The Common Good

The Road to Damascus: Faith Leaders Provide Diplomatic Off-Ramp, Alternatives to Air Strikes

Date: September 6, 2013

September 6, 2013
CONTACT:           Brian P. Duss, O 202.745.4615 C 202.997.0184,


WASHINGTON, D.C. —It first appeared that U.S. military strikes on Syria seemed like a forgone conclusion. But as opposition to U.S. military involvement in Syria grows, faith leaders have begun speaking out and providing the President a diplomatic off-ramp for air strikes.

Faith leaders agree with Obama that the world needs to respond to the crisis in Syria, with 100,000 dead, two million refugees and a third of the country internally displaced, and the moral line crossed in the use of chemical weapons in mass attacks against civilians; but a diverse group of faith leaders from Catholics to Evangelicals are now asking tougher questions about what that response should look like.

Pope Francis said this week, "War brings on war! Violence brings on violence." And he supports a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war, calling upon people of faith around the world to pray and fast for peace this Saturday, Sept. 7. (Join Sojourners in taking his call to prayer.)

Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, describes the urgent need and some of the questions not being asked, "With over 100,000 dead in Syria and over two million refugees fleeing the country, I think the question for people of faith to be asking is not if we should respond to the crisis in Syria, but how should we best serve those Jesus called 'the least of these.' As Christians, we need to ask these important questions; have we exhausted all options for peace, do we have a reasonable chance for success, and what would unintended consequences of war be for Syria and her neighbors…. I believe the just cause being laid out against Assad is indeed a moral case, and I trust both President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry's intentions around that cause. But I believe that the military strikes now being proposed are not the best moral response to this moral crisis -- and they could ultimately undermine both our moral case and the moral intentions.” Click here to view Jim Wallis’ recent article in The Huffington Post.

Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, pointed out the negative effect military strikes would have on Christians in the Middle East. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a letter to Obama that strikes would be "counterproductive" and "exacerbate an already deadly situation." And the Southern Baptist Convention's Russell Moore echoed these concerns, saying, there are just-cause principles missing "both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially."

With President Obama receiving minimal support for the war effort at the G20 meetings and support waning in Congress, even traditionally conservative Christian leaders, such as Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, are starting to question possible unilateral military action. “We’ve gotten ourselves in a corner with a clear threat of retaliation against Syria for crossing the ‘red line’ of deploying chemical weapons. Since the chemical atrocities of World War I there has been an international consensus that chemical weapons would never be used again. It’s happened, and most agree there should be serious consequences. But, does that mean America should inflict those consequences alone, without a resolution from the United Nations or broad support from our European allies and the Arab nations of the Middle East?”

Religious leaders are saying we must respond to the moral atrocities of Assad, but are asking what the ethical response should be and what might be most effective in protecting the vulnerable and ending this conflict.