Global Baptist leaders began speaking out late this week against the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, as the military and humanitarian crises worsened.
Dr. Agnes Sanders examines a patient at Beirut Baptist School. (Courtesy Nabil Costa)
"We condemn both terrorism and state-sanctioned violence, especially when it targets innocent civilians," said Tony Peck, general secretary for the European Baptist Federation, in a statement to member unions which include several Middle East bodies.
EBF held its 2004 annual meeting in Beirut, and some of its leaders met with Lebanon's president and prime minister.
Peck assured Baptists in both Israel and Lebanon of EBF's concerns, asking Baptist unions and churches to make the crisis an "immediate matter of prayer and concern."
In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, Peck wrote, "I have been receiving regular updates over this past week from Baptists in both Lebanon and northern Israel. They hold no truck with Hezbollah, but both groups are agreed that the Israeli response has been grossly disproportionate and is destroying the Lebanon which was so painstakingly rebuilt over the past 15 years."
"If it is right that our government is following the US in 'allowing' Israel to destroy Hezbollah, then, leaving aside the question of whether this is actually possible, the human price has simply become too high to continue this policy," he wrote. "One-third of the victims on both sides are children. Our Beirut Baptist school, like many others, is overrun with refugees in urgent need of food and medical help."
"To pursue the policy of 'non-intervention' any longer," Peck concluded, "takes our government and that of the US beyond any concept of moral responsibility and begins to make us part of the ongoing tragedy."
Gary Nelson, general secretary for Canadian Baptist Ministries, told EthicsDaily.com: "No country holds the moral high ground anymore because of our duplicity and our self referential nature. If one country can fight terrorism in a certain way what is to stop another for choosing the same method."
"The tragedy is systemic sin breeds chaos and victims," he said from France. "I find myself wondering why 'blessed are the peacemakers' is not to be heard but then again neither is 'they had all things in common.'"
He asked, "Where are the prophetic voices at this time?"
London's Baptist Times posted an editorial that said, "Israel's policy is open to question from a humanitarian and diplomatic perspective."
Editor Mark Woods wrote, "The collective punishment which it appears to be inflicting on Lebanon is unjustifiable and its actions have raised the regional political temperature to boiling point."
"Its policy has also been criticized from a military point of view," he wrote. "There is every risk that its actions will create more martyrs and add fuel to the implacable opposition to its very existence which characterizes its opponents."
Woods criticized the "unquestioning conviction" that a righteous cause justifies any action.
"Both Palestinians and Israelis number among them those with this mindset," he wrote. "Israel has a legitimate right to defend its existence, but the suspicion and fear with which it regards its neighbors–however justified–can lead its soldiers and politicians to dehumanize them. A Palestinian life is worth less than an Israeli's. Palestinian terrorists are able to kill Israeli civilians and sleep soundly at night because they, too, are convinced that an enemy is just an enemy–not a child, a husband, a mother."
"What we should hope for, and pray for, is that both sides will learn to see the others as human beings, rather than as enemies," said Wood. "But the path to reconciliation and justice is a hard one, and it has just got a lot harder."
Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, wrote in Christianity Today: "I think that some pseudo-biblically motivated Christians with decision power, who believe 'that apocalyptic destruction is a precursor to global salvation,' are presently working toward provoking a Middle Eastern conflict of regional significance in order finally to settle accounts with Hezbollah- and Hamas-supporting Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine."
Accad said: "I am angry at self-centered Hezbollah, which has done the inadmissible of taking a unilateral war decision without consulting the Lebanese government of which it is part, never giving a second thought to the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Lebanese who will perish as a result of its selfish decision."
Unable to return home after a teaching stint at Fuller Seminary in California, Accad expressed anger at all parties involved.
"I am angry that citizens of a nation like Israel, who have so suffered at the hands of others, would allow themselves such an out-of-proportion reaction, oh-so-far from the 'eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth' principle that we might have forgiven them," he wrote. "I am just as angry at—I have lost hope in—the international community that is keeping silent and not even budging with an official condemnation of this senseless instinct of extermination."
"By both sides, I would be lynched for what I have just said, if they had the chance," he concluded. "But what have I got to lose anymore?"
In other Baptist news, American Baptist Churches-USA released $15,000 to ABTS for emergency relief aid.
"The needs are humongous," said ABTS provost Elie Haddad, according to the American Baptist News Service. "We have only seen the conditions of some of the displaced people outside the targeted areas of destruction and we feel helpless. I cannot imagine how we will feel once the bombing stops and we see the condition of the people in the impacted areas."
Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development, reported U.S. church groups working with Lebanese Baptists were in Cyprus waiting their continued evacuation home.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
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