Dear friends, the summary in our last issue of Fr. Patrick Reardon’s report on his visit to Syria prompted a strong reaction from a number of readers. Several responses are in our from readers section, including one from an OPF member with contacts inside Syria, describing the peacemaking efforts of one Syrian monastery. While some wondered if we endorsed Fr. Reardon’s views or the violence of Bashar Al-Assad’s government, I assure you we do not, neither do we support any violence within or toward Syria or Syrians, from any quarter.
Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America sent Fr. Reardon’s delegation, in response to concerns from within the Archdiocese, to investigate what he saw as contradictions between what was widely reported in the media and “the reality based on our many contacts there.” Because of the deep spiritual and cultural roots of the Archdiocese in Syria and Met. Philip’s concerns, the trip and the nature of Fr. Reardon’s views qualified as news.
The world is learning that the Christian support of Assad is a decades-old arrangement made to ensure political stability and the Christian community’s survival. But what today seems bafflingly self-serving should not be judged without understanding that Syrian Christians’ lives and fate hang, literally, in the balance between Assad and the opposition. Staying with Assad works if he wins but not if he loses, while joining the opposition brings uncertainty if they win but perhaps suicide if they lose. Their relationship with the government is like a loaded revolver that they placed at their own heads when they sided with Assad’s father as he rose to power.
All this has provided an occasion for raising necessary questions. What options exist for Syria? Are there only two, the choice between stability at the price of supporting a dictator or justice at the price of violence and war? Do paths exist that might lead without violence to just peace? What responsibilities have we who are doing the talking toward those whose lives are affected? Without belaboring the discussion, these questions bear on who we are and on our deepest conviction, and the answers either encourage us broadly as peacemakers or make us hypocrites at worst, merely confused at best.
Conditions of just peace don’t just happen. Peace is built into societies and systems slowly, deliberately, by careful architects. This has not happened in Syria. Long before the shooting started, peace became the first casualty, for offering support to a dictatorial, unjust, and oppressive regime in exchange for stability and safety is a fraud: a form of peace may exist for a while, but eventually it breaks down into the kind of violence now wracking Syria. Because justice and peace were not loved enough, stability has shattered as events spin rapidly away from peaceful change, out of the control of the principle actors and the Syrians whose lives are most affected. Now, in a climate of fear, self-preservation, hegemony, and revenge—violence begets violence—human lives are harvested as the fruit of neglect, and the work of building peace becomes exponentially more difficult.
It is not news that the commercial media love a crisis—that and change, for with these two, they foster our dependency on them, telling us what to know and how to think, pretending they have the only story to be told. That the various State actors also pursue their own self-interests relentlessly, spinning their own deceptive narratives and breeding all species of violence is also not news. The plot elements of religion, oil, the Clash of Civilizations, Islamism, Zionism, terrorism, nuclear weapons, regional hegemony, and political survival are well worn as Syria, its five neighbor States, the United States, Russia, and Iran each tell a tale.
Yet, we must not feel constrained to choose one myopic, self-interested narrative over another, each unstable, partially informed, leading to its own set of unhappy consequences. As C.S. Lewis wrote, the Devil “always sends errors into the world in pairs … of opposites,” and relies on our particular distaste of one to lead us to choose the other. Lewis reminds us of our calling to find the narrow way between errors. We Christians know that Christ calls us to consciously choose our narrative worldview by which the universe and life in it find meaning, coherence, and harmony. When we do not heed—wisely as the serpent and gently as the dove—the comprehensive claim of the Gospel on our minds, we become vulnerable to competing propaganda.
This is the bias of In Communion. As friends of Christ, we are enemies to none; accepting the love of God, we love even our enemies; loving wisdom, our ideology is to do justice, to love mercy, and to live humbly before God; as peacemakers, we advocate the Gospel principles of reconciliation, forbearance, and forgiveness; as human beings, we oppose all violence and tyranny against others, together with whom we share our humanity; as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we pledge loyalty to Him and His laws; as citizens secondarily of this world, we honor solidarity with our historical, cultural, and social groups where we share the burden of community governance, carefully in keeping with our calling; and as neighbors to all, we encourage dialogue and friendly social intercourse everywhere, imposing on no one. We must work out how we will conduct ourselves toward Syria within such a framework.
Meanwhile, we cannot be shy to speak our minds as we search together for understanding, humbly mindful of our ignorance and weakness. And, of course, we will pray that the way forward toward a just and lasting peace in Syria may soon be found before many more lives and communities are shattered or lost.