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Arab-Americans, ethics of war among post-terror concerns of Baptists

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A mosaic of reflections, prayers, experiences and ministries emerged from Southern Baptists as they, like all other Americans, entered a new world of wariness – and Christian hope – after Sept. 11’s terrorist onslaught.

In reports from across the country:

— In California, a Southern Baptist pastor penned an open letter to Arab-Americans and distributed it across the Internet.

“Dear Fellow American,” pastor Clay A. Kahler of Campo (Calif.) Southern Baptist Church, began. “As a Christian pastor, a Gulf War veteran and an American, I apologize for the threats, the innuendo and the unwarranted attacks that have taken place since the tragedy of Tuesday 9-11-01.

“A few small-minded and ungodly people have taken the prejudiced view that all Arabs and all Muslims are to be punished for this atrocity. They do not realize that many Arab-Americans are as deeply wounded by this attack, as any other American would be,” Kahler wrote. “In fact, in some cases even more.

“Today I heard a Muslim who called the Dennis Prager show. He was explaining the pain that he was feeling and began to weep. It was then that I realized that Arab-Americans were not only hurting over the terrorist attack but the subsequent attacks by fellow Americans.

“Dear fellow American,” Kahler continued, “this is why I felt it necessary to reach across racial and religious lines to share my sentiments with you. I know that, unfortunately, you will be receiving much hate mail; I hope that you receive this letter of support. I pray for your safety and for the safety of Arabs across this nation.”

— As the nation began weighing the appropriate response to the reign of terror unleashed Sept. 11, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, issued a statement on the ethics of war Sept. 14.

“From its earliest days, the church has debated when it is morally legitimate to respond with force against an enemy. Even though we cannot strike and punish a particular nation, these attacks were a ‘declaration of war.’ We have a duty to answer these terrorist assaults,” Land wrote.

“There is no question that we must act, and we must act now to at least disrupt the activities of these zealots. If we do not, future generations will curse our lack of discernment, or courage, or both, as they suffer the barbaric consequences of our failure to respond. Sadly, the resort to armed conflict is the price human beings must periodically pay for the right to live in a moral universe.

“The Bible makes it clear that God ordained the secular state to reward good and to punish evil (Romans 13:4). God established the state to ‘bear the sword,’ that is, to use lethal force to keep the peace and maintain justice. This limits the use of force and insists that peace, not vengeance, should always be the object of any military action.

“We must be eternally diligent to minimize these horrible occurrences and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Land wrote. “I salute President Bush for his determination to conduct an all-out campaign, as he said, ‘to rout out and whip terrorism.’ In the face of the unrefined evil that is terrorism in the 21st century, it is the only just thing to do.”

— In San Francisco on the night of the Sept. 11 tragedy, a Baptist leader issued a call for U.S. citizens to leave their front porch lights on all night Sept. 11 and 12.

Karl Ortis, executive director of missions for the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association, wrote, “Will you join with me in leaving your ‘front porch’ (or whatever is its equivalent) light on, all night, in a visible sign of UNITY with our nation? We need symbols. They are potent and clarifying. This one is also personal and shared. We can show our individual care and as each light shines we demonstrate a shared concern.”

— In New York City, Nelson Searcy, a North American Mission Board missionary in New York City, recounted events at La Guardia airport when the terrorist attacks took place. The airport shut down immediately, leaving about 10,000 travelers stranded, with no idea what was going on.

As word of the attacks got out, Searcy said there was widespread panic and concern. Many people were visibly shaken. During the shuttle ride from the airport, Searcy could see the smoke rising from the World Trade Center towers. He said one person on the shuttle had a copy, “Left Behind,” so the discussion turned to how the hijacked jetliner attack was like a scene from the book.

Searcy said he was impressed by the many acts of kindness he witnessed as people tried to help each other. The shuttle driver, he noted, was actually a hotel manager. Despite the fact that his sister was in the World Trade Center and he had no idea what had happened to her, the hotel manager had driven to the airport even though his hotel was full because he knew thousands were stranded.

— In Oklahoma City, police Sgt. Kevin Johnson was in his office when he heard about the jetliner crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. He tuned in in time to see the second jet crash into the twin towers.

“The difference in the two attacks,” said Johnson, a member of First Baptist Church, Lexington, Okla., “is that we didn’t know what caused the explosion in Oklahoma City. All we knew at first is that there was a massive explosion and lots of people were hurt.” On the day of the Oklahoma City blast on April 19, 1995, Johnson was touring a General Motors plant with fellow officers when he was called to rescue efforts at the Murrah Federal Building.

“With clear skies, you can’t imagine a plane that is going down crashing into a building,” Johnson said of the New York attacks. “There would be some way to avoid that. And the second plane coming into view and hitting the building was just unbelievable.”

With their attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the terrorists “pretty much declared war on the United States,” Johnson said.

The police officer said his heart goes out to workers at the New York disaster site because he remembers the debris and the chaotic time when “you can’t see for the dust” and when a second bomb scare sent people in Oklahoma City into panic. “It brought back a lot of reminders,” he said.

“I hope these rescuers [in New York] can trust God and do what they can to help others,” Johnson said.

— David Lee, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, called on all Baptists in the two-state convention to “join with all Southern Baptists in calling for a state of prayer … for those whose lives and families have been shattered by this tragedy. Pray for our churches as they minister and witness in the name of Christ. Pray for America that we will be drawn closer to God.”

Lee said he had spoken with J.B. Graham, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York, about the immediate need for financial resources to feed and house the front-line disaster relief personnel and for waves of volunteers to help in cleanup efforts over a period of weeks.

Also discussed were ministry possibilities to church members especially within various ethnic communities who worked at the World Trade Center. Lee instructed the BCM/D staff to call each of the 450 churches within the convention to encourage their members to pray, give financially, donate blood and fly the American flag proudly.

— At Louisiana College, Yuval Arad, 25, a freshman from Israel who served five years in the Israeli Defense Forces and three years as an officer in a paratrooper brigade, said, “I don’t mean to sound cynical but it feels like home.”

Because Israel is such a small country, Arad said every time a tragic incident occurs in the country, people worry about their family and friends. When two helicopters collided and killed a number of Israeli soldiers, Avad knew four of the victims.

Eric Robinson, a Bastrop senior, said he was sick to his stomach after watching replays moments after the second jetliner struck the World Trade Center during his electronic newsgathering class.

Robinson said his parents were in New York a week earlier and had purchased tickets to a Broadway show in the lobby of the World Trade Center.

Kayla Evens, a West Monroe freshman, said after watching the events unfold from her dorm room, “I stood there frozen for five minutes. Then I started crying.

“I didn’t know whether to be sad or mad,” Evans said. “I know it’s the work of a genius madman with financial backing. He knew exactly what to hit and when to hit it. It’s aggravating because we can’t pin it on one country.”

One faculty member, Tammy Killian-Bush, recalled asking herself, “What can I do to help?” and allowing her students to discuss the event in class as a way to relieve some of the students’ tensions. “The only thing that you really can do,” from a distance as far away as Louisiana, “is to pray hard and to give blood,” she reflected.

— William O. Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, described Sept 11 as “one of the most serious moments in our nation’s history, and each of us is affected by it, perhaps more than we yet know.”

“Our response will be to go to God in prayer because we believe he is sovereign over nations, sovereign over humanity and sovereign over the events that happen in the world,” Crews said. “Ultimately the only thing that will save the world is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that’s our business. This only accentuates the importance of what we’re about here at Golden Gate Seminary.”

— Daniel Akin, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology, offering words of advice to those who will minister to people affected by the nation’s crisis, noted: Be a caring presence. As Americans seek answers to the unconscionable tragedy, Akin said opportunity is ripe for sowing seeds of the gospel.

The act of terrorism, Akin said, spotlights key gospel elements — radical human depravity, the brevity of life and the sovereignty of a God who was not caught unaware.

“I think it [the act of terrorism] is an overwhelming testimony to the depravity and evil and wickedness that resides in the human heart apart from the grace of God. It also reminds us all of the brevity of life. These people went to work [Tuesday] like they have thousands of times before but didn’t come home. That could be any one of us. We all need to be ready to step into eternity, and we should not assume or presume that we can make that decision at our leisure.

“I would tell our ministers to remind our people that God was not caught by surprise. He knew this was going to happen before time ever began. In his mysterious providence he allowed it to happen. Is it a good thing? No. Did God cause it to happen? No. But God can take this very horrible thing and cause it to work for good. He is that kind of God.”

Eric Johnson, associate professor of personality and pastoral theology, when asked what he would say about where God was to those in the midst of this tragedy, said his immediate response was a deep silence. Words cannot at the outset be offered to match the overwhelming grief and weightiness of this cataclysmic event, he said.

Added Johnson, “John Piper once said, ‘I preach the sovereignty of God in the pulpit on a weekly basis so that when you are in the midst of suffering and I come to visit you in the hospital, I won’t have to [preach his sovereignty],’ and I really think that is so right.

“God’s sovereignty is ultimately the only way to make sense of such events. And people need this truth. We need to know God is on the throne. We believe these things, but they are so awesome. There’s a deep, deep mystery here. I think if I were there, the first thing to do is to comfort those people and help them in concrete ways, demonstrating God’s love and concern. Discussions about God’s sovereignty can come later.”

— David S. Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in a Sept. 12 statement, noted that the previous day’s tragedies “will be etched in our memories for months and years to come. Even today we await the unfolding events in response to the massive tragedy of yesterday. No doubt each person … throughout the country thinks and feels differently when reflecting on yesterday’s evil acts. … The freedoms and security we often take for granted have been threatened. It is a time, however, for Christ followers, even in our confusion, to trust in our faithful God. We need to ask God to grant us hope rather than fear in times like these. We need to ask God to give us strength so that we can be instruments of grace to and for one another across this campus and also in our communities as well.”
Jon Walker, Dana Williamson, Bob Simpson, Joel Massey, Cameron Crabtree, Jeff Robinson & Sara Horn contributed to this article. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GOD & COUNTRY.