What would Jesus say about the Russians?

Ted Grimsrud—January 29, 2017

“What would Jesus say?” is a common questions Christians ask when they are in the midst of discerning what they themselves should say or do. For it to be a helpful question, I think we do better to think in terms of Jesus’s general moral outlook more than looking for specific verses to apply directly to our time.

I’m not sure I would say that people of good will (not only professing Christians) must ask this question—but I think it would almost always serve us well. And, clearly, if we draw from Jesus’s general moral outlook, we retain a large measure of responsibility to think and reason and act for ourselves. Jesus’s moral outlook gives us guidance but it does not give us a direct blueprint.

Currently, in the United States, we are badly in need of careful moral discernment. We are badly in deed of a moral outlook that gives us a stable set of moral convictions that will resist our tendency to look for guidance that justifies our own actions or simply allows us to condemn our enemies because they are our enemies. That is, we are in need of moral guidance that demands that whatever criteria for morality we use apply equally to ourselves as they do to our opponents.

It is risky right now to appeal to Jesus because so many people in power present themselves as “Christians” while acting and speaking in ways that are very much in tension with the actual life and teaching of Jesus. So, to evoke Jesus makes one vulnerable to be dismissed as simply another pious-sounding hypocrite. At the same time, appealing to Jesus’s actual moral outlook might provide a basis for challenging the approaches of self-professing Christians. That is what I hope to do with this blog post.

I actually don’t care to speculate about what Jesus would directly say about the Russians. I am pretty confident that were he to confront any particular nation in the world today it would be the United States. His words to the United States would not be along the lines of “well done thou good and faithful servant”!

A more interesting question to me would be to rephrase the title of this post in a little less catchy direction: What do core convictions that we gain from the message of Jesus have to say to we Americans about how we think about Russia, and in particular the current raising of concerns in our country about possible Russian involvement in our recent election?

Let me suggest some ways Jesus’s message should speak to our thinking on these issues.

[In times when we have little power, our clarity about core convictions becomes even more important. It’s important to witness to those convictions and not get caught up in temptations to try to “make a difference” or “find a seat at the table” in ways that would undermine those convictions. In the long run, our core convictions likely will be linked with whatever possible solutions we might ultimately find. I find the story of the Velvet Revolution in Central Europe at the end of the Cold War to be especially pertinent. Leaders such as Adam Michnik and Vaclav Havel recognized that they could not overthrow the Communist dictatorship with force and that they dare not allow the dictatorship to set the moral terms for their lives. So they focused on “creating space to be human” more than trying to imagine overthrowing the government. This allowed them to remain consistent with their core convictions about healthy social life. Then, amazingly, the system imploded and the resisters were able to exercise profound influence in shaping what took the system’s place. Perhaps those in our setting who are committed to a moral outlook informed by Jesus’s message would be well served to learn from the Velvet Revolution about keeping a good perspective during the dark days ahead.]

(1) Keep central our commitment to the preciousness of all life

Several of the gospels report Jesus’s answer to the question of how might one gain eternal life. His famous words were quite clear—love God and love neighbor. And this “neighbor” you are to love is anyone in need, even including someone you might otherwise consider an enemy.

I think in this story, “eternal life” is a kind of code for “what is our most central responsibility if we are to be in harmony with God” or “what matters most if we are to be genuinely human.” That is, this is a question about what is to be of our essence if we are to be human the way we are meant to be.

And the answer is to love—and by “love” Jesus meant “care for,” “treat with respect,” “have compassion toward,” “accept as a fellow human being.” Another way to think about love is to think in terms of perceiving the object of our love as being precious, being of extraordinary value.

Jesus illustrated what he meant by “love of neighbor” with his powerful story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). One lesson from that story is that a “neighbor” is willing to take risks and expend energy, time, and even wealth to help someone else in need—even if that someone belongs to a social group that one perceives as being an enemy.

So, what might it mean for how we think about an issue such as the current rising anxiety in the United States about the perceived threat of Russia? This anxiety is leading to calls to increase hostile attitudes and practices, where the United States would threaten Russia and try to exert pressure. And these threats and pressure often would take the form of military activity.

Now, it is difficult to imagine that American foreign policy would be governed by Jesus’s teachings (though I think it would be a good idea to imagine such policy being influenced by points from what Jesus taught—because his words usually reflected a profound measure of common sense). But there is no reason why people who do admire Jesus would not have their attitudes shaped by his teaching and practice. It could be that one would seek to find ways to apply lessons learned from Jesus to American policy making. And it could be that one would simply say I oppose certain policies and will do what I can to resist them based on what I have learned from Jesus.

Some obvious ideas emerge from thinking about Jesus’s message about the preciousness of life. For one thing, our current nuclear-weapons-centered strategy of dealing with tensions with other nations (especially Russia) needs to be rejected. There is simply no possible launching of nuclear weapons that would not be an indefensible and egregious violation of morality. It would simply be wrong, an act of pure evil, that has no justification.

Any discussion of the US relationship with Russia that addresses how to deal with tensions, with possible offenses the Russians may have done, must always have in mind the nuclear hair-trigger we currently live under. So, in our current circumstances, any attempt to increase the tensions between these countries is reckless, even if unconsciously so. Sadly, the complaints since November’s presidential election about Russian interference fit as terribly reckless, especially given the lack of clear evidence of such interference.

Certainly, offenses do happen. It is imaginable that Russia did try to interfere. If that is the case, the US should indeed challenge that interference. But in light of the nuclear threat (not to mention simple respect for the Russians as human beings), the concerns should be approached carefully, cautiously, and with the intent of achieving come kind of mutually acceptable resolution. The feeling one gets from those raising these concerns about possible Russian interference is not a hope for mutually acceptable resolution so much as a heightening of distance between the two nations, intimidation, and even heightened polarization.

Maybe more closely in keeping with Jesus’s moral outlook, we may also invoke Jesus’s challenge to the human tendency to “other” one’s opponents. As in the years of the Cold War, with this current anxiety we are getting a lot of name-calling, moral separating, focus on differences and the less-than-human elements of the opponent. Such alienating rhetoric both diminishes our side morally and exacerbates already existing tensions making future conflict more likely.

(2) Sustain a critical stance toward the rulers of the world’s great powers

Given Jesus’s relationship with and attitude toward political and religious leaders and their institutions, it is deeply ironic and even devastating that so many Christians teach and practice  a profound sense of subservience to the great nations and empires of the world—most immediately, in our case, the United States of America.

From the opening verses in the gospels as they tell of Jesus’s life, we read of tensions and criticisms of the power elite. King Herod, in power at the behest of the Roman Empire, sought to kill Jesus and did kill many young children in his fear for his maintenance of power. The story of Herod, in Matthew’s gospel, alone should be sufficient to help us see the need for a critical stance.

Jesus certainly challenged the hegemony of the religious leaders (who also exercised political power in that culture) throughout his ministry. And in the end, of course, the threat first voiced by Herod of the empire ending Jesus’s life is fulfilled when the Roman governor Pontius Pilate oversees Jesus’s execution by the Empire as a political criminal.

Jesus’s explained the situation to his followers when he told them that the rulers of the great powers are tyrants over their people—and that Jesus’s followers should be the opposite (Mark 10), servants rather than tyrants. The Christian tradition has not recognized this statement for what it was, a nutshell statement of a political philosophy that is meant to be embodied in present life.

Again, we maybe cannot imagine that this nation could be led by servant-leaders rather than tyrants. But that doesn’t mean that we should not call our leaders to move in that direction. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reject tyrannical tendencies whenever they arise and resist them however we might. And it certainly is the case that we should learn from Jesus a critical sensibility (and, again, his teaching about this is commonsense that should be understandable for everyone of good will).

One application of this critical stance in our current circumstance is a strong sense of doubt about the vague, unsubstantiated charges leveled by the American “intelligence community” about Russian interference in our election. Again, it may be that the Russians did interfere. But we don’t know that yet.

What has seemed especially problematic has been the way so many “liberals,” including many of my Mennonite friends, have accepted with little question the likelihood that our “intelligence community” would be telling us the truth when it asserts Russian intervention in the election without clear evidence to support the assertion. That, say, the CIA has lied to the American people over and over again is not proof that it is lying now. However, the history of the CIA should be enough for any independently minded person to be highly skeptical about its current claims (on this history, see Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes)—especially when those claims transparently serve the CIA’s own institutional interests (as in an intensified Cold War).

(3) Be wary of tendencies to identify too closely with any particular nation-state

Jesus’s general approach toward politics was to see the faith community as itself a political entity that carries on the promises of God apart from affiliation with any national entity. He understood the covenant with Abraham to be a call for God’s people to bless all the families of the earth.

Christianity emerged as a strand of Judaism that refused to make an idol of the Temple or to affiliate with the Roman Empire—as the Sadducees and other religious leaders did. As a consequence, many early Christians found themselves severely persecuted both by the religious establishment and then by the Empire.

When Christianity allowed itself to be shaped by an affiliation with the Roman Empire after the time of Constantine, the politics of Jesus ceased to be operative for the majority of Christian groups. However, Jesus’s sense of distance from all particular nation-states remains very relevant for Christians today; it remains central to any moral outlook shaped by Jesus’s message.

That Donald Trump, in his inaugural address, made such a strong emphasis on “America first” is enough to help us recognize that his resistance to the rush to reinstate the Cold War is not borne out of internationalism or even humanitarianism. He may doing something good, but for the wrong reasons.

Nonetheless, I think we should be sharply critical of Democrats and liberals for their scapegoating of Russia as a major factor in the Democratic electoral collapse. Such criticism should not push us toward a less critical perspective in relation to Trump and his administration. Trump’s call for a new, even more xenophobic stance toward the world’s peoples in the name of nationalism is profoundly dangerous.

We are in a very dangerous place right now in the United States—both Trump and his mainstream Democratic Party opposition seem locked into an “America first” attitude that should be an anathema for people who place the wellbeing of all human beings above loyalty to any particular nation-state. One big danger is that in looking for whatever means possible to discredit Trump, liberals, progressives, and other people of good will may too quickly jump on the scapegoat Russia bandwagon and only strengthen America’s militaristic spiral.

Even the progressive icon Elizabeth Warren spoke glowingly of the Secretary of Defense candidate “Mad Dog” Mattis, militarist par excellence and likely war criminal due to his leadership of the destruction of Falluja during the Iraq War. In a New Yorker article on Mattis’s confirmation hearing, the writer refers to when “Warren asked Mattis if he would advocate forcefully to the President about the need to take seriously the threat that Russia poses. Mattis said that he would.”

(4) Resolve to resist domination wherever it arises

One of the main lessons Jesus emphasized over and over was that peacemakers must seek to break the spiral of violence when there is wrongdoing, not add to it with retaliation. Violence can not possibly heal the damage done by violence.

Again, such teaching is only commonsense. The study of American foreign policy that I engaged in when I wrote my book, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy, convinced me that over and over again our nation has undermined its own wellbeing when it has engaged in its endless litany of militarized interventions around the world.

Probably more than anything, these interventions have been the fruit of an American quest for domination as the world’s top superpower. Ironically, as we see especially in the totally unnecessary and unjust wars on Vietnam and Iraq, as prime examples, the quest for domination led to a great diminishment of US stature, security, and wellbeing.

Trump obviously is very much a domination-seeking leader. However, opposition to his rule that does not explicitly repudiate this fruitless quest for American power-over in our fragile and mutually-dependent world will not actually move us out of the spiral of death we are currently locked in.

What Jesus would have to say about the Russians, I think, is think of them as our brothers and sisters, too. Refuse the impetus to scapegoat and exacerbate tensions as a means of undermining the obviously disastrous presidency we are only getting started with. The worthy goal of ridding the nation of Trump’s leadership will not lead to actual wholeness if it links itself to expanded militarism and a renewed Cold War.

This time of fear and trauma is also a time of opportunity. May we see our current moment as a chance to not only resist the Trump nightmare but also to resist the American imperial, oligarchical, neo-liberal nightmare that too many Democrats are also complicit in. We may not need Jesus to tell us that breaking free from these nightmares requires steadfast commitments to peace as the way of bringing about change—but his teaching surely does help those of us who share such commitments.

15 thoughts on “What would Jesus say about the Russians?

  1. Thanks for addressing the Russia topic, Ted. As I’ve commented in a few places, I think including here, I see few thoughtful, non-reactionary (in any direction) posts about the current situation with Russia and all that is in flux in the US right now. This post is one input that hopefully helps stimulate more.

    I tend to agree, especially with this part:

    “Trump obviously is very much a domination-seeking leader. However, opposition to his rule that does not explicitly repudiate this fruitless quest for American power-over in our fragile and mutually-dependent world will not actually move us out of the spiral of death we are currently locked in.”

    I’m adamantly against almost all of the Trump approach for this and many other reasons… he is totally unfit for the office and should be removed. But better, more moral approaches, as you say, are something else. The one main question I’d add, that I’d hoped you would address, is what ARE U.S. legitimate kinds of words/actions that do not threaten Russia, but express and might later enact our determination to stand with defenseless (not totally, but at least militarily nearly so, on their own) neighboring countries of the former Soviet Union such as the Baltic states? It won’t be easy to “defend” them outside calling on the military of NATO, but there ARE ways. And I have no doubt that Russia (Putin and his ilk particularly) has intentions to subjugate them again, Ukraine if possible, etc.

    I might also note that Putin himself is supposedly now a devoted Christian (Russian Orthodox). Tho this is almost certainly show and not reality, it does allow non-governmental people from Europe/US to appeal to him on Christian humanitarian grounds and/or challenge him to live up to ideals of Jesus himself. In other words, we have grounds to confront him on RELIGIOUS grounds as well as diplomatic, economic, military, etc.

  2. Ted, it’s disappointing no one else so far is commenting on this topic I feel is very important. My big-picture-but-practical point is that Christian pacifists, other pacifists and progressive Christians outside the pacifist focus (as myself, with leanings into pacifism) need to push forward our best “thinkers” on developing and implementing proactive peacebuilding efforts.

    I am knowingly ignorant of much that has, in fact, been produced. But that’s part of the point: If I, as a progressive with much graduate education and an active reader, follower of trends, etc., don’t run across much on this topic, it’s pretty likely a sign that either not enough is being produced or it’s not getting pushed into view enough (your efforts certainly recognized).

    To be clear, I am mainly here talking about peacebuilding on an international, multi-nation-state level. I know that’s primarily in the “hands” of top political leadership. But what THEY think and seek to develop is, in fact, influenced by what a variety of religious and other thinkers are doing. Almost none of us are old enough to remember this directly, but from around the 1950s and earlier, there were “public theologians” whose work certainly stimulated (or perhaps sometimes led?) public debate, influenced government, etc. Reinhold Niebuhr might be the best, most recent example, though now decades past. (More conservative on some counts than I’d prefer, and I imagine you also.) But there were others, mostly earlier, and an atmosphere that expected this.

    I don’t know that we can/should return to such a situation, but I do believe we need more people who actively pursue pragmatic as well as principled political philosophy and policy… (accidental “5 P’s”: bears repeating – Pragmatic Principled Political Philosophy and Policy). And I also think that progressive thinkers from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths could/would collaborate on this toward “5 P’s” that are fitting with their specific faith traditions. And also contribute to international peacebuilding. Certainly Mennonites could and should be in such a conversation and endeavor, Process people, etc.

  3. Ted, this is what–the 3rd or 4th “Red Scare” within the past 100 years? First in 1920, then in 1950 (or so), a mini-scare in 1960-61 triggered by President Kennedy and now again. I know, the Russians aren’t Red anymore, but this scare is channeling the earlier ones.

    Me thinks you over-dignify this scare by bringing Jesus into it. We’re not dealing with reality here, but deception. Propaganda, in other words.

    At an earlier time, at least part of our church knew how to deal with this.

    Soon after World War I, the (Old) Mennonite Church formed a “Peace Problems Committee” to equip its members to resist “warring sentiments” aroused by WW1 propaganda and the first Red Scare. In 1937, as tensions rose in Europe, this Committee led the broader church in adopting a resolution that called all members to avoid “agitation, propaganda, or activity that tends to promote ill-will or hatred among nations.” Again in 1951 it again led the church in adopting a resolution that asked members to avoid any association with “war propaganda or war hysteria.” And in 1961, it called upon the church to “conscientiously avoid all support of, or involvement with, movements which employ questionable means for opposing communism.”

    Alas, our denominational leaders do not have time to help us with propaganda these days; they are too busy these days with more important matters. In fact, the term “propaganda” has fallen out of favor, it seems, as not “fair and balanced.” Sigh . . .

    1. So Berry, what is your wish for what your denomination would ideally be doing, and what are you personally doing… let’s say specifically in regards to interactions between Americans (including gov’t but not exclusively) and Russians?

      And since I’m not getting anyone to comment re. this, I’ll ask you: Is it an official or unofficial stance among most or all Mennonites that neither citizens nor the U.S. gov’t should do anything to confront or “penalize” Russia, ever (sanctions, etc.)? Even when they act militarily against non-Russian states or militarily take an area like Crimea which they claim as rightly theirs? (I have inadequate knowledge to have even an informed opinion on that particular claim, but it seems clear that re-gaining independence for a good number of former Soviet states was appropriate and, to me, that SOME hand in protecting them from potential new military takeover or other bullying is also appropriate.) I feel I must add this qualification: I’m purposely leaving out the aspect of our own (American) manipulations in the region, in that even if we stopped that entirely (a subjective judgment as to if/when), my sense is that Russia, under Putin, would still be an aggressor toward putting itself back on perceived parity with the US as a world power. He is hyper-competitive and nationalistic, just as our current president.

  4. Howard, I wish my denomination would create an institutional capacity to sniff out propaganda and communicate their findings to the church via Mennonite media. This capacity would include a standing committee made up of persons already serving in various church capacities (professors, international NGO staff, etc.). Sort of like the Peace Problems Committee the (Old) Mennonite Church used to have.

    I have made a formal proposal to MCUSA in this regard and have written about the problem (see http://www.bible-and-empire.net/p/1-httpwww.html). I blog about this problem at http://www.bible-and-empire.net.

    The way you raise the Ukraine crisis puzzles me. In discussing that crisis, why would we leave out half the story (the US-led coup that removed a democratically elected government and replaced it with neo-Nazis)? The U.S. media already has done exactly that, but why would we replay that futile exercise here?

    As for Putin, he is attempting to chart a course in the world for Russia that is outside U.S. control. For this, he is being demonized here in the U.S. Yet as far as I can tell, Russia under his leadership does not have imperial goals.

    I have found much benefit in reading about US-Russia relations at ConsortiumNews.com.

  5. Thanks for the info re. the Mennonite aspect of our discussion. My ties are quite old, other than people like Ted and you. But, if you hadn’t read from me here earlier, my mother’s side of family was thoroughly Mennonite, though there was no Mennonite fellowship anywhere near her in most of her early adult years or after she married and had kids. So I was raised more general Evangelical with only some occasional Mennonite exposure via her or a few other relatives, and then some in college via friends, and later in Oregon via Ted and a few others.

    Your question re. the Ukraine situation demonstrates the great difficulty we all experience from having exposure to varying (often opposite) aspects of propaganda… for now I’ll call all “reporting” and/or opinion pieces propaganda, which doesn’t mean it is all purposely misleading. However, it certainly carries bias and generally lacks a well-balanced perspective that seeks to counter biases on either “side” (or all “sides”). So I pick sources carefully and try to do “balancing” or discernment for myself, being well-acquainted with the psychological and political aspects of both creating and consuming “news” and info on world affairs (or domestic, etc.).

    All that partly given to say that while I am not deeply read/informed re. the Ukraine situation, I do have a bit more input than just mainstream media.
    It appears you may be reading into my perspective (with perhaps some unwarranted assumptions ) in being “puzzled” by “the way I raise” the Ukr. situation. I purposely was brief, well realizing it is a complex story with guilt on the part of many parties variously involved, including the US. But I purposely didn’t imply otherwise. But your reply, and I’m taking the wording carefully, trying not to make assumptions or read into it, seems to express that the US “started” something to which the Russians only responded. I doubt you think exactly that simplistically, but this is the difficulty of written-but-brief conversations. And, as you rightly object to, also of much reporting as we get it in major media outlets, whether left-leaning or right-leaning, “internationalist” or “nationalist”, etc.

    I appreciate the referrals, and hope to do at least some minimal reading. But from what I have gotten and gleaned over the years, including some direct input from a Ukrainian woman living in my San Diego area who I know fairly well and who stays connected and spent a couple months there last year, including very near the conflict “front”. Incidentally, she is no fan of US involvement either, but is even more adamantly critical of what Russia has been doing within her country in recent years, especially since their partly veiled “invasion” (I think rightly so-called). Now I well realize the differing perspectives in different regions of Ukraine/Crimea and take that into account, as does she. That’s part of why it’s so complicated on one level. But still, to me, clear that Russia has been and is a military aggressor there, and certainly not justifiably so, especially to any pacifist.

    I also don’t think, at all, that Putin is demonized here solely for “attempting to chart a course in the world for Russia that is outside U.S. control”. On some points, he may well be unfairly demonized. We also might have to define how you mean “imperial goals” for a deeper discussion, but for a surface discussion here, I don’t see reason to agree with this, via evidence I’ve been able to glean and even giving him “benefit of the doubt”. Again and simplistically, US (or European, etc.) imperialism does not justify Russian domination over neighboring nation-states (or ethnic groups within them or Russia), support of or joining in with Syrian atrocities, etc., NOR vice-versa. Mostly, we indeed are subject to the filtering out of US imperial or meddling actions, but I believe we have to be very careful not to counter-weigh too far, and I also see this seeming to be the case when our own “sins” are sought to be exposed, including in this forum.

    1. Sorry to disappoint you, Howard, but I mean to say exactly what you had hoped I was not saying: the USA set the Ukrainian crisis in motion with a coup, acting in league with neo-Nazis.

      The Russians–with troops already stationed in the Crimea per its long-term lease agreement with Ukraine–simply closed Crimea to the Kiev gang that had commandeered the levers of government in the capital city. The Ukrainians living in the two eastern-most provinces of Ukraine also declined to accept the authority of the Kiev gang and mounted a violent resistance to Kiev’s henchmen. Russia has supported this resistance.

      As for Russia’s intervention in Syria, it has been fully compliant with international law, in marked contrast to US intervention there, which has entailed collaboration with Salafist terrors (al-Qaeda and ISIL, to name two of the groups) to overthrow the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad.

      Basically, American progressives (and the media outlets they prefer) have shut their eyes and ears to the horrors of US imperialism these past 8 years, thus enabling the destruction of Libya, Ukraine, Syria and Yemen without hardly a word of protest. One of the small blessings of having a Republican back in the White House is that progressives are starting to pay attention again.

      1. Berry, I’ll assume that you base your analysis on credible sources and am not intending to claim US innocence. I do not know the situation in real historical detail. But I do have to ask if your sources include in-depth and well-informed sources from within Ukraine or others closely involved, American, European, etc., who have a different understanding of the key developments. I can’t now remember most of the details, but a movie done by Ukrainian youth and others involved in the winter show-downs in which many were killed, certainly don’t appear to be Neo-nazis, nor influenced by them. I think it’s called “Winter on Fire” or something similar. And my Uk. friend sent me at least one other… I forget the name.

        Now, her knowledge, as an ex-pat who, as I said, has kept touch and last year spent a couple months there, is much more direct and “at the source” than the movies, media reporting, etc. And she would differ significantly with your accounting. If I intend to understand it much, I’d have to spend some time researching, which I don’t have much of these days. If you want to send me, or link me to a couple succinct and authoritative summaries, that not only makes claims but you think adequately deals with counter-claims, that I promise I’d read.

        As to Syria, Russian “fully compliant with international law”?? While this may be correct on the very broad level of being “invited” and such, there are a number of ways in which I can’t see this as true at a deeper and more important level, even supposing a good bit of slanting of reports by Western media. But I don’t have time to go into it now. Maybe we’ll continue… seems we’re pretty far apart re. this; and I’m not hearing things potentially constructive so far, as to dealing with what IS happening, regardless of who started what, etc. Certainly, Trump’s entire history and m.o. does NOT suggest his approach will be any healthier or more moral… I’m expecting the opposite (while still looking for optimistic signs… not seeing any), and regardless of him potentially improving relations with Russia, as he says he’s intending.

  6. To be fair to both sides:

    The Maidan affair was not solely a victory of neo-Nazis. Many of its adherents were well-meaning Western Liberals. Nevertheless, it was a kind of putsch. And after such a putsch, the defeated faction is not morally obliged to obey an authority which wasn’t elected by a common election. Under such conditions secession is not illegitimate, neither in the case of Crimea nor in the case of the Donezk region.

    To understand Russia we must take into account the “rape of Russia” under Yeltsine, a story which seems to have been ignored in the United States. The Russian masses became dirt poor, and some people became very rich – not only native Russian oligarchs, but also Western (!) persons and institutions engaged in Russian economical affairs. These Western persons and institutions have never been hold responsible. This explains the Russian disdain for their Western Liberal politicians (the most prominent, Nemzov, was a big shot under Yeltsine) and their sympathy for Putin. Under Putin, the life of the average Russian has normalized again, and that’s something to be really grateful about. Also within the Russian political spectre Putin takes a place in the middle (the big opposition parties are much more anti-Western, and the Western Liberals are disreputed).

    Well, nobody knows what Putin might do under certain conditions. In a way I support Howard Pepper’s idea about the Baltic States: it might be a good idea to send troops as a deterrent. The problem with this is the fact that the responsible political and military leaders are unable to restrict themselves to the task of defence, but are nearly always planning for more aggressive strikes (bombing Russan territory etc.) which makes tension rise, not sink. And the “Liberal Imperialist” faction in the U.S. still thinks that they have all the right to interfere into Russian politics and to orchestrate a coup against Putin, whatever the Russian public thinks about that. It is this hypocrisy which motivates the Liberal hype about “Russian interference in the U.S.” and which makes it so unbearable.

  7. Ted, Berry, brueckenbauer and others,

    It’s been quite a while since any of us have added to this discussion. I continue to see it as an important one… in which to pursue Christian pacifist perspectives and their application, at least “within the fold” (“fold” as broadly defined, given my theological perspective is not considered “in” by many). Maybe, just maybe, we can influence things further than just “in house”.

    In recent weeks, my Christian/humanitarian (more than political) concerns about reasoned yet proactive approaches to “official” Russia, particularly Putin and his oligarchs, has only grown. I frankly do not think there is any remaining question about calculated Russian interference in our electoral process, and that it is not an “out-liar” but consistent with their broader m.o. I say that realizing we cannot merely trust everything coming out of our intelligence services by any means! But there are too many lines and levels of evidence and “it all makes sense” themes to let any doubts neutralize us.

    Ted, in the post, you’d said what I’ll insert as a full paragraph below. As I’ve said, I think we’re way beyond “imaginable that Russia did try to interfere” to certainty about it. And the number of indications of corruption (perhaps mainly financial, vis-a-vis political but inevitably involving both at this point) involving Trump and/or his affiliates has become more than just suspicious. It’s something Jesus would have plenty to say about, I have no doubt. I’d like to further pursue how we might think and act on this part of the quote (just below), near the end: “… hope for mutually acceptable resolution…” For Christian pacifists, how do we approach this?

    “Certainly, offenses do happen. It is imaginable that Russia did try to interfere. If that is the case, the US should indeed challenge that interference. But in light of the nuclear threat (not to mention simple respect for the Russians as human beings), the concerns should be approached carefully, cautiously, and with the intent of achieving come kind of mutually acceptable resolution. The feeling one gets from those raising these concerns about possible Russian interference is not a hope for mutually acceptable resolution so much as a heightening of distance between the two nations, intimidation, and even heightened polarization.”

    The link below is just one recent source that lays out some of the larger picture, for those who may need basic info, of what is going on. And it attempts to be at least somewhat non-partisan though published in a “liberal” online mag.:

    1. Thanks for your continued thoughtful thoughts, Howard. I will admit to not following this issue closely at all, so my comments are not based on any special information. But I won’t let my ignorance stop me!

      I am not convinced yet that “Russian interference” was a “certainty.” Nor am I convinced that their “interference,” even if present, made much of a difference. If they actually directly corrupted the vote count, et al, that would be pretty bad, but I’m not aware of that any longer being alleged.

      Now, Trump is absolutely terrible, but isn’t the most serious of his terribleness that he is carrying out the far Right Republican agenda? If he were removed, how would that help with resisting that agenda? I suspect that if Pence were president, there is more chance that the ACA would have been repealed, for example.

      And probably even more seriously, whose interests would be served by nailing Trump on his Russian connections? Wouldn’t it be the National Security State? Wouldn’t it be the people who desire and would benefit from a rekindled Cold War?

      I still believe that it is a terrible thing that so many Democrats and progressives are focusing on Russia rather than building a stronger resistance to the broader dynamics of the Republican takeover.

      1. Thanks, Ted. First, I suppose we can proceed in productive discussion without convincing one another as to how strong the evidence is for it being Russian actors (governmental or acting for its benefit) that hacked and then released DNC data, etc. And it could have been more than one source. In weighing the evidence, any of us has to go largely on inferences and/or trust in reports by the various intelligence agencies. I understand why people (often including me) tend not to trust them.

        But my main point and ongoing question could be re-stated something like this: Supposing that it IS a conclusion, in some weeks or months, that even most Republicans and most Democrats and independents (or other party patrons) agree with that Russia interfered in our electoral process significantly… whether or not “successfully”. (I.e., I think you may be reading in the issue of attempting to push Trump out via the issue, which I didn’t refer to, and agree it might not be the right place to focus energy.)

        Anyway, supposing such a broad and well-supported consensus, what should a Christian pacifist push for then? What should/would Mennonite or others with experience in non-violent and Kingdom-oriented action and/or mediation be trying to do or to push leaders toward? And, actually, my interest is NOT as much in our own “national security” interests or “protecting democracy” here as it is in productive, positively engaging action that helps protect former Soviet countries, journalists and political opposition figures in Russia who are often in danger of their lives, etc. (I do believe the documentation on the killing of so many of them in blatant or highly unusual ways is solid… judged assassinations by many with deep experience in Russia and knowledge of its ways. It points to some level of their government.)

        How can we influence OUR leaders to engage with theirs in ways that will help “the least of these” (or various oppressed people in that region)? Or how can we best, as private citizens, perhaps do other things to help? (As, at least, in what we write about it, speak, teach, etc.) Of course, I realize there are plenty of pressing causes in THIS country, but this one could be a building one that might, either soon or eventually, involve widespread violence. Maybe our actions can help forestall or reverse that. But how?

    2. Howard, antiwar.com has two news articles up today (March 29) on the falling apart of the so-called evidence of Russian hacking being at the root of the WikiLeaks publications. ConsortiumNews.com has published on this issue consistently and is a solid, reputable outlet of news and analysis. raymcgovern.com is another good source, with lots to say about Russia (Ray is a Christian and part of Church of the Saviour in D.C.) You can see my summary of Ray’s comments here in Lancaster this past weekend at http://www.bible-and-empire.net/2017/03/wisdom-from-ray-mcgovern.html

      I read the Huffington Post piece you referenced. It makes an argument, but assumes the evidence has already established Russian culpability, which it has not.

      1. Howard, I neglected to mention that Ray McGovern is former CIA, Soviet specialist, speaks Russian fluently and is someone with “deep experience,” as you put it.

      2. Berry, this is replying to both your 3-29 and 3-30 comments, bec. the latter has no “reply” option with it… so it may still appear below this one. I read your article and found what I think were the two you mentioned at antiwar.com. Also read a couple, related, at consortiumnews.com and voanews.com.

        While being quite open (I think both subconsiously… how would I know for sure?… and consciously), I didn’t find anything there that was surprising or leading me, at least so far, to any need to modify my overall appraisal. Nothing convincing, for example, that really calls into doubt Russia as the by-far-most-likely source of the hacked-and-released material from last fall.
        (One small related point: I’ve not seen anyone produce any evidence or even a good logical case as to who may have done it if not the Russians.)

        I know little about VOA, other than general things about its long history, but found it interesting (deserving of further probing I don’t have time for at the moment) that it used the term “Deep State” (capitalized). It probably is a decent and accurate label but interesting they’d use that exact wording in that form… again, I need to trace its usage previously and currently before drawing much from that. And feel free to speed me on the way if you’d like.

        At any rate, I’m even less assured about Trump’s interest and ability to potentially “undo” unwarranted surveillance (except where it may expose HIM) than almost any other key candidate who might have won nomination and the election. I suppose Sanders would have given me more encouragement on that score than anyone, as well as other areas I’d have been encouraged by him becoming President (though I’ve not researched his career much so can’t say for sure.)

        And, only partly afield from our subject, I am more than a little concerned about proliferation of corruption… American, Russian, Russian-American, etc., under Trump. Also concerned about his widely-dispersed belligerent, vindictive, insulting kinds of words AND actions… as generally representing everything that is antithetical to a pacifist/peacebuilding perspective and approach. As to Ray McGovern, I don’t know enough yet, so will suspend any judgment on his discernment, reliability, depth of analysis, etc. Surface things look good, but I want to know more… and may pursue it as I can, over time.

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