Quakers have become the first major church denomination in Britain to speak out against the UK government’s plans for air strikes in Syria.
They called for an actively nonviolent response and warned politicians not to “fall into the old trap” of thinking that military action is the only alternative to doing nothing.
“Quakers in Britain are appalled by the suffering and loss of life on all sides in Syria,” said a statement from the denomination today (28 August). “We understand - and share - the wish of the international community to take some form of action to reduce the bloodshed, but we strongly urge those who are tempted to respond militarily to think again.”
Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk (and most senior staff member) of Quakers in Britain, said, “Air strikes will kill people just as surely as chemical attacks. All weapons must seem equally abhorrent if it is your family that is being killed.”
Regarding suspicions that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, Parker added, “Punishment for use of specific kinds of weapon is no justification for further acts of war or for supplying yet more weapons.”
Quakers, known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends, have a long history of pacifism and nonviolent resistance to injustice.
“New participants in a war will breed new hatreds,” said Parker. “Experience of other conflicts shows that supposedly simple or 'surgical' military interventions usually become messy and hard to end. We are convinced that even when some kind of victory is claimed, the deep harm done by violence always outweighs the supposed benefits.”
The statement is likely to add to the pressure on other churches and faith groups to take a stand against the bombing. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has already urged caution, saying MPs need to be aware of “the facts on the ground” and the likely consequences of military action.
Paul Parker urged those in power to work through the United Nations and other diplomatic channels to promote peace.
“We challenge them to use their resources and imaginations creatively,” he said. “We will pray for peace in the region, and continue to voice our deep opposition to war.“
The statement is likely to be particularly welcomed by those Quakers who fear that parts of the denomination have drifted away from pacifism in recent years.
* 'Syria: what lies behind the clamour for military strikes?', by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18911
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria