The ISIS Crisis

“Saint Gabriel is come from God, and speaks: Summon the hosts…” The Song of Roland, Heritage Press, 1938. 

Entering the monastery to which I am formally professed, I am perpetually challenged by these words written at the entrance: “NO HUNTING, EXCEPT FOR PEACE.” I think these are good and godly words, clearly articulating our Lord’s non-violent message. However, careful analysis suggests another far more strident and structured application. We must “hunt” for peace. As Christians we are called, challenged, and commanded to be makers of peace. This is forceful action!

As with many Americans, as well as those of good will throughout this country and the world, I have been paying very careful attention to the history, agenda, and progress of the so-called “Islamic State.” With most people I am both shocked and saddened by the horrors perpetrated by those who invoke the name of God -- even if I flatly reject their book, their prophet, and their God. ISIS is “cruel” in their “courage,” and the slicing of “heads away” does indeed cause many to “suffer, grief and pain” (Roland, p.5).

However, in some ways, I find our response to these atrocities far more shocking than the events themselves. Think for a moment about the following items. 

Islam, for all of its assertions of peace and good will, is rooted in and has been advanced by violence. Its jihadist agenda is grounded in the Koran, and its earliest (and ongoing) advances were asserted by the edge of the sword. While the vast majority of Muslims are peace-seeking people, it is not at all surprising that a significant portion of these sons of Ishmael are “wild donkeys” who are “against everyone” (Genesis 16: 11-12). Why, then, are we surprised?

As well, it is not entirely surprising that a number of young people in this country and abroad want to join ISIS. They are not insane. They do not necessarily have pronounced psycho-emotive problems. They are not, given the state of Western civilization, socially ill-adjusted young people. I find it very odd that a number of people suggest these very things, and yet ignore the state of our society. In a culture where absolute freedom is affirmed, moral standards are rejected, ethics are situationally determined, truth is compromised, extravagance is worshipped, violence is marketed, Christian faith is marginalized (and ignorantly maligned) -- where no real and reasonable socio-psycho-pneumatic structure is provided and protected -- it is not at all surprising that there are some who see the “dream” as little more than a politically charged and morally bankrupt delusion without moral substance. We have for at least three centuries sought to behead God, therefore it should not be a surprise to find that there are now those who want to behead man.

Finally, as a point of illustration, there are those (like the President) who assert that Christianity is as guilty as Islam. His recent Prayer Breakfast diatribe is an excellent example. Factually however, as those who read history will note, Islamic aggression is not at all the same as Christian evangelism. They are as different as light and darkness. It is certainly true that some expressions of the Christian religion can be faulted for its (at times) aggression, violence, marginalization, paternalism, prejudice, and rank political gesturing. 

However, and this is important, these things are so very offensive precisely because they deviate from Jesus Christ and his message of “peace” and “goodwill” as found in Holy Writ. Jesus’ message was one of non-violence and (properly understood) inclusion. Jesus taught “the kingdom of God” and flatly rejected “the kingdom of man.” Our Lord’s words “my kingdom is not of this world” and “it is enough” [with the two swords] puts a swift and not-too-subtle end to Christian militarism and elitism. The President’s breakfast lecture makes no distinction between how Islam’s sacred text supports violence and how the New Testament promotes peace. When certain Muslims engage in violent activities they are simply seeking to live “by the Book.” When Christians engage in the activities I listed above, they deviate from the Book. And, of course, it is not in any way the same Book.

In this state of our present and persistent darkness, what is the Christian to do? How should we respond to these atrocities? How is peace to be sought and secured? How are we to “hunt for peace”? There are a number of important options.

We must recognize the spiritual forces that inspire these events and activities. Saint Paul tells us that we do not fight against “flesh and blood” but against spiritual forces of darkness. We war against “principalities and powers,” not people. Satan seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” all that is good -- and not just the Christian. ISIS is, first and foremost, a satanic organization that seeks to impose a satanic state. Their terrorism is little more, and certainly nothing less, than the terrors of the demonic and demented. As such, Christians must “put on the whole armor of God” and wage spiritual war against ISIS. (I offer no judgment or assessment of those people in these countries who take up arms against Islamic terrorism.)

As well, we are beyond the time for polite Anglican-American responses. We Anglicans are known, for both good and ill, for seeking a “middle way.” At our best, we shine when we embrace and encourage proper compromise. We are well-past the time of compromise, however. We are well-past the time for being politic, polite, and nice. Consequently, we must seek peace by becoming unabashedly militant about our beliefs and the practical application of these beliefs in the public square. Theological compromise in all of its denominational expressions throughout American history, if we think about it, has led to the compromise of this nation.

We must become far more militant in vocalizing our rejection of “freedom” as the ultimate end of the American Dream. Islam has properly pointed out that American freedom is derelict. Unrestrained freedom invariably leads to unrestrained horror. When there is a distinction between “what is legal” and “what is right” we have a huge problem. 

As well, we must become far more active in our rejection of moral neutrality. There are attitudes and actions that are clearly right, and there are attitudes and actions that are clearly wrong. We need not be embarrassed, or hesitant, about speaking up and speaking out. There is nothing wrong with speaking with the strong and strident prophetic voice. There is nothing wrong, as timely and appropriate, with setting aside our priestly robes and exchanging them for the camel’s hair of the prophetic.

Similarly, we must become far more militant in speaking up for truth. Jesus is the Truth! He is not one of many truths. He did not teach pluralism. He did not affirm an “all ways lead to heaven” agenda. Jesus did not ever say “let’s just get along.” In spite of the President’s finger shaking assertion that it is somehow arrogant to think that God speaks to God’s covenanted people, and not to anyone else, we must affirm that God made a unique covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David (Jews) that is uniquely fulfilled in, by, and through Jesus Christ (who is “God in the flesh” for Christians). 

While we acknowledge that Christians (and Jews) do not know it all, and that God can communicate with anyone with whom He chooses, we must also firmly assert that Holy Scripture communicates a unique message to a unique people about a unique person who alone is “the way the truth and the life.” While God may seek to communicate with all, it is only those who are part of God’s covenanted community who enjoy a unique form of communication. We may not know all things fully, but what God has revealed can be known truly.

We must become far more militant in our rejection of extravagance. There is no perfect political or economic system. Politics and economics cannot, have not, do not, and will not save or sanctify. If you find yourself militating against my assertion, please ask yourself this question: Whose kingdom are you seeking to build? A society that allows and affords the “rich and famous” multi-millions of dollars in extravagance, while a vast multitude of hard-working people cannot even enjoy a decent living, is under condemnation.

We must become far more militant about the rampant violence that is encouraged in our society. This does not mean that we affirm effete school-based educational programs that teach children to “be nice.” What it does mean is that we must take action in both the private and public spheres against every form of violence. What it means is that the violence perpetrated by some citizens and agitators in Ferguson is as evil and unacceptable as the violence perpetrated under Jim Crow. Both fall under condemnation. And let us not forget that White House “spin” is as violent and unacceptable as any other sort of sin. From top to bottom, all forms of violence need to be acted upon and against.

We must become far more strident about the Rule of Law being the Rule of Love (J.V. Fesko). True community is in some way grounded in the Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, and the Golden Rule. We must reject all power, all law, which is rooted in moral and ethical neutrality. We must find ways to say “no” (and “yes”) with unyielding strength.

We must set aside our insistence upon political activism and, instead, embrace the robust disciplines of piety and prayer. This means that we must become far more militant about bringing Jesus to the world. We must not be marginalized. We must not be silent. We must not wait and seek to find acceptable “missional” approaches to spiritual awakening and social renewal. Let us be unabashedly unacceptable. Let us be unashamedly impolite. Let us shed the horrid rags of our compromised politics and our weak faith, exchanging both for the royal robes of a solitary prophet. We must speak loud and act large. We must preach love, which always has hands and feet and seeks to clean out the temples of our socio-psycho-pneumatic idolatries. Let us ROAR for Christ.

ISIS is a crisis, and an opportunity.

Forward in Christ

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