Mathew 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
In America today 77% of people self identify as followers of Christ. How many could we identify as peacemakers? There are over 2 billion Christians in the world today. How many of them are actively devoted to restoring peace? I think we know the answers to these questions. Very few.
In late February Russia moved its troops past the border into Ukraine, threatening to destabilize the entire region. Today we need peacemakers. But I must confess I haven’t heard of many. The voices calling for leaders to be “strong” and “decisive” seem to be louder and more plentiful than any calling for “diplomacy” or “peace.”
One voice did rise above the noise:
I extend a heartfelt appeal to the international community to support any initiative for dialogue and harmony. -Pope Francis
Amen to that! But in the face of this complicated crisis, do we even know what an “initiative for dialogue and harmony” is? Being a peacemaker is easy in a time of peace. The challenge only comes in a time of crisis. So how can we be peacemakers in a crisis like this?
First, let me confess, I am no expert on Ukrainian history or politics. My comments today are the product of research I have done, that anyone could have done, since this conflict began to make headlines. But I have found certain peacemaking themes I believe may be important in the Ukrainian situation. Themes like the following:
I. Confession and Forgiveness
Many times conflicts arise from other conflicts. When a war comes to an end, we expect one side to be punished and the other to be victorious, and then we foolishly tell ourselves the matter is settled. But history would teach us otherwise. True peace can only be reached when both sides are ready to forgive and to be reconciled. If no forgiveness takes place, then conflict is only suppressed for a time. Then years later a second war will ignite in its place.
The crisis in Ukraine is kind of like this. While the crisis in Ukraine came about for a great web of reasons, one driving force is the high level of ethnic and political division in the country. This division is ultimately left over from another conflict, the conflict with the Soviets.
In 1932 Stalin’s campaign to collectivize farming in Ukraine led to the starvation of 7 million peasants. In 1944 200,000 Crimean Tatars were forced into exile again by Stalin.  Years of ethnic oppression in Ukraine created a country deeply divided by ethnic mistrust. When the government became unstable early this year, those divisions came flaming to the surface once more.
While we can’t simply dismiss Putin’s current actions, we also can’t hold the ethnic Russians in Crimea responsible for the sins of Stalin. For Christians forgiveness is the most vital commandment, for nations it can be the most difficult one.
How can we support “dialogue and harmony” in a country divided by years of sin? I believe the prescription is truth telling and forgiveness. If we look at the example of post- apartheid South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we can see the power of truth telling.
The international community needs to give people on both sides of this conflict a chance to tell their stories. The sins of the past need to be acknowledged. Then we can try to bring Ukraine to the understanding that the past is the past. From here on out, we need to look at the best way forward and stop arguing about how we got here.
II. Aid and an Economy of Inclusion
“If you want peace, work for justice” -Pope Paul IV. Of special consideration is economic justice. If you study the history of any war torn country, you will almost always find a group of rich exploiting the poor. You can try to separate peacemaking from social justice, but this will leave the cries of the oppressed unanswered. How long can those cries go unanswered before violence returns?
Racial animosity aside, the most direct causes for the current crisis in Ukraine are economic ones. Ukraine’s economy has always been weak. It is mostly based on old steel manufacturing. Ukraine’s steel industry is dependent on gas from Russia, which Ukraine subsidizes. This arrangement has been good for Russia but bad for Ukraine.  In 2006 Russia cut the gas supply to Ukraine, and it shook the poor nation.
In 2008 the intentional recession led to a tumble in steel prices, and so began a tumble in Ukraine’s economy. The IMF gave Ukraine a $16.5bn loan in exchange for austerity measures. In the midst of economic crisis, Ukraine failed to live up to its end of the bargain. In 2010 the IMF offered Ukraine another $15bn loan in exchange for curbing gas subsidies. But again Ukraine failed to curb gas subsidies. This time the IMF pulled back on the deal. Finally, a few months ago the Ukrainian president accepted a $15bn bribe from Russia to go back on a trade deal with the EU. The protests that resulted from the bribe began Ukraine’s current crisis.
Today Ukraine is heavily indebted and has heavy unemployment. Clearly, as long as Ukraine is dependent on Russian oil, its independence is only skin deep. Ukraine needs economic stability to obtain political stability.
At least this is a situation in which the international community is clear on how it can promote “harmony,” and it has begun to move in the right direction. The IMF has already approved another $14-$16bn dollar loan. The United States and the EU are expected to loan the country an additional $10bn.  But why should we stop there? Why must we loan the Ukraine money when it is already deep in debt? Why do we continue to require austerity measures from a country that is already suffering? Russia is looking to their financial interests. The U.S. and the EU are looking at our financial interests. As Christians I claim our duty is to look after the interests of our brothers and sisters suffering in the Ukraine. I humbly suggest that we forgive Ukraine’s debt as our Father in heaven has forgiven so much of ours. I suggest we give Ukraine the aid it needs to start rebuilding its industry, no strings attached.
III. Trust and Not Fear
Most often the central cause of war is fear. People turn to violence because they fear if they do not, violence will be thrust upon them. We choose to be the aggressor rather than suffer what else might come.
With Ukraine’s violent past the fear is understandable. The Russians in the Ukraine fear being in a country that has become so anti- Russian. The ethnic Crimeans in Crimea fear what might become of them if they become separated from central Ukraine. Catholics in the Ukraine fear what may happen if they are annexed into Orthodox Russia. And everyone fears that Ukraine is on the tipping point of total economic collapse.
There is a valid reason for all of these fears. But new beginnings come out of hope, not fear. If Ukraine is going to build a stable union, it must find the audacity to hope that change is on its way. Ukrainians must find the will to trust their neighbor.
How can the international community promote “dialogue and harmony”? By giving examples of trust and not reasons to fear. Clearly Russia’s invasion was a step in the wrong direction. But perhaps our best countermove to Russia is not to reciprocate. By waiting Russia out and letting sanctions and diplomacy take their course, we are communicating that we are not afraid of them. We are confident enough to reserve our use of force until all options have failed.
When we saber rattle and claim that a strong military response is the only reasonable option, we have given into fear, and we have given Ukraine and the rest of the world reason to give into fear. We are Christians. Let us be not afraid.
The situation in Ukraine is complicated with no easy answers. But sometimes God calls us to look for the more difficult answers. Being a peacemaker means being creative in searching for ways to end conflict. My challenge to you in this post is to strive to think like a peacemaker.