CHRISTIAN leaders urged calm and restraint from both the United States and Iran as tensions continued to rise after the assassination on Iraqi soil of one of Iran’s most powerful military generals.
General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s military operations in the Middle East, was killed in a missile strike outside Baghdad airport on the orders of President Trump last Friday.
Iran retaliated early on Wednesday morning with what it described as “proportionate measures”, striking US military bases in Iraq with ballistic missiles.
The Iranian Foreign Minister posted on Twitter after the strikes to draw a line under the incident. He wrote that the Iranian response was “in self defense” and had now been “concluded”.
“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he said.
The killing of General Soleimani inflamed relations between the US and Iran to crisis levels, not helped by the fatalities at the General’s funeral on Tuesday. Press reports suggested that more than 50 people had been killed in the crush of mourners, and 200 had been injured.
In response, church leaders joined international politicians urging the parties to de-escalate the conflict.
The Episcopal Church in the United States released a statement on Wednesday. It read: “Amid escalating tensions. . . [the] Church continues to be guided by the teaching of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’
“We affirm that ‘it is crucial in this time of instability and threat of violence that our government and our neighbours seek diplomatic and humanitarian solutions rather than violence.’ We pray for wisdom, restraint, and divine guidance for our leaders and decision makers, that they can move us away from violence and conflict and towards mutual understanding.”
In an address at the weekend, Pope Francis spoke of the “terrible air of tension” in many parts of the world, though he chose not to name either the US or Iran.
ReutersA broken window in Duhok, in Iraq, damaged by the Iranian missile strike in the early hours of Wednesday
“I call upon all parties to fan the flame of dialogue and self-control, and to banish the shadow of enmity,” he said.
He was joined by the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who warned of the “incalculable” consequences of another war for people in the region.
Dr Fykse Tveit appealed for all sides to “exercise maximum restraint, to refrain from further escalation, and to give priority to the welfare of all people of the region, and their right to peace and stability after so many years of violence and bloodshed.
“As destabilising as General Soleimani’s activities have been, the consequences for the people of the region of more intensive conflict are incalculable.”
In Iraq, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, deplored his country’s being turned “into a place where scores are settled, rather than being a sovereign nation, capable of protecting its own land, its own wealth, its own citizens.
“In the face of this delicate and dangerous situation, we implore all the parties involved to exercise moderation, to demonstrate wisdom, to act reasonably, and to sit down at the negotiating table to dialogue and seek understanding so that this country might be spared unimaginable consequences.”
The Bishop of Loughborough, Dr Guli Francis-Dehani, an Iranian refugee, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on Tuesday, saying that the world was “holding its breath” to see what happened after the assassination.
She said: “My hope and prayer is that ongoing responses in Iran and the West to the death of General Soleimani will draw not on traditions of violence and revenge but on the best traditions of East and West. For me, as an Iranian and a Christian, these are reflected in Iran’s poetry, its rich culture, and in the worship of the Magi at the feet of the Christ Child.”
In a debate in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, referred to her broadcast, saying: “She came to this country as an Iranian refugee following the murder of her brother, and what she was pointing to was that, in the context of the immediate crisis, we must not lose sight of the fact that Iran has a very rich and long history as a seat of civilisation, and that we should not tar the entire country and culture with one brush.”
PAPrayers are said for President Trump at the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last Friday
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, urged the UK Government “to make the strongest representations that such calm and wisdom should prevail in the cause of the peace which Christ came to bring, and which the world, in so many places, so desperately needs”.
The UK Government response has so far been cautious. Ministers have been appealing for a de-escalation of tensions, while confirming that urgent measures have been put in place to protect UK nationals in the region.
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, issued a warning that “geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century. . .
“This cauldron of tensions is leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation,” he said. “My message is simple and clear: stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international co-operation.
“Let us not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war. As always, ordinary people pay the highest price. It is our common duty to avoid it.”
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