Pope Francis on Thursday told world leaders gathered in Russia for the G-20 summit that a military intervention in Syria would be “futile,” urging them to focus instead on dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace to the war-torn country.
The Argentine pontiff’s first major foray onto the global stage comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on a military strike against Syria in response to a reported chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
For Francis, just six months on the job, the Syria question will test his ability to summon the power of his global bully pulpit and could play a major role in shaping the global image of a man who’s drawn more attention for his down-to-earth pastoral appeal.
When a head of state is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 of his people and has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians — the world needs to respond. In one massive attack, the evidence appears to show that 1,429 people, including 400 children, suffered horrible deaths from chemical weapons banned by the international community. That is a profound moral crisis that requires an equivalent moral response. Doing nothing is not an option. But how should we respond, and what are moral principles for that response?
For Christians, I would suggest there are two principles that should guide our thinking. Other people of faith and moral sensibility might agree with this two-fold moral compass.
As the Obama administration considers a strike in response to recent chemical attacks, the head of a global evangelical group said Wednesday that Christians in the Middle East oppose military intervention in Syria.
“There is major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention would have a detrimental effect … on Christians in Syria,” wrote Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general/CEO of World Evangelical Alliance, in a letter to the State Department, the White House and the United Nation’s Security Council.
As I began my morning devotions on Tuesday this week, Syria was on my mind. No surprise, right? The debate about whether to respond militarily to the use of chemical weapons is all over the news right now. Mostly folks are arguing about what actually happened and the larger geopolitical questions that a military strike involves, which are important and necessary issues. But here’s the question that was rattling around in my head as I turned to the day’s devotional readings on universalis.com: How does one respond to violence without becoming as guilty as the perpetrators you seek to punish?
As the United States prepares to “officially” become involved in the Syrian war, Christian pacifism has reemerged as a much-discussed and relevant topic. Unfortunately, the concept has been somewhat misrepresented, undervalued, and often downright demonized within evangelical communities.
Critics often assume Christian Pacifism is some sort of radical political movement associated with marijuana-smoking hippies who are anti-government conspiracy theorists. To make matters worse, pop-culture (and much of Christian culture) has made pacifism seem, well, passive — as if pacifists are unpatriotic and un-American heretics who refuse to enlist in the military and avoid physical confrontations at all costs. They are characterized and perceived as weak, scared, and gutless.
In reality, the beliefs that form Christian pacifism are spiritual and scripturally founded around the life of Christ. And whether you agree with the theology, it’s hard to passively dismiss the Biblical argument for pacifism as some sort of crazy mumbo-jumbo.
As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said that if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, there must be “international consequences.” The president is right. But what should those consequences be?
The issue here, again, is one that we have not decided how to deal with: terrorism. The definition of terrorism is deliberate and brutal attacks upon innocent people — whether by individuals, groups, or heads of state. By that definition, Assad is a terrorist. And terrorists who possess weapons of mass destruction and demonstrate their willingness to use them are most dangerous ones. But how should we respond?
I am in in the U.K., where political leaders last night backed off the decision to make immediate “military strikes” while the U.S. and other nations are considering them. The feeling here is that international and legal legitimacy need to be established first, that the U.N. inspectors should finish their examinations in Syria before any actions are taken, and that all other means of response should be fully explored first. These are good decisions.
Why is there such public “war fatigue” in the U.K. and the U.S. in light of Iraq and Afghanistan — and why is that creating reluctance to more military action? Because wars and military solutions have FAILED in response to terrorism — failed to achieve what they were purported to do.
As Ramzi Kysia writes in "The Song Remains" (Sojourners, August 2013), after decades of work, Kathy Kelly’s commitment to peace and nonviolence remains strong. When Sojourners editorial assistant, Dawn Araujo, caught up with her in June, Kelly was between visits to Afghanistan and her work with the Afghan Peace Volunteers. She was spending her “down” time protesting drones, nuclear weapons, and organizing a U.S.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Matthew 5:9
The news cycle, the blogosphere, and social justice advocates often focus upon crisis, tragedy, and pain. Moments of freedom, of healing and hope are often drowned out by the cacophonous sounds of self-interest, fear and danger. Today I’d like to silence that cacophony and trumpet loudly about the brave and humble Antoinette Tuff, a peacemaker filled with the Spirit of God, who faced a gunman with her arsenal of love and compassion and saved a school full of children.
Antoinette Tuff’s faith and courage changed the outcome of history on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It is a day that will not live in infamy. Unlike other days that started on a similar path to violence, families did not grieve the loss of their children to the would-be mass gunman who walked into an elementary school with almost 500 rounds of ammunition. Police were scrambled to the scene, but did not have to evacuate classrooms of frightened children watching for a shooter. In fact, despite the heavily armed suspect and a heavily armed law enforcement response, not one person lost their life.
Upon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence, and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit, or video game. Violence, death, and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People. It is as though there is a stranglehold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.
As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite. And in the times I've followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the Gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence, and death.
Two Sunday meetings prevented my going to the country with the family.
So on Saturday, I took a long walk up the Hudson River and then sat beside an open window overlooking the apartment house courtyard and felt a cool breeze.
No, it wasn’t the same as a screened porch upstate. But it worked. Why? Because I made it work. I was motivated to step away from my desk and do something different.
Could I have had a more perfect day? Sure, I suppose so. But I didn’t need perfection. I just needed something different. Yes, I was “settling,” as they term it. But that’s part of maturity: knowing that progress matters more than perfection. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, and making do can be enough. Tweaking the day can make it a better day.
Yet many people continue to chase perfection and refuse to compromise with realities that fall short.
In the fourth chapter of Genesis, after the proverbial “fall” of humanity, two brothers stand in a field. Cain is a farmer — Abel, a herdsman. Both bring offerings from their labor to God, but Abel brings his first fruits, so God looks on Abel’s offering with delight. In a jealous rage Cain rises up against Abel and kills him. This is the first recorded murder in the Bible.
I will never forget walking onto the National Mall early on the morning of April 11, 2013. As I approached a mass of people and television cameras between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building I was overcome by the sight of more than 3,300 crosses and other religious symbols rising from the heart of our capital city. They represented the graves of all the people who have died by gunfire since the December 14, 2012 shooting massacre at Newtown, Conn. It was profound. It was overwhelming.
Paul Rand quoted scripture and used biblical principles as he made his case against excessive American engagement overseas. He quoted Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Paul also stressed the military should be used sparingly. Politico reports:
“I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression,” Paul said at a kickoff luncheon for the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “In fact, his message to his disciples was one of non-resistance.”
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.
Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial Formula
In a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.
Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:
Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.
Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.