November 29, 2023

In Brief: The Evangelical Case for U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine

Voices on the Right claim Ukraine is “banning” Christianity. The reality: Russia is waging war against evangelical Christianity.

Ukraine is a subject fraught with disagreement in America, maybe even primarily between people on Right. Veteran political analyst Jim Geraghty spent time on the ground there and is more familiar with the situation than most. He notes an important development that ought to concern Christians.

How many American evangelicals know their faith is being targeted by Russian military forces in Ukraine?

In November last year, a Ukrainian evangelical church leader, Anatoliy Prokopchuk, and his 19-year-old son Oleksandr were abducted by Russian soldiers. Four days later, their bodies were discovered in a forest, with evidence the pair had been tortured and executed. Russian occupying forces closed down the three largest evangelical Protestant churches in Melitopol and shut down churches in Mariupol. In August, Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary President Yaroslav Pyzh estimated that about 400 Ukrainian Baptist congregations had been lost in the war in Ukraine, in part from evacuations and displaced communities, and in part from casualties and destroyed churches.

Beyond the Russian army’s habitual cruelty to civilians in occupied territories, the campaign appears to have another driver: According to one witness, when the Russian troops arrested Prokopchuk, before he was killed, soldiers specifically cited Ukrainian evangelicals’ ties to the West. Given how intertwined Putin’s regime is with the Russian Orthodox Church, in some ways, this is a religious war.

The Russian brutality against Ukraine’s evangelicals underlines how shamelessly misleading Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was in the most recent GOP debate when he claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government is responsible for the “the banning of Christians.” In July, Tucker Carlson, interviewing former vice president Mike Pence, brought up the “persecuted Christians in Ukraine.”

Geraghty notes the concern over “the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s possible ties to Moscow,” and legislation under consideration in Kyiv to “examine” different groups for any possible connection to Russia. That concern isn’t without reason, though Geraghty says it’s not about “theological beliefs” but instead “about whether an institution is cooperating with an enemy at a time of war.”

In Washington right now, a big question concerns how many House Republicans can be persuaded to continue sending military aid to Ukraine, with the caucus roughly split. It’s fair to wonder if the aid opponents — who might be buying the Ukraine-bans-Christians rhetoric in Trump-friendly circles — know, or care, that Russia is seemingly attempting to wipe out evangelical churches in occupied Ukrainian territories.

Certainly, when Christian voters are provided with fuller information, Geraghty says “they become much more supportive of continued aid to Ukraine.”

When told that under Russian occupation, “Christians report torture with electrical shocks and being beaten with a baseball bat,” 70 percent of self-identified evangelical Christians say they are more likely to support Congress authorizing additional funding to support Ukraine’s self-defense. Overall, 63 percent of self-identified GOP primary voters say they’re more likely to support additional military aid to Ukraine after hearing that statement.

The arguments against helping Ukraine — the high U.S. deficit and debt; the lack of a clear plan for victory; the need to shore up Taiwan’s defenses; the war looks like a stalemate — aren’t meritless, but they’re bloodless. When you read a sentence about Prokopchuk and his son that declares, “they were so mutilated that it was difficult to identify them,” as a source in Ukraine told a human rights organization, it is much harder to shrug off the war as someone else’s problem.

Ukrainians aren’t asking Americans to charge into battle and save them. They’re asking for continued access to weapons and ammunition that the United States can readily supply.

Help the Ukrainians, and they have a fighting chance. Abandon them, and Putin and his thugs will probably eventually grind them down in a war of attrition. It’s something that every American, evangelical or not, should keep in mind.

Read the whole thing here.

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