Future uncertain for Syrian Christians, church leader says

Dagher urges American Presbyterians to advocate non-intervention by U.S.

July 17, 2012

Fadi Dagher

Fadi Dagher, a Syrian Presbyterian leader, brings greetings to the 220th General Assembly —Danny Bolin


Despite the growing violent turmoil in Syria, Christians in that country oppose U.S. military intervention, a leading Syrian Presbyterian told the Presbyterian News Service in an exclusive interview here July 6 during the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“For us, we still believe the future is unclear,” said the Rev. Fadi Dagher, general secretary of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) and an ecumenical advisory delegate to the Assembly. “Christians [in Syria] have been peaceful, but after Bashir Al-Assad (Syria’s embattled president) we just don’t know.”

Syrian Christian churches ― there are many Presbyterian churches across the country, including large ones in each of the main cities ― “are trying to remain neutral,” Dagher said, “but the opposition doesn’t see it that way. Christians saw what happened in Iraq (where Christians were attacked from all sides and most have now left that country) and are afraid. The U.S. was no help to Christians in Iraq.

“We prefer no outside troops, especially from the U.S.,” Dagher said,” because this will be very difficult for Christians, who are too much viewed as associated with the U.S. government.”

Christians and Muslims have co-existed peacefully in Syria for 1,500 years, Dagher said. “Before this conflict, we were known as the most peaceful country in the Middle East,” he said, adding that “Syrian Christians have not fled the country ― they have just gone to safer places in Syria.”

The unsettled situation has placed the NESSL in a new role as a humanitarian agency. “We have started a humanitarian assistance program to help the people who have fled as well as the injured,” Dagher said. Funds to support the effort have come from NESSL, the PC(USA) and the Outreach Foundation ― an independent Presbyterian organization in covenant relationship with Presbyterian World Mission.

“Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is preparing to help us with capacity-building,” Dagher said, “because we have o experience with this.”

Still, it’s a challenge because the Presbyterian population in Syria numbers between 4,000 and 5,000. Beyond the large city churches in Latakieh, Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, Presbyterians are widely scattered, with little political power.

“Christians are not perceived as ‘opposition,’” Dagher said, though some are [anti-government], of course. The opposition is mostly fanatic Muslims ― from both inside and outside Syria ― plus a significant number of defectors from the army.”

“My church’s opinion is that the situation will continue like this for some time,” Dagher said, “because other countries are interfering for their own policy reasons.”

Dagher asked American Presbyterians “to speak up for us. We are small and our voice is not heard.”  He thanked Presbyterians in the U.S. for their “financial and moral support for our church.”

The main problem throughout the Middle East, he said, is the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. While divestment [from companies profiting from non-peaceful business practices in the region] “would have been better for Christians in Syria, we are affected by statements calling for peace and justice in the Middle East and there have been many positive ones over the years.”

  1. I thank Rev. Dagher for his sober and honest appraisal of the situation in Syria. I concur that the PCUSA should urge our government not to intervene militarily in Syria. We should urge our government to initiate a policy which supports non-intervention by all countries in the region.

    by Nahida H Gordon

    August 1, 2012

  2. Thank you for your comments on Syria - I concur. Can you e-mail any discussions on Israel-Palestine? Thank you.

    by Carole Weiss

    July 24, 2012

  3. Thank you for your comments on Syria. I am also deeply interested in the churches stand on the Israel-Palentinian conflict. Can you e-mail your thoughts?

    by Carole Weiss

    July 24, 2012

  4. Being a Catholic, I am also a Christian. That means that I look to the Holy Spirit for answers wherever there is a difficult question to answer. I am not qualified to advise in this situation. It's a can of fanatico-political interests that has been opened by the Arab Spring, then by Russia, then by China, then by the Salavis from Saudi Arabia. The trigger was Arab discontent with despotism but it eventually exploded into a civil war. The UN had the job cut out, but was hamstrung by Russia and China. That was the last straw. Instead of voting for a UN intervention, the Russians and the Chinese said nyet. Now as I have said at the outset, a can of worms has been opened. The Christian Catholics and other Christians concern me, but I believe that they will not be harmed. They have been awaken to a brutal reality that Assad is not a choice, for no Christian can support a despot. Yet I understand that Christians did not voice their opposition against Assad for many decades, when there was time. This was wrong, especially because they knew that Assad supported hezbollah, the deadly enemy of Israel. Again, no Christian can support the wiping out of Israel, the People of God. Yet the Christians kept ominous silence. So it all comes down to the Holy Spirit and the Mercy of God. I write from Poland and will be tomorrow at World Shrine of Divine Mercy at Łagiewniki. I will light a candle for all Christians in Syria.

    by desert voice

    July 22, 2012