Welsh & Scottish Anglican leaders urge defeat of bill authorizing military action against ISIS

The leaders of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church in Wales have urged Parliament not to authorize the use of military force against ISIS in response to the Paris terror attacks. However, the General Synod of the Church of England has given its support to government intervention in Syria.

In a statement released on 1 Dec 2015 the Most Rev David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church said the urge to hit back was understandable, but airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria would likely worsen the situation.

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, on 30 Nov 2015 stated there was no moral case for bombing Syria. Bombing ISIS would only make a difficult situation worse.

However the General Synod of the Church of England last week unanimously backed a motion calling for a vigorous response from the government to the Syrian crisis. The issue of military force was absent from the text of the motion adopted by the synod, which called upon the government “to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk”.

However, during the debate the Bishop of Durham, the Rt. Rev. Paul Butler said it would be “likely that some [military action] will be needed.”

On 2 Dec 2015 the House of Commons will set aside 10 hours to debate the government’s plan to join France, the US and Russia in striking ISIS targets in Syria. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, opened debate on the government motion to authorise airstrikes “exclusively” against ISIS, asking the Commons to “answer the call from our allies.”

Mr Cameron said: “The House should be under no illusion that these terrorists are plotting to kill us and to radicalise our children right now.” He added: “Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands from where they are plotting to kill British people, or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”

The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, opposed military action. “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands public opposition to his ill thought-out rush to war is growing – and wants to hold the vote before it slips from his hands.”

“Whether it’s the lack of a strategy worth the name, the absence of credible ground troops, the missing diplomatic plan for a Syrian settlement, the failure to address the impact on the terrorist threat or the refugee crisis and civilian casualties.”

“It’s become increasingly clear that the prime minister’s proposals for military action simply do not stack up,” the Labour leader said.

According to BBC research, of the 640 MPs expected to vote, 362 MPs are in favour of the motion while 175 are against. Of the remainder, 19 are “leaning to” supporting the government, three are “leaning against” while 80 are undecided. The leaders of the Conservative, Liberal Democratic and Democratic Unionist Party have backed military action. Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party leaders are opposed.

In his statement, Bishop Chillingsworth said:

“The decision which the House of Commons will make tomorrow is one which tests to the utmost the question of how a society which has democratic accountability responds to terrorism and barbarity. Recent events in Paris were appalling in their random cruelty and complete disregard for the rights and freedoms of a civilian population. Our instinctive sense of justice demands the satisfaction of an appropriate response. Such a response, it is argued, will degrade the ability of Isis to carry out further attacks and will therefore make us safer.”

“But in matters of peace and war, Christians are always mindful of the question of what makes a war just. The desire for revenge is not enough. Nor is the feeling that ‘we must do something rather than nothing.’ Instead we think about questions such as whether a bombing campaign is likely to achieve the desired outcome and whether the means to be deployed are proportionate. Violence mirrors violence. It is likely that a bombing campaign will simply further escalate the violence and fail to challenge the heart of the dreadful ideology which makes attacks like those in Paris and other places possible.

“The urge to do ‘something rather than nothing’ is understandable. But the view that involvement in a bombing campaign is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome – and may indeed make our world yet more dangerous – is equally if not more compelling.”

Dr. Morgan said:

“Over recent days and weeks, the question of whether the UK should bomb Syria has been widely debated. It is not just a matter for politicians because over the centuries, Christians and theologians have discussed the theory of the just war. One thing is certain – it can never be argued, from a Christian viewpoint that going to war can ever be a good act, since of necessity it involves one in evil. It may however sometimes be the right and necessary thing to do which is why the just war theory has been formulated. Applied to Syria, as to any war, there are a number of criteria to be considered:

“Is the cause just?

“Is it being undertaken as a last resort when all other methods have failed?

“Are the means employed just?

“Is there a reasonable chance of success?

“Are the results likely to be better than if the war had not been fought?

“There is no doubt that the supporters of the so called Islamic State pose a grave threat and it can be argued that since there is United Nations support, the cause is just. Its aims are to secure international peace, security and freedom. It is not at all certain however that bombing Syria will succeed in stopping the terror being perpetrated. Indeed it might incite IS to more violence and at the same time win more recruits to its ranks against the West.

“In Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, our involvement in war has made matters worse. The same could be true of Syria and there is no guarantee of rooting out IS. The risk to innocent civilians is also considerable since the combatants have by now merged into large centres of population. It is obvious therefore that even on a just war argument, a clear moral case for bombing Syria cannot be advanced.”

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