Written by Sam Logan
Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00
What should be done about/in Syria?
How might a missional and evangelical Christian approach this terribly difficult subject?
The best I can do is offer a few very tentative missional musings.
These particular musings emerge from the missional commitment that we must be aware of and seek to take full and appropriate account of the perspectives and experiences of evangelical Christians who are not part of our particular culture or milieu. This does not mean that “their” perspectives are right any more than it means that ours are. We just need to try to think and act consistently with our belief that we (whoever “we” are) are just a tiny part of the massive church which the Lord is creating for His own honor and glory.
This missional commitment also requires us to be especially careful when interpreting historical events and applying their “meaning” to situations which face us now. We know that we do not somehow stand outside the flow of history with the ability to look down on what is happening from some kind of epistemological Mount Everest. We do, of course, have the absolute truth of Scripture to guide us and that is critically important; without it, we would, in my opinion, be totally lost. But our application of that absolute truth should not be regarded as “inerrant,” especially when brought to bear upon the messy and complicated activities of sinful human behavior.
This missional commitment need not lead to agnosticism in either theology or ethics. It should, however, lead to a kind of humility when we are dealing with complex situations – like the current situation in Syria.
I will try to apply this general missional commitment to the situation in Syria in two specific ways – first, a factual and historical consideration and second, a personal and spiritual consideration.
Few (if any) people in the entire world have all the facts. Was sarin gas used in an attack in Damascus? This seems increasingly likely. But who used that gas? Are we absolutely sure that it was the Assad regime? Even more difficult (for me, at least) is this question – do we have to be ABSOLUTELY sure before we do anything? Well, if we don’t have to be ABSOLUTELY sure, how sure do we need to be?
Many politicians and journalists are comparing the Syria situation to the Iraq situation. The authorities seemed to be VERY sure that WMD’s were in Sadaam’s arsenal. It seems they were wrong. How do we incorporate that lesson into our present discussions? The September 4, 2013, edition of THE TIMES (London) contained a superb editorial by Daniel Finkelstein entitled “Lessons from Iraq Are Not Lessons at All” (p. 23). In that piece, Mr. Finkelstein gave the best brief analysis that I have ever read of how (and how not) to use the past as a guide to the present or future. Here are a few of his comments (with which I, as a tiny bit of a church historian) largely agree:
It is quite common in political debate to accuse the other side of fighting the last war instead of the next one. But it is rare to reflect on the real mistake being made. The problem is not that the last war was being refought but that a single, individual episode was being relied upon to produce lessons.
So for years, American statesmen were being warned not to engage in military action lest in be another Vietnam. And indeed, the Vietnam was a disaster that repays careful study. But it should not be removed from the entire history of the Cold War engagement, the outcome of which was not a disaster.
Generalizing from a single incident is like tossing a coin, having it land heads and concluding that when you toss a coin, it always lands heads.
. . . . . . .
Conflicts always have endgames that are hard to be certain about and aren’t always desirable. The Second World War didn’t end until 1990 [the tearing down of the Berlin Wall], with a messy stand-off lasting 45 years. And it could be argued that the Iraq war happened partly to provide a clear endgame because there had been years without one after the Kuwait invasion.
The lesson of history, I’m afraid, is that the lesson of history can never release you from making judgments, ones you sometimes get wrong.
So what’s the result of this particular musing?
It certainly is NOT that we remain paralyzed because of the uncertainty of being wrong. Judgments must be made. In this case, a judgment must be made regarding whether military intervention in Syria by the U.S., France, and perhaps a few other countries would be right. It is just that we all, both those who favor and those who oppose such intervention, must display historical humility both as we come to our conclusions and as we respond to others who come to the opposite conclusions. We all have gotten some of our past judgments wrong so it is the height of foolish narcissism to think that there is no way we could be wrong on this one.
This is the factual and historical consideration. Now for a personal and spiritual consideration.
In all the time that the conflict in Syria has been going on, there had been, every week, a note in our church’s bulletin asking us to pray for a couple in our church. He is Egyptian and she is Syrian and most of her family is in Syria. They are both wonderful evangelical Christian individuals with significant experience in living and speaking the Gospel “missionally” to Muslims. Her family is in great danger in Syria and it is likely that the greatest danger to them comes, not from the Assad regime, but from those who oppose that regime.
This does not mean that her family’s situation “trumps” all other considerations. But it does mean that her family’s situation (and the similar situations of other Christian families in Syria) must be fully considered and taken into account as we come to conclusions about what should be done in that battered and beleaguered country. This couple also believes that if the rebellion against President Assad is successful and he is ousted from power, the result for all Christians in Syria will be dire and will be similar to the situation for Christians in Egypt under the regime of President Morsi. This is, of course, an “endgame” prediction of which no one can be certain. But, in what actually did happen in Egypt very recently, there are significant reasons for giving this particular prediction consideration. And that’s what this missional “musing” recommends – that we seek out and listen to those who have first-hand knowledge of what Syrian Christians are experiencing right now.
I have been in Scotland for the past two weeks and have been particularly fascinated by the intense debates here in the U.K. about Syria. Inevitably, it seems, harsh words have been spoken by both sides about those who take positions different from one’s own. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if missional Christians could consistently set an example of taking firm positions when necessary but of doing so with the recognition that each of us has been wrong in the past, that we therefore treat our opponents with grace and respect, that we go out of our way to consider the perspectives of those evangelical Christians who are different from us and that we truly seek first HIS Kingdom, even if (as can happen!), HIS Kingdom conflicts with our own.
Sam Logan is Senior Counsel for Major Gifts at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan