Finland and Sweden submit NATO membership bid: “The war changed opinions almost overnight”

A Finnish journalist and a Swedish theologian say most Christians agree it is time to leave military neutrality. “But our ultimate trust is in the living, almighty God”.

Joel Forster

HELSINKI · 18 MAY 2022 · 12:43 CET

Troops participating in military excercises in Europe. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Simon Infanger </a>, Unsplash, CC0.,
Troops participating in military excercises in Europe. / Photo: Simon Infanger , Unsplash, CC0.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced Europeans to review their understanding of war and national security.

In the Nordic countries, many are thinking about how to best protect their country from potential future threats coming from their neighbour Russia.

Today 18 May, both Finland and Sweden submit their application to become members of the military alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) formed by the United States and 29 European countries.


Finland: an overnight shift away from neutrality

“Russia’s attack on Ukraine totally changed the viewpoint of the Finns concerning joining NATO”, says Leif Nummela, editor-in-chief of the Finnish magazine Uusi Tie. The country became a member of the European Union in 1995 and “little by little Finland also moved closer to NATO through different kinds of collaboration”. Formally, the country retained its neutral status and in 2021, only a minority of 26% was open to change their position.

But “the Russian attack on Ukraine and the terrible war that followed changed the Finnish opinions almost overnight”, Numella tells Evangelical Focus. “Finland has over 1,300 km of common border with Russia, so what the Russians think and do is always important for us”. Now a very clear majority of 76% of the population says it is time to join the NATO, a survey conducted in May shows.


A “Christian attitude” that goes beyond fear

Among Finnish Christians, there is an “unprecedented willingness” to get involved in supporting Ukrainian refugees: helping them flee the war, accommodating them in homes, sending aid, and of course, “prayers for peace in Ukraine and everywhere”, explains Nummela.

“As a Christian I think we should work hard to maintain peace and avoid war. But since war is a sad reality in this world, I think it is realistic for Finland to join NATO”, the journalist and theologian says. Nonetheless, “our ultimate trust is in the living, almighty God. A couple of weeks ago in the Finnish news they interviewed a Ukrainian pastor who was leading a refugee center in Ukraine. He had lost his house in the bombings but here is what he said: ‘I have a house and a country that cannot be bombed (heaven) and I am on my way there’. Meanwhile, he was doing his utmost in serving others”.

This kind of approach to war is “the right Christian attitude”, believes Nummela. “Since the beginning of the war, I have noticed a more realistic view of the vulnerability and sometimes even sadness of life on earth among many Finns. But I also hope they will hear the Gospel and put their ultimate trust in Christ who can take us to an indestructible country”.


Sweden: “Christians take Ukraine’s part”

In Sweden, the war in Ukraine and “the rapid change in opinions in our neighbouring country Finland” are the reasons why the government has decided to abandon its traditional neutrality, says Olof Edsinger, a theologian serving as secretary general of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. “The public opinion has also changed, but not as rapidly, as especially the political left has emphasised our neutrality for a very long time”.

Among Christians the perspectives vary, not least because of different views on military rearmament, and also in relation to the fact that NATO is in possession of nuclear weapons”, the evangelical representative. “But I think most Christians share the views of our main political parties – and certainly take Ukraine’s part in the present conflict with Russia”.

“As for me personally”, Edsinger adds, “I support our application for NATO because of the help that we can give to our Nordic and Baltic neighbours. I also question if we have really been as ‘neutral’ the past decades as rumour has it”.

Steps ahead
The membership of Sweden and Finland would need the support of all 30 OTAN member states. Turkey has already expressed its initial opposition although almost all other countries have welcomed the application of the two Nordic countries. Among other benefits, being a member of the NATO means receiving military support from all other members in the case of military invasion (Article 5 of the treaty).

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - Finland and Sweden submit NATO membership bid: “The war changed opinions almost overnight”

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