“So what should we do?” Syria, the Church, & Us

Ok, I’m really ticked off. More like pissed off.

Many of you are aware of the situation in Syria, and the impending possibility that the United States will take military action against the Syrian government and its leader, Bashar al-Assad. There are of course lots of uncertainties and points of contention as to what action should be taken, but there is one thing to be certain of: it’s complicated.

Perhaps too complicated for a western, white, middle class world and religion to understand. Leaders like Assad are nothing new to that region – the ties, the anger, the hate…it all runs generations-deep.

So when I read posts that tell me to simply pray about it, to take a position on a situation like Syria at a distance without understanding it, or simply raise my arms up and say, “it’s too big” and resign to retreating into my own world of spirituality, yes, I get really pissed. That’s too simplistic, and honestly, too weak and cheap a response for me.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not do sit by and do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

Something has to be done. And again, it’s complicated. As a colleague of mine highlighted to me, “What then should we do?” Good question.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer lived in Germany at the time of the Nazi regime, watching it rise to power, and then watching it begin its sinister plan to systematically eliminate the Jewish people. Bonhoeffer watched all this….and watched his Church (the institution) do nothing. Bonhoeffer spoke out against such a weak church, calling its understanding of Christian faith “weak.” In fact, Bonhoeffer was so convicted that he willingly took part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

For Bonhoeffer, the evil before him was so great that to do nothing was a greater evil, and a denial of his Christian faith. And so he had no choice but to act.”

First, let me assert that I do believe “violence begets more violence.” A peaceful, diplomatic solution is always desirable, and sought first. It’s the oldest principle of war strategy. Dialogue with Assad should be the answer. In fact, rumors suggest that perhaps that’s not such a bad idea. Maybe what I should be doing as an ELCA Lutheran is writing my presiding bishop and demanding he put his effort into meeting with Assad directly. Rather than worrying about all of us and making a Youtube video, he should be getting leaders of the Lutheran World Federation to ask for a meeting, working with other Christian and Islamic leaders to seek dialogue with Assad to work for peace.

But I’m also a realist: Assad and regimes led by such men in the Middle East do not listen or seek dialogue. They are men of power – the seek it, take it by force, and use it to impose rule on those who oppose them. It is what they understand, and frankly, people realize that men like Assad…their track record proves it. So sometimes while perhaps it’s not the best solution, we still choose a way to act – a show of military force, and sometimes, a use of it.

(As a side note, I wonder if this whole military action thing is all just a show to get Assad to the table to talk, to force peace talks over Syria. This is so out of character for Obama’s foreign policy to ask for war…but as someone who’s served in the military, I know that demonstration and intent of force can be just as effective as using it. The threat of force can bring talks and hopefully, the solution of peace we’re looking for.)

People of faith, we are called to act, just as Christ has acted. Prayer and reflection certainly have their place in our life of faith. But to make that our only response and condemn all others as unilaterally and unequivocally “wrong” or “unjust” is irresponsible and shows little understanding of the complexity of a situation, and also little courage and substance to our faith.

What it does show is we’re more concerned with “right”ousness. We’re more concerned with commenting from a distance, then retreating into our spiritual practices and communities of sameness where we can feel really good about ourselves and our response. Then we pat ourselves and each other on the back and go about our way – and more blood will continue to be shed on the other side of the world. In our delusion that we’re “good,” evil will triumph.

And yes, that pisses me off. It frustrates me that this is the primary stance of the Mainline Church and that we’d rather comment on Miley Cyrus and MTV. But that commentary is just more of the same, and what it shows me is a church that:

– Understands vulnerability as a means of therapeutic self-satisfaction instead of courage to act.
– Is concerned with a re-packaged self-righteousness than participating in God’s work towards justice.
– That we think of critical reflection without any tangible response as discipleship.
– That Christ simply talked about the world and people, rather than entering deeply into it and into the realities of people, and ultimately doing the hardest thing – giving the ultimate sacrifice.

It makes me want to leave the church altogether.

But then I remember Bonhoeffer’s words and claim: God’s love and grace that doesn’t compel us to live that out in the world is “cheap.” Bonhoeffer was right, and he called the church in his time on it, and I think it’s time the same is done today.

In fact, I’ll call myself out first….time for me to go Twitter the ELCA bishop. And I will go on record for saying I support the decisions of our government with a heavy heart, because perhaps the greater evil is for me to retreat into my own life and say “let’s do nothing.”


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