[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has backed the use of military intervention in the fight against Daesh (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or IS). His backing came during a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod this week on a motion about the refugee crisis.
He told Synod members that he welcomed the motion, but told them that if they passed it, with its call for the establishment of “safe and legal routes to places of safety . . . for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk”, the Synod would essentially commit itself “to supporting the use of armed force overseas.”
He said: “The reality of working in those areas to create routes to places of safety must include some kind of forceful response. It is almost impossible to see how it could be done otherwise. . .
“We must also recognise that in much of the Levant and the Middle East – and in many other parts of the world including north east Nigeria, including Burundi and other places – the forces that are driving people out into being refugees may need to be confronted.
“In the same way that the French police on that dreadful night so recently had to go into the Bataclan Theatre and deal with those who had taken it over, the international community has to face the necessity that it may in certain parts of the world, need to challenge the equivalent people who have not taken a theatre, but have taken a whole section of land and are using it to wreak the most terrible havoc and cruelty.
“Let us indeed support this motion but let us do so utterly realistically about its implications.”
The Archbishop returned to the subject yesterday (Thursday) during brief exchanges in the House of Lords – the upper house of the British Parliament, where he and 25 other C of E bishops have seats – in response to the publication of a report by the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and a statement by the Prime Minister David Cameron.
He welcomed both report and the statement, for “the seriousness of their emphasis on a comprehensive approach – both of the seriousness of military action but also of the integration of soft and hard power; of the support for jobs, education, family and community life and stability, and of community flourishing in the neighbouring countries, which comes out very strongly and is very welcome.”
He continued: “The test will obviously be the total mobilisation of effort in a focussed way that recognises the long-term needs of security for indigenous populations, and particularly the Christian populations, being harried out of the area at the time.
“For the first time in almost 300 years, we’re facing a conflict that has a distinct theological and religious element which we have not faced before. Recent studies . . . demonstrate the theological basis of extremist groups behind jihadist thinking.”
Earlier, in the General Synod debate, the members heard from one of its ecumenical observers, Bishop Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK. “We are a united body of Christ,” he said. “There is no Church of the East and Church of the West. There is one body and it suffers equally. . .
“This is not a problem that is a problem to be addressed by the Church OF England but by the Church IN England. We are willing and wanting to work together. Tell us what we can do as well with our networks both here in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East. Tell us how we can help and extend that work.”
He also said that the churches should adopt an inter-faith approach working with the Muslim community to “support them when they speak confidently and robustly because they, themselves, become targets.”
Archbishop Welby told the Synod that it much “listen carefully” to the words of Bishop Angaelos and “his colleagues from that part of the world” and help to prevent a drain of the people from those countries; but to “create the means by which they can remain in prosperity, in flourishing and in safety.”
In addition to calling for the establishment of “safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk”, the motion, which was approved by 333 votes in favour, none against, and three abstentions, also called on parishes and dioceses to “work closely with local authorities and other community partners, to provide practical and sustainable resources and structures for the resettlement of vulnerable refugees.”
It also called upon the British Government to “take a fair and proportionate share of refugees now within the EU, particularly those with family already legally resident in the UK.”