The English language has changed significantly across the centuries. Despite what our youth think, the King James Bible is not Old English: It is written in Early Modern English. Old English is unreadable to us today. Do you recognize this?
Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum
sī þīn nama ġehālgod
tō becume þīn rīċe
ġewurþe ðīn willa
on eorðan swā on heofonum
ūrne dæ ġhwāml can hlāf syle ūs tōdæġ
and forġyf ūs ūre gyltas
swā swā w ē forġyfað ūrum gyltendum
and ne ġelæd þū ūs on costnunge
ac alýs ūs of yfele sōþlīċe
“Fæder ūre” is the hint that this is the Lord's Prayer in Old English, or Anglo-Saxon. The last line, ac alýs ūs of yfele (and deliver us from evil) points us to the term yefele which means evil. The definitive 32-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED Online, 2021) notes that the word evil is infrequently used today:
In Old English...this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike, or disparagement. In modern colloquial English it is little used.... In quite familiar speech the adjective is commonly superseded by bad; the noun is somewhat more frequent, but chiefly in the widest senses, the more specific senses being expressed by other words, as harm, injury, misfortune, disease, etc.
Evil, however, has come roaring back in descriptions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The evil of modern warfare becomes an attack on one's moral sensibilities in the face of four specific charges: (a) war crimes, (b) crimes against humanity, (c) genocide, and (d) crimes of aggression. These are not colloquial terms; each has a specific legal definition, and culpability must be proven in an international court. Yet, these are deeply moral offenses as well as legal charges.
War crimes are criminally chargeable violations, by combatants, of the conventions covering the conduct of war. War crimes include intentionally killing civilians; taking hostages; using civilians as human shields; targeting civilian property; rape and sexual violence as an instrument of war; intentionally killing prisoners; torture, mayhem, and execution of civilians; pillaging; engaging in genocide or ethnocide, disproportionate or unnecessary military violence; and “deception by perfidy” (Cassese, 2013, pp. 63-66). Deception by perfidy is a form of treachery, such as shelling a humanitarian corridor. Genocide is the “intentional destruction of a people, usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group” (Schabas, 2009, p. 25; see also United Nations, n.d.). Crimes against humanity are
certain acts that are purposefully committed as part of a widespread or systematic policy, directed against civilians, in times of war or peace. They differ from war crimes because they are not isolated acts committed by individual soldiers but are acts committed in furtherance of a state or organizational policy. (deGuzman, 2011, p. 64)
Crimes of aggression are seen as the most egregious because they affect the whole world—as we are seeing. These are military conflicts conducted by an aggressor without a need for self-defense and usually conducted for territorial gain and to subjugate the people of the territory. It was the judgment of the World War II International Military Tribunal that,
War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. (The Avalon Project, 2008)
Reading these definitions is enough to make one cringe and want to turn away. But we must not. Christians are “in the world but not of the world,” a saying extracted from multiple Bible verses. This is customarily interpreted to mean that this world is not our home, or that believers must not adopt the values of the world, both of which are true. The saying indicates that Christians must hold values that affirm and live out the Gospel. This also calls us to witness to the love and care of God, or in our present situation, to confront evil, to stand up to it, to repudiate it, and not to avert our eyes.
War is evil, an evil that nurses have witnessed firsthand, from Nightingale's Crimea to the present. Nurses are no strangers to the evil of war. Today 29,645 nurses serve in the American military, some in combat zones (Aker, 2021). Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders serves in conflict zones, including Ukraine, with 8,843 nurses in its service. There are about 313,000 nurses in Ukraine, many now under siege (United Nations Ukraine, 2020). These nurses are giving care in subway tubes, underground shelters, hidden rooms, and the basements of hospitals not yet destroyed. They work under conditions of privation, peril, and horror. They are “us”: nurses administering care to the elderly, children, ill, wounded, women in labor, and soldiers, but under the direst of circumstances. They know of the Russian atrocities: beheadings, executions, torture, wanton targeting and killing of civilians, rape and sexual violence, dismemberment, incineration to hide bodies. It is hard to imagine the depths of these nurses' anguish and terror.
Nursing ethics is founded on a set of relationships: nurse-to-patient, nurse-to-society, and here, nurse-to-colleagues. These relationships generate our moral duties as nurses. We have duties to stand in solidarity with our global nursing colleagues and community and provide support as we are able. How can we as nurses and Christians attest to the love, care, peace, and hope of God in the face of the atrocities these nurses witness and the grievous circumstances under which they provide care?
The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has brought global nursing leaders together to address the plight of nurses and patients in Ukraine. A Ukrainian nurse leader said that nurses “across the country are spending the nights in the shelters and in hospitals. They are sending their children and grandchildren to neighbouring countries” to keep them safe (ICN, 2022a, para 10). Nataliya Lishenko, a nurse educator, said,
I know that my colleagues in Ukraine need a lot of psychosocial support, emotional support. The situation is incredibly difficult, dangerous, and traumatic for Ukrainian nurses, but they are committed to care. Knowing that they have the support of the international nursing community is really important and helps to sustain them during these incredibly difficult times. (ICN, 2022a, para 7)
How might we Christian nurses demonstrate our support for these nursing colleagues? We each have different skills and resources, so it is, in part, an individual answer. However, the ICN (2022b), representing 28 million nurses, has prepared a statement that nurses can sign and a humanitarian fund to which one can contribute (ICN, 2022c). The Red Cross and MSF are receiving donations. Churches, across traditions, are working together to provide tangible support for the people of Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees (World Council of Churches, 2022). Nurses can write and post calls for the cessation of hostilities, for humanitarian aid, for refugee support, and more (Chinn, 2022). We can learn more about Ukraine and its history and religion (92% Christian traditions; Britannica, 2022). And as Christian nurses, we can and must pray, without ceasing, for our nurse colleagues, for peace, for restoration, and for hope.