Learning From the Ukraine





With our own nation in the balance, American Christians must embrace the challenge--and responsibility--of transforming our culture.
The week before Christmas, I received an e-mail from Sunday Adelaja. Sunday pastors the 20,000-member Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine. It is the largest church in Europe. In his message to me, Pastor Sunday described the tenuous political climate of his country and the (then) upcoming presidential re-vote between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. Yushchenko is in favor of democratic reform in Ukraine and had recently contacted Sunday requesting input on how to structure the relationship between the evangelical church and his would-be administration. He recognized it is evangelicals who most ardently embrace, promote and protect the core ideas of freedom and personal responsibility.

The now new Ukrainian president is facing a daunting task. He is taking the reigns of a country which--for bleak, hard decades that still live in the memory of many of his countrymen--was shackled with oppressive tyranny, and which for the entire 12 years of its independence has struggled to assimilate progressive ideas.

Acutely aware that an entire generation of Ukrainian adults knows only atheism, totalitarian government control and state-planned economics, Mr. Yushchenko has been deliberate to connect with those in his country who embrace freedom and have a platform to persuade others. The significance of Mr. Yushchenko's overture to the Ukrainian evangelical community cannot be overstated. The fact that this reformer is turning to the church for counsel bespeaks the influence God's people are wielding in Ukraine.

Where did this influence come from? Christ's followers have a deep appreciation for the fundamental truth that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1, NIV). When the party lines became clear--that Yanukovich intended to restrict freedom and Yushchenko aimed to institutionalize it--Ukrainian Christians united.

For weeks after the first "election," Pastor Sunday and his congregation took to the streets of Kiev in protest, peacefully but noisily articulating their preference of freedom over control. Freedom advocates of every stripe joined the church's cry for justice, and justice was served.

Christians united for the purpose of changing culture swung this pivotal Eastern European nation in plain sight of the watching world.

Recognizing both the good ideas and strong influence of evangelical Ukraine, Yushchenko turned to the church for input. For the second time in as many weeks, evangelicals had the opportunity to speak into the political process at a critical juncture. Christians united in voice and purpose found themselves positioned to help change a culture and shape a nation.

One of the president-elect's questions dealt with setting up a spiritual council where national questions could be brought before spiritual fathers of the nation. This gave evangelicals leisure to comment on the critical matter of church/state relations and to advocate religious freedom. Christians earned a voice in the government's formation and gained the influence to promote the types of institutions, tools and laws that will transform Ukrainian society in an authentic way.

A second question concerned social faith-based initiatives: Acknowledging the leadership the global evangelical community has for centuries provided in the area of human betterment, the Yushchenko administration inquired as to how the government ought to work with the church to serve people.

This allowed church leadership to encourage the president to create, empower and regulate a business market for the proliferation of private human-improvement enterprises and to subsidize the best ones, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

The world is watching Ukraine, and Ukraine is listening to the church. Christians there have united to change their culture, and the ripples may go much farther than they imagined. With our own nation in such a tenuous balance, the church in America should take a lesson from our Eastern-European brothers.

Simply put, the body of Christ has the capability--and indeed the responsibility--of changing cultures. We must stop defining ourselves by our differences and prioritize a common voice if we are to realize the fullness of God's intent for his church.


Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of many books and is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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