How Would St. Francis Handle Syria? Not with Violence or Pacifism

Chris —  September 3, 2013

St. Francis is remembered mostly for wearing a simple robe and preaching to birds. What is often lost to history is his pleas, both to leaders in the West and Muslim leaders, to end the Crusades.

What has happened in Syria is inexcusable. While all war is reprehensible, the use of Sarin gas is particularly disturbing. Not only is it a miserable way to die, it is generally considered ineffective against military targets. It is a tool for killing civilians.

It seems inevitable that Obama will attack Syria. It could even be argued that this is his Biblical responsibility. Immediately pacifist voices cry out “violence won’t solve anything!” I wonder if Francis would cry out “Pacifism won’t solve anything!”

Francis and the Sultan

When Francis realized that he was getting nowhere trying to convince European leaders to give up the war, he decided to go straight to Sultan al-Kamil, the ruler of Egypt. Bonaventure, an early biographer of Francis, notes that Francis went about this with “ardent love and yearning for martyrdom.”

When Francis was granted an audience with the Sultan, he proclaimed that he was not sent by any man, but by God, to tell him of Jesus Christ. Francis stated his case passionately and respectfully. The Sultan was impressed by Francis but was not persuaded. Francis refused to accept the gifts the Sultan offered, except for safe travel home.

History says that the Sultan was exceptionally kind to Egyptian Coptic Christians and even impressed the Crusaders. Legend says that the Sultan secretly wanted to convert and that Francis was so inspired by Muslim piety that he encouraged his followers to pray as fervently as they.

Gandhi once quipped “the only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as nonviolent are Christians.” Non-resistance is key to any honest reading of the teachings of the Gospels. Once you are hit, turn the other cheek. But it is only a retaliatory tactic.

The accusation could be made that pacifist Christians would allow the innocent men and women of Syria drown in their own fluids just to avoid participating in violence.

The story of Francis and the Sultan would propose another option: risk your own life to tell the Syrians about Jesus and his peaceable kingdom.

In other words, what is the proper response of Jesus-followers to Syria? Missionaries prepared for martyrdom.

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