Praying for Iraq

ISIL bombingLeith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, e-mailed some thoughts August 8 on praying for embattled Iraq, displayed in italics at this column’s end. His “prayer points” spurred my empathy for President Obama, who must have struggled over his decision to order recent bombings — a decision made no less distressing by a journalists’s beheading. Obama wanted out of Iraq from Day One, yet it’s here again, the war that won’t go away. Strict pacifists, for whom I have deep respect, would disagree with his decision. Some might hoist signs: “War is not the answer” … “Peace, not war” … “No More War!”
           But it’s not so simple. Organizations like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remind us that pacifism, while erring in the right direction, does not necessarily bring peace. ISIL rows in a foreign logical stream, which begins with the premise that their holy war is intrinsically moral: “we” are good and “they” are evil; “we” are sincere and “they” are Satan’s insincere minions, worthy of decapitation; “we” are righteous and strong; “they” are immoral and weak — so distrust their olive branches of peace and view them as signs of weakness.
          How do we make peace with a group that actually wants war?  Strict pacifism has no answer.
          The traditional answer to pacifism is the so-called “Just War” theory. It’s a classic case of bad branding: Advocates sound like they’re pro-war when they’re really puzzling over the moral response to the Hitler’s and Stalins among us — or rogue organizations like ISIL: Do we drop bombs on the guilty to save the innocent or do we fold our arms and watch the slaughter? Remember Rwanda. It doesn’t help that militarists have hijacked the theory and dispatched their armies at will. The theory itself — especially as it has evolved in modern Roman Catholic circles — seeks to limit the use of the sword and snatch it from the king’s hand before he wields it everywhere. It has much more affinity with pacifism than war-mongering, which is why I argue for re-branding: The “Just War” theory should be called “Modified Pacifism,” and the respective advocates should usually sit at the same side of the table. I make the case for that here.  Drew Christiansen, S.J., described the theory’s evolution here.
           But I must beware: Christian theologians of the first three centuries unanimously agreed that killing people — in the form of abortion, homicide, war, and the death penalty — is always wrong. Ronald Sider, a humble pacifist, established that in The Early Church on Killing.  I must admit it: I bear the burden of proof and I’m more at risk of heresy vis-a-vis this teaching.
          With that sober thought in mind, here is Anderson’s e-mail:
Dear fellow Christian,
In the last few weeks, thousands of Christians have been forced by militant rule to flee their homes in northern Iraq. The United States has authorized air strikes and humanitarian aid airdrops in Iraq. The United Nations has condemned militant actions and is urging a coordinated response. Stories of the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other areas in the Middle East continue to fill the media. Please join me and other Christians around the world in praying for peaceful resolution and relief for those caught in the violence and persecution.
Prayer Points
  • Pray for President Obama and his advisors as they consider where and how to provide humanitarian assistance and military intervention in Iraq.
  • Pray for safety for Christians and other minorities in Iraq who are fleeing violence and persecution. Pray that they would find safe harbor.
  • Pray for comfort for those across the Middle East who have lost loved ones and have suffered traumatic violence.
  • Pray for missionaries and humanitarian aid workers who serve in difficult and violent corners of the world, that they will be kept safe, and that their efforts will contribute to a fuller realization of the peace and prosperity that God intends for all.
For a few more resources, visit
Thank you,
Leith Anderson
National Association of Evangelicals
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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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