Got news? A Baptist emerges as acting president of Ukraine

The news rolls on in Ukraine, with leaders of the opposition attempting to get some work done after the chaos. As you would expect, the tensions remain highest in the Eastern half of the nation, where cultural and, yes, religious ties to Russia are strongest.

However, one of the first things that caught my attention in the following Los Angeles Times piece was a simple question of Associated Press style. Can you catch the problem at the top of the report? Let’s just say that it’s linked to a key element of the headline: “Ukraine’s acting leader still seeking consensus on interim government.”

KIEV, Ukraine – Hoping to reach a consensus that would heal some of Ukraine’s wounds, the country’s acting president on Tuesday delayed the seating of an interim government for at least two days, even as opposition colleagues appealed to the Hague criminal tribunal to try fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovich on charges of crimes against humanity.

Reports of mounting discord among ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and gunshot wounds suffered by a top aide to Yanukovich further heightened a sense that Ukraine’s stability is threatened as politicians jockey for position before the May 25 presidential election.

A multiparty transitional leadership had been expected to be announced Tuesday. But acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told lawmakers that it would take until at least Thursday to get consensus on a Cabinet that would have the trust of the entire nation.

Well, I guess there is the fascinating question (for obsessive former copy editors like me) of when the “opposition” ceases to be called the “opposition” and becomes the people in power.

But, no, that isn’t what caught my eye (which may or may not be winking).

Let’s put it this way. What is the key difference that you spot in this lede from the online news team at Christianity Today?

Oleksandr Turchynov, a well-known Baptist pastor and top opposition politician in Ukraine, took office on Sunday, Feb. 23, as acting president after the Parliament voted to oust President Yanukovych. …

Monday night in Kiev, Turchynov, 49, spoke publicly for the first time since taking office as acting president. According to an unofficial translation, he said, “Unprecedented cruelty and brutality of the dictatorial regime did not stop citizens. They selflessly gave their lives to defend their rights — and won.

Well, I guess that the fact that Turchynov is a Baptist pastor is not well known enough to make it into mainstream news reports. The latest Washington Post report missed that wrinkle in the plot, as well.

So, as a matter of style, does the fact that an ordained minister achieves prominence in some other role remove the fact that he or she is a minister? In other words, is the proper reference “Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov” or is it “the Rev. Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president” of Ukraine?

The natural question is this: Who knew there were prominent Baptists in Ukraine and does this matter?

Actually, I have visited Ukraine twice (and worked with a Protestant student from that land), and I can report that there is a significant evangelical Protestant presence in that land. In fact, there was a significant underground Protestant and Pentecostal house-church movement during the Soviet era. Pentecostal Christians from Ukraine have, in fact, played a rather important role in the global history of that movement.

But back to Turchynov. Christianity Today notes:

The choice of a Baptist pastor as acting president in Ukraine, which has had an Orthodox majority population for centuries, does not come as a huge surprise to Sergey Rakhuba, head of U.S.-based Russian Ministries. For years, he has been in periodic contact with Turchynov. …

“He is well-known in political circles as a principled, honest leader, although he was somehow always in the shadow of Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed prime minister who was released yesterday.

“He is well-known as a preacher who, despite his political opposition work, preaches on a regular basis at one of the Baptist churches in Kiev, even though security must travel with him. Overall, the evangelical church is excited about Turchynov’s sudden unanimous appointment as acting president. Within the evangelical community, the post-Soviet mindset exists that a true Christian cannot necessarily be a politician. Personally I think it is great that Turchynov is calling for unification and healing of the nation.”

In other words, this man’s public role is interesting from the perspective of secular Ukrainians, Orthodox Ukrainians AND even for evangelical Ukrainians.

Journalists: That might be worth a few words, or even a sentence.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Darren Blair

    This isn’t the first time that the media dropped the ball on such a big issue.

    Back in 2012, you pretty much had to go to Mormon-related news outlets to learn about Yeah Samake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeah_Samake ), a Mali politician (specifically, the mayor of Ouelessebougou) who was running for president based on the success of his transparency and anti-corruption initiatives.

    Samake, who received his education through Brigham Young University here in the US, is one of the few Mormons in the entire country (the Mormon populace in Mali is so small that not even the newsroom on the official church website – http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics/ – has figures). He wound up 16th out of 27 people when the elections were held the next year, but the fact that he was even in the running should have turned heads around the world.

  • MisterDavid

    The BBC’s report includes this reference:

    ‘Unusually for traditionally Orthodox and Catholic Ukraine, Mr Turchynov is a Baptist. He is a pastor of Kiev’s Baptist Church.
    … His 2005 book Illusion of Fear – a psychological thriller peppered with quotations from the Bible and illustrated with Hieronymus Bosch paintings – was made into a film and submitted as the country’s entry for the Academy Award for the best foreign language film in 2008.’ [http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26316268]

    Huffington Post put his religious affiliation in their headline, but don’t appear to have any other sources as to what exactly ‘Baptist Pastor’ means in his case, whether minister of a congregation, elder, lay preacher, or denominational leader.

    [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/oleksandr-turchynov-baptist_n_4854555.html]

    • Mark Byron

      I read the BBC article yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see the Baptist pastor part mentioned without any sneering.

  • Julia B

    I wonder if he is seen as a neutral amongst the complications of the 2 Orthodox churches and Russian antipathy towards the Greek Catholic church.


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