Peace and freedom are constantly recurring themes in Scripture.
Not surprisingly, for they are characteristics of the Kingdom of God. They are God’s purposes for the human race. They are deep longings of the human heart. They are part of what we pray for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: for God’s Kingdom to come, his will to be done.
Peace and freedom in Europe should therefore be of prime concern for all believers.
As millennia of human strivings reveal, peace and freedom cannot be fully achieved by human effort alone. We may talk of Pax Romana, Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, periods of relative peace through military, economic and political domination. Vladimir Putin talks of Russkiy Mir, the equivalent of Pax Russia or Russian peace, through submission to a purported Russian civilisation. Each of these, even if benevolent, fall greatly short of the biblical concept of shalom.
Shalom is a dynamic concept of ‘right-relatedness’, much richer than our word ‘peace’. It is a state of being where everything is rightly related to everything else as God originally intended: divine synergy. Shalom anticipates the restoration of all things under heaven and on earth under Christ as Lord.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, carried out in the name of Russkiy Mir, is the biggest assault on peace and freedom in Europe since the Second World War. Anne Applebaum, a leading expert and author on Russian affairs, states that Putin’s contempt of the US-led post-war international order of rule of law, rules of war, respect for international borders and of human rights means that restoration of lasting peace and freedom in Europe will require Putin’s downfall – or transformation.
Seven decades of relative peace and freedom in Europe have been brutally disrupted. German Chancellor Olaf Schultz talked of a ‘zeitenwende’, an historical turning point, forcing his nation to overhaul its constitution to meet the new military threats coming from the east. Traditionally neutral nations like Sweden and Finland are seeking the collective security of NATO. The outcome of this war will determine peace and freedom across Europe, not just in Ukraine.
The Donbas is not the only battlefront. The contest for peace and freedom has been waging already for years in our own backyards through election manipulation, support by the Kremlin of extreme left and right parties, cyber attacks, fake news and conspiracy theories, all contributing to the polarisation of our societies.
Erosion of the foundations of peace and freedom has also been underway for a long time in the west. Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer, two devout believers (see photo), recognised ‘basic Christian values’ as the driving forces for postwar European reconstruction. Peace and freedom grew from forgiveness and reconciliation. While the Marshall Plan and NATO were essential elements of the postwar recovery, they were like external scaffolding on a building project. Without forgiveness and reconciliation particularly between the French and the Germans, no amount of external aid would have enabled an integrated Europe.
Such forgiveness and reconciliation are the missing factors in Russia’s relationship to the west, as is obvious from Putin’s rhetoric about ‘Nazis’ designed to stir wartime wounds and hatred. That swamp has never been drained.
Without Christian foundations, forgiveness and reconciliation, human dignity and solidarity, human rights and religious freedom are all under threat in Europe today. Freedom of conscience, the mother of all freedoms, is being undermined by an encroaching secularism which seeks to minimize the role of religion in any public sphere, and to conduct human affairs based on secular, naturalistic considerations. Doctors and nurses who cannot in good conscience terminate – let’s say it, kill – the lives of unborn children, the ‘unwanted’ elderly or handicapped; those wanting counsel and support for their struggles with sexual identity; Jewish communities… – on the list goes – all are threatened with prosecution and/or persecution through growing intolerance in the name of tolerance.
Over recent weeks, we have been holding an online learning community to study Nancy Pearsey’s book, Love thy body, which explores the consequences of the divide between body and mind, humanness and personhood, nature and feelings. This schizophrenic separation today permeates our lawmaking, sexual ethics, education, entertainment, medical practices, journalism and literature.
Threats to peace and freedom should concern all believers. What role can faith communities in Europe today play in recovering foundations for sustainable, just and flourishing societies?
On May 5th and 6th at this year’s State of Europe Forum in Stockholm, we aim to convene believers from a wide Christian spectrum and a diversity of disciplines to dialogue about the threats to freedom and peace in Europe, external and internal.
Among the contributors will be former Nobel Committee member, Dr Hendrik Syse (Oslo); human rights lawyer, Dr Ruth Nordström (Stockholm); former MEP Tunne Kelam (Tallinn); Clapham Institute director Dr Per Ewert (Stockholm); and theologian Dr Evert Van de Poll (Nîmes).
Save these dates and plan to join us in the historic Santa Klara Church (Friday evening) and the Bethlehem Church (all day Saturday) for this timely forum. I’ll be sharing more information about the programme, contributors and registration over coming weeks.
Till next week,