Home Christian News Baptist Leaders Urge House Speaker Mike Johnson To Support Ukrainian Christians

Baptist Leaders Urge House Speaker Mike Johnson To Support Ukrainian Christians

Mike Johnson
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., flanked by Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., left, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(RNS) — Southern Baptist leaders have written to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a member and former official of their denomination, urging him to support Ukraine in Russia’s war against its Eastern European neighbor.

“As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians,” wrote the leaders, who either have ties to the SBC’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary or to Ukrainian Baptists. “The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war.”

The letter, sent Monday (April 8), was signed by Daniel Darling, director of the seminary’s Land Center for Cultural Engagement; Richard Land, the namesake of the center and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Yaroslav Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary; and Valerii Antoniu, president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine.

Johnson is a former trustee of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, serving when Land — who also is a former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom — was its president.

In February, the Senate passed a $95 billion package for funding Ukraine, Israel and other allies, with $60 billion earmarked for Ukraine. But Johnson, whose tenure as House speaker may rely on his handling of the bill, has yet to schedule a House vote on the funding measure.

Conservatives in the House who oppose funding for Ukraine on “America First” grounds, led by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have threatened to trigger a vote to remove Johnson from office.

“Speaker Johnson has a really difficult job right now, maybe the most difficult a speaker has ever had,” Darling said in an interview with Religion News Service. “I think he does in his heart want to support Ukraine.”

But Darling noted that Johnson, whose office did not immediately respond to the letter, is trying to balance the differing views of House members.

The Baptist leaders told the speaker in their letter: “We believe that God has put you in this position ‘for such a time as this.’”

Darling said he hopes the letter will serve as an encouragement to Johnson while also ensuring that he and others are aware of religious liberties being violated in areas of Ukraine that Russia has occupied since 2014.

“Evangelicals and Baptists are being mistreated in the Russian-occupied territories significantly,” he said. “We’ve lost probably 300 churches. Pastors are really struggling over there, wherever Russians have taken over.”

Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s director of public policy, told RNS in a statement that Southern Baptists have long opposed authoritarian regimes’ prohibitions of religious freedom.