As US President Barack Obama proposes a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria, the main ecumenical body for churches in the USA has declared its conviction that "war is always contrary to the will of God".
The National Council of Churches USA issued its statement yesterday (30 August), the day after the UK parliament rejected involvement in a punitive attack on Syria, and before the announcement by the President on 31 August that the US should take military action and that he will seek congressional authorisation for intervention.
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Damascus reported yesterday afternoon that people there are worried and are making preparations.
They do not know what Mr Obama means by a "limited attack" and what consequences it will have, he added.
The National Council of Churches of Christ USA issued the following seven point statement two days ago:
1. In any political dispute, we deplore the use of military solutions. Since its founding in 1950 in the wake of World War II and at the beginning of the Korean War, the NCC has declared its conviction that war is always contrary to the will of God.
2. We particularly deplore the horrendous violence unleashed by both sides in the Syria civil war that has resulted in a dismaying loss of life and property, and has placed severe burdens on the entire region as thousands of refugees seek safety outside the borders of Syria.
3. In particular, we condemn the use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria that has killed and maimed thousands of innocent children, women, and men. This senseless, evil act is horrifying, even against the background of the unspeakable carnage each side has already wrought against the other. All who have been responsible for this chemical attack, from the President of Syria to the soldiers following orders to unleash the attack, must search their consciences and ask God for forgiveness and for the courage to refuse to participate in future attacks.
4. We welcome the resolve of President Obama and other leaders to stop future chemical attacks against an innocent populace. However, we are deeply sceptical that US military action against Syria will prevent future attacks. Indeed, we fear such action may have consequences beyond US planning and control, including more death and widespread destruction.
5. We acknowledge the courage of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has said the United Kingdom will not participate in punitive attacks on Syria because of the clearly stated opposition of the British people and the House of Commons. We call on President Obama to listen carefully to similar debates in the US Congress and among the US public.
6. We urge President Obama to use restraint in deciding upon military solutions, and to renew his efforts to build a political coalition within the United Nations to continue to isolate the Syrian government from the family of nations and place irresistible moral and economic pressure on Syria to refrain from the use of chemical weapons against innocent people.
7. We call on all persons of faith to pray for all leaders who are faced with the terrible decisions of war, including the President of the United States whose clear intention is to protect the innocent.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has sought to be a leading force for shared ecumenical collaboration and service among Christians in the United States.
The NCCUSA's 37 member communions - from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches - include 45 million people in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the country.
* NCCUSA: http://www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us/
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria