When people are needlessly killed, when families and communities and nations are destroyed by senseless violence, the hearts of compassionate people should be shattered.
When something must be done, but all the options are bad, it is right that would-be agents of change feel distraught and overwhelmed.
Right now the leaders of our nation are discerning whether to respond with military force to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Syria has been consumed by a horrific civil war that has left 100,000 people dead and over 2 million displaced. It is right that our leaders be wary of the consequences of adding more violence into the situation; it is right that they be conflicted about which is the best option to commit to; it is right that they be deeply pained by the burden of the decisions set before them. This is something to lose sleep over.
If it’s an agonizing decision, good. There’s a lot of agony in this story.
The pain we feel in the midst of tragedy is very important. It reassures us of our fundamental connection to all of humankind, and it is an absolutely critical motivator in any real work for justice, mercy and healing.
But when there’s this much pain, when the crisis is this severe, the great urgency to do something to make a difference as quickly as possible creates the additional danger that the actions we take to help will actually cause even more harm. We’re driven to ‘Please do something!’ And yes, bombing government targets in Syria is doing something – it would be a big step in addressing the crimes committed thus far.
But our history and our faith teach us that violence begets violence, it doesn’t cure or end it.
The leaders of my two denominations, The United Church of Christ and The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as well as our sister denomination in Syria, The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, have joined dozens of other church bodies from around the world, urging the leaders of our government NOT to begin air strikes against targets in Syria.
The dynamics of what’s happening on the ground in Syria and the power plays throughout the Middle East are complex, but the rationale of our church leaders is simple: That more violence makes peace more elusive.
Our church leaders are calling for a path of de-escalation of violence, through mediation, ceasefire initiatives, and international cooperation. This is long and hard work, which requires a willingness to accept progress that is slow and incremental. If peace is achieved, it will be fragile.
It’ll be fragile, because peace grows like life itself, starting from the smallest and most delicate possibility, becoming sturdy and powerful only over the course of time. Along the way, many things threaten to destroy it – it is as vulnerable as any life, which develop over decades but can be ended in an instant. It’s disheartening to comprehend how often the scales are tipped in favor of brutality and destruction.
But at the same time, we must recognize that those things which destroy life cannot create it. The things that destroy peace will not create it, either.