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Baptist leaders affirm U.S. strikes against bin Laden, Afghan targets

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States began its promised campaign against terrorism Oct. 7 with missile and air strikes against terrorist and military sites in Afghanistan.

With assistance from Great Britain, the U.S. military used aircraft and sea-based missiles to strike at the terrorist training camps of the al Qaeda network and the military installations of the Taliban regime. The United States also dropped food, medicine and other supplies to aid suffering Afghans.

James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated Oct. 8, “Without question, I believe that our cause is just … and that we should do all that we can from a spiritual aspect to support our president and our country in these difficult days.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “Our military response is the only one that could be expected given the act of war that was perpetuated on the United States on Sept. 11.”

President George W. Bush, in announcing the actions at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, said he had given the Taliban more than two weeks to meet his demands. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States Sept. 11, Bush had called for the Taliban to turn over Osama Bin Laden and other leaders of al Qaeda and to close the terrorist camps.

The Taliban “will pay a price” for its refusal to these and other U.S. demands, Bush said. “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.

“The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail,” the president said.

The humanitarian aid will demonstrate the generosity of America and its allies to those oppressed in Afghanistan, Bush said. He called the United States a friend of the Afghan people and of Muslims but an enemy to terrorists “who profane” Islam by “committing murder in its name.”

The president said he knew “many Americans feel fear today” but added the government “is taking strong precautions” against an expected response from terrorists.

“In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths — patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security, patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals, patience in all the sacrifices that may come,” Bush said.

The United States has targeted bin Laden since terrorists commandeered three commercial planes and killed thousands of people by crashing them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in the Washington, D.C., area. Another plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania on its way apparently to a target in the Washington area. Bin Laden, who has been behind other terrorist attacks on U.S. targets overseas, reportedly has been in hiding in Afghanistan.

Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Snellville, said, “I think all Southern Baptists ought to intensify their prayers, first of all, obviously, for the president because he is in the midst even now of making very difficult decisions. By his own statement, one of the hardest things a president has to do is to send our men and women into harm’s way, and we are certainly doing that.

“At the same time, we ought to pray for the military leaders, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the men and women in the armed forces who will be involved in this effort.”

Merritt added that an overarching prayer “ought to be that God will use all of this to humble America, bring America back to her knees and back to God.

Merritt’s call to prayer was echoed by Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, who noted, “These are times of greatest gravity for our nation and require that the people of God go to him for help. As Christians, we have the great privilege of bringing the needs of our nation, its leaders and its military before the Lord for his blessing. The demand for wisdom and spiritual stamina in this circumstance is almost unequaled. Beneath our prayers for help is the underlying thirst for genuine renewal and revival to take place in our land.”

Concerning the potential for escalated tensions between the West and Muslim nations, Merritt said, “We ought to lead the way in loving Muslims and Arabs.

“We’ve been reminded during these days that any religion can be perverted and used as a justification for evil,” Merritt said.

Describing Christianity as “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Merritt said, “Once again, we’re seeing laid out right before us that the hope for the world is the grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ. Without any question, if this whole world would turn to the Lord Jesus and practice the teachings of God’s Word, this world would be a far better place than it is today.

“It’s more incumbent on us than ever as Christians to be unashamed in sharing our faith in Jesus Christ … as the only way to God for anyone, whether a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist or whoever,” Merritt said.

Land, in an Oct. 8 statement, noted: “One of the many examples of the moral difference between the United States and its allies, i.e. the civilized world, and our opponents, the forces of barbarism and terror, is that we are taking great pains to minimize civilian, noncombatant casualties and we are targeting only legitimate military targets.

“The terrorists deliberately attacked our civilian population in an attempt to inflict maximum loss of human life, all of it noncombatant,” Land continued. “We hold the Taliban accountable for aiding and abetting these murderous thugs. We have a duty to answer acts of terrorism.

“We know who the enemy is and it is not the Afghan people,” Land noted. “I applaud President Bush for seeking to give emergency relief aid, food and medical kits to the starving Afghan civilian population about whom Bin Laden and the Taliban seem to care very little. I imagine that that contrast is not lost on the tens of thousands of Afghans for whom American humanitarian aid will make a life-and-death difference in the coming winter months.”

Reflecting on the onset of war, Land said, “When all the diplomatic efforts to secure justice fail, the only way to safeguard our nation is to strike at the source of this evil. The 13th chapter of the Book of Romans tells us government has the biblical authority to use lethal force to exact justice. … The allied military response that began Oct. 7 was a defensive action. If we do nothing, the terrorist acts will escalate. Bin Laden and his fanatical followers will not stop until they are disabled and disarmed. We must remove their safe havens and camps that allow them to strike at a time of their choosing against innocent men, women and children. If you want to get rid of the malaria of international terrorism, you just can’t swat mosquitoes; you have to drain the swamp.”

Land also stated, “We should all pause to pray for our servicemen and servicewomen who are bravely going into harm’s way to ‘defend civilization,’ as British Prime Minister Blair so aptly put it. They are also saving many lives around the world in the process. We would be remiss if we did not also pray for their families, asking God to give them a sense of peace in this difficult time.”
Dwayne Hastings contributed to this report.

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