Religious organizations react to crisis in Syria

If you’re like me and millions of other Americans, last night your eyes were glued to the television set (or the live feed on your laptop) as President Barack Obama gave his speech on the United States’ military stance regarding Syria.

The President explained to the nation that he had asked Congress to postpone their vote on using force against Syria while he tries one last diplomatic solution.  Obama has been working with Russia, one of Syria’s greatest allies, to secure and destroy Bashar Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

“I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails,” Obama stated late last night.

While the President said that he wanted Congress’ support before acting, he made it very clear that an air strike would be made against Syria if they refuse to hand over their weapons to Russia.

Of course, in this day and age, with a live speech comes live tweeting.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter along with the blogosphere were (and still are) alive with a flood of information and opinions on the President’s speech.

There were many common themes in the tweets I sorted through.  Of course there were the typical “I hate war” and “support our troops” arguments, which have come to be expected.  However, I found the following themes to be much more potent:

1)      Obama did not set a time frame for this diplomatic approach.  How long will we wait before the pending strike?

2)      The response to Obama’s theme of American Exceptionalism—the idea, according to the Washington Post, “that intervening in Syria is a reflection of this country’s unique role in the world.”

3)      While the President assured Americans that our actions were necessary in deterring the use of chemical weapons, he did not mention punishing Assad for using them in August.

4)      Many people felt the President did a good job at addressing the issues that concern citizens most, such as the fear of another war and the safely of our troops.

The President concluded his address with a humanitarian call to arms.

“Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

So, staying true to this blog, how are religious organizations using social media to react to the situation in Syria and the president’s remarks?

Pope Francis, who referred to a military solution in Syria as “a futile pursuit,” led the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria late last week.  A vigil was held on September 7th in St. Peter’s Square, where police and the Vatican estimated a crowd of about 100,000.

Using the Twitter handle @Pontifex, which was created under Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis used the hashtag #prayforpeace to encourage Catholics to pray, fast and tweet about a peaceful solution to the situation in Syria.  The response was tremendous.  With thousands of tweets utilizing the hashtag, today it is also being used in tweets commemorating 9/11.

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To date, the hashtag been used over 260,000 times.  In the past week it has exceeded the mentions of the Pope himself and has also been translated and tweeted in many different languages.

A congregation in Onondaga, New York is taking the president’s speech quite hard.  The conflict in Syria is personal to the members of the Saint Elias Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church because some of their parishioners are from Syria, and their church is based out of Damascus, where it can trace its beginnings.  The congregation is hopeful that the United States will not take military action against Syria.

Reverend Elias Nasr said that action against Assad would be a missed opportunity to find truth and that the U.S. would be doing more damage by killing more innocent people, according to CNY Central.  The church is utilizing a blog as a cry to stop military action against Syria.  On September 6th, the church posted a letter to President Obama himself, appealing to his humanity and claiming that a military strike would be unethical.

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