternoon. One proposed amendment — to change the call for a “negotiated peace” to a “just peace” — was rejected by a margin of ten votes.

The debate began on Friday, but was adjourned owing to the delay caused by a climate protest by the Christian arm of Extinction Rebellion (News, 8 July). It resumed on Monday morning.

Sam Atkins/Church of EnglandThe Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, introduces his motion

On Friday, Bishop Baines said that, although there might be disagreement “about the specificity of particular policies”, this “shouldn’t dissuade us” from contributing to discussions around the war.

He referred to media comments about a discussion paper that accompanied the motion when it was published two weeks ago, and told the Synod that “contrary to what you may have read in the press recently, this paper does not articulate a fixed position”, but rather attempts to outline debates “from first principles” (News, 28 June).

Bishop Baines said that it was “for Ukraine to decide if, how, and when the war will be ended, and on which terms”, and highlighted the section in the discussion paper that urged the Government not to pursue wider geopolitical aims under the guise of helping Ukraine.

The Archbishop of Canterbury endorsed Bishop Baines’s speech. “Peacemaking requires humility and sacrifice,” he said, but noted that it “needs confrontation”, as Jesus demonstrated “with those opposing him”.

Archbishop Welby referred to a visit that the Primate of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany, had made to Lambeth Palace on Thursday, in which he “spoke of love for all, especially enemies”.

Archpriest Stephen Platt, the ecumenical representative for the Russian Orthodox Church, thanked the authors of the discussion papers for a “nuanced and sensitive response”.

He urged the Church of England to keep channels of communication open, echoing a call made by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, after a trip to Moscow last week (News, 8 July).

The war is “atrocious and unjustifiable”, Fr Platt said, but that sight should not be lost of the complexities at play.

Jane Evans (London) described that situation as “complex, delicate, and not as black and white as we might like to think, or are led to believe it is”. It was, she said, more analogous to the conflict in Northern Ireland than the actions of Nazi Germany, and requires a negotiated settlement.

Clive Scowen (London) proposed an amendment to add “justly” to the call to pray that “the war in Ukraine be ended”.

Mr Scowen said that “peace without justice is not justice at all, and will not last”, and, in the context of Ukraine, a settlement that “gives away chunks” of territory to Russia “would not end violence and would not last”.

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

The amendment received wide support, as did a second proposed by Jack Shephard (Liverpool), which sought to bolster the paragraph on refugees, adding “hospitality” to the offer of “long-term refuge”.

Again, Bishop Baines welcomed the amendment, but asked why, if the UK was being so generous with hospitality, was not more done for those fleeing Afghanistan last year?

Daniel Matovu (Oxford) highlighted the experience of “black and brown refugees from Ukraine”, who have faced discrimination as they fled the country. He echoed Bishop Baines’s remark that it was impossible to argue against justice, but suggested that Europe’s response to the refugee crisis suggested that it was “justice just for white Ukrainians”.

When the debate resumed on Monday morning, a third amendment was considered, presented by Patrick Richmond (Norwich) on behalf of Mr Scowen. The proposal was to remove the word “negotiated” from the Synod’s call to the Government to “work to secure a negotiated peace” and replace it with “just”.

Again, Bishop Baines did not resist the amendment, but explained that the word “negotiated” was important, and would have preferred if the term “just” had been added without its being removed.

The amendment was rejected in a narrow vote: 137 voted for, 147 against, and 29 recorded abstentions.

In final remarks, Bishop Baines reiterated that “nothing justifies what Putin has done”. To understand the conflict, however, it was necessary to “look through the lens of Russia, and Putin in particular”.

The motion was carried: 323 in favour, 2 against, and 2 recorded abstentions.

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