By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention‘s lead ethicist has commended President Obama’s authorization of targeted airstrikes and humanitarian aid to assist members of Iraqi religious minorities threatened by Islamic militants.
United States military attacks since the president’s Aug. 7 authorization reportedly have helped repel advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the northern part of the Middle Eastern country.
Obama also took action Aug. 8 that advocates of global religious freedom had said would help in Iraq. He signed into law the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, which authorizes the president to appoint a special envoy for the promotion of religious liberty in Iraq and other countries in the region.
After Obama’s Aug. 7 announcement, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Obama “is right to take action to protect religious minorities, including Christians, in Iraq from ISIS.”
“He has my prayers,” Moore said of the president in an Aug. 8 written statement. “Those families stranded on a mountaintop, fleeing torture, rape and beheading, deserve justice and compassion.
“As Christians, we should pray for the president and our military leaders to wisely administer the sword of justice (Romans 13:1-3),” Moore said. “As part of the global body of Christ, we must also pray fervently for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq and across the Middle East (Hebrews 13:3).”
Obama authorized the actions as ISIS’ campaign of terror spread further in northern Iraq. The Sunni Muslim militants had already emptied Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, of Christians before taking its 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 announcing his action, Obama said the authorization of the two operations was to avert “a potential act of genocide.” He also pointed to ISIS’ advance toward the city of Erbil as a reason. Erbil is a home to U.S. diplomats and civilians who work at the consulate, as well as American military advisers.
“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” the president said Aug. 7. “We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.”
He added, “Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help.’ Well today, America is coming to help.”
Obama said U.S. combat troops would not return to Iraq to fight. He “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” the president said.
On Aug. 9, Obama told reporters that airstrikes already had destroyed ISIS arms and equipment outside Erbil, and two airdrops had succeeded in providing food and water to those on Mount Sinjar. He also said the United States had increased its military aid to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.
The new law signed by Obama providing authorization of a special envoy for religious liberty in the Near East and South Central Asia is designed to aid faith practitioners in such countries as Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Syria. Christians and adherents of other religious faiths increasingly are targets of repression and violence in those regions. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some areas, most notably Iraq and Egypt.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., sponsor of the special envoy bill, welcomed Obama’s authorization of airstrikes and aid in Iraq as a “positive first step,” but said the president needs to do more. Wolf repeated appeals he had made to Obama in a series of speeches to the House of Representatives. Among his recommendations, Wolf urged the president to name a senior administration official to supervise response to the ISIS massacre and to provide assistance to the Kurdish government.
“In addition to acknowledging that genocide is taking place, we must also be mindful of the threat to our national security by the thousand or more foreign fighters — including more than a hundred Americans — who have linked up with ISIS, and can travel back and forth to their home countries with ease,” Wolf said in an Aug. 8 written statement. “This is one of the most significant national security threats in years. The administration must do everything possible to protect the American people from these threats, including seeking any legislative changes to prevent radicalized westerners from threatening the homeland.”
Three days of U.S. strikes by fighter jets and drones appear to have helped curb ISIS’ progress toward Erbil and weaken its hold on the region around the Sinjar Mountains, American officials said Monday (Aug. 11), according to The Wall Street Journal. The latest airstrikes Aug. 10 destroyed several vehicles in a caravan planning to attack Kurdish forces, the newspaper reported. The Kurds were able to retake two towns captured by ISIS, according to the report. Four humanitarian airdrops have occurred in the mountains.
The International Mission Board and Baptist Global Response (BGR), 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 general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.* To give through BGR, visit gobgr.org or text bgr to 80888.
*$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. With reporting by Don Graham, an IMB senior writer. Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).