By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (September 10, 2013) — A question on Facebook asking Covenanters to share their thoughts on whether the U.S. should respond with military action in Syria highlighted the complexity of the issue and a range of opinions throughout the denomination.
The question was posted on the denomination’s Facebook page as well as the Ministerium’s.
Covenanters wrestled with the moral responsibility of governments and individuals. Several questioned whether the United States was called to “police the world.” Some Covenanters turned to the Old Testament for support, others to the New Testament. Still others suggested that pragmatism rule the day.
The response of Mitzi Barker was indicative of the internal conflict many respondents expressed as they tried to articulate their theological understanding in the midst of “a serious ethical conundrum.”
Barker, a resident of Chugiak, Alaska, wrote, “My social conscience tells me we should intervene; my more pragmatic self wants to keep it at arm’s length, to not attempt to pick up the sticky mess (like tar from an oil seep) because there is no way to put it down, to clean our hands of it. My theological self wonders ‘what would the God of the OT do?’ ”
Greg Dubois, pastor of First Covenant Church in Cadillac, Michigan, wrote, “It is a tough, tough call. I am hearing that if the rebels win because the establishment gets punished for using chemicals, then the Christians suffer greater persecution than ever for who knows how long.”
“I really believe I don’t know what’s really going on over there,” Dubois added. “So I am glad I can pray to the God who does know. Al-Assad may believe the penalty cost of bombs from U.S. is worth paying for what he is trying to accomplish. I also wish there were a better solution. How would godly love try to intervene? Would it be violent or pacifist? Would it punish the offender or rescue the innocent?”
Tom Lindholtz of Elk Grove, California, replied, “It is clear from Romans that God ordains some to bear the sword and that they bear it with consequence for those who would violate the law. It is not clear from Scripture—either way—that America is ordained by God as the world’s policeman. It could be argued that, in his sovereignty, God has given America the power it has in order to play that role. But that’s a weaker argument. And that assumes that the more or less shared moral vision that once motivated our nation and our leaders is still in place.”
Dan Aleckson of Minneapolis replied, “The fact that there are over 1,400 Syrian lives lost, chemical-bombed by their government only because of their ethnopolitical persuasion, leads me to believe that an American airstrike would not be a ‘first’ strike. We do, as a country with military means, have a moral responsibility to do something. Not war, but limited retaliation, for this breach of international law.”
Greg Asimakoupoulos, chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community in Mercer Island, Washington, replied with a poem he published on his blog, which began,
“Can crimes against humanity
be witnessed and ignored
when innocent young victims are abused?
Are we not obligated
by a moral sense of right
to retaliate by paying judgment’s dues?”
Donna Lee Peterson of Hutchinson, Minnesota, echoed others when she expressed that the difficulty in interpreting Scripture makes considering a moral response equally hard. “I really struggle when I read the Old Testament and God tells the children of Israel that they have to obliterate the people now living in the Promised Land.…God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, one of which is Do not kill. Yet there are all kinds of killing ordained by God in the decades to follow. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Others said pragmatism also should be considered. Amy Russell of Chicago, wrote, “We need to ask questions like, ‘What are we intending to accomplish? What are the potential negative repercussions of getting involved? Are you ready to take on the responsibility of long-term effects?”
Those effects include what will happen to Christians living in the region. Russell noted remarks by New Testament scholar and former North Park University professor Scot McKnight, who wrote on his blog, “I pray because Western interventions in Middle Eastern countries, military and otherwise, make the weak and needy of those nations, not least the already decimated native Christians, more and more susceptible to unspeakable violence. A strike against Syria’s regime is a double strike against the church. The only sensible, and usually ignored, strategy is the one that assumes violence only begets more violence. I pray for peace-filled strategies.”
Seth Lindberg, associate pastor of worship and outreach at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, wrote, “I’d like to see us care for the 2 million people who have had to flee the violence rather than bomb their homeland.”
Editor’s note: Covenant World Relief is working with Medical Teams International to provide assistance to Syrian refugees who have sought refuge in Lebanon. To read a previous Covenant News Service story, click here.