September 9, 2013

A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops on Syria


"Lord, make us instruments of your peace..."

In the aftermath of the horror of toxic gas being used against civilians in war-torn Syria, and with our government now debating a proposal for military intervention, there are many hard questions and no simple answers.

The political and military debates focus on targets, goals to be achieved, proportionality, probability of success and exit strategies.  The questions for the church are different:  Who is our neighbor?  If we seek peace from gun violence at home on our streets, how can we not seek the same for our global neighborhood?  Is it ever right to strike out or retaliate, and if or when we do, is our use of force to gain power and punish, or is it to defend and protect those who are weak, poor, vulnerable or oppressed?  What is our Christian role at a time like this?

"Lord, make us instruments of your peace..."

We have been praying, as millions of people of faith have been praying, about Syria.  Our diocese has for several years had a mission relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (which comprises Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria), and so we have talked with that diocese's bishop, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, about the violence in Syria and about the refugees pouring into Jordan.  We agree with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who recently said in the House of Lords:  "...there is as much risk in inaction as there is in action.  But as in a conflict in another part of the world, a civil conflict in which I was mediating some years ago, a general said to me 'we have to learn that there are intermediate steps between being in barracks and opening fire.'  And the reality is that until we are sure that all those intermediate steps have been pursued, just war theory says that the step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative whatsoever, under any circumstances."

We, your bishops, do not feel sure that all economic and diplomatic efforts have yet been exhausted or that there are not other international vehicles that can be used to bring a tyrant to justice.  We do not believe that U.S. military action is warranted at this time.  The victims of this terrible conflict are our primary concern.

Some think a call for prayer is a weak response.  In fact, prayer is powerful and the most important action we can take.  Pray for those who suffer.  Pray for our enemies.  Pray for our government and for all in positions of power and leadership.  Pray that hearts and minds will be led toward right action.  Pray for peace.

What else can we do to be instruments of peace?  We can stay informed.  We can let our voices be heard by writing and calling our Congressional delegation and President Obama.  We can give to relief for refugees.  Please know that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem ( is responding through churches in northern Jordan and in conjunction with the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (Orthodox, Lutherans and Anglicans) and invites our support.  Episcopal Relief & Development funds also are helping to support the relief work, and you can direct donations via

In the midst of such complication and complexity, the Gospel of Jesus is clear:  give aid to the widow, the orphan, the afflicted, the hungry, the homeless and the oppressed.  In this current season of conflict, let us do the work of the Gospel.  Let us be makers of peace, a role from which there can be no exit.

The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE  •  The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris