Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Statement on Ukraine: We oppose all war

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship calls for an immediate halt to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a return to diplomatic talks. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) opposes all war. We maintain that the nonviolent realism of Jesus is more compelling than the so-called realism that attempts to justify war by any party.

Here are some commitments we are trying to hold in this moment, which we elaborate on in the rest of this statement: 

  • Putin needs to pull his troops out – we join with the world in raising our voices – join us on Sunday for a global day of solidarity
  • The folly of nuclear stockpiles is – once again – obvious and inescapable in the face of Putin’s threat
  • We support war demonstrators, war resisters and conscientious objectors in Russia and in Ukraine as well
  • This war highlights the direct link between the threat of war and fossil fuel dependence (this is why we united with Fossil Free PCUSA several years ago)
  • For lasting peace, we must address imperialism and militarism in all its forms, including by the US and NATO
  • We are in prayer and discernment about how to “operationalize” our commitment to nonviolence in this moment 

Imperialism, backed and enforced by militarism, is a form of power-over that often uses the threat of violence–before or in place of overt violence–to maintain power. Countries like Russia and the U.S., with tanks and armies and nuclear weapons in their pockets, can say, “If you don’t do what I want, you’ll regret it.” It’s the nation-state equivalent of someone coming up to you on the street and saying “I want your wallet” while showing you the gun they’re holding. 

The threat of violence is itself a form of psychological violence, and is a precursor to overt violence. Right now, we’re seeing this unfold in Russia’s imperial invasion of Ukraine. The  military violence of power-over is also happening to Palestinians at the hands of an Israeli military funded and equipped by US dollars. Our partners in Colombia have, for years, reminded us that peace is not the absence of overt violence, but the presence of human rights and the ability to thrive; and threats of violence, they say, control people as much as overt violence.

Image of the Monument of Independence of Ukraine, the slavic pagan goddess of Berehynia who represents the protectoress of the home. she holds the viburnum branch, the national symbol for women, motherhood, the soul of the nation, and love.

NATO, as a military alliance, has exacerbated Russian imperialism. While trying to keep Russia from expanding its empire, NATO has isolated Russia and pushed it into a defensive mode of guarding and expanding its power. That is not to say that NATO is the sole reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it is to say that military alliances cannot maintain peace because their primary way of operating is through bullying, punishment, threats of violence, and military force.  

That’s why we are calling first and foremost, for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The overt violence happening against Ukrainians must end immediately. We also call upon Ukraine to allow everyone, including men ages 18 – 60, to leave Ukraine if they choose. 

We also know that withdrawal will not solve the larger dynamics of violence in global politics, and will not bring true peace. For true peace, we must practice accountability, not punishment (this is true at interpersonal and international levels). 
We must end the proliferation of nuclear weapons and dismantle the nuclear weapons that do exist. 
We must end our reliance on fossil fuels, which destroy the planet, motivate armed conflict, and force people to become war and climate refugees. 
We must unravel, unlearn, and transform ideologies of violence and domination: white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, militarism, and environmental destruction. 
We must work to end the racism that is turning away Africans fleeing Ukraine at the Polish border; and we must end the racism in the US media coverage–reflecting the sentiments of a racist culture–that says “this invasion is shocking because we think of Europe and white people as ‘civilized’ people who don’t deserve violence, but Afghans, Palestinians, Iraqis, and other people of color do.”

True peace requires those with power to give up that power. But we know that power is never relinquished willingly. 
That’s why we’re so inspired by the widespread Ukrainian nonviolent resistance to the invasion, like an unarmed person blocking the road so tanks can’t proceed. 
That’s why we’re inspired by the Russians who are protesting their government’s actions at great personal risk and the Russian soldiers who are surrendering when they realize that they’ve been lied to and the Ukrainians do not want them there. 
That’s why we’re inspired by creative alternatives to fossil fuels, like the suggestion of using US resources to send electric heat pumps to Europe and undermine Russia’s monopoly on oil and gas.

In other places, we’re inspired by Israeli activists protesting the occupation of Palestine and conscientious objectors who go to jail rather than serve in the IDF. We’re inspired by conscientious objectors in the United States who refuse to register for the selective service or young people who enlist in the US Armed Forces and then–like the Russians mentioned above–realize that they were lied to and their service doesn’t protect world peace but creates violence around the world for an imperial agenda. 

This kind of peace requires that those with power be in active solidarity with those who are most impacted by militarism and violence: Ukranians, Palestinians, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) in the US and around the world, children, and more. 

We are continuing to listen to Ukrainians and voices of those opposed to war to understand what is happening in Ukraine. As an organization with many layers of social advantage (Christian, predominantly white, Presbyterian, US-citizens, formally educated, and more) we are at a disadvantage for understanding nuance and too often seek simplistic answers and empathize more with people who “look like us” than others also experiencing the violence of war.

We seek to approach this moment with humility and also with the courage to be in solidarity with victims of war and imperialism everywhere. That’s why we’re asking our network to participate in the March 6 Global Day of Solidarity with Ukraine as one such public action:

Finally, we ask people to pray because prayer changes us: prayer helps us face our own inclinations to violence and gives us the courage to seek accountability and the resilience to stay with tender hearts in struggles for justice. We also ask people to pray because it matters for people to hear and see that militarism and nationalism that celebrates violence and militarism is not faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here are a few more resources for prayer: a prayer for Ukraine we shared last week and a sermon by Rev. Ben Daniel at First Presbyterian Church of Montclair, a Peace Church.