Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 9, 2013

What We Can Do For Syria

There is a sense of helplessness one feels when confronted with the stories coming out of Syria. One hundred thousand people have been killed in this deadly civil war so far. Over 2 million refugees have fled the country, with half of these refugees being children. The Assad regime is being accused of terrorizing it’s own citizens with the use of chemical weapons. A chemical attack on August 21st violently killed over 1400 people with 400 of these people being children.

It was a story about the children refugees that really got to me. I was reading about the experience of children in the refugee camp in Jordan while my own son was happily romping around the living room. The juxtaposition was intense and it brought a deep sense of lament in my heart. This lament was intermingled with a feeling of Western guilt as I recognized how extremely unfair the dispersion of suffering is in this world.

The big question that is going to be debated this week is how we ought to respond to these atrocities? After failing to secure international support for military intervention, the U.S. government is contemplating a unilateral air strike against Syria. Congress votes this week as to endorse this risky military intervention.

I do not presume to know what how we should respond to this complex issue; however, my Christian convictions compel me to think more holistically about the problem. As Christians I think we need to wrestle with the way Jesus responds to evil and injustice. As Paul articulates, we follow a God who “disarmed the powers and authorities,” through a sacrificial and loving death on a cross (Colossians 2:15ff). Jesus regularly endorses an non-violent ethic that seeks reconciliation over retaliation.

I am grateful for the many years I spent in the Mennonite peace church. The were committed to wrestle with these texts seriously. I do not consider myself a fully fledged pacifist. I believe that there are times when military intervention is justifiable; however, I appreciate what my pacifist friends have taught me. One of the things I learned from the peace church tradition is that pacifism is not the same as being passive. A pacifist is not one who sits idly by as innocent people are killed. Instead, a person committed to they way of peace responds to oppression and injustice in a holistic way. They seek economic reform, advocacy for the poor, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and so on. The pacifist responds to injustice through tireless acts of sacrificial love.

Both the Pope and the Archbishop of Syria have spoken out against military intervention and have instead called us to fast, pray, work toward diplomatic solutions, and provide humanitarian aid. I would reiterate this call. Whatever the U.S. government decides to do regarding military intervention, there will continue to be a huge need to respond to the refugee crisis that has resulted from this war.

While most of us feel extremely helpless as we watch these events unfold there are things we can do. My encouragement is to think of something you could give up over this next month and use the money you save to donate to the one of the charity’s listed below that are responding to the in Syria. Dorothy Day, a major force in the Catholic Workers movement, once said that during times of war we should give up unnecessary luxuries. She called people to fast from things like cigarettes, movies, and alcohol in order that they might experience more solidarity with those who are suffering. What if, for the next month, we gave up an unnecessary luxury and used that money to provide a shelter for a refugee.

Here are a few charity’s that have a good ranking on websites like charity watch / charity navigator. They have very low overhead and a large percentage goes to actual program expenses:

International Rescue Committee:
https://www.rescue.org/donate/help-irc-respond-humanitarian-crisis-syria
This charity has been given an A+ ranking on charitywatch.com and top ranking at charityhavigator.com 93% of funds go directly to the program

Mennonite Central Committee:
https://donate.mcc.org/project/middle-east-crisis
MCC is also a top ranked charity and that is specifically addressing the needs of children in the syrian refugee camps.

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Responses

  1. I like the way you not only give a positive approach, but you also show a practical solution, making it easier to implement.

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  2. body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}Dear Philip,I have a question, not about the article with which I agree, but about the donation address.  Most (truly most) “charities” that I have been exposed to demonstrate too high a percentage of their collections going to overhead such as staff and publicity.  I have not checked out the UN one because I believe that anything carrying the banner of “UN” is suspect.  They have had scandals with UNICEF and other collections.I believe that for worldwide issues church-based efforts provide the best, most generous, and well-spent support to such causes.  I personally experienced the Catholic Charities in South Vietnam who got, through my efforts, the Vietnamese Army to distribute their goods.  I have read of the Lutheran Worldwide Ministries having an excellent record of VERY low overhead.  I contribute to So Others Might Eat (SOME) in Washington DC.  The first two of these just mentioned have denominations in their names.  The third one does not but happens to be run by a Catholic priest.  All of them meet the needs wherever they are and for whomever they are without proselytizing or even taking credit for their denominations in any special way.  The UN, Red Cross, Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), groups that have titles suggesting “Save the Children”, and others, are for my way of thinking secular “sewers” that flush our money into their overhead.Thank you for reading my “spout”.  Please do know that I value your newsletter.Regards,Jim MacGregor

    • Thanks for your concern Jim. I did a fair amount of research on the various charitees this morning. UN refugee support does have a fairly high rate of costs going directly to program expenses and they have a decent ranking on charitynavigator.com. However, after looking at some of the other options there are a couple that have a bit better return that goes directly to those in need. IRC funnels over 93% back into the field, and Mennonite Central Committee has a high ranking on charitywatch.com. Thanks for raising this issue.


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