On February 24, 2022, after weeks of signaling to the world that war was imminent, Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Three days later, I stood before the congregation wondering how to speak about it.
I wasn’t so concerned about what was necessary. Prayer was certainly needed. Ukrainian lives were being lost, homes and apartment buildings were being bombed, and lives were being torn apart. Families were fleeing for their safety. It was a tragedy that demanded to be acknowledged and lifted before God.
My question wasn’t, “what must I do?” It was, “what can I do?” Because three days after the invasion, media outlets had not yet settled how they would approach the topic. Celebrity politicians were weighing in, and to complicate matters, they were doing so in conflicting ways. One moment, Putin was a “genius,” and the next, Russia’s efforts were condemned. People were comparing what our current president was doing to what our previous president might have done. That Sunday morning, the issue was still a minefield. Even something as absolutely necessary – like lifting people in prayer – seemed to require a careful balance of not “picking sides” (not between Russia and Ukraine, but American right and left) while still praying and leading a church.
“What can I do?” was not going to change what I must do. And I would do what I must. But I knew that to do what I must – to lift people in prayer – carried risk. It pales in comparison to the risks faced by the Ukrainians, but still, in circumstances like these, my own livelihood and the church’s unity both feel as though they are at stake. If the church is divided into two opinions about this event, and I lift it in prayer in such a way that people feel as though I am picking sides, it can become entirely disruptive. And what should be a matter of a difference in understanding, or perspective, or information, or even understanding of the gospel can quickly become heightened into religious disunity and accusation.
To drive the point home plainly: divisive politics has a way of disabling both the proclamation of and the reception of the gospel. Or – closer to home – (say it with me:) “My worldly politics undermine the church’s efforts to proclaim the gospel.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 says, “14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Hear that again: we regard no one from a worldly point of view. That person who frustrates you? Who disagrees with you? Who challenges you? Who gets on your nerves? Those qualities are not what matters. That constitutes a worldly point of view. In the community of Christ, we are a new creation. And in order to be a new creation, we must shed the old ways.
And the old ways are the ways of divisiveness, accusation, and picking sides.
The church is best when it functions as a new creation and regards others as a new creation. We are most open to receiving the gospel, and most empower the proclamation of the gospel when the only side we pick is the side that involves both cross and resurrection.
The new creation must think in new creation ways. Jesus is our king! His politic – a politic of love and reconciliation – is the only politic to which we lend our ears, our heart, our lives. And if you want to be a part of an empowered church, empower it through a radical commitment to King Jesus and his Kingdom.