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Putin’s evil war and the decline of the West

We should call Putin’s invasion of Ukraine evil, because that is what it is. There is no acceptable justification for the murder of innocent citizens: children, women and men. Nor is there justification for sending the terrified sons of Russia’s mothers to die for the wicked cause of a wicked man.

Comment Tim Farron MP
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Despite what one newspaper described as ‘Putin’s complete capture of the church in Russia,’ 176 Orthodox priests have publicly denounced the war

When we pray like the author of Lamentations, in anger and outrage at the wickedness of humanity, we share the anger of God. Let’s not cease from doing so.

In this world we are promised trouble. We are promised that there will be wars and rumours of wars. Though it breaks our hearts and we almost explode with anger at this injustice, we know to expect such horrors.

There seem to be signs all around of the decline of Western influence. The annexation of Crimea by Putin in 2014, Assad’s brutal chemical bombing of his own people over the last decade, the withdrawal of NATO peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan last year, and the subsequent return of the Taliban. All point to a Western resignation into irrelevance.

Some say that the decline amongst the wealthy ‘western’ nations is a consequence of our abandonment of Christian values. Perhaps that is true.

But we must remember two things.

First, liberal democracies are built upon the foundation of the gospel in the first place. Tom Holland explains this powerfully in his book Dominion. Concepts such as justice, equality, the value of every human life, the very idea of universal human rights at all, are peculiarly Christian in their origin. These are not assumptions in every culture, only comprehensively in those based on the Christian faith. As academic Oliver O’Donovan says: ‘Liberal democracies bear the crater marks of the gospel.’

This is a hard thing for non-Christian Western liberals to hear. The faith of Western secularism is placed in the inevitability of human progress, free to leave behind the restrictions of church and faith as we head towards an enlightened golden age. Five minutes of today’s news tells us that this faith is catastrophically misplaced. We make terrible gods. There would be no liberal democracies, nor liberalism at all without the gospel which shaped how our societies understand the world.

Secondly, we must remember that while it is true that human beings will never create a future golden age, neither was there ever a past golden age. We Christians can get fooled into thinking that there was, especially when we look at declines in church attendance or reminisce over 1950s family values.

Let’s not get deluded by nostalgia. I don’t think we are any more or less fallen now than we were in the past. Even when most Westerners went to church we had slavery, the exploitation of the poor, cults and legalism, cruelty and unfairness, wars and cold wars launched by self-proclaimed Christians for no one’s glory but their own.

Clearly, Western societies are turning their back on the Bible’s teaching about how we live our lives, choosing against humbling ourselves before the God who made us, loves us, and will judge us. Instead, we worship ourselves and make our own comfort and identity our guiding principle. If the concepts of justice and equality come from the foundation of a Christian understanding of the world, then there must be a real chance that removing that foundation may bring the whole structure tumbling.

Maybe that is a reason why the West is weaker today? Maybe this comes from our own internal conflict over the source of Western liberalism? Perhaps – I say this fearfully – God is ‘handing us over’ to our desire to live for ourselves and not Him?

What I am clear about is that God is sovereign. The political power balance across the world has changed countless times since Jesus walked the earth. The seat of power over the universe is unchanged. We can have confidence that His perfect purposes are being worked out, no matter how hard it is to see that in the brokenness before our eyes.

Yet we are still called to seek the welfare of the city in which we have been placed. And we’ve been placed in the West. The rise of China, the return of the Taliban, the wickedness of Putin – all remind us that despite democracy’s flaws, those values are far superior to those of the earthly powers that would replace them. They are values that are Christian in foundation and we should be prepared to fight for them.

Tim Farron has been the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005. He writes here in a personal, non-party political capacity, as an evangelical MP.