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The European Baptist Federation (EBF) has challenged Russian and Ukrainian Baptist leaders to issue a joint statement calling for peace while acknowledging their differences.

The appeal comes from EBF general secretary Tony Peck and EBF president Otniel Bunaciu in response to a statement issued by Russian Baptists to coincide with the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev last week.

Although Baptists from both countries have met to discuss ways of responding to the conflict, they have expressed different views about it.

The Russian statement was authored by Vitaly Vlasenko, director of the Department for External Affairs for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB).

Addressed to friends in Christ “primarily in North America,” the statement spoke of Russian Baptists being “deeply concerned about recent developments in Ukraine.”

In particular, the statement highlighted the Freedom of Support Act, which authorized the provision of military assistance to Ukraine which was agreed to by the U.S. Congress in December, and the subsequent fear that the “science of diplomacy and the strategy of winning hearts and minds are falling by the wayside.”

Hearts and minds can only be achieved by peaceful means, and both NATO and Russia are too strong to be defeated by military means, it continued.

“We plead with you in the West and Ukraine to struggle jointly with us Russian Baptists for the cause of a negotiated settlement,” Vlasenko said. “That joint effort is much more important than our personal convictions on political details.”

The statement ended with an invitation to its readers to tell Russian Baptists how they can “better and more effectively cooperate for the cause of peace.”

This request was taken up by Peck and Bunaciu on behalf of the EBF. They acknowledged that all in the EBF share the Russian Baptists’ “overwhelming strong desire for a peaceful, negotiated settlement to end the violence, bloodshed and driving out of people from their homes in Eastern Ukraine.”

They noted that Baptists believe in a church that has the freedom to seek the mind of Christ without state interference or pressure and commended the occasions when Russian and Ukraine Baptists have sought to do this.

They also highlighted how Russian Baptists are “understandably concerned” about statements from the U.S. government that seem to suggest support for an escalation of the militarization of the conflict.

However, the EBF letter continued, there was hope that the Russian Baptists would be a prophetic witness in the situation, “especially with regards to the starting of the war and also in relation to the human drama that is taking place in Eastern Ukraine now.”

“It is quite possible that we in the West do not fully appreciate the Russian perspective on events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and we need to listen more carefully and learn more.

“However, as Baptists brothers and sisters, we also hear the concerns and cries coming from our Ukrainian Baptist family, which is suffering so much together with their entire country and who are seeing their country partitioned and then devastated by a war they did not want and did not start.

“It also pains us to see that this war is so easily and uncritically supported by Russia’s evangelicals,” the letter stated.

In any move toward reconciliation and peace, “what looks like uncritical support for one side in this conflict has to be addressed,” the letter said. A “negotiated settlement” will only be credible if it also addresses “the wrongs and shortcomings of all the sides involved in this conflict.”

The letter concluded, “It would be an even more powerful witness to what is possible when we acknowledge Christ as Lord if Russian and Ukrainian Baptist leaders could issue a joint statement calling for peace, acknowledging their differences but seeking to see beyond them to find a way to encourage their two nations to find a way to live at peace with one another. Is it too much to believe that this might yet be possible?”

According to the United Nations, fighting between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian rebels has claimed more than 5,000 lives since April.

Paul Hobson is the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulHobson10, The Baptist Times @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.

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