Would Jesus Say Amen to Sanctions?
Hello friends - bit of business up front and then we’ll dive into the topic for the day. My final day at Chagrin Falls is Easter Sunday and the blogs will be suspended after that. Thus, the final blog will be Good Friday, April 15th. That’s not to say they will be gone forever though - perhaps our new associate will be interested in reviving these after she has settled in or Rev. Joyce might be open to sharing one every once and a while. So don’t unsubscribe from us right away! :) Also, I’m out of town right now and our usual Wednesday blog will likely be pushed back to Thursday at this point. As always, if you have any questions or concerns or suggestions for blogs my email is email@example.com.
Last week I was listening to an episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” while cleaning up around the house. In this particular episode the guest host (by one of the shows producers who sounds shockingly close to Ezra himself) interviewed a political economist about his new book that looks closely at sancations - where they are effective, where they aren’t effective, and who really suffers the consequences of them most. The conversation was fantastic and really got me thinking about sanctions through the lens of theology. So, here we are.
So what is a sanction? In essence, it’s a heavy economic burden on goods and services. Sanctions are most often used in war time as either a means of warning against action (in other words, before any initial attack is done) or as a punishment for action already done (such as what we, and countless others, are doing to Russia.) Statistically sanctions are largely ineffective when they are done as punishment against a country. (only 20% of the time does it result in ceasefires or regime changes.) So, why are we, and nearly every country still so hellbent on increasing the sanction load when the data shows it’s not going to work? I wish I knew. But they continue to pile on. But every cause also has an effect and we’re certainly seeing the effects of sanctions within our own economy as gas prices have sharply risen and general inflation is climbing between 7-10%. (It’s common (and normal) for inflation to be around 3-4% for a point of reference.) But, I don’t want to focus on the US side of things right now. Sure, we are suffering but we also have a healthy social safety net to ensure no one fatally suffers. Things in Russia aren’t quite as hopeful.
The sanctions against Russia are the heaviest against a single country since World War 2. (The US has sanctioned middle eastern countries worse but globally this is the worst.) However, despite Russia being a massive country their economy is not that strong. Their annual GDP is less than that of Texas, for example. They are not a G5 country but barely a G20 country. They have a loud and frankly annoying bark but their bite is largely ineffective on a grand scale. Consider if every developed country in the world put massive tarrifs on a single state of the US and that would be what Russia is feeling right now. Of course, I care little for what happens to Putin, but I do care about the millions of Russians whose war this is not. This is the angle that the guest on the host was arguing for as he shared that sanctions cause not a 7-10% inflation but a 40-50% inflation for the average citizens of the sanctioned countries. Gas is the one commodity that we all feel very strongly about so lets consider it through the perspective of that. Since the war in Ukraine started gas prices in the US have risen ~.75 a gallon. It sucks badly. As someone who drives 150 miles a day I’m fully aware how bad it sucks. But, if we had inflation like Russia does right now our gas prices would have risen 3.75 - 4.5 PER gallon. In total the average price of gas for a gallon in the US would be between 8 and 9 dollars. That’s not just crippling - that’s fatal for an economy and for the people whose daily lives rely on this precious, finite (and climate killing) commodity.
The reality is people like Putin are going to be unaffected by sanctions. He is rumored to be the richest man on Earth (if it is true he owns 99% of all oil) and he was just seen a couple weeks back at a rally wearing a stupid looking puffy coat that cost north of $4,000. The oligarchs that support him will be annoyed by the cut to profit margins but those margins are still a mile wide and as such won’t be effected by the inflation. There is one group of people that will be effected in what could be a fatal way: The poor. Staples on groceries for milk, grains, and produce will also be 5-6x more expensive than before. (Russia imports nearly all of this as their climate is not conducive for mass growing and harvesting.) Gas will obviously be expensive. The housing market will be expensive. The cost of utilities will be expensive. People will start to hoard the longer this goes on, people will turn on one another for resources. Scripture declares that a house divided or built on unsteady ground will not stand. Further, scripture also proclaims that Jesus will come to divide the sheeps and the goats. How will we know who is a sheep and who is a goat? “Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.“ What type of judgement can we expect to face when we helped contribute to that unsteadiness, the economic suffering and sandy foundation of “the least of these?”
I don’t know what the right answer is. I see the horrific actions that took place in Mariupol and say that enough is enough. Something must be done in retaliation. But then I think of Jesus healing the Roman’s ear after Peter struck him and think maybe that’s not what Jesus would want. I find myself, alongside many of you, in a crisis of ethics like the late great Dietrich Bonhoeffer contemplating whether the life of one man is equal or worth that of an entire country. Putin and his propraganda cannot continue. Mariupol cannot be forgotten or happen again. The people of Ukraine need our help. The poor of Russia do not deserve our Putin’s economic punishments. But, as a self professed liberation theologian who follows the basic creed of “God has a preferential option for the poor” I do not believe Jesus would say amen to the current way we are handling this conflict.
Please continue to pray for Ukraine both spiritually and tangibly if your financial situation allows it.