Question of faith: What is the role of the faith community in the debate on military action against Syria?

An opposition fighter rested in a cave at a camp in the Idlib province on Tuesday. The main Syrian opposition coalition urged the international community to act against the Assad regime in response to a U.N. finding that sarin was used last month in a Damascus suburb.
An opposition fighter rested in a cave at a camp in the Idlib province on Tuesday. The main Syrian opposition coalition urged the international community to act against the Assad regime in response to a U.N. finding that sarin was used last month in a Damascus suburb. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The topic of the U.S. taking military action against Syria has been in the news lately. What the U.S. will do remains to be seen. We asked our Question of Faith panelists about this situation. Our question to the panel was: What is the role of the faith community in this debate? Here are their answers.

Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: On the topic of Syria, or any divisive social issue, I believe the role of the faith community is to be the voice of grace and understanding and to use that voice to speak kindly, not shout angrily. To put it in punctuation terms, we need to be hyphens in a slash-filled world.

Whether it's foreign countries or people with opposing beliefs, we are too eager to speak in terms of us/them. Our goal should be to model the kingdom of God's love and acceptance of you-and-me.

We don't have to take a stand on one side or another; we can simply create the space for these dialogues to happen, encouraging people to speak candidly and passionately while still honoring the child of God who disagrees with us.

We're not going to change the Syria situation overnight, but we can ultimately make a difference in this world by embodying God's love, grace, and acceptance.

The Rev. Jim Sichko, St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, Richmond: The role of the faith community is to facilitate dialogue, have a respect for all life and provide a foundation for actions. Mostly, the role of the faith community is to insure its members understand that violence of any kind is not an answer!

Pope Francis has made it clear: dialogue, respect, understanding, these are the keys to unlock a peaceful resolution.

Imam Shahied Rashid, Masjid Bilal Ibin Rabah, Lexington: Moral consistency at home and abroad is the most urgent message needed from our respective faiths. For to be known as a just person or a just nation, our moral reasoning must exist on a continuum unfragmented by personal desires.

O ye who believe!

Stand out firmly for justice,

As witnesses to God, even as

Against yourselves, or your parents,

Or your kin, and whether it be against

Rich or poor: For God can best protect both.

Follow not the lusts of your hearts,

Lest ye swerve, and if you distort justice

Or decline to do justice, verily God is

Well acquainted with all that you do.

Al Quran 4:135

Therese Warrick, founder/ministry leader, Sisters Road to Freedom, Lexington:

Matthew 24:6-8 tells us, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." (NIV)

The faith community's voice will not have a place in Congress's decision-making about whether to take military action against Syria. However, the faith community's voice will be heard when it stands up boldly for what God's word declares about wars and rumors of war.

The role of the faith community is to encourage peace during this time. The faith community should be steadfast in its teaching and preaching what thus saith the Lord to the United States of America and to Christians in Syria and around the world.

The end is still to come.

Ernie Heavin, chaplain at Georgetown College, Georgetown: One of the difficulties addressing the problem is that the church and government have two totally opposite views toward the predicament.

Our government (and others) states that Syria can kill its own people like this, but not like this. In other words, if you are going to murder your own people, make sure you use bullets and bombs but not anything chemical.

The church on the other hand through scripture teaches that it's wrong to murder, regardless of the method you choose. So, if the church is to take a role or stance in the debate, the discussion should have started when the genocide began.

In Genesis 4:10, after Cain had murdered his brother, Abel, the Lord said, "The blood of your brother is crying out to me from the ground."

Personally, I am not sure if taking military action would do more harm than good but this I do know: If the blood of one person cries out to God, what must it sound like when thousands of men, women and children are being slaughtered in Syria or the innocent and defenseless lives that are snuffed out in this country?

Rabbi Marc Aaron Kline, J.D., Temple Adath Israel, Lexington: My answer is fairly straightforward. The Bible teaches us that "Nation shall not lift a sword against (another) nation, nor shall they learn war, any more."

The Messianic age will vest when the lion can sleep with the lamb, and when we can all sit under our vines and under our fig trees, unafraid.

Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

On the one hand, had someone responded earlier in World War II, in Bosnia, the Sudan, or any of the genocidal episodes we have witnessed, they might not have been genocides.

Where we have responded of late (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), I am not sure that our efforts did not make things drag out longer without positive resolve.

I pray for the fear, courage, and wisdom that will make those who make the decisions afraid of another costly unwinnable war, courageous enough to want to stand to protect those who are being destroyed by a regime rooted in power mongering, and wise enough to know how to balance the two so that we receive the best solution.

Pastor Mary Seeger Weese, Midway Presbyterian Church: The more I listen to the debate about what to do in Syria the more complex it seems. Should we get involved or not? Well that depends. It depends on Iran and Israel and Turkey and Russia and the United Nations and the Congress and the United States voters and our war-weariness and the stock market on Thursdays.

As someone who is not as well-versed as I'd like to be in international politics, I can hardly calculate the right political answer.

But what I do think about are Jesus' words about the wheat and the weeds (or tares) in Matthew 13:24-30. In this parable, the servants ask their master if they should go through the field and pull up the weeds that are infesting the wheat crop. The master says no, for by pulling up the weeds they would uproot the wheat as well. In trying to 'weed out' evil, they would destroy what was good.

It seems that whatever we do in Syria, we must avoid damaging the good. We must avoid hurting the innocent. We must avoid dropping bombs from our faraway place that will inevitably hurt women and children. Collateral damage is unacceptable. It creates more victims, more hurt and anger, and more evil.

But that doesn't give us an excuse to be involved. Military action is not the only kind of action there is. Maybe it's time for us to act differently. Perhaps we can try to help the good grow.

I remember hearing a story on the radio about a woman who was afraid to leave the war zone in Syria and go to the refugee camp because there she would be sexually assaulted and her children would be victimized and exposed to disease.

What if we concentrated on growing the good and making refugee camps real places of refuge? What if we concentrated on being a force for education and health? What would it be like if we could use our power to overgrow the evil in the world with good?

Pastor Rachael Brooks, New Hope Church, Lexington: At this point in the debate, given that we do not have a clear or verified picture of the motivations, actions and events in Syria, the role of the faith community in this debate should be to pray.

We should be praying that God's will will be accomplished on this Earth, that God will provide protection and comfort to those who are innocent, that Christians who are being persecuted and killed will be given relief, that our government will act with wisdom, prudence and moral soundness, and that the truth of the situation will be revealed.

The Rev. Anthony Everett, lead Christian social activist, Nia Community of Faith, Lexington: The role of the faith community, in all of this, is to be activists for peace. In the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, my denomination, it states, "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy." This means to stand against the Syrian government whose use of chemical weapons against its own citizens is abhorrent. As well, we must demand the removal of chemical weapons from all nations, including our own.

Those of us who love peace and are part of either the faith or secular communities must lead the charge in opposition to United States military force against Syria. Military actions encourage the failed policies of our government's past to take sides in a civil war, escalate further violence and destruction, and increase all likelihood of a relentless civil war in Syria.

We are at a crossroads in our country's foreign policy to do the things we have done in the past that maintain military might and superiority, as the world's police, or to do the things that will carve out a humane tomorrow for the world. My prayer is that we choose wisely.

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