WRF Member Dr. Thomas Johnson Discusses "The Ukranian Crisis: The Connection Between Personal Morality and Public Well-Being"

March 1, 2014
Thomas K. Johnson

[NOTE: This item expresses the views of the individual to whom the item is ascribed and does not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.]  

The Ukrainian Crisis: The Connection between Personal Morality and Public Well-Being


WRF Member Dr. Thomas Johnson

We have a Ukrainian woman, the wife of a former Soviet Air Force officer from the Cold War era, who works for us part-time in Prague. She is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian, but her husband’s military career was cut short when the Soviet military became the Russian military at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time some Ukrainian military officers were immediately fired from their jobs, including having to immediately leave military housing and loss of military pensions. She has not forgotten that experience they had as a young couple. For this reason, she is, at least in private, very critical of Russian policy in relation to Ukraine, even though she describes the situation to me in the Russian language, not in Ukrainian.

When we saw this friend last week, she was in tears because of the street fighting in Kiev. One of their children and their grandchildren live in Kiev, and they could not reach them on the telephone or via email. They feared the worst, though their worst fears were not realized. Their family members were not killed or injured in the fighting. When I saw her this week, she was furiously angry, and her anger was personally directed at former Ukrainian president Yanukovych, who recently fled to Russia. Their family members have told them about the effects of the first stage of hyper-inflation in Ukraine. Prices are skyrocketing while people are not getting paid on their jobs. And her biggest concern was nutrition. There is no immediate danger of starvation, she thought, but most of what there is to eat is bread and potatoes. And how, she asked, can the children be healthy if they cannot get vegetables, fruit, or dairy products? And this hyper-inflation was, she said, caused because Yanukovych transferred $15 billion of Ukrainian government money to his personal international bank accounts. (I have read other news reports that claim the amount stolen by the previous regime was much higher.) And now, she almost screamed, the children will be malnourished because Yanukovych stole their tax money, causing economic chaos. As she was talking, I was reminded of the traditional role of the Russian babushkah, that of serving as the conscience of society (and also often being the person who told the grandchildren about Jesus during the long years of communism), here applied to the current political-economic situation of her family and people.

As she was talking with me, I was also thinking about how she, as a Russian/Ukrainian grandmother with good skills of observation, has cut through much of the moral confusion of modern and postmodern society. In our era many are determined to claim there is no direct connection between personal moral choices and the well-being of society. Not only do many deny that moral choices have consequences in our personal lives; our societies seem determined to deny any causal link that might exist between personal moral choices and the health of entire societies. But this moral foolishness is shown to be foolish when a smart grandmother thinks about the nutrition of the grandchildren. The moral (or immoral) choices of Yanukovych mean malnutrition.

As Christians we not only have to be deeply concerned about living for the glory of God individually, as well as in our Christian families and churches. We also have to be concerned about the moral (or immoral) norms that shape the lives of our neighbors, not because we have any desire to dominate or because of a will to power, but simply because we love our other neighbors (such as these children in Ukraine). Jesus’ call to be salt in the world includes, I believe, the call to do our very best to influence the norms on the basis of which our neighbors make moral (or immoral) decisions. There is a complementary relationship between the moral rules God has given us in the Bible and the moral norms he has built into creation, traditionally called the natural moral law. And the well-being of children in Ukraine and in many other nations is dependent on how well society and its leaders follow the natural moral law, whether that moral law is articulated by a Russian/Ukrainian grandmother or a preacher in one of our churches. Probably everyone already knows “You shall not steal,” because God has built this moral principle into our minds and relationships, but someone needs to talk about it.

Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., is a moral philosopher and theologian living in Prague, Czech Republic. His books Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal (Bonn: VKW, 2005) and Human Rights: A Christian Primer (World Evangelical Alliance, 2008) are available as free downloads at various websites. His books Christian Ethics in Secular Cultures and The First Step in Mission Training: How Our Neighbors Are Wrestling with God’s General Revelation are forthcoming from the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance and will also be available soon on multiple websites. Johnson has also edited numerous books on the relation between faith and society.