Baptist leaders in Europe condemned Thursday’s bombings in London, urged prayer for those affected by the attacks and renewed their commitment to witness for peace and justice when the global Baptist community gathers in the UK for a meeting later this month.
Police on Friday increased the official death toll from 37 to 50 in a series of coordinated attacks on London’s transportation system. The New York Times reported that out of about 700 who were injured, about 22 were in serious or critical condition in hospitals, about 350 were treated at the scene and about 100 were hospitalized overnight.
Police said there was no evidence of a suicide bomber, but it is still unclear how bombs on three trains and a double-decker bus were detonated.
The previously unknown Group of al Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to an Internet letter that had not been confirmed as authentic.
“The events that that took place in London today fill us with horror, and our prayers go out to the bereaved and the injured, together with all those who are seeking to offer help and comfort, including the emergency services, security forces and chaplains,” said David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation in Prague, Czech Republic, issued a statement saying, “On behalf of European Baptists I want to say that we are shocked and saddened by the news of the terrorist bombs in London.”
“We know that these people act in the name of Islam, but we also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent, law-abiding people who abhor the act of terrorism every bit as much as we do,” he said.
A Baptist ethicist in the United States called on Baptists in America and around the world to pray for their British friends and to re-read the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus’ strategy for “peacemaking that begins with comforting those who mourn and takes initiatives that transform conflict into common good.”
“We need also to speak carefully and calmly about those in the Arab and Muslim world, avoiding the temptation to generalize about and to demonize them,” advised Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn. “Our Christian friends in the Arab and Muslim worlds face enormous pressure, and they expect us to avoid statements that complicate and endanger their lives.”
Baptist Press, meanwhile, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, led a news story by pointing out that the group claiming responsibility did so while “invoking the name of the Prophet Mohammad.”
BP quoted Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as saying if Al Qaeda is indeed responsible, it further demonstrates “how errant their religion is.”
Peck, a former faculty member at Bristol Baptist College in England, said he remembers, as a student in London in the 1970s, the bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican Army and the fear they struck into everyone moving around the city.
“At the moment we do not yet know the full extent of the casualties of today’s blasts, but our hearts go out to the bereaved and the injured,” Peck said.
Coffey, who is being nominated later this month to succeed Korean pastor Billy Kim as president of the Baptist World Alliance, urge Christians to follow the Bible’s teaching to respond to evil with good.
“In a world of violence, where there is too little respect for life, we want to stand alongside all those who are the victims of such brutality, sharing their pain and anger, and embracing them with compassion,” Coffey said.
“This is a time when we are called to answer the evil of violence with an unswerving commitment to the ways that make for peace and justice,” he continued. “We join our Christian hope with all who seek the common good at this critical time.”
The attacks interrupted the G-8 summit in Scotland, which had been expected to issue statements Thursday on the global economy and climate change. Blair left the meeting of leaders of eight industrialized nations, including President Bush, to take charge of the response to the London bombings.
Doug Balfour, a member of Ashford Baptist Church in London and executive director of Integral, an umbrella group for Christian relief and development organizations, said the capital is reeling from the shock of the attacks, made worse because just yesterday everyone was celebrating the announcement that London will host the Olympic Games in 2012.
“The shock is very tangible and the disruption immense, but we ought to recognize that this is life almost every day for the citizens of Iraq and many others facing civil strife around the world,” Balfour said. He said it does not appear the number of casualties will compare to losses in the U.S. terrorist attacks in September 2001.
Balfour said the UK partner Tearfund would no doubt offer support to churches helping victims and their families. He predicted that heightened fear of travel could become a pastoral concern in many churches, and worried that it might sidetrack interest in the “Make Poverty History” campaign, pressuring governments for better aid, fairer trade and debt relief for very poor countries.
Balfour also said it might create political fallout for Blair, who already is under criticism for taking the country into a war that critics charge has increased, rather than decreased, the threat of terrorism.
Peck noted that the attacks came just a few days after tens of thousands of UK Christians rallied July 3 to show their concern to “Make Poverty History” by being part of a mass demonstration to the G8 leaders in Edinburgh.
“We must continue to demonstrate that the terrorists who seek to change the world by bombing and killing will be defeated by those who stand up for truth and justice in the world using peaceful means of argument and protest,” he said.
The terrorist act also comes just weeks before the Centenary Baptist World Congress, scheduled July 27-31 in Birmingham, England.
“I hope that when we gather at the end of the month in Birmingham as a worldwide gathering of Baptists, we can stand together with those whose lives are under the daily threat of violence and terrorism and especially to show our solidarity with the people of London,” Peck said.
Coffey added, “When we gather in Birmingham as a family of world Baptists, it will give us an opportunity to pray together for our broken world and to show solidarity with all who suffer.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.