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30 August 2013

Action still needed in Syria despite no-vote, say church leaders

Action still needed in Syria despite no-vote, say church leaders

by Jacqueline Laing

Christian leaders remain committed to uniting to pray for Syria, after prime minister David Cameron lost his bid to engage the United Kingdom in military action in the region.

A spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance has said that despite the no-vote, Britain must still do something to bring peace to the region.

"Parliament has voted against military action, but that doesn't mean we should not act," said Daniel Webster, parliamentary officer for the Alliance. "We should work to find ways to bring peace to Syria and work to protect those in danger. This is a chance to find a solution to a violent conflict without it escalating through further violence. And we should pray, for those Christians at risk of their lives, for all in Syria, for their leaders and leaders across the globe as they work to bring an end to this crisis."

The government's sensational defeat came after Thursday's recall of parliament where MPs were asked to vote on the matter.

The 285 to 272 defeat was led by opposition leader Ed Miliband, who appears to have done u-turn in support of military action, demanding six concessions in return for Labour support.

Cameron's desire to lead the country into military action came after last week's suspected chemical weapon attack on the Syrian people – condemned, by the World Council of Churches on 27 August.

Many Christian leaders rallied their members to pray, with the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed churches offering up open prayers for wisdom and peace.

Leaders from the group said in a joint statement: "We are thankful that our MPs carefully considered the difficult matter of military intervention in Syria – and decided to reject it. Our prayers now are that all diplomatic means are used to bring government and opposition leaders to the negotiating table and that divided parties are encouraged to seek a future they can inhabit together. We also urge that priority is given to a quick and effective humanitarian response to the thousands of Syrian people affected by the violence."

On Wednesday a partnership led by Alliance member organisation Open Doors UK delivered a letter to Downing Street, reminding the government of a report they presented to Alistair Burt, the foreign office minister at a meeting on 9 July, highlighting the dangers Christians face as a result of the Syrian crisis.

The letter reminded David Cameron that he viewed Britain as a Christian country and how Open Doors consulted with Syrian church leaders on what they thought was the way forward, out of the current crisis.

According to Open Doors, Christian leaders, were "clear and emphatic that the priority for the international community was to support an inclusive Syrian-led political process to find a political solution, and to do their utmost to get all relevant actors at the table to discuss the future of Syria and all Syrian people".

The letter ended by drawing attention to a comment by Professor Philip Jenkins, emeritus professor of humanities at Pennsylvania State, which suggested"any Western intervention in Syria would likely supply the death warrant for the ancient Christianity of the Middle East".

The letter was sent on the back of a report and a petition by Open Doors who have been serving in Syria since before the war.The Open Doors Syria Advocacy Report and the Save Syria Petition – signed by around 100,000 people – were presented at the meeting in July. The petition urges all those with influence and power to protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria; and safeguard the existence of the Christian community and in particular stop the assaulting, kidnapping, torture and killing of Christians by extremist and criminal groups.

It also calls for the guarantee of safe, fair and proper access for all to humanitarian assistance, both inside and outside Syria; for Christians to be able to remain in and/or return safely to their homes without fear or threat of violence; to safeguard the right of Christians to be able to worship in peace and safety and allow them space to offer compassionate care and contribute to making peace.

The petition also urgesthe establishment of a new Syria with a society and constitution that in theory and in practice guarantees and respects the right to freedom of religion and belief for all.