To Churches across America, grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ:
Without fail, churches all throughout America pray publicly about America’s troops. On any given Sunday, one can hear people pray for men and women in the military, that they receive “special measures of protection” as they fight to “protect our freedoms” and “serve our country.” While we understand the concerns of church members who have friends and family in the armed forces, and while we sincerely hope for their safe return immediately, we find that these kinds of prayers are neglectful of another group – those victims who suffer wrongfully from this war, to whom we are indeed responsible in part for their suffering. Regardless of one’s opinion of these wars, we think that all can agree upon inspection that this practice can and should change to be more inclusive.
For instance, we never hear prayers for our fellow Christians who live in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the US invasion in 2003, Christians who were tolerated in the past have been repeatedly persecuted and frequently even killed by indiscriminate warfare or surging extremist groups, and nearly half of the Christian population of 800,000 in Iraq has either fled the country or died. In March 2010 alone, over 4,000 Christians were displaced from their homes following unrest in the northern city of Mosul. Many more have confined themselves to their homes for their own safety.
Moreover, we rarely, if ever, hear prayers for the innocent people in Iraq that die on a daily basis, either from indiscriminate killing by our own military or civil unrest that results from a country torn apart by war. The lowest estimates of non-combatant deaths in Iraq number greater than 100,000. Unfortunately, over time our sensibilities and attitudes toward this war – which is now the longest prolonged conflict in American history – have become desensitized and lackadaisical, and thus we often forget these innocent people.
We appeal to churches everywhere, and especially to church leaders, to lead the way toward recognizing this issue with two simple proposals. First, we propose that if a church bulletin includes prayer request for “Family Members in the Military,” that it should also include mention of the innocent and oppressed in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially our Iraqi and Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ, and for an end to war. Second, we propose that the church leaders take the lead in consistently mentioning the same in prayer with the congregation on Sunday mornings. If the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective, then surely instituting this practice will do good both for these victims and for our own spirits.
We support this appeal with Scripture in two ways. First, if you consider these people as we do, that they are innocent victims and have been wronged by their own leaders, by extremists, and by our own military, then may we pray to God as Jesus taught his disciples: to be “delivered from evil.” If we can pray this for ourselves, surely we can do so for others. But second, if you still consider these people our enemies, then may we do as Jesus said in Matthew 5: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” May this be the beginning of understanding what Jesus said moments before, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Changing our practice to include praying for the oppressed is not a political statement. In fact, this is not a political issue in the least; on the contrary it is a moral and theological issue. If we are to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then we should take seriously that Jesus came and died to proclaim peace on earth and to liberate the oppressed. We may expect that “wars and rumors of wars” will always exist, but this does not require a condoning or defeatist attitude of such events. Rather, this understanding should make us more sensitive and more compassionate toward those who suffer.
To conclude, war is arguably the most destructive human activity ever devised, and it is an intensely serious moral and theological issue because of its finality for those involved either directly as soldiers or indirectly as innocents. It is right to earnestly pray for our family members participating in war, but let us not become callous to the suffering of others, especially those to whom we are indirectly responsible for their suffering. Therefore, we should let our congregational prayers reflect our concern for them.