The trap of bleeding heart pacifism
(s.m.) The author of the text published here is Myroslav Marynovych, vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv and a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, a former political prisoner in the years of the gulag. In the photo above, taken at the Vatican last June 8, he is the man in the middle of the three, at the end of a meeting and discussion with Pope Francis of which he afterward provided an account.
In his critique of the Christian pacifism applied to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Marynovych makes no explicit reference either to Francis or to Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, chosen by the pope as his envoy to the capitals implicated in the war. But he cites the Community of Sant’Egidio, of which Zuppi is a high-ranking member and whose pacifist positions are shared by the pope, as already brought to light repeatedly by Settimo Cielo:
The Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv is one of the liveliest places of cultural and political discussion. From there too came the “Manifesto” for a future new constitution in a Ukraine restored to peace and freedom, referred to by Marynovych at the end of his text.
The 14 signatories of the “Manifesto” feature, in addition to him, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, president of the Ukrainian Catholic University and metropolitan of Philadelphia for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the United States, and Oleksandra Matviichuk, president of the Centre for Civil Liberties and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.
This contribution from Professor Marynovych comes amid the still unquelled controversy ignited by the words of praise for imperial Russia spoken by Pope Francis during a video meeting with young Russian Catholics:
The wound inflicted by those words of the pope brought a reply, asking for a correction, from the major archbishop of Kyiv, Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
Who these days is in Rome, where the synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is being held on the theme “Pastoral accompaniment and caring for the wounds of war,” and tomorrow, Wednesday September 6, will meet with Francis.
by Myroslav Marynovych
First of all, a recollection. In the early 1980s, Christian marches for peace were very popular in Western Europe. In fact, what could be more logical for Christians than to struggle for peace? Yet these marches had an evil instigator: the Soviet Union which, not being capable of keeping up economically with the arms race, was seeking respite and détente.
Many European Christians preferred not to see these calculations that were behind all of this: for them, the Kremlin was a champion of peace and therefore an ally of Christian peacemaking. The paradoxical nature of the situation forced a group of political prisoners of the gulag (including the author of these lines), who had been thrown into solitary confinement just for having prayed on Easter morning, to turn to Pope John Paul II for a word of warning against a blind pacifism:
“Your Holiness, it is difficult for those who in various ways have gone up against the apocalyptic evil in its stronghold to understand the meaning of Christian humility. We cannot and will not give to Caesar what by right belongs to God. Most of us see the meaning of our lives in revealing to the world the true nature of the chattering Soviet ‘dove’ that brandishes the atomic mace. Do the participants in the Easter marches in the West, so actively supported by communist propaganda, realize that in those very days of April in the Soviet concentration camps prisoners seeking the Holy Spirit were put in solitary confinement by the same communist authorities? We ask you, Your Holiness, to inform them of this.”
Forty years have passed since then and the political scenario has changed, but circumstances have brought many peace-loving Europeans back to their old positions. Their philanthropy and their desire for peace at any cost conceal a danger, because a just peace is not achieved at the cost of denying the truth, at the cost of an ethical defeat. Because behind the scenes of a sincere, if often naive, promotion of peace, as in the past, the Kremlin is once again visible, and now poses as an astute proponent of a “peace without preconditions,” without even really concealing its unaltered genocidal intentions.
These pacifists do not take note of an important paradox: the people who suffer the most from the war and who most need peace – the Ukrainian people – for some reason unanimously refuse a compromise with Russia, which would mean the loss of territory and the limitation of their sovereignty.
So what is the mistake of this European pacifism?
I realize that a political answer will not make much sense: it has been repeated more than once, but it will continue to be unconvincing. So we should seek other arguments. Pacifism is at least formally based on Christian arguments. Is it always right? What do Christians, and Ukrainian Christians in particular, have to say in this regard?
The evangelical imperative of building peace
Is it truly indisputable that Jesus formulated an unequivocal imperative in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9)? It seems we should conclude that peace is above all else. But do all actions for peace contribute to establishing the peace of God?
Let’s hear from a former Ukrainian Church hierarch who survived two world wars, namely the metropolitan of Galicia Andrej Šeptyc’kyj (1865-1944):
“Everyone should understand that a peace that does not take into account the needs of the people and in which the people consider themselves offended, and in fact are so, would not be a peace at all, but rather the cause of new and worse complications and mutual hatred, which would lead to new wars” (1).
Contemporary Ukrainian theologians and thinkers also give a persuasive answer to Christian pacifists:
“Peace is a consequence of the order of God… Peace is not the absence of war, but a positive concept with its own content… The peace of God is not compatible with evil! One cannot tolerate sin and speak of the peace of God. The peace of God is always the fruit of the renunciation of evil and of union with God. It is to this clear choice that Jesus calls us with the words on division (Lk 12:51). We are either on God’s side or we have chosen the side of evil” (2).
“The rulers who belong to the darkness create a world full of malice, falsehood, and injustice. In such a world there can be no true peace, and attempts to appease these rulers will not bring the desired results… Therefore Christians must preach a peace based on truth and justice: ‘These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace’ (Zech 8:16) (3).”
This is why Jesus did not tolerate the sin that lurked in the Sanhedrin of his time and denounced it publicly, even though he knew that this denunciation would bring nothing good for him. He did not oppose dialogue with the Sanhedrin, but insisted that this dialogue should take place in truth. This is where this clearly non-pacifistic attitude comes from: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword” (Mt 10:34).
Neither the democracies of the world nor the Church can approve a peace that makes aggression an effective method for appropriating the territories of others. Only a just peace is a lasting peace. As Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, has said, “peace without freedom and peace without justice is no peace at all.”
An evangelical choice in favor of values
The more Russia commits war crimes in Ukraine, the more heft ethical arguments take on in the evaluation of events. Therefore, world democracies must correctly resolve the famous “security versus values” dilemma.
I realize that this dilemma is not easy to resolve, but it is impossible not to acknowledge that the world has wasted at least eight years trying to appease the aggressor. There is a dangerous trap in this apparent pacifism: ignoring values introduces such violations into the life of the world as to put in danger precisely what is meant to be protected, namely security. And we invariably find confirmation of this: today we are closer to the third world war than in 2014.
The more politicians ignore values by making unjust concessions to the aggressor, the more arrogant this becomes and the less secure we become. And it was Jesus himself who warned us of this: “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses it will preserve it” (Lk 17:33). That is why He did not sacrifice his values, not even at the cost of his own life.
So my conclusion is that we cannot build an effective security system – that is, a just peace – by distorting or ignoring values.
An evangelical warning against ethnicism
In times of war, people horrified by its tragedies may instinctively become pacifists. Against the background of this spontaneous pacifism, as I have already mentioned, Ukraine may seem a “war party.” As if to say: can’t you put end to this and cede part of your territory to Russia, thus stopping this endless bloodshed? Well, with bitter irony, I want to recall that at first even our president Volodymyr Zelensky was such a pacifist. It was he who inaugurated his presidency with the ambiguous phrase: “To end war, we must stop shooting.” But on February 24 2022, the day of the massive Russian attack, he put on his famous military green T-shirt because he understood that Putin had left him no other choice: the Kremlin wants to destroy Ukraine as a state and Ukrainianness as an identity.
Yet it seems that Christian pacifists have conceptual reservations about precisely this understanding. For them, this understanding reeks of nationalism and therefore leads to hostility. Moreover, in their imagining, the borders of the state and national identity are mutable and therefore interchangeable.
Once again, we find in Scripture an apparently unequivocal imperative: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). It is no secret that in history the Eastern Church has often sinned through excessive ethnicism. Moreover it still sins in this. So why should our pacifists not officially oppose the ethnicism of the doctrine of the “Russian world,” adopted by the Russian Church, which from being an excessive doctrine has even become criminal, since it sanctifies the use of weapons to forcibly unite in a single state all those who speak Russian? Is there not perhaps a direct analogy with the criminal Nazi doctrine?
But, alas, no: European pacifists do not see the heresy of the official doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church. Nor do they see the cunning of the Kremlin, forgetting the warning of Clausewitz: “The invader is always peaceable. It wants to conquer as ‘peacefully’ as possible.” Instead they view with suspicion the obvious victim of this war, which seeks to protect its national identity and sovereign state.
Perhaps Jesus always refused to emphasize nationality? No. He himself said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). However, the key word here is not “only,” but “lost.” In fact: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Mt 18:12). So it is precisely the danger of death that the victim runs that gives Christians the moral right to make a “choice in favor of the victim.” And the examples are countless. Already in modern times, guided by this logic, John F. Kennedy flew to besieged West Berlin and declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” So why can’t the leadership of the Community of Sant’Egidio come to Kyiv today and declare in solidarity: “I am a Ukrainian!”?
But here lurks a further obstacle to understanding this conflict. It is superficial to say that the Ukrainians do not want peace because they are nationalists. Ukrainians, including those who speak Russian, are fighting a war not simply for their territorial integrity, but for human values, against authoritarianism and the imposition of a whole way of life that we have been struggling to cast off from us since the end of the Soviet era, a war for the right to be free. Branding all of this as “nationalism” is simply playing the game of those who would like to rebuild an imperial and totalitarian system. To understand the liveliness and frankness of the debate within Ukrainian civil society and the attempt to turn the tragedy of war into the opportunity for a new social consensus that strengthens the foundations of a real democracy, I urge the reading of “A New Birth for Ukraine: A Constitutionalist Manifesto.”
The moral nature of the war
I was not the first to make note of another important problem, namely the problem of symmetry in the presentation of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The rules of “political correctness” encourage many Europeans to treat both sides as politically and morally equal, ignoring the real circumstances and thus condemning themselves to ethical defeat. This defeat is predetermined by the fact that the Russian-Ukrainian war is radically different, for example, from the military conflict in Mozambique, where the Community of Sant’Egidio carried out an important “peacekeeping” function at the time. In fact, the current war in Eastern Europe is a zero-sum identity conflict that cannot be resolved in line of principle. It is impossible to reconcile, on the one hand, the desire of Ukrainians to preserve their freedom and state independence and, on the other, Russia’s desire to deprive Ukrainians of their state and revive its empire. In this situation, it is impossible to remain neutral. One must instead make a choice in favor of values: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24).
In short, it seems that the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu have been forgotten: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
(1) Metropolitan Andrej Šeptyc’kyj, “Documents and materials 1899-1944,” Lviv, ARTOS Publishing House, vol. 3. “Pastoral letters of 1939-1944,” 2010, p. 290.
(2) Fr. Yurii Ščurko. “25th Week after Pentecost. Wednesday. True peace (Luke 12:48-59)”.