by Rick Love
One of the dinner guests asked the eleven of us sitting around a table, “What do you think followers of Jesus should do about ISIS?” After a moment of silence one woman responded, “To be honest with you, I feel like we should respond to ISIS like we did to Japan after Pearl Harbor in World War II. We should destroy them. I am not saying this is what I should do as a follower of Jesus, but that’s how I feel.”
Others responded in similar fashion, sharing raw emotions and at the same time confessing that what they were saying was not necessarily how a follower of Jesus should respond. I let the conversation continue for a while before I spoke up.
“We cannot bomb our way to peace! Let’s say we drop a nuclear bomb on them and kill all of ISIS. What will happen then?” The man who asked the original question shook his head, acknowledging that many more terrorists would be raised up and many innocents would suffer.
Each morning I pray over the news: reports of ISIS’ butchery, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab devastating areas of Africa, the Taliban massacring Pakistani school children, the backlash of hatred toward Muslims spewing from the media.
I feel the burden. What keeps me from losing heart is realizing that there are no quick fixes to terrorism. We need to develop and work for long-term solutions.
What do I think that long-term solution could be? Imagine what could happen if even a small percentage of the 2.2 billion Christians in the world did the heart work and the hard work of waging peace. A preemptive love initiative by those who take Jesus’ commands seriously could help undermine and thwart violent extremism.
Jesus gives five commands that form the basis for a multi-faceted, long-term approach to peacemaking that addresses ISIS and other expressions of violent extremism. Can I encourage you to do what everyone sitting around that dinner table did that night? Be honest with your feelings as you read, but ask yourself what Jesus expects.
- Get the log out of your own eye before you look at the specks in the eyes of others (Matthew 7:3-5).
Jesus is adamant about his peacemaking priorities. He calls us hypocrites if we fail to begin with humble introspection! We start with our own heart.
Are we harboring ungodly attitudes? Do we have any prejudices or political blind-spots that keep us from responding in a Christ-like way? For example, the U.S. has championed human rights and democracy around the world, yet we have brutally tortured terrorists. (For more on this see John McCain’s response and my blog).
This kind of hypocrisy and inhumane torture of terrorists makes recruiting for groups like ISIS much easier.
- Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-45).
The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims are not our enemies. ISIS and violent extremists are. I don’t think loving ISIS right now will stop their brutal regime. But what about the future? (Remember, there are no quick fixes, and we need a long-term strategy.) What about those young boys playing soccer in the dusty roads of Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, or Nigeria? What about young women traveling from the U.S. and Europe to join ISIS? They could grow up to be business entrepreneurs and teachers serving their community or extremists wreaking havoc on their community.
What if followers of Jesus took this command seriously and demonstrated preemptive love towards Muslims everywhere? Our love could and would undermine the recruiting efforts of radical extremists. This could be a game-changer!
- Be shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove (Matthew 10:16).
Loving our enemy does not mean we should be naïve or gullible. The vast majority of Muslims are just like you and me. They want to be faithful to God, make a good living, and enjoy their family. But we need to be realistic about the evil intentions of some Muslims.
Jesus sends us into the world and describes us as “sheep among wolves.” Because of this we need to be shrewd. We love and we ask questions. We trust and we verify. This doesn’t mean, however, that we live in suspicion of all Muslims, because Jesus also calls us to the innocence of integrity. He expects us to be both shrewd and innocent in our relationships.
- Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).
Following Jesus means we affirm the unique role of the government. This verse becomes the basis for the distinction between the role of church and state, especially as outlined in Romans 12-13. The church is called to share Christ, to love, to overcome evil with good, and to pursue peace, while the government bears the sword (Romans 13:4). The government is divinely sanctioned to confront the evil of groups like ISIS with force.
We need to pray that our government will work harder at complementing our military might with diplomatic muscle. We need to forge diplomatic ties with other nations to confront the crisis of ISIS together.
Two important offices in the U.S. government have special relevance for faith-based peacemaking:
Shaun Casey, Special Representative to the Secretary of State for Religion and Foreign Policy
Ambassador David Saperstein, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
These two offices have the potential to engage and partner with faith-based organizations in various peace initiatives. Pray for these men and their staff in these strategically important roles.
- Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
Loving our Muslim neighbor is a great commandment that pleases God; it is also a strategic relationship that undermines violent extremism.
The majority of people killed by ISIS and other terrorist groups are Muslim. They face the brutal brunt of violent extremism more than anyone else. Loving our Muslim neighbors as ourselves means that we want what is best for them. And they want to see the end to radical Islam.
Mainstream Muslims are one of the most important keys to undermining and thwarting violent extremism. We need to amplify their voices and support their efforts. We need to partner with them in any way we can to stop the spread of violent extremism.
See for example the work that my friend and fellow peacemaker Imam Mohamed Magid is doing. The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (icrd.org) provides a brilliant example of the power of partnership between Christians and Muslims that undermines violent extremism.
Five commands. Five commands which please God. And if practiced, they could help undermine and thwart terrorism. Obeying Jesus results in rich relationships and unleashes peace in our world!