The smear marathon continues wherever people like me seek a balanced position. How can this avalanche, which harms above all the Ukrainians, be stopped?
On 8 May 2023, I visited Moscow. On that day, the Evangelical Alliance of Russia (REA) laid a wreath in memory of the millions of people killed in World War II in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall.
I took part in it as a mere observer. At the entrance to Alexandrov Park, the stewards pinned a St. George's ribbon on each mourning participant as an entrance pass. They pinned one on me as well.
Since 2005, the St. George ribbon, a military symbol introduced by Tsarina Catherine II in 1769, has been used in Russia as a mourning symbol for those who died in war.
However, under Putin's government it is also massively instrumentalized politically against all so-called enemies of the country and has become the hated badge in Ukraine.
Of course I knew the background of this ribbon, but I also wanted to see how the Protestants mourn. And thus strode into the park for the ceremony. After the public prayer we left the park not without taking a photo with some friends.
What happened next defies description. Already in the evening of 8 May, I received concerned e-mails from friends about a rolling smear campaign in the social media.
Vitaly Vlassenko, Secretary General of the REA then presented the facts on the net, but that only seemed to add fuel to the fire. Even the statement of the General Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA),Thomas Schirrmacher, a few days later did not calm the tempers.
With each passing day, an increasingly ghastly face of a Putin friend, a collaborator of the secret service, and otherwise an old man whose "brain had run dry" was attributed to me.
Among the commentators were soon notable Ukrainian evangelicals and even former employees of the Evangelical Alliance. I was shocked. Sure, it was a mistake to go to Alexandrov Park, but was this action an adequate response to my mistake?
I love the different peoples of Ukraine. For the last 40 years I have given a lot of my strength, money and energy to these people. Thousands came to faith this way, many Christian institutions were founded and churches built. My books have been translated into the Ukrainian language. I have always been committed to the people of Ukraine.
[destacate]I was shocked. Sure, it was a mistake to go to Alexandrov Park, but was this action an adequate response to my mistake?
[/destacate]This is where my ancestors came from. Here many of my relatives were persecuted, tortured and killed in the years between 1919-1942. Ukraine is one of my heartfelt concerns. And now this? What have I done to deserve the dirty washing?
Of course, hardly anyone of the critics has asked me personally about my motives and motivations since 8 May. They don't talk to me, they talk about me.
Soon after the start of the action I decided not to react and not to strike back.
The organization I work for, the Evangelical Alliance, had explained everything, there was nothing more to say. And those who wanted to contact me always had the opportunity. But that did not happen? Instead, many Ukrainian Christians turned away from me.
Only today, half a year later, it dawns on me what happened here. Why would Ukrainians dismantle one of their friends, supporters and spiritual brothers like this?
Sure I am a pacifist and against any war, but is that a crime? Sure I oppose any injustice and denounce war crimes wherever and by whomever they are committed. But is it all so wrong? Have my many articles on the crimes of the Russian army all gone unread?
No, just the opposite. It has become clear to me that the dismantling was carried out quite deliberately by secret services that want to destroy me as a friend of Ukrainians, and with the hands, or rather the loose tongues of Ukrainians themselves.
Especially those who fled the country themselves and instead of standing on the front line, with or without weapons, bitterly-viciously finish off anyone who registers even a hint of criticism.
[destacate]Sure I oppose any injustice and denounce war crimes wherever and by whomever they are committed. But is it all so wrong?
[/destacate]This Ukrainian diaspora is being manipulated. And their pain and anger against the Russian aggressor Vladimir Putin and his army makes them an easy pawn in the battle for opinion.
Unfortunately, I am not the only one who has been caught between the teeth in this way. Other helpers, Belarusians, Russians, Uzbeks, Armenians and so on do not fare much better. The smear marathon continues wherever people like me seek a balanced position. How can this unholy avalanche, which harms above all the Ukrainians themselves, be stopped?
My personal experience has taught me to take the following steps.
[destacate]It is not in the social networks that the sins of the brothers are discussed, but first and foremost in a personal setting
[/destacate]First, people who act biblically will not formulate their criticism on hearsay or anger in the gut, but always in a conversation with the person concerned. Where this does not happen, there are forces at play that only want to harm. Jesus himself formulated this basic principle. In Mt. 18:15-17 it states:
"But if your brother sins, go and rebuke him between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. If he does not listen to you, take one or two more to you, so that every matter may be confirmed by the mouths of two or three witnesses. If he does not listen to them, tell the congregation. If he also does not listen to the congregation, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax collector."
It is not in the social networks that the sins of the brothers are discussed, but first and foremost in a personal setting and then in the congregation.
In my case, this did not happen. And I firmly assume that those who triggered the agitation wanted it exactly that way.
They were not interested in a clarification, but used the first best opportunity to blacken me, to slander and to finish me off. Such a thing is neither brotherly nor human, it is diabolical. And Christians should know, God will never approve of such a thing.
Secondly, the wrong reaction of the brothers, however, does not excuse my naive and stupid behavior. I must apologize for hurting feelings of Ukrainians and do it herewith formally. One will certainly never see dubious ribbons on the lapel of my coat again.
Thirdly, we as a community of believers should put a stop to the destructive activity of demonic forces. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and authorities of Satan (Eph 6:12).
[destacate] The wrong reaction of the brothers does not excuse my naive and stupid behavior. I must apologize for hurting feelings of Ukrainians and do it herewith formally
[/destacate]People only allow themselves to be abused by these powers that sow anger and hatred. Instead of being offended at the slanderers, we should command the demons who blind and abuse Christians.
In any case, I will not withdraw from Ukraine or Russia. My love for the nations was renewed in this personal conflict, also because I realized who is behind the action.
And I pray for my Ukrainian brothers that their eyes will also open, and they will realize how dirty the Internet is and how easily we become seducible when we are guided not by the Spirit of God but by the fables on the Internet.
Johannes Reimer, professor of Missiology and Intercultural Theology and Director of the Departent of Public Engagement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).