Decisive action in Iraq urged in open letter

WASHINGTON (BP) -- An open letter endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention's lead ethicist and religious freedom advocate calls for the United States and other countries to support decisive military action to incapacitate extremist Islamic forces conducting genocide in Iraq.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined a group of signatories from across the religious and political spectrum to the letter, which was unveiled Aug. 11. The letter -- initiated by Robert George, professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- commends President Obama's authorization of airstrikes but contends the terrorists' attacks on religious minorities require more.

The United States and the international community should do what is needed, the letter says, to enable local forces to protect Christians, Yazidis and others in the face of a purge by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

"No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table," George, Moore and others say in the letter. "We further believe that the United States' goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL's path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims."

The plea came as the United States reportedly weighs whether to take additional steps beyond the president's Aug. 7 authorization, which approved humanitarian aid as well as the airstrikes being carried out by fighter jets and drones.

Of the letter, Moore said in an Aug. 12 written statement he stands "in solidarity with men and women across the political spectrum to urge the U.S. government to help put an end to this grievous injustice in Iraq. Our authorities should use the sword of the state to promote justice and the protection of innocent people."

He also called for prayer by followers of Christ.

"At the same time, I would ask Christians to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq," Moore said. "As we do, let's remember that we pray in power." While martyrs for the faith may be horrifically killed, even beheaded for Christ's sake, he said the "church's Head can never be severed from His body. The Head of the church is alive, and engaged, and on his way back. This should give us courage and hope even as we groan at the evil we see."

Moore previously applauded Obama's Aug. 7 action, which came as the ISIS campaign of terror spread further in northern Iraq. The Sunni Muslim militants already had emptied Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, of Christians before taking their bloody offensive to other cities, sending many people into exile. Their advance on Sinjar resulted in as many as 50,000 people fleeing for safety to the Sinjar Mountains. Most were Yazidis, who make up a minority religious sect, but some reportedly were Christians. The terrorists executed some Yazidis and enslaved some Yazidi women, according to reports.

In their open letter, in addition to calling for the United States to increase airstrikes against ISIS, George, Moore and the other signers urge the American government to supply air support as well as weapons and intelligence for the Kurds and others fighting the Islamic militants.

"We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL," the letter says.

Expanded humanitarian assistance also is needed, the signers write.

"Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter," they say. "The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies."

The Obama administration is considering a military mission to rescue Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains, but the president has not approved such an effort, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday (Aug. 13). Obama is awaiting reports from U.S. military advisers in Iraq, according to the newspaper. An additional 130 service members arrived in Iraq Aug. 12 to assess the humanitarian need, the Department of Defense (DOD) reported Aug. 13.

The sixth airdrop of food and water in the Sinjar Mountains took place Aug. 12, according to DOD. So far, American cargo planes have worked with Iraq's government to supply nearly 100,000 meals and more than 27,000 gallons of drinking water to the refugees, DOD reported Aug. 13.

In addition to Moore, other Southern Baptist signers to the open letter are C. Ben Mitchell, an ethics professor and interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and Micah Watson, director of the Center for Politics and Religion and associate professor of political science at Union.

Other signers include author Eric Metaxas; Ben Carson, well known as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University; Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and former USCIRF commissioner; Martin Peretz, former editor-in-chief of The New Republic; Abigail Thernstrom, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University; Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and Gerard Bradley, law professor at Notre Dame University.

The letter and the list of signers are available at http://iraqrescue.org/.

ISIS is seeking to create an Islamic state encompassing Iraq and Syria. The Levant consists of Syria and other eastern Mediterranean countries.

The International Mission Board and Baptist Global Response, an IMB ministry partner, have asked Southern Baptists to help provide humanitarian relief to Iraqi refugees. BGR representatives are seeking to aid the reportedly 200,000 internally displaced Iraqis who have left their homes in the face of the ISIS threat.

Southern Baptists and others may help Iraqi refugees by donating to the IMB's general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.* To give through BGR, a person can visit gobgr.org or text bgr to 80888.


*Text to donate: $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. Must have account holder permission to donate. Terms: igfn.org/t. Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.