While Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other religious leaders in the United States wrote a letter to President Barrack Obama asking that the US respond to the escalation of violence in Iraq with peaceful – non-violent – reconciliation, religious leaders in Iraq and Syria are pleading for international help to protect Christians in those countries from the violence and death they face on a daily basis.
Parsons and others want Obama to “address the crisis through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.”
“We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians,”they wrote. “However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not ‘necessary’ to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the ‘suicide of humanity.’”
It is true, as the Pope has said, that “war begets war and violence begets violence,” but the Pope has also acknowledged in this particular case that there is an “unjust aggressor” that must be stopped. What he did not say is “how.”
The comments from religious leaders in those area affected by the violence are not so wordy or vague. Their pleas for protection are from the hearts of a dying minority.
Patriarch Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic church pleaded for help from both the European Union and the United Nations “before it is too late.”
He told The Guardian that approximately 100,000 Christians had abandoned their villages in the Nineveh plains after Isis began launching mortar attacks.
“They fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but … the clothes on their backs,” the British newspaper quoted Sako as saying. “[It is] an exodus, a realvia crucis; Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.”
Wilson Jaso, president of the UK Assyrian Society comments also spoke of the critical need of immediate action: “If we’re not protected soon, there’ll be none of us left in the country – which is our country – and no churches.”
Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syriac Orthodox church told The Guardian that when ISIS took control of Iraq’s largest Christian city – Qaraqosh, it marked a turning point for Christians in the country. “
“Now we consider it genocide – ethnic cleansing,” he told the British newspaper. “They are killing our people in the name of Allah and telling people that anyone who kills a Christian will go straight to heaven: that is their message. They have burned churches; they have burned very old books. They have damaged our crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary. They are occupying our churches and converting them into mosque.”
The U.S. religious leaders ideas for protecting these Christians against the violence include:
- “Stop U.S. bombing in Iraqto prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.
- “Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence.Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.
- “Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq. Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel-back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.
- “Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.
- “Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties. For example, experts have suggested strategies such as parallel institutions, dispersed disruptions, and economic non-cooperation.
- “Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council. For example, disrupting the Islamic State’s $3 million/day oil revenue from the underground market would go a long way toward blunting violence.
- “Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.
- “Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. U.S. arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.
- “Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions have long been exacerbated by various factors, including the U.S. military intervention in 2003. Sustainable peace will require peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts from the ground up.”
They do not spell out “how” a process of peace is to be initiated with unjust aggressors who are slaughtering everyone who disagrees with their particular brand of Islam. They do not spell out “how” humanitarian aid is to be delivered without utilizing airstrikes to clear a path through which the aid can be delivered. They do not spell out “how” reconciliation might happen in the current reality of war.
The Pope has called for prayer and fasting, recognizing that God alone is in a position to redeem the current crisis. These leaders of liberal mainline Protestantism seem to believe that even with no Jesus, people can know peace. They’ve missed the bumper sticker that says otherwise.