18.08.2015

The Love of Christ will Reign Victorious in Crimea and Donbass

The Problem of Selective Grief

M o s c o w -- Since 7 July, the registered Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Crimean peninsula are legally split. On that date, delegates from 28 congregations gathered in Simferopol to transfer their membership from Kiev’s “All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” to Moscow’s “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”. Their association of Crimean churches will now be a branch of the RUECB’s southern region. Head of this new grouping is Alexander Maikan of Alushta (near Yalta). Not in attendance were the roughly 39 congregations headed by Pastor Veniamin Yukhimets of Yalta.

During his closing words in Simferopol, RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov assured that the involvement of his union was motivated solely by the “desire to support the churches and their service under new circumstances”. Yet the RUECB intends to remain open for cooperation with all Baptist communities in the Crimean Republic “irregardless of the legal status they have chosen”. The RUECB had stressed repeatedly that the Crimeans themselves need to decide the matter of their national membership.

Yet in a heated response from 10 July published initially on Moscow’s “Portal-Credo” website, Mikhail (Mikhalko) Cherenkov of Irpen/Ukraine concluded that the leaders of Russia’s Baptist Union were no longer brothers. Cherenkov claimed in his article that Valery Antoniuk, president of Kiev’s union, later accused the Moscow leadership of distributing one-sided information; that their interpretation of events carried “a Russian imprint”. Citing a full calendar, Antoniuk had declined Smirnov’s invitation to attend the Simferopol conference. According to Cherenkov, the Ukrainian President had every reason to avoid the “shameful act”.

The Russian-born Cherenkov concluded in his piece: “’Crimea is ours’, said Putin. ’Crimea is ours’, repeated Smirnov. . . . But I am no longer naïve. I once felt sorry for our Russian brothers, I felt their hurt and oppression, their humiliation and degradation. Now I see they themselves are also servants of the Leviathan. They are not only unhappy, they are also co-guilty. Forces from above have smashed in their front teeth, so now they are using the remaining ones to bite those who are lower, weaker and defenceless.”

Dr. Cherenkov, probably Ukraine’s best-known evangelical intellectual, is the leading deputy of Sergey Rakhuba’s Wheaton/Illinois-based “Mission Eurasia” (once “Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries”). He also directs its partnership with the UK’s “Baptist Mission Society”.

In a later interview in Moscow, Smirnov reported that the group remaining apart from the RUECB had registered several days prior to 7 July as an independent religious entity within Crimea. He claimed in this interview that the group willing to join Moscow had already expressed its readiness to do so as early as February 2014, but that the RUECB had cautioned them to remain patient and wait. 

An aggrieved Grigory Berg, RUECB-Pastor in the arctic city of Murmansk, responded to Cherenkov’s essay in a letter on 21 July: “Crimea is not ours, and it is not yours!” he proclaimed. Who knows what will be in 30 years? The powers-that-be have been redrawing the map for centuries. The issue of Crimea does not need to concern the church one iota. Did Jesus and his disciples spend their time lashing out at the occupying powers? “Come to your senses!” he exclaimed. “The church should not be fighting for geographic territory, but rather for human souls!”

Berg decried Cherenkov’s charge of “creeping annexation” as extremely harsh and reported on the deep love and admiration Russian and Ukrainian Baptists had once felt for each another. He vehemently rejected the claim that the Russian partner was now devouring the Ukrainian one. The pastor also described the RUECB’s reaction as logical and selfless.

A commentary by the blogger “Vitaly” on the Latvian “Baznica” website noted how the other national Baptist churches had responded when the Ukrainian one – the largest within the old Soviet council by far – pulled up stakes and moved from Moscow to Kiev in 1990. Back then, no one had accused the Ukrainians of being traitors or separatists tearing apart the brotherhood. One had instead assured that the Ukrainians were in any case “not departing from God”. “Vitaly” claimed in closing that pro-Maidan voices like Cherenkov and national security chief Oleksandr Turchinov were “bringing shame to all Baptists”.

Commentary: Selective grief on Donbass
The first anniversary of the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner over Donbass on 17 July led to a surge of commentaries. On his Facebook page, Mikhail Cherenkov showed a series of photos of victims of the tragedy with the Ukrainian caption: “If there were no Putin, we would still be alive.” Cherenkov could not have had this in mind when he spoke of a new, responsible contribution of Ukrainian Protestants to the political arena.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding flight MH-17. Where are the tapes and the dispatcher from the Kiev flight control tower on that day?
Where are the high-quality US satellite pictures? After the shootdown of the Siberian airliner by Ukrainian forces over the Black Sea on 4 October 2001, the US side quickly produced satellite evidence showing that a rocket had downed the aircraft. (See „Wikipedia“.) Why has the Dutch-led international investigation committee on MH-17 guaranteed the Ukrainian side – one of the suspects – a veto right on its findings? The Russians – another suspected party - are not permitted to be on the committee. See for ex: http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-does-the-west-allow-the-ukrainian-government-to-write-the-official-report-on-the-shoot-down-of-mh-17/5415312”. How can one assume Russian guilt long before any kind of official verdict is out? Why was “everything” so easy back in 2001?

If one also includes the 290 dead stemming from the downing of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf on 3 July 1988, one arrives at a death total of 666 for the three incidents. Unforgettable is also the shootdown of a Korean Jumbo by the Soviet air force on 1 September 1983 with 269 victims. According to “Wikipedia”. as many as 40 civilian aircraft have been downed by armies and terrorists since 1940. All of these victims are deserving of our grief and our prayers. Selective grief does major damage to the Christian witness among those of other political persuasion.

Now is a time of need, revival and unity. That was the primary sentiment present at a gathering of 20 Baptist pastors from Russia’s Rostov district with 20 more from the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Russian border city of Novoshakhtinsk on 11 July. Much as in Ukraine proper, duress has brought the Christian denominations of Donbass closer together. In one instance, the quick action of Orthodox neighbours in Lugansk prevented the confiscation of a Baptist chapel by separatist forces. Humanitarian aid is the motor of understanding between those of differing theological and political persuasions. Another report done by Pentecostals appeals for pastors to return to Donbass and shepherd their forsaken flocks.

Without wanting to whitewash the Russian side, Odessa’s Alexander Boychenko penned a positive note on Twitter on 27 July: “Sad but true: Dishonesty, betrayal and slander . . . are blooming within the ranks of Ukraine’s Evangelical Christian-Baptist brotherhood. I know, for I have experienced it myself. . . . But I believe that the love of Christ will win out in this situation. The triumph of evil can only be temporary. In the end, love always reigns victorious.” Boychenko, a long-time pastor within Ukraine’s Baptist Union, switched to a newly-formed Evangelical-Christian congregation in 2011.

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Recent deaths
Church colleagues and associates from the Soviet period gathered once again in significant numbers – perhaps for the last time – for the funeral of Alexey Bychkov (born 1928) at Moscow’s Central Baptist Church on 17 July. Bychkov had served as general-secretary of the “All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” from 1971 to 1990. The coming of religious freedom in 1990 had led to the breakup of the once-monolithic Council and the formation of dozens of evangelical denominations. Though the Soviet-era Baptist leadership was forced out of office in 1990, loyal older leaders such as Bychkov and the deceased Mikhail Zhidkov had remained active in the church’s educational and humanitarian programmes as long as health permitted.

One of the eulogists at Bychkov’s funeral was Moscow pastor Alexander Kozynko (born 1956), who himself died of a heart attack on 6 August. Educated in Russia and East Germany, Kozynko was fluent in both English and German. He served as first president of the Baptist “Moscow Theological Seminary” from 1993 to 2006. The institution has been headed since then by Peter Mitskevich.

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 18 August 2015
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #15-08.