NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–At the outset of U.S.-NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia March 24, the need for humanitarian aid, prayers and resolve to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo’s Albanians are among the concerns being voiced by evangelical leaders.
Franklin Graham, who heads the Samaritan’s Purse evangelical relief ministry and is the son of evangelist Billy Graham, was among the guests who discussed the Yugoslav-Kosovo crisis on CNN’s “Larry King Live” March 23.
“The horror there is just unbelievable,” Graham told King. “And it’s going to get worse, I am afraid. And something does need to be done to stop this, and the people [Kosovars] that are fleeing — this is wintertime, Larry, and they’re having to go through the mountains and through the snow and with babies and children, and — it’s just — the suffering is unbelievable.
“And we need — when I say, ‘we,’ I am talking about relief organizations — we need blankets; we need food for these people, medicines. And there’s such a multitude of people coming, it’s overwhelming.”
As to what people can do to help, Graham said, “Look in the different newspapers, especially USA Today and others that would list the different organizations that are working in that part of the world and help them because they’re not that many. There’s only about 10 or 15 from this country that I know of that are working over there. They’re all great organizations. They’re doing a wonderful job, but they’re just overwhelmed and they do need help.” The ministry Graham leads is based in Boone, N.C.
Asked by King for his opinion of the military action against Kosovo, Graham directed his answer toward prayer, saying, “… we need to pray for our president, for those that are in leadership over us, and we need to pray for those men and women that are serving in our armed forces. We need to pray for protection for them and we need to pray for safety and that they’ll come back to their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.”
On the same broadcast, former Sen. Robert Dole, who has traveled to the region in an effort to mediate the conflict, described the Kosovo situation as “terrible. I mean, you drive through these villages and there’s nobody home. There may be a dog barking. The Serb homes are standing. The Albanian homes have been leveled.
“There’s no question about it, this is ethnic cleansing. This is genocide,” Dole said. “I thought we had said to ourselves as nation we wouldn’t let this happen as it happened in World War II. And I would hope my colleagues would take a look at what’s happened in the past seven years — genocide, ethnic cleansing, it’s the same. It should not be tolerated.
“Even though he [Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic] may claim this is a sovereign nation, you can’t let somebody in that country kill off another class of people,” Dole said. Serbia, including its independence-seeking Kosovo province, and Montenegro now comprise Yugoslavia.
An official with Samaritan’s Purse said March 24 the organization is seeking to assist the Kosovo relief efforts of the Bread of Life ministry based in Belgrade, Serbia, operating in behalf of evangelicals who number no more than 2,000 in a city of 2 million people. Bread of Life also is assisted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s World Hunger Fund.
Jasmina Tosic, co-director of Bread of Life and a member of First Baptist Church, Belgrade, recounted at a Southern Baptist world hunger conference last fall that Belgrade’s evangelicals, whose evangelistic vision once was limited to their neighbors, began to pray and study the Bible after the ethnic strife erupted in 1991 and refugees began flowing into the city. There are now about 2 million refugees in the former Yugoslavia, and 650,000 in Serbia, she said at the time.
Evangelicals realized “we have to do something about … people who came to us without any hope or any strength to continue,” Tosic said, “without anything, really.”
Bread of Life’s refugee ministry involves volunteers from 11 Belgrade churches primarily serving about 3,000 refugee families in Serbia from ethnic strife in the Balkans. Bread of Life efforts include visitation teams to personally visit each refugee family receiving food assistance, handyman teams to tackle needed repairs in their living quarters, small business and agricultural pilot programs to help refugees begin working again, a secondhand shop and a kindergarten.
Contributions marked for Kosovo relief may be sent to General Relief Fund, Office of Finance, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230; for queries to Samaritan’s Purse, the toll-free number is 1-800-665-2843.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said March 25 he has been calling for NATO to stop Milosevic for years. He said he agrees with the NATO air strikes but they should have come sooner.
“The president of Serbia is a war criminal, by any recognized international standards,” Land said. “He has committed multitudinous crimes against humanity, including systematic torture, murder and the organized rape of tens of thousands of women by his army as an act of war to demoralize the population he sought to subjugate. He has denied all rights to the Kosovar population, which is 90 percent of Kosovo, and has used his military might to systematically burn, pillage, murder and drive from their homes large segments of the Kosovar population.
“If President Clinton and NATO had acted earlier, they would have saved thousands of lives and terrible suffering for countless more thousands,” Land said.
“Armed conflict is sometimes the price you pay for living in at least the semblance of a moral universe,” he continued. “We cannot stop atrocities against our fellow human beings everywhere in the world, but we can do so in Kosovo, and the ability to do so brings with it the moral responsibility to stop the crimes against humanity that are the routine practice of the war criminal Milosevic and his henchmen security forces.”
Land said he hopes Clinton and other NATO leaders “are prepared to sustain this military action until Milosevic either withdraws from Kosovo or his ability to make war is severely damaged. As the president said [in an address to the nation March 24], the dangers of doing nothing are far greater than the dangers of acting. Left to itself, the Kosovo tragedy and the hundreds of thousands of refugees it was generating had the capacity to ignite a conflagration that would involve Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and perhaps even Russia, which would shatter NATO’s southeastern flank — Turkey and Greece, two NATO members, at war with each other.”
Worse yet, the Serb-Kosovo crisis left unchallenged “has the dark potential of igniting a general European war,” Land said.
Land said he is concerned “that now that we have decided to exercise military power that we exercise it decisively.”
If Milosevic doesn’t respond appropriately to the air strikes, the next step to be taken is “destroying his heavy armor and his air force,” Land said, “and if he still doesn’t withdraw and agree to the peace accords, then I think the next step would be to [additionally] arm his enemies who are fighting for their freedom.” Doing so, Land said, “is far better than introducing American and NATO troops into a combat zone. Doing that without a clear exit strategy has the capacity to be another Vietnam.
“And, of course, just-war theory makes it clear armed intervention must have proper authorization, and for United States combat troops that means a joint resolution of Congress or a declaration of war. So it is imperative that each step of the way the president consult with and gain the approval of Congress,” Land said.
David Barrett, a missionary researcher for the Church of England with the Global Evangelization Movement in Richmond, Va., described the conflict in Kosovo as “obviously religious, because we’re dealing with two implacable foes going back hundreds of years. One is Islam and one is Orthodox Christianity.
“One would have to go back a thousand years to understand that in that part of the world, the Balkans, they never resolved the question of tolerance or acceptance of each other,” Barrett said, describing the fighting in Yugoslavia as “a continuation of the appalling relations between Muslims and Christians under the Ottoman Empire, stimulated or provoked by the Ottoman Empire itself.”
However, Barrett noted, most of the blame for the current conflict has to rest upon people perceived as the region’s “Christian” populace, because they now are in the great majority. “It’s not a question of Muslims persecuting Christians, as it was under the Ottoman Empire,” Barrett said. “Now it’s the other way around, because the Christians cannot accept the Muslims for what they are and leave them alone.”
The researcher, who is working on a three-volume update of the “World Christian Encyclopedia,” first published in 1982, added that churches like the Serbian Orthodox Church can’t be blamed for the current situation, “which is due to extremists who are pushing the Serbian government to have a final solution to the Kosovo problem.”
Serbs who are massacring Muslims “may be church members, or they may say they are church members, but they’re not what we would call committed Christians,” Barrett said, noting that leaders like Patriarch Pavle (Paul) of the Serbian Orthodox Church “are trying all the normal, legitimate Christian approaches (to try to bring peace). But the people will not listen.”
The church has only nonviolent means of persuasion, Barrett reminded. “If nobody wants to listen to you, you haven’t got any means of persuading them.”
Citing historian Arnold Toynbee as having said that the religion of the 20th century is sovereignty, Barrett added, “As Christians, we have to say that there’s nothing particularly Christian about sovereignty. It’s neither good nor bad. It certainly isn’t an inalienable right of every government in the world.”
Ivy Scarborough of Jackson, Tenn., who formerly taught international law and international relations at Baptist-affiliated Union University there, noted in a written commentary that leaders of the NATO nations, “especially Bill Clinton, will probably be burdened for some time with the task of justifying to their peoples why risks should be taken on behalf of Kosovo.”
“Though the case is compelling, it does not lend itself to superficial history or glib sound bites,” Scarborough wrote. “But it is so compelling — and of such significance for the 21st century — that the Western world, especially we Americans, should be attentive.
“The history of the Balkans seemingly has little to redeem it. It is a chronology of violence, invasion and unrelenting hate relieved only occasionally by individual acts of principle and compassion,” Scarborough wrote, noting that in 1389 the Serbs were defeated at Kossovo Polje by the Turks at what would be the beginning of more than five centuries of Ottoman domination.
“The hatreds and tensions were never managed or controlled until the rise of the late dictator Josip Broz Tito,” Scarborough continued. “Tito and his partisans brought some semblance of unity to the hostile ethnic groups through their shared guerrilla campaign against the Germans during World War II. When the war ended, Tito was firmly in control of what became the Yugoslav federation. But he remains the only individual who ever achieved such control.
“With his announcement in 1970 that he would be succeeded by a collective leadership, a gradual dissolution of that enforced unity began which accelerated with his death and continues unabated to this day.”
Such a menacing history “clashes with contemporary Americans’ optimistic inclinations,” Scarborough wrote. “For Americans to assume we are secure as our stock markets rise and the power of our old adversary [the Soviet Union] declines is the height of self-satisfied smugness.
“Kosovo is a manifestation of a very real threat of a type which we must have the will to face, if need be with military power,” Scarborough wrote. “Kosovo is a good place to begin to try to ensure that the 21st century is not a reprise — or worse – of the 20th.”
A different sort of cautionary note was sounded by Gary Bauer, a conservative Republican candidate for president who is on leave as president of the Family Research Council in Washington.
“The General Accounting Office says estimates of a 28,000 soldier peace-keeping force after a successful bombing campaign is too low, and that the ultimate figure would be close to 63,000 troops,” Bauer noted in a written statement March 23.
“Vietnam taught us that U.S. political leadership must be united before Americans are put into harm’s way,” Bauer said. “The Clinton Administration has committed U.S. forces for dubious purposes and goals in places like Somalia and Haiti while failing to safeguard our security when it comes to issues like Chinese spying and their military buildup.
“The six years of military neglect under Clinton-Gore has ‘hollowed out’ part of our military forces, hurt morale, lengthened deployments and placed incredible strains on military families,” Bauer continued. “Clinton-Gore are anxious to get into Kosovo but have failed to develop a plan that would allow us to get out without the ethnic fighting beginning again.”
Tom Strode & Darrell Turner contributed to this story.