They pray “peace, peace”, when there’s no peace

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It was the usual people doing the usual thing and intoning the usual cliches, and as usual avoiding saying anything too specific. Just before Russia invaded Ukraine, leading religious leaders joined in a “Vigil of Faith for Peace in Ukraine”. The vigil was conducted on Zoom and broadcast on Facebook. Organized by official Quaker and Episcopal agencies, it featured a range of “religious leaders”, including Lutherans, Baptists, Reform Jews and Muslims.

I do not see the interest. Not as long as a group of people have spent a few hours doing something that no one in the world will care about. It can’t hurt. I don’t see the point of meeting together to pray and not praying for the things they should have prayed for. Not “peace”, but that Russia would not invade Ukraine.

Russian militarism was the elephant in the zoom.

Serious and abstract

Everyone was speaking sincerely. They clearly cared in some way. They took the matter seriously. But they did not take it back to its current reality. They covered it with layers of abstractions, pious wishes, ideas from the The book of progressive clichés. They spoke in such a way that people couldn’t see what was happening in Ukraine, like an art teacher spraying crude oil on the mona-lisa while he lectures about it.

Each of the religious leaders, as far as I know, carefully avoided taking sides. The head of the Episcopal Church said at the start, “There are people and children of God whose lives and freedoms are threatened and so we pray,” but that’s about as specific as anyone on this. that’s actually happening.

The abstract way in which they speak of “peace” implies that these are flaws on both sides, a difference that could be resolved by compromise. But this is not about two nations reasonably at odds, who could avoid war by talking to each other. It is not a question of two peoples with different stories, which could be resolved by listening. The usual, unavoidable godly platitudes don’t work, because they say nothing about the real world.

The crisis not mentioned

The representative of the main Lutherans said, for example: “pray for the citizens of Ukraine, Russia and all those affected by this crisis”. She expressed “our concerns for all affected countries”. She said that “We know that the God of peace wants us to work for the reconciliation of this crisis, so we ask urge our leaders and those of other nations to work for a de-escalation of the crisis and to resolve this conflict peacefully. .”

Sojourners leader Adam Russell Taylor said faith leaders ‘must say loud and clear no to military action as a solution to problems, and instead yes to the continued promotion of dialogue, solidarity and cooperation’ . They could “draw on a prophetic imagination to see a path to peace rather than accepting war as a lost conclusion.” He invoked Isaiah’s prophecy about nations turning their swords into plowshares.

What was “this crisis”? Russia massing its armies on the borders of a sovereign nation. Whose swords were to be turned into plowshares? That of Russia. You would never know from what they said.

Move Putin’s Heart

How should we pray? By acknowledging reality and responding to it in prayer. A Catholic priest, James Martin, gave an example in the magazine America. He fervently prays for peace in Ukraine, he said. God could respond by “opening hearts and directing thoughts to ways of peace, harmony and reconciliation. Perhaps by awakening in us an intense compassion for the victims of war. Perhaps by filling us with indignation at the suffering caused by war. Remember this is one of the ways God ‘works’, bringing hearts into action.

But he does not rely on the general “peace in Ukraine”. When asked what he was praying for Ukraine, Martin replied, “Peace, peace, peace.” It’s as expected, and decent. But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “And let’s be frank: we pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart will be moved so that he can see the immense suffering he is causing. He’s a Christian, apparently. I pray that he understands that Jesus Christ desires peace.

God tells us to pray for the world. He gives us minds and hearts to see what we should pray for. Anyone can pray for a windy abstraction like “peace.” Truly praying for what needs to be prayed for requires careful watching and serious thinking. It is a concrete way of loving one’s neighbour. Look at them so closely that you know what they need. Recognize the good and the bad. Pass judgments when the judgments are so clear.

Pray for others as you would like them to pray for you. Pray for Ukrainians as you would have people pray for you if a foreign power threatened you with misery and death.

David Mills is editor of The flow. After teaching writing in a seminary, he was editor of Touchstone and the editor of first things. He writes the “Last stuff” column for the New Oxford Review. His previous article was “Why Jesus spoke of prisoners as if he were just one”.


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