King Carl XVI Gustaf walked down the aisle with the Rev. Dr. Antje Jackelen, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden. We opened the prayer service for peace in Iraq and Syria in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The date was September 8, 2014. The place was the Storkyrkan in Stockholm, Sweden. The theme: peace between warring factions.
A choir made up of Syrian Christians in exile sang the Lord's Prayer. They sang in Aramaic, the very language of Jesus. I wept while I listened. Choirs in Mesopotamia have been singing in the language of Jesus since the time of Jesus. Today, if the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) succeeds in establishing a global Caliphate, this two thousand year history will be obliterated.
There are three main branches of Christianity: the Latin, the Greek, and the Syriac. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the West belong to the Latin tradition. Our Orthodox neighbors, whether Russian or Greek or other, belong to the Greek tradition. But the Syriac should draw our attention today. This was the first missionary church which, by the 1st century, spread to India and, by the 7th century to China. By the time of Constantine, forty percent of what we then called Persia and today call Iraq was Christian. Subsequent persecutions and genocides decimated much of Syrian Christianity. Only remnants remain. Today the remnants are watching their churches blown up by bombs and their members threatened with a choice between converting to Islam or losing their heads. Soon, the Lord's prayer in the language of the Lord will not be heard in this part of the world.
Christianity as a religion possesses no guns, no drones, no bombs. All Christians can contribute to the global crisis is prayer for peace, peace with justice. This raises questions. What should Christians do to show support for fellow Christians and also for other religious minorities whose freedom and very existence is threatened? Is war the answer? Should Christians ask secular states in North America or Europe to send armies and guns and bombs to defeat IS? Could a military defeat of IS secure freedom for Christians and other non-Muslims? But, to ally one's religious beliefs with a military force is to invite demonic powers to usurp faith in the Prince of Peace; so does asking for military strikes against IS risk a Faustian bargain?
Prayer should be accompanied by action. Here's my question: what kind of action?