Religious leaders urge caution as US, UK launch strikes in Afghanistan

October 9, 2001

Following the launch of military strikes by the United States and the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, religious leaders cautioned against the pursuit of revenge, with some voices calling for an immediate end to the action.

The World Council of Churches-a fellowship of more than 340 Protestant and Orthodox churches world-wide-urged the US and the UK to 'bring a prompt end to the present action' and implored other nations not to join it.

'We do not believe that war, particularly in today's highly technologized world, can ever be regarded as an effective response to the equally abhorrent sin of terrorism,' said Georges Lemopoulos, WCC acting general secretary, in a statement October 9.

In his statement, Lemopoulos drew attention to Muslim and other religious communities who 'despite President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's affirmations to the contrary, are likely to consider themselves the targets of this and the other military actions.'

In the United States, H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, reminded Christians that they had a duty to seek alternatives to war.

However, in a statement issued last night after the first military strikes, Anderson also referred to 'certain circumstances' in which military force may be the only way 'to offer protection to innocent people.' He called on military leaders to 'do all they can to protect civilians from harm' and urged diplomatic efforts to promote peaceful solutions.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, and other UK religious leaders attended a meeting with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, at 10 Downing Street on October 8. The group also included Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Kelly, standing in for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who was in Rome at a synod of Roman Catholic bishops, the Church of Scotland moderator, John Miller, and Yousuf Bhailok, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Afterwards, Carey, leader of the world-wide Anglican Communion, issued a statement on behalf of the group declaring that the crisis 'is not, and must not be seen as a confrontation between religions-or with a particular religion.'

In Geneva, the Council of European Churches, representing more than 120 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches, warned of a 'vicious spiral of violence' that could be unleashed from 'disproportionate retaliatory and vengeful responses.'

The September 11 attacks on the US 'demand[ed] a response not least in justice to the victims and their families,' said Dr. Keith Clements, CEC general secretary, and Metropolitan Jeremie Caligiorgis, CEC president, in a letter to its member churches.

But, they added, 'In seeking justice for victims, [responses to terrorist violence] should seek to produce a result which is more just after the event than before.' They also called for responses in keeping with international law.

Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, which groups 133 churches in 73 countries, said that 'military action must as soon as possible be superseded by strong, constructive efforts on other levels.

'A drawn out military campaign cannot be sustained without generating a wider conflict, which could easily get out of hand,' Noko said in a statement issued today which also called for the strengthening of diplomacy to deal with the 'underlying causes of terrorism.'

Dr. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which links more than 200 member churches throughout the world, condemned the attacks of September 11 against the US, but urged people of all faiths 'to look for ways of overcoming the violence other than using violent means.'

'We do not see an answer in retaliation or any other form of violence,' he told ENI. 'We urge Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths to stand together in overcoming violence and terrorism from whatever source it comes.'

In Germany, Manfred Kock, chair of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), described the decision to launch military action in Afghanistan as 'high risk.'

'It is not yet clear whether the methods chosen will really serve the aim of combating terrorism, and whether the Afghan civilian population can really be protected to the extent that has been proclaimed.'

In a statement, Kock said that action to combat the terrorist organizations behind the September 11 attacks must not be a form of revenge, 'but solely a question of punishing those who are guilty and preventing future threats.'

He called on Christians to continue praying for peace, and remembered particularly the Christian aid workers on trial in Afghanistan 'whose fate is more uncertain than ever.'

Eight foreign workers-four Germans, two Americans and two Australians-and 16 Afghans from the German organization Shelter Now International were arrested in Afghanistan in August and charged with propagating Christianity.