It is not always right or possible to remain neutral

In a recent blogpost I wrote about what we might want to pray in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.  I included this comment:

We pray that God will bring peace, that the conflict will end. However, I don’t think we simply pray for peace at any cost. Our desire should be for just peace. This means that we want to see evil plans brought to nought and evil men brought to justice.

Or to put I another way: We cannot pray for peace without acknowledging that peace is now absent because there has been an act of aggression. In the case of Ukraine, it is because Vladimir Putin has chosen to send in troops, tanks and aircraft in an unprovoked attack.  The consequence will be horrendous bloodshed of many lives. This will include civilians, young men and old, women and children.  Many who do not lose their lives will suffer bereavement, the loss of their homes and injuries.  They will be impoverished.  The ramifications will go wider. A refugee crisis is already beginning, and economic fall out may push people into poverty beyond Ukraine.

To repeat again, one man bears blame and responsibility for this. It is Putin’s decision to go to war. I say that because at times it seems that some have struggled to say this.  Now, this isn’t to say that others must take responsibility for their failings. For example:

  • Did US/UK military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan persuade Putin that it was also morally acceptable for him to take military action?
  • Would different responses to other acts of Russian aggression including into Georgia in 2008 and the last incursion into Ukraine in 2014 have discouraged Russia from invading?
  • Has NATO and EU expansion eastwards unsettled Russia?
  • At the same time has the alliance failed to invest effectively in its defenses?
  • Did the EU even as it expanded become dependent on Russian oil and gas?
  • Should Britain have acted years ago against the corruption of oligarchs?

It is possible to ask those questions and to believe that these are examples of western failure so that we need to take some responsibility for where we are today whilst at the same time being clear about where blame and responsibility primarily lies. So why don’t we state it openly.

I think as well, there’s the fear that by naming the aggressor that we will somehow be less pious and that our prayers will become politicised. Of course care needs to be taken when we pray that we don’t use our prayers to score political points. However, this is different from recognising and naming evil. To name the invasion of Ukraine as evil and to pray that God will bring justice, turn back the aggressors, thwart Putin’s plans and change his heart is not to enter into party politics or nationalism. It is not to condemn the Russian people, many who have been bravely demonstrating against the war over these past few days. It is rather to simply acknowledge that we haven’t just ended up passively and accidentally in this war. Active, sinful decisions were made.

Yet, what we see with “neutral prayers” in relation to Ukraine is not a one off. Most of us are wary of division and conflict. Furthermore, we have learnt to see peace making and peace keeping in terms of determined neutrality. We offer to be mediators in disputes and think that this involves remaining completely impartial.

Impartiality is not always possible, necessary or right.  For example, take the scenario where you are called in to a family dispute, a marriage break down and asked to counsel the couple. You discover that the husband is both an adulterer and an abuser. Should you seek to mediate impartially in that situation? Absolutely not. The need there is for his sin to be confronted.  You may act as his brother in Christ, you may act out of love towards both husband and wife and you may act because you seek his repentance and restoration. But the one thing you can’t do  is to claim indifference between the pleas of the wife and the claims of the husband. To do so would be immoral.

In other situations, we find that just as we prefer to prayer generally in terms of peace where there’s conflict, so too we can be tempted to pray for healing in a situation because that stops us from being drawn into uncomfortable conversations about the presence of sin and the need for repentance.

The problem is that we are not doing anyone any favours. We fail to stand with, to love and to protect the victim. We fail to speak God’s truth in the situation. We fail to offer what the person who is in sin needs which is a call to repentance and true restoration, reconciliation and forgiveness in the Gospel.

So when you find yourself in a situation where it feels easiest to stay neutral and impartial, take a deep breath, pray and ask “Is this a situation where I can be and should be neutral.” Then ask God for his help to say and do what is right.

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