By Klara Gudzyk, The Day
Important issues were discussed, including the possibility of uniting the Orthodox churches and the role of the press in promoting the spirituality of Ukrainian society. One of the actions was a round table organized by the Spiritual Unity Foundation and the other, an all-Ukrainian workshop conference of chief editors, jointly with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate. On both occasions the cultural and spiritual state of Ukraine was analyzed at length and depth. A number of interesting ideas and practical recommendations were voiced. Yet there was an alarming aspect to both gatherings. No matter what was discussed, one could hear complaints of democracy being all-permissive and even voices calling for “temporary restrictions.” Such declarations boiled down to making democracy accessible only to the “righteous” part of society, specifically a handful of “traditional” churches. Others spoke for banning the unorthodox or at least imposing tangible restrictions on them, the way it was done in Russia.
All such apologists of “restricted democracy” seemed to forget that there are over 70 confessions in Ukraine and they are made up of citizens of Ukraine.
On both occasions a Black American preacher teaching the Scriptures on television served as a sinister embodiment of such “all-permissive” democracy. As the topic was deliberated respectable scholars put aside notes with their speeches and joined in the discussion proposing ways to get him off the screen. As though offering one’s interpretation of The Bible was the worst thing one could watch on television these days. To this end I have several considerations which I would like to share with the reader. To begin with, voices calling for banning unorthodox preachers from Ukrainian TV screens strongly remind one of the motto “Protect the Domestic Manufacturer!” (for example, those making inedible products). In both cases the state is expected to discharge police functions in combating foreign competitors. This makes no sense because it is absolutely ineffective. Hitler and Stalin tried to do away with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals and failed. So what chance would the current administration have if it tried, except further dampening its international image?
However, in my opinion, this is not the main point. Regrettably, those voicing such ideas did not recognize or perhaps did not comprehend certain moral dictates. In the first place, that a country’s dominant ethnic group and dominant religion must treat the minorities and their religions (even “Black” ones) with consideration. One would expect precisely this approach from Ukraine whose people has sustained so much oppression. Instead, on both of these occasions people supposedly representing the cultural elite of the nation showed not only xenophobia and intolerance, but also an arrogant, even chauvinistic attitude to everything new which did not grow on local ground. And manners! How could a person be considered an intellectual after shouting “We must get this black preacher, this nigger off the television screens!” Shame on all Ukrainians. The Black preacher problem has yet another aspect. Education. “To think that he teaches the Scriptures to us Christians with a thousand-year history!” was what enraged most opponents. As if they do not know that after 80 years of militant atheism even some parish priests ordained after several months of crash training do not know much about The Bible. Also, one ought to remember that Black Ethiopia (Abyssinia) ranks among the oldest Christian countries of the world (earlier it produced the Queen of Sheba whose charms inspired the Song of Solomon). Christianity spread there in the fourth century, long before Kyiv Rus’ was baptized. This historical fact was never mentioned by any of the ardent defenders of our Christian tradition (for want of intent or knowledge).
Perhaps one of the reasons for Western Europe having reached its current level of civilization is that it has always retained its openness. Even after national states were formed it remained a melting pot for personalities and ideas in science, art, and religion. It is very easy to picture anyone of today’s Ukrainian Orthodox clergy delivering a sermon on American television. None of the other confessions would have ever protested or shown any surprise. They would be surprised to hear any protests. The trouble is that not only our homebred Philistines and clergy, but also certain politicians refuse to acknowledge that pluralism has become an objective reality in all walks of life. Religion included. It is there, whether we like it or not.