The following article originally appeared on the Frontpage Magazine website, and is reproduced with permission.
The Religious Left has no intrinsic ideological loyalty to either Russia or Georgia. Still, the Religious Left’s general rule is to side against pro-American forces, which presumably would mean Georgia. So far, pronouncements from left-leaning Western clerics have been careful.
“Russia’s attack on Georgia is a disheartening reminder that the 21st century remains a primitive age of fanatical nationalism and military bullying,” announced U.S. National Council of Churches chief Michael Kinnamon. “Even more distressing is the fact that both Russia and Georgia are Christian nations with ancient church roots.” Would Kinnamon ever describe the United States similarly as a “Christian nation?”
Without criticizing Russia by name, Kinnamon pronounced that the “military intervention in Georgia, like all actions born of hatred or callous self-interest, is an act of madness, a senseless rejection of God’s love and salvation.” He castigated both parties: “Political leaders in Russia and Georgia—indeed in many other nations including our own—seek to justify military interventions on the grounds of national interest or public security.” Kinnamon insisted: “In general the churches of Christ reject such puerile political rationalizations.”
The NCC chief bemoaned the “underlying causes of nationalism and ethnocentrism” and noted that the “brutality in Georgia is part of a world-wide trend.” Citing the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, Kinnamon regretted that the media’s “preoccupation” with Afghanistan and Iraq “distracts us from suffering in other nations.”
He neglected to admit that the NCC itself has made condemnation of the U.S. presence in Iraq a central focus for 5 years, while largely ignoring conflicts elsewhere. Naturally, Kinnamon inserted a jibe against the U.S., praying “that our country will learn the ways of peace and restore its reputation as a credible witness for restraint and nonviolence.” But will the U.S. ever be credible in the eyes of the reflexively anti-American NCC?
Kinnamon alluded to the Religious Left’s de facto pacifism. “War is contrary to the will of God,” he approvingly quoted from the founding statement of the World Council of Churches. “War may at times be a necessary evil, but it is inherently evil,” Kinnamon added. As nearly all Religious Left prelates do, he shunned traditional Christian Just War teaching, which historically has described all war as tragic, while affirming that military force is at times morally mandatory. “Christians must never identify violence against others with the will of God or countenance such rhetoric when used by their governments,” Kinnamon pontificated. “God’s purpose is shalom. We do not go to war in the name of God.”
Somewhat ironically, the response to the Georgian crisis by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) was more dignified than the NCC’s: “The use of force in the dispute over South Ossetia and Abkhazia has cost the precious lives of civilians and soldiers, risks destabilizing a fragile region, and reawakens deep fears there and far beyond.” The WCC urged “military forces to return to positions held before the current violence,” and added: “Authorities who resorted to the use of force are to be held accountable for the loss of life they have caused. The well-being of people who have fled their homes and of those whose homes have been destroyed must be a high priority in the coming days.”
Less persuasively, the WCC argued that “The United Nations must ensure the territorial integrity and political independence of Georgia in accordance with the UN Charter and by collective action of the UN Security Council.” But at least the WCC, unlike the NCC, acknowledged Georgia’s sovereignty. The WCC also commended the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church for urging a ceasefire.
Historically, Eastern Orthodox prelates often have reflexively supported their nations’ respective military and political goals. But did Russian Patriarch Alexy II signal less than full support for the Russian military by his call for a ceasefire in Georgia? “On the night of 8 August 2008, sorrow, death, and destruction came down upon the earth,” Alexy regretted in an encyclical. “We saw numerous innocent civilian victims; we saw the destruction of populated areas and the infrastructure of [South Ossetia]. Stop this immediately! Do not spill any more blood; do not enlarge the present conflict!”
In a more explicitly nationalist vein, a Moscow Patriarchate external affairs spokesman complained that Russia “”has faced the danger of war and a new wave of slander against our Motherland from those who don’t like Russia’s historical choice.” He pledged: “”We kneel down before our warriors who have already given their lives,” while he asked “God and the Holy Virgin to stop the bloodshed so that our country, as well as Ossetia, Georgia, the Caucasus and the entire world could enjoy peace and prosperity.”
Also calling upon the Lord and the Virgin was Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II. “We are facing very serious peril, but don’t be afraid of anything, God is with us and Virgin Mary is protecting is, but one thing concerns us very deeply [is] that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians,” Ilia told his Georgian flock. “This is unprecedented act of relations between our countries. Reinforce your prayer and God will save Georgia. There is a saying ‘’Water will flow up and down and will return to its weir. So, believe that God will not separate Georgia into pieces.”
Earlier this year, the Georgian Patriarch defended Georgia’s sovereignty over pro-Russian break-away regions. “Georgia has been and should remain a unified state,” Ilia sermonized. “I have told representatives of the Russian authorities several times that separatism is like a transmittable disease and everyone should remember this, including Russia,” calling Russia’s rhetorical support for South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence “unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the pro-Russian Orthodox Bishop in South Ossetia robustly condemned Georgia. “We have once again experienced ‘care’ of Georgia—never-ending humiliation, insults, slander, terrorist acts and gunfire at civilians,” said Bishop George of the newly created Alania diocese. “Georgia has shown such ‘love and care’ for our people for the past 18 years.” He urged South Ossetians to “give full backing to those who protect their homes, children, wives, parents and friends and to serve the people and the fatherland with any possible talents and capabilities,” according to the website of the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee.
Interestingly, the Orthodox Church of Georgia withdrew from the World Council of Churches a decade ago because of the WCC’s theological liberalism. The Russian Orthodox Church has pondered such a move but remains a WCC member. Meanwhile, the Religious Left in the West will continue to calibrate its reactions to the Georgian-Russian conflict, probably based in part on the level of support that the U.S. gives to Georgia.