Crisis in Syria: Pray for Wisdom and Guidance

Dear Faith Colleagues and Community Leaders,

We write to invite you, friends and neighbors in faith communities across our nation, to join us this week in holding Congress in our prayers as they contemplate their response to our president's proposed military strike against Syria. We recognize the seriousness of the issue before them. The use of chemical weapons by Assad on August 21 shocked and revolted communities of conscience around the world, and as people of faith, we join many in condemning these actions as crimes against humanity.

As we now ponder the course of action we should take in response, we recognize that the leaders and citizens of the United States are deeply divided in their convictions about military intervention. According to our best calculations, dire consequences will follow from either action or inaction and neither, it seems, promises to achieve clear, good outcomes. Indeed, a "good outcome" is impossible in a situation as violent and vexed as this one.

In a moment like this, it is tempting to retreat to partisan camps and thereby avoid serious moral debate. As people of faith, we urge otherwise. We urge that depth of conscience and humble conviction guide us as we wrestle with this question, together, as one people.

Christian realist Reinhold Niebuhr spoke to presidents and congressional leaders often on such matters -- always urging them to not shy away from the hard work of moral reflection and to do so with open eyes and humble but decisive minds and wills. We do not always have the luxury, he reminded us, of solving problems that have clear answers. More often than not, we must wander through moral fog where no path will lead us to daylight clarity. And yet, we must decide what we believe to be the right course of action. We must.

In the words of a simple prayer, he captured the complexity of the kind of faithful moral reflection, when he asked God...

Give us courage to change the things
which should be changed,

the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,

and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

These strong, wise words can give us guidance in this moment if we dare to take them seriously. Whether we are hawks or doves, interventionists or isolationists, ready to take
unilateral action or inclined to await UN consent, one things is certain -- we know that the president and Congress desperately need grace, courage, and, most especially, wisdom as they cast their votes this week. They need, as well, the prayers of faith communities across our land who recognize the magnitude of the decision before them and the inevitably vexed nature of their response.

History may well show that our decision, whatever it may be, was the wrong one -- perhaps with untold, horrific consequences. If so, then our only solace as a nation will be the knowledge that we wrestled honestly and humbly with our options, and we made our decision guided by a sense of moral seriousness and not because of partisan pressure or party politics. The stakes are too high for that. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it is a human issue of the highest and most serious magnitude.

This week we will celebrate Patriot Day and Commemorate September 11, the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Let us also lift our hearts and minds in prayers and thoughts for Congress and our President as they decide on the weighty matters before them. Dr. Jones will lead the Union community in prayer at its 177th Convocation this Wednesday evening.

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
President, Union Theological Seminary


Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr.
Harry Emerson Fosdick Distinguished Professor, Union Theological Seminary and
Senior Minister Emeritus of the Riverside Church