News of jihadist brutalities in establishing an Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria has impacted me deeply. Beheadings of American and British prisoners, reports of violence against Kurds, Christians and even fellow Muslims with differing views is appalling and invites response. How do we respond to the current climate of terror and unrest in the Middle East that is in alignment with Jesus’ teaching and example of suffering, saving love?
Retired US Marine Corps General John R. Allen’s recent call to arms must be recognized as incompatible with Jesus’ way:
“The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget. It embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now we will pay later.”
Many who value tolerance and peacemaking are at a loss as non-violent approaches appear impotent before those imposing a fundamentalist theocracy in the Middle East, and their military opponents led by the United States.
President Obama’s strategy to build a broad alliance to destroy the Islamic State enjoys broad support—especially since drones and bombing campaigns rather than ground troops are killing with reputed accuracy.
Yet these airstrikes are taking the lives of growing numbers of young men and women from many countries drawn to Islamic State in the prime of their lives—each one a beloved child of the God. This growing “human sacrifice” is empowering an escalation of hatred that will lead to far more death and destruction in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. Might we be on the verge of a Third World War? What might those who follow Jesus offer as an alternative approach to resisting violence on all sides?
Regarding non-violence I affirm that Jesus refused to use violence against human beings no matter how antagonistic. He modeled non-violence or even anti-violence towards people. Jesus also practiced a kind of spiritual violence that must be re-discovered today if God’s reign on earth as in heaven is to become make a visible difference.
Jesus begins his ministry as the new kind of Joshua, showing God’s saving action through consistently distinguishing human beings from invisible predatory powers. Jesus loved people through healing, freeing, cleansing, recruiting, teaching, challenging, rebuking, forgiving, commissioning and other contextually appropriate actions.
At the same time Jesus identified and mercilessly attacked the invisible predatory powers that occupied human beings and institutions he encountered: evil spirits, sickness, legalism, superiority, discrimination, religious spirits, death, and others forces (see Eph 6:12).
Jesus’ invades territory occupied by the ruler of this world (John 12:31), destroying his works (1 John 3:8). Jesus’ first miracle in Mark and Luke’s Gospels is to cast out unclean spirits from a man in the synagogue—most certainly a confrontational act which was followed by many acts of liberation (Mark 1:34; 5:1-20; Matt 8:16; 9:32-33).
Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus himself kill or in any way harm anyone, his Jewish enemies and the Roman occupiers of Palestine included. Jesus never calls on others to exercise violence against human beings or legitimates appropriate defense of the homeland. Never!
When Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod, rather than calling for vengeance he withdraws to a secluded place, where he ends up being moved by compassion for the crowd who pursues him, whom he heals, teaches and then feeds 5,000 (Matt 14:13ff). Jesus commanded his followers to love and forgive their enemies and to pray for persecutors. Jesus taught his followers to flee to the mountains when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies rather than give their life in homeland defense.
Jesus’ practice must be discerned and embraced as the standard for now, and Christians must renounce the use of physical violence as “the legitimate use of force,” replacing this with radical practices such as enemy love, prophetic exposure of injustice, Spirit-guided and empowered acts promoting reconciliation and peace, intercession, prayer and fasting, acts of service and mercy that creatively embody Paul’s call “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) and more.
Jesus in his earthly mission was “militant”-- defined as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause (in his case proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God) typically favoring extreme, violent or confrontational methods.” Jesus’ activism and “violence” must challenge the fearful and passive attitudes of many tempted to draw back from engaging proactively with people caught up in violence against humans and creation or in silently going along with the crowd.
Now is the time to discover and implement a true combat that effectively identifies and destroys the underlying powers the wreak havoc on our world. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).
In stark contrast to growing calls to use violent force against violent force, now is the time for a new movement marked by prayer and active proclaiming and embodying of Jesus’ kingdom and the “violence of love,” defined here by Archbishop Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran believer martyred in this midst of his prophetic resistance:
“The only violence which the gospel admits is violence to oneself. When Christ lets himself be killed, that is violence—letting oneself be killed. Violence to oneself is more effective than violence to others. It is very easy to kill, especially when one has weapons., but how hard it is to let oneself be killed, especially when one has weapons. But how hard it is to let oneself be killed for love of the people.”
Jesus prepared his followers for persecution, for social chaos and wars, which he assured would come-- and we are certainly seeing them now. Jesus announced his kingdom with signs following everywhere. In the end he let himself be killed by violent, hate-filled people for love of the world, embodying on the cross God’s choice means of combating evil.
Jesus’ whole earthly ministry was a recruitment effort aimed at multiplying workers who were 100% about announcing the Kingdom of God that was fully “in the world but not of the world.” Now is the time for a new missions movement that is fearlessly committed to embodying Jesus’ humility and sacrificial love in the darkest places of our world. Jesus followers can offer a calling that offers meaning and adventure that can brighten the hearts of would-be jihadists and bored young people the world over? I believe that it does and will.
Let us turn away from passivity and from fear, welcoming God’s perfect love to drive it out and to fill us with courage to resist. Let us resist the fascination with war and death, inviting the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds.
Let us pray for young Muslim men and women throughout the world who might be tempted to join the jihadists, for Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghadadi, for President Obama and other world leaders and for American and other military personnel-- that the light of Christ would shine brightly, leading them and us in the way of true peace. Let us pray for ourselves and for the body of Christ around the world— that our witness would rightly reflect the priorities of the God of life, inspiring people to consider and choose Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
See the following articles that describe the people being recruited into this war.