IT IS a while since following the news has been such an anxious activity. The suspicion that the public is being played — most obviously by President Putin, but also by Western leaders who wish to match his aggressive stance — does little to diminish the fear that the troops stationed on Russia’s border with Ukraine might actually be deployed in an invasion, indeed, might have been deployed by the time this leader comment is being read, despite continued assurances to the contrary. Apprehension is natural; but it once again challenges Christians to listen to Christ’s answer to the question: “Who is my neighbour?”
There is an informative Wikipedia page, not willingly visited, that lists ongoing armed conflicts. Monitors at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program define a war as a conflict causing at least 1000 deaths in one year. The list looks at the last full calendar year and the present one, and is headed by internal conflict in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Tigray, and Colombia. The next seven are all in Africa, as are many further down the list. Ukraine, because of the ongoing insurgency in Donbas, is the only European conflict listed. Although fear can elevate a European war above the others, we would argue that faith places every other conflict in our neighbourhood.
It is no small thing, however, to add another conflict to this list. The chilling detail revealed on Tuesday that field hospitals were being constructed near the Ukranian border ought to have focused Russian minds on the folly of war, supposing the information was made available to them. Once conflict begins, the reciprocation of casualties has its own inner logic. It is at the moment when peace tips into conflict, when lives that could continue are deliberately put at risk, that the greatest moral danger occurs, most especially for a president who professes a Christian faith. Sadly, as suggested in our comment piece, his own Church is failing its duty to remind him of divine sanctions that far outweigh those threatened by Western governments.
We would refer them to Sydney Smith’s sermon for Queen Victoria’s accession: “The greatest curse which can be entailed upon mankind is a state of war. All the atrocious crimes committed in years of peace — all that is spent in peace by the secret corruptions, or by the thoughtless extravagance, of nations — are mere trifles compared with the gigantic evils which stalk over the world in a state of war. God is forgotten in war — every principle of Christian charity trampled upon. . . I would say to that Royal child, worship God by loving peace — it is not your humanity to pity a beggar by giving him food or raiment — I can do that. . . Widen you your heart for the more expanded miseries of mankind. . . Say upon your death-bed, ‘I have made few orphans in my reign, I have made few widows, my object has been peace.”