54 Crimea – the legacies of history

I have always had an interest in Russian history.  My sister married into a family of White Russians who settled in London in the 1920s.  The Revolution was, from their point of view, a cataclysmic event which destroyed their way of life and had left them for a time as stateless refugees.  Part of the family made it to the West and part was left behind, only to disappear during the purges in the 1930s.  My interest is thus tempered with a sense, through others, of the emotions of exile, bereavement and sheer horror at what went on in that tragic country.

I have no real qualifications to comment on the present upheavals that are going on in Russia and Ukraine.  But I cannot help noticing the sentiments of the Cold War that are appearing in the current disputes between Russia and Ukraine.  The word Ukraine, for me, sums up the massive famine of the 1930s when the peasant class was systematically destroyed  over large areas to destroy resistance to the Soviet experiment.  This was but one of the many horrors perpetrated in the name of socialism.  At the same time Stalin was destroying the entire class of revolutionaries, who had brought him to power, through show trials.  Tens of thousands of people were swept off to prison camps in remote parts of Siberia and Northern Russia, many of them to die of hunger and privation.  When I was at university, there was a fellow student who was Polish.  He described how his parents had escaped during the war from one of these camps, clinging to the underneath of a train all the way into Persia.  Why do I mention these things in this blog?  It is because the one thing that has been absent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is any real ownership of the horrors of the soviet past.  The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a few people becoming extremely rich while the rest of society carried much as before.  If some people expressed regret about the past, there was nothing which was loud enough to be heard by the rest of the world.

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but nothing similar has been heard of the territories of the former Soviet Union.   Why does this matter?  It matters because, as someone said, those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.  The horrors of autocracy, suppression of dissent and complete distortions of truth are back in the news as though the collapse of the Soviet Union never happened.   In short Russia is stumbling back into the mire of tyranny and arbitrary rule partly because they have never owned up to what actually happened in the 70+ years of Soviet misrule.  It was not just misrule, it was the grotesque and arbitrary mistreatment of human beings by those who believed in a bizarre corrupt ideology.

Although one can point to other countries around the world who do not own up to their histories (Japan), the Russian failure is perhaps one of the most serious.  I bring it up now not only because it is in the news but also because I am reminded of the situation at Trinity Church, Brentwood, described in the previous post.  This is a church is condemned by its own inability and refusal to face its own past.  Because of living in a miasma of falsehood, it contaminates all who attend it.  Even those who use the facilities it offers become guilty by association.  A particular guilt falls on a small group of apparently honourable churchmen who come to the church and, in return for substantial ‘love offerings’ ,preach and provide  an aura of respectability to the church.  I used the anonymity of a blog response to challenge a particular Anglican notable to explain why he did not use his influence to challenge the refusal of the church to face up to its past.  The 600 ex-members who have been betrayed and shunned deserved better than hearing the message ‘business as usual’.

For over 70 years the citizens of the old Soviet Union lived in a place of pretence, falsehood and the miasma of propaganda.  Truth was something that few people were in touch with and consciences and humanity were blunted in this so-called experiment to make the new Soviet citizen.   The refusal to tell the truth about anything was the chief way in which the fantasies of the system were able to be sustained.  When Christian groups fail in the basic task of honesty towards their members, then a similar crime against humanity is being committed.  How can human beings in any situation, Christian or otherwise, flourish in a situation where lies are being told?  A good definition of what Christianity has to offer is the enablement of human flourishing.  Lies, suppression of truth make that flourishing impossible to sustain.  Trinity Church Brentwood and other churches like it,  thus fails this fundamental test of credibility

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

5 thoughts on “54 Crimea – the legacies of history

  1. The reason we have a shell and not a credible church, is exactly related to what Stephen has pointed out. The inability to face up to the past,leaves us with nothing more than theatres of repetitious ritual. The idea that people like Sir Thomas More can remain a canonized saint defies logic. I see this as a prime example of the mass evasion of the truth, still lingering to this present day, and a betrayal of Christ who wants us to become truly human.

    Chris Pitts

  2. Can I say gently, perhaps there is room Chris for different points of view. I respect where you’re coming from, but my experience of the Church of England which I think (correct me if I’m wrong) is what you mean, is not that it’s a shell. Lots of desperate problems maybe, but much good too, often hidden away. I understand that no human institution is going to be perfect, so one has to consider the rough with the smooth. That balance will look differently to different people.

  3. haikusinenomine, thank you. I use the word ‘church’ in a general sense. However, I must stand behind everything that I have said. I do this out of faithfulness to the people I represent. There stands between us such vast different experiences of life, truth and reality. I quote again from one of my previous blogs.
    *I have spoken before about how a nurse teacher once took us to a ward where there were paralysed people, deaf, dumb and blind. She later blocked off our ears, and then blindfolded us, while another auxiliary nurse would attempt to feed us, we then exchanged roles.
    I see the above invitation as a vital link to any further real communication. I mean no harm. I speak what I conceive to be the truth in love.
    Peace, Chris Pitts

  4. Stephen, your post brings to mind that several years ago, our media was full of complaints that organisations had failed to apologise for their failures. And now? Our media is full of people who start with what sounds like very insincere apologies and then go on to react in a highly defensive way to the criticism. Actually, we’re in a worse place now than we were before, because the value of apologies has been debased and the underlying problem of organisations refusing to accept responsibility for the hurt and damage they have caused remains.
    As for Chris’s comments, I don’t want to add to this poor record by sounding defensive about an organisation, the Church of England, that through its history has caused massive harm. The best that I can say about it is that there are good churches and good people. There may not be enough of them, and there may be too many of the other kind, but they do exist. But whenever we look to try to put the past behind us, we shouldn’t underestimate the huge damage caused, which often is brushed over or hidden under the carpet. I’m in the Church of England Chris, not because of its history and policies, but despite them. Like Luther ‘Here I stand. I can do no other.’ All I can do is to use my voice, however puny it might be, to speak out against intolerance, judgmentalism and abuse, which is why I joined this blog to start with

  5. The ordinary people in the CofE are overwhelmingly nice. They tend not to act to help in cases of bullying at least, but practically no-one does. It is the selection process that’s not working in my view. Too many people who just aren’t the right stuff are ordained and put into powerful positions. Of course most are alright, and many work extraordinarily hard. But you don’t need many of the wrong sort. It’s the good men who do nothing who cause the problems. You tell someone there’s a problem, and they say “I can’t do anything”! They could, but they don’t, out of mistaken loyalty. The inadequates who do the bullying need to be got rid of, and that means reporting it. And if there is no reporting method that works, then other kinds of abuse can occur unchecked, too.

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