Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ukraine attacks the Church of England’s ‘pro-Russia propaganda’ (Contribution)

Ukraine attacks the Church of England's 'pro-Russia propaganda' | The  Spectator

Perhaps Justin Welby expected gratitude from Ukraine, after the Church of England’s Synod debated the war this week. 

He certainly didn’t expect a double rebuke from the country, a sacred and secular censure.

In letters to Welby that have not been published but have been shown to me, two official Ukrainian bodies have protested at the briefing document that was prepared ahead of the debate. 

As I argued yesterday, the briefing document is inappropriately even-handed, as if both sides in the conflict are caught up in a tragic muddle, and as if no particular religious body is more culpable than any other.

A letter from Anatoliy Kozachok, Presiding Chairman of the Ukrainian Council of Churches, expresses amazement that the Synod’s report ‘repeats pro-Russian propaganda narratives about Ukraine’s alleged violation of basic democratic principles and religious freedom.’ 

It suggests that the Church of England has been unduly influenced by ‘those who represent the interests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (in unity with the Russian Orthodox church)’. 

It was indeed rather odd that the only non-Anglican to speak at the debate was a Russian Orthodox priest, Stephen Platt, whose Oxford parish is part of the Moscow Patriarchate. He praised the report for being ‘nuanced’.

But it’s the letter from a secular official who makes the stronger case. Victor Yelensky, minister for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience, says that he is ‘deeply shocked’ at the report’s even-handedness. 

It especially misrepresents ‘the religious dimension of Russian aggression’; it suggests that ‘there is no significant difference between the words and deeds of Ukrainian religious leaders and those of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.’ 

The former have justified national self-defence, whereas Kirill has helped to launch a holy war, and said that Russian invaders who die in battle will go straight to heaven. Accordingly Russian troops have destroyed 630 churches and killed over 30 clergy. 

The report, meanwhile, sounds piously concerned about infringements of religious freedom on both sides.

This is indeed the key failing of the report, and of Welby’s own response. 

Religion is seen as sadly embroiled in a nasty conflict and no particular form of religion is censured. 

In his opening speech, Welby said that Synod should rise above the urge to condemn, as if that was always simplistic. 

To be fair, he was clear that Putin is to blame for the war. 

But it is also necessary to condemn the religion that is in bed with him. 

Hiding in nuance won’t do.