Earlier today, at the end of a conference hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, I was asked an interesting question—one I’ve never been asked at a Christian conference before. “What are you specifically praying for, today?” My answer was immediate: “I’m praying that God turns Vladimir Putin’s heart from war.”
I tried to explain why that was front of mind in pragmatic terms. A great power invasion of Russia’s European neighbor would not only be an humanitarian crisis in its own right, it could lead to a series of destabilizing events that would reopen the dark chapters of world history. Historians may look back at this era as the era when we lost the peace, when a new Cold War emerged and sowed the seeds for devastating conflict.
But there’s something else at work here, something beyond pragmatism. As we confront the crisis in Ukraine, it helps us understand patriotism itself—how a healthy patriotism extends our sphere of concern, and how an unhealthy nationalism restricts us and narrows our focus, leaving us often indifferent to the suffering of others.
For an example of the latter view, I’d invite you to watch the following exchange, between former Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, where Vance bluntly says, “I gotta be honest, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other” and immediately pivots to talking about problems here at home: