(ABP) — Baptist leaders in Europe and the United States urged caution amid rising support for military intervention in Syria over what the U.S., France and Great Britain say is clear evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used banned chemical weapons on civilians.
Stephen Keyworth, faith and society team leader for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, joined leaders from the Methodist Church in Britain and United Reformed Church in a statement on the crisis in Syria.
“At this time of challenge and uncertainty we pray for the people of Syria, thinking especially of those who have suffered or died as a result of an apparent use of chemical weapons near Damascus,” the faith leaders said. “We also pray for wisdom and discernment from political leaders in Britain and other nations.”
The statement urged Western governments “to take time for careful consideration and resist hasty response. Syria has experienced a cycle of violence for too long.”
“We pray that our nation's response will be guided by the desire to achieve peace and urge our leaders to work with as wide as possible a range of regional partners and with the United Nations," the leaders said.
They also drew attention to an Aug. 27 statement by World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit, condemning the use of chemical weapons and appealing to the UN and international community “to work cooperatively for a negotiated political means to find a peaceful end to this conflict.”
Meanwhile, Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, posted on Twitter, “I am deeply concerned about the move towards military intervention in Syria.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama continues to work with his national security team reviewing the options available in response to clear evidence that chemical weapons were used on a massive scale Aug. 21 outside of Damascus.
That evidence has renewed attention to remarks Obama gave at a White House news conference on Aug. 20, 2012, describing the use of chemical weapons as his “red line” for a firm response.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said last year. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics wondered in an editorial if Obama’s “red line” is more of “a white lie,” or empty threat.
“One also wonders if Obama has any real options,” Parham wrote on EthicsDaily.com. “And if he doesn't, why did he establish such a rhetoric line? Why do other members of his administration continue to snort threats?”
The Baptist World Alliance reported Aug. 27 a grant of $20,000 for Syrian relief, in addition to other grants in 2012 and earlier this year.
The funds will be used specifically for the humanitarian crisis in Homs, one of the hardest hit areas in the ongoing Syrian civil war and epicenter of the revolutionary movement in the Middle Eastern country.
“Fear and lack of security is dominating in daily life,” an unnamed BWA ministry partner described the scene in a press release. “Kidnapping, car bombs, suicide bombs, shelling and bombardment have had terrible psychological, economic and social implications," along with "significant damage to structures and infrastructure."
Meanwhile, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, issued a personal statement through Religion News Service, noting that in a Sept. 3 survey of evangelical leaders, 62.5 percent answered “No” and 37.5 “Yes” to the question, “Should Congress authorize direct U.S. military intervention in Syria?”
“I was surprised because I expected the answers would be the other way around,” said Anderson.
“Evangelicals don’t agree on everything, including what to do about Syria,” he said. “We grieve the horrific loss of 100,000 lives and the displacement of more than two million refugees in a civil war that is frightening the world. We abhor the use of chemical weapons that have killed civilians, including hundreds of children. But we have the same questions and worries as millions of other Americans and members of Congress on how our country should help.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told RNS he would vote “no” on a military strike on Syria, if he were in Congress.
“Saving national credibility is important but it does not make a war just,” said Moore. “The president must use his bully pulpit to make the case that what he wants to do here is more than a symbol, a symbol that will leave blood and fire in its wake. Right now, it seems the administration is giving an altar call for limited war, without having preached the sermon to make the case. “
Bob Allen ([email protected]) is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press. With additional reporting by Religion News Service.