Faith leaders concerned about Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, is among 24 Christian leaders who sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week expressing grief about the crisis within Syria.

Syria’s “rich religious and ethnic tapestry” that has characterized the country for centuries is at risk of fraying beyond repair, according to the letter, endorsed by leaders of Catholic and Protestant, mainline and evangelical faith groups

Syria’s “rich religious and ethnic tapestry” … is at risk of fraying beyond repair.

The faith leaders cite statistics of the conflict:

  • More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed.
  • More than 4 million people have been displaced from their homes.
  • An additional 1.7 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries

Full diplomatic energies

The faith leaders urge President Obama to direct his administration’s “full diplomatic energies toward an inclusive, negotiated, political solution that provides a foundation for an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens and for implementing substantive strategies for healing social-psychological and physical wounds.”

The letter also urges refraining from provision of military assistance to forces involved in the conflict in Syria. “Military involvement will only further escalate an already brutal war and will, in fact, undermine the prospect of negotiations to ensure a just and sustainable future for all Syrians,” the faith leaders state.

Other endorsers of the letter sent July 31 include the Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary, American Baptist Churches USA; Shan Cretin, general secretary, American Friends Service Committee; Bishop Richard Pates, chairman, Committee on International Justice & Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Stanley Noffsinger, general secretary, Church of the Brethren; Mark Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Marie Dennis, co-president, Pax Christi International; and the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the general assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA).

The letter and complete list of endorsers follows.

Letter to President Obama on Syria

Dear Mr. President,

As leaders of Christian communions and organizations throughout the United States, we are compelled to write to you out of our grief for the crisis within Syria. We feel deeply the pain of all who are caught in the midst of war. We pay heed to the reminder of our Christian brothers and sisters that they are part of the fabric of Syrian history and society, with a desire to live in peace with all their neighbors. The rich religious and ethnic tapestry that has characterized Syria for centuries is at risk of fraying beyond repair.

Already more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed as a result of the war. More than 4 million people have been displaced from their homes within Syria, and an additional 1.7 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, placing a great strain upon local economies. Churches within the region and many of our own churches, congregations and organizations have responded generously to the needs of Syrians who are suffering as a result of the war. But the needs are enormous and they continue to grow.

We are grateful for the humanitarian assistance provided thus far by the U.S. government and encourage an ongoing and robust response. These funds must be used in an impartial manner, in keeping with international standards. Furthermore, these monies must be in addition to, and not instead of, funding for the ongoing needs of refugees and internally displaced people in other countries. In addition, all parties to the conflict must allow immediate access to all persons in need.

But responding to humanitarian needs, important as this task is, is no substitute for addressing the root causes of the violence. For this reason we urge you to direct your Administration’s full diplomatic energies toward an inclusive, negotiated, political solution that provides a foundation for an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens and for implementing substantive strategies for healing social-psychological and physical wounds. Such a political agreement will, no doubt, require compromise on the part of all parties involved. The United Nations has appealed for an immediate end to the violence and all forms of human rights abuses, and we strongly affirm this call.

We urge you to refrain from the provision of military assistance to forces involved in the conflict in Syria. Military involvement will only further escalate an already brutal war and will, in fact, undermine the prospect of negotiations to ensure a just and sustainable future for all Syrians. Rather, the U.S. should call for all parties to cease all military activities in Syria and work urgently to de-escalate the crisis, together with other actors in the region and beyond.

We harbor no illusions as to the difficulties such a process will entail. But we believe it is the path the United States, along with the international community, must pursue if we seek the welfare of all Syrians. We pray for wisdom for you and for all of us as we seek to respond to this difficult and heartbreaking crisis.

Sincerely,

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
Shan Cretin, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chairman, Committee on International Justice & Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Stanley J. Noffsinger, General Secretary, Church of the Brethren
The Very Rev. John Edmunds, ST, President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Adam Estle, Executive Director, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding
Florence Deacon, OSF, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Paul Alexander, PhD, Co-President, Evangelicals for Social Action, and Co-Founder, Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice
The Very Rev. John Puodziunas, OFM, President, Franciscan Friars English Speaking Conference
Diane Randall, Executive Director, Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Rev. Dr. James Moos, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
The Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
V. Reverend Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., President, Jesuit Conference, USA
Gerry G. Lee, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Ervin R. Stutzman, Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
Marie Dennis, Co-President, Pax Christi International
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rev. Dr. Tom DeVries, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church
The Very Rev. William Antone OMI, USP Missionary Oblates

—July 31, 2013

Letter to the Editor