Yesterday, and a few days prior to that, and to an extent today, the news headlines in mainstream and social media has been around the UK government decision, backed by a majority of MPs, to mount UK airstrikes in Syria. Already, the indication is that the news focus is now on other things, although few who take a more thoughtful line in such matters are in much doubt that there will be significant developments concerning this decision, as there invariably are.
In one sense, I have said what I wanted to say on the matter and for those who are interested check out (here, here and here) although there are always new angles to cover. Two spring to mind: the first is the quite evident concern of many of my Facebook friends, including those with a strong Christian faith, that this was the wrong decision. Some have picked up on that there was loud cheering after Hilary Benn made his landmark speech and that this was inappropriate as was the moment of levity following the vote and the fact that that aircraft were prematurely on standby to bomb pending the Common’s vote. The other is the statement made today by the Russians, that while welcoming the UK decision, it doubted that without the UK working with Syrian authorities under the control of President Assad that airstrikes would be effective. This of course is one of the crunch issues making the decision whether or not to bomb so difficult. While Isis (Daesh) are the immediate threat, Assad is seen by some, with good reason, to be despicable, given the atrocities against the innocent and vulnerable he has perpetrated, and a complete solution would necessitate his removal too.
The rights and wrongs, consequences and implications, of going to war would seem to be the big issue among many, including thoughtful Christian types, who often see things quite differently, especially given recent UK incursions into fields like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Bosnia have not been met with all the success that had been hoped for. For many, like me, they would want to ask the question from a theological point of view, despite arriving at different conclusions. As one who has never had to fight in a war and rely on experiences like that of my parents to gain insight into was involved, I feel I have been let of lightly and neither do I take it lightly when coming to a view that war may be the lesser of at least two evils, bearing in mind there will be inevitable civilian casualties, the wars we are talking about right now, i.e. in Syria, has so many complexities and imponderables, and we would be requiring others to place themselves in harm’s way to fight our battles. It got me thinking about the theology behind the “just war” principle, surprisingly well articulated in a Wikipedia entry. In essence, I believe there is a case for a just war, as did members of the two churches I belonged to in recent years, who lost their lives in fighting in what they considered to be a just war and for which we rightly recently remembered them. The critical question is whether the course of action now agreed upon by Parliament is just.
I have many favorite Bible texts, depending on my mood and the prevailing circumstances. One text going round in my mind right now is there is “a time to war” and by implication not to war. To put it in context: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace”. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
I suspect even among doves (as opposed to hawks) there is the realization we are at war with Daesh (the recent Paris attacks and threats to the UK confirm this). The question discussed, and one that has given rise to so much soul searching, is how best to conduct that war. I have already given my views. Like many, I do so with a sense of powerlessness and frustration at the lack of wisdom and insight, not just on the part of government but for my part too. On the other hand, our limitations should not be excuses for inactivity. We should watch and pray and that is yet another theological perspective. Given the way things stand, most of us will not be required to take up arms, although there is a need to support those who do and make necessary sacrifices. The big issue at the moment, and why defeating Daesh sooner is so important (and dare I say it Assad too), is the help we can give to victims of these conflicts, i.e. the several million displaced persons, many of which are destitute.