LIke most, I’ve felt enraged about the rise of ISIS and in particular–whether it’s right or not for me to feel this way particularly–their assault on Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. Like many, I’ve been so enraged that I’ve thought it a good plan to just light them up militarily.
I’m not a pacifist, not in the strictest sense of that word. I do not think pacifists are cowards or sissies, either, and I count plenty of folks with that particular theological conviction among my closest friends. I understand the arguments. Jesus said a lot of stuff about loving our enemies, but He also drove people out of the temple with a whip. Take the whip story out and His position is a little easier to discern, but God sure makes some battle cries in the Old Testament.
There aren’t many pacifists where I live in Texas. Most of them live in Austin. Austin isn’t even really Texas though, if the True Texans are to be believed. Most folks in this state are ready to take on ISIS all by themselves. The weaponry certainly exists in the Great Republic to mount such an assault.
I totally get the emotion. I really do. When Christians are killed (and ISIS has been killing them by the thousands) it makes folks mad. It makes me mad. And sad. But mostly mad.
Recently on Fox News, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (ironically, not from Texas) made waves by saying that the only way to defeat a group like ISIS was to “go wherever in the world the terrorists are and you kill them, you do your best to exterminate them, and then you leave, and you leave behind smoking ruins and crying widows.”
(Al-Hayat Media Centre/AFP/Getty Images)
Christian pacifists bristled at this graphic explanation, and I understand the tension. In this way, I understand both sides. Like I said, I’m not a pacifist. I understand the anger toward those who are killing brothers and sisters (or people of any faith, for that matter). There is no doubt ISIS is an extremely dangerous foe with intent to destroy everyone standing in their way. So I get the outrage. I can wrap my mind around the call to return violence for violence.
But at the same time, I recognize that the tweets of “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” are not merely the words of bloggers and poets and dudes wearing sweatpants in their mom’s basements. Those are the words of Jesus Christ, the man for whom the martyrs died and whom we all claim to serve, pacifist or not. I myself tweeted that we shouldn’t pray for the persecution to stop, just for faithfulness on the part of those facing death because of their faith in Christ.
Let me repeat myself, because I think I represent a decent segment of the population who feels some awkwardness about what to feel. I may not be a pacifist, but I don’t own a gun, either. I’m angry as all get-out about ISIS, but I also recognize that when the church is persecuted it grows. If our adversaries inadvertently fan the flame of the Gospel in the Middle East, a region that needs revival desperately, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
I also know that’s easy for me to say from the comfort of my suburban Texas home, where the most discomfort my community has felt recently was when oil temporarily went below $50 a barrel.
I get it, I really do. We should love our enemy. It’s possible that among ISIS there is someone who sees the faith of those they are persecuting. Perhaps a new Apostle Paul will arise from their ranks, turning the Middle East into a mission field the likes of which we have not seen since the first century. If we obey Mr. Peters and annihilate them all, that will be an impossibility.
If we don’t, they will surely keep killing.
I’m not suggesting I have the answers. I’m not asking for pacifists to send me hate mail, trying to persuade me of their point of view. I’m not asking the ready militia to make a case for dropping bombs and taking names.
I see both sides — I really do.
What I am suggesting is that none of us is as smart as we think we are. None of us should cast judgment on someone else’s theological conviction when really we’re all doing a lot of feeling when it comes to stuff like this. It’s tough stuff. Tough to swallow. Tough to think about. Jesus has tough words to obey.
May we all cling to Jesus, pray for those with whom we disagree, and the persecuted, and those who persecute the ones we love. And may we do our best to love our enemies.
Even if we hate them.
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