In the midst of Ukraine crisis, Baptists offer witness to unity, says leader

Romanian Baptist Otniel Bunaciu says Russian and Ukrainian Baptists have sought unity as their countries have faced off.

By Robert Dilday

As the crisis between Ukraine and Russia continues to bedevil world leaders, Baptists in the two countries have offered a profound witness to unity as Christian believers, a European Baptist said April 28.

“Obviously it is a potential disruption as two peoples who are close language-wise and historically face this kind of political conflict, which is also military,” said Otniel Bunaciu, who is completing a second term as president of the European Baptist Federation. “But I think so far Baptists have been a good witness in the situation.”

photo 1That was expressed most visibly April 8 when Ukrainian and Russian Baptist leaders met in Kiev and issued a statement as “a visible sign of support for the possibility of a peaceful dialogue between our churches and nations,” said Bunaciu, a Romanian Baptist leader and educator.

“It’s significant that in a place where people see things totally divided you have a common witness,” he said. Whether such statements will influence events is still to be seen, he acknowledged. “But if people are talking about war and the Russian Baptists and the Ukrainian Baptists sit and discuss and issue such a statement — that’s huge.”

Bunaciu, who also is president of the Baptist Union of Romania and a pastor and university dean, was visiting the United States on a speaking engagement. Part of his itinerary took him to Richmond, Va., where the Baptist General Association of Virginia has launched a partnership with the Romanian union.

Ukrainian and Russian Baptists’ “common witness” has been enhanced by shared involvement in the EBF, noted Bunaciu. “They have had ongoing links and in Soviet times they had shared leadership, so the leaders know each other. That’s important — there’s a shared relationship, an element of trust.”

Conflict in Syria also captures Bunaciu’s attention, since the dwindling number of Baptists there are affiliated with the EBF. The federation has provided humanitarian aid to victims of the civil war and to refugees through Baptist in Lebanon and Jordan, he said.

“The sad thing for Christian witness in Syria is that the number of Christians — not just Baptists — has declined” as the violence has continued, he said. “We say this is a good reason to pray.”

Restrictions on religious liberty also remain a challenge in some parts of the EBF’s territory, which stretches from Ireland to Russia’s Pacific Coast.

“There are restraints in places,” Bunaciu said. “It is a fluid situation, it changes. Last year Egypt was problematic. I think things are better now. But also in Central Asia, religious freedom is declining. That’s a concern for us.”