The United States’ missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Syria took out 20 percent of their aircraft, in response to Syria’s April 4 chemical attack that killed over 80 innocent civilians. This was America’s first direct military action in Syria’s six-year civil war that has taken the lives of 400,000 people. Reaction from the world community has been swift. But what is the proper Christian response to President Trump’s action?
First, we must acknowledge there is no easy answer. Count Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas’ Prestonwood Church and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, among the supporters of the American response. Graham tweeted, “America stands up to terror and sends the right message to all evildoers.” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, issued this statement: “The world community cannot sit idly by while brutal dictators like Bashar al-Assad are allowed to terrorize their own people and defying every international law and convention in the process. Our continued inaction would be our complicity. Too many lines have been crossed and too many lives lost. Thankfully, it seems the days of allowing such atrocities to be left unchecked are over.”
But other religious leaders take the opposite view. While Pope Francis decried the Syrian action, he has not spoken in support of America’s response. Other Catholic leaders have been outspoken in their criticism, suggesting violence is never the answer to violence. America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said this: “This limited attack will not end the ongoing genocide that has resulted in the death, injury, rape, torture, and displacement of millions of innocent Syrians whose only ‘crime’ was seeking freedom and self-determination.”
So while there is not a clear, universally accepted “Christian” position on the American response to Assad’s inhumane attack on his own people, there are a few principles we should all be able to embrace.
1. Man is powerless to bring peace to the mess he has created.
There is an old Imperials song that says, “There will never be peace until Christ is seated at the conference table.” This is not to say President Trump should have done nothing to punish the Syrian regime. Inactivity and empty threats did not serve the Obama Administration well; a different strategy was long overdue. But we would be naive to think military action will bring the answer to the real problems of pride and sin.
2. Syrian president al-Assad will not go unpunished.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to America’s missile attack with a Scripture – “Be sure of this: the wicked will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21). Sin comes with a price. Whether justice is brought by military force or eternal punishment, the barbaric actions of this ruthless, savage dictator have not gone unnoticed by the Great Judge, nor will they go unpunished.
3. President Trump needs our prayers more than our criticism.
The President’s freelancing ways have exposed him to much – and often justified – criticism. His critics are many, in and out of the Christian community. But I will say here what I said from the pulpit for over 30 years – Do not criticize a man for whom you have not prayed. We are to pray for “all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). Agreeing with President Trump’s policies, direction, and character are not relevant for whether or not you pray for him.
4. We can all respond to the Syrian crisis personally.
In 12-step work, addicts are encouraged to make amends to those they have hurt when possible (step 9). When they are unable to make direct amends, they are encouraged to make “indirect amends” by blessing others who have been harmed, though not by themselves. It’s a biblical principle. What does that mean for us? Very few of us will be called to minister in Syria or to take in a Syrian refugee. But we are surrounded by refugees of other kinds every day. We can respond to the Syrian crisis by blessing those God has put in our paths. Feed the hungry, give to legitimate charities, and minister to the less fortunate. The real definition of pure religion, the Bible says, is to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27). And it is in blessing the poor, homeless, and helpless that we bless God (Matthew 25:40).
Was President Trump’s missile attack on Syria the right thing to do? Count me among the “yes” votes. What al-Assad started has invoked a military response from the most powerful nation on earth. But make no mistake – God will get the final word.