...may be no fans of the regime of President Bashar Assad, but they generally prefer it to what they see as the likely alternative -- rising Islamic fundamentalism and Iraq-style chaos, in which religious minorities such as themselves would be among the primary victims.
"We heard a lot about democracy and freedom from the U.S. in Iraq, and we see now the results -- how the country came to be destroyed," said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo in a recent interview. "The first to lose were the Christians of Iraq."
"We must say that, what the U.S. did in Iraq, we don't want repeated in Syria," Audo said.
I remember having an Iraqi Christian student in a seminary class just after the unaccomplished mission accomplished time when Saddam had been deposed and the "coalition of the willing" were trying to stabilize a then extremely volatile country. This student related to me how even though the church in Iraq was not happy with Saddam's rule, at least they were able to worship and basically witness to their faith quietly. Once Hussein was gone, the persecution and burning of churches started. Before the Iraq War the Christian population of the country was around one million. Today it is approximately half that size.
Well, I must say that for my part this follower of Jesus Christ, who is a citizen of God's kingdom and who also is a "citizen of every earthly country and of no country" (HT: Michael Gorman), stands with the Christians in Syria and opposes the United States or any other empire resorting to violence that will foolishly attempt to fix a problem that will not be fixed, but likely be made worse. I trust the leaders of the church in Syria to know the consequences of such actions more than the rulers of the world's kingdoms.
I do not like what is happening in Syria... and I will be honest and say that if Bashar Assad dropped dead tomorrow, Syria and the world would immediately become a better place. But we should not be surprised what Assad has resorted to in order to keep his power. Empires will do whatever is necessary to protect their domain. I find the use of chemical weapons to be terrifying, but I also think that it would be terrifying to be the target of any weapons, including conventional ones. The lives of thousands who have died in Syria from conventional warfare were just as precious as the hundreds who succumbed to poison unleashed. The outcome is the same.
Moreover, the rebels fighting Assad have given me no hope that if they were in control, things would be any better. Exchanging one despot for another yields the same tragic and evil results-- just look at Egypt.
Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer on fasting tomorrow. I believe in the power of prayer; for it is "the way we let God loose in the world" (Enda McDonough). I don't see prayer as a last resort, but as the first line of defense in bringing something of heaven to earth.
May the church of Jesus Christ lead the way in being the foretaste of God's peaceable kingdom in this world, whatever the cost.
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