I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not always on the cutting edge of the blogosphere…and I’m ok with that. But this week, the U.S. and other nations’ efforts to “demoralize and destroy” ISIS have extended into Syria. Generally, responses to this crisis fall somewhere on a spectrum between aggression (in Phil Robertson’s words, “Convert them or kill them”) to passivity (“We can’t win so we should just get out.”). The basic question of this spectrum is, “At what point are we justified in using force to accomplish our purposes?” Well, I have a few other questions, and then a story.
Question 1: If we zoom out from this specific ISIS crisis, what are the variety of factors that affected the rise of ISIS and what are the variety of consequences that military engagement will precipitate? In light of this, is it beneficial to use force in this situation?
- Limiting ISIS to “an evil movement that just popped up because of some people’s bad choices” will minimize our ability to address the situation comprehensively. And beyond that, I wonder if we did “demoralize and destroy ISIS” via force–whether justified or not–what new seeds of hatred and perceived oppression might eventually grow into. For Paul, the most important ethical questions are not, “Do they deserve it?” or “Is it justified/permissible?” but “Is it beneficial? Will this thing (in this case, military force) take control of me somehow? Will this advance the Gospel and more fully establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?” Will this actually lessen violence in Iraq and Syria or will new seeds of hatred and perceived oppression be planted? Will military violence “master us” by becoming our go-to method for accomplishing what we want? Can killing bring about God’s Kingdom? These are questions Christians must answer concerning military involvement and we must discern whether violence will, in fact, accomplish our primary purposes–not necessarily our national interests, but the interests of God and God’s Kingdom.
Question 2: Is Jesus’ teaching relevant in international relations and, specifically, with the level of evil we see in ISIS?
- As followers of Jesus and believers that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, we must at least think twice whenever we feel like the Way of Christ is irrelevant or naive.
Question 3: Is there another way besides aggression and passivity?
- I would suggest Jesus says the way to engage opposition is through loving engagement. Which means being willing to die, but not to kill. This is distinct from passivity, which is willing neither to die nor to kill and military engagement which is both willing to die and kill.
A Story: One day, Jesus intended to preach the Good News in a town that most Israelites would never have entered. When they did not welcome him, two of Jesus’ followers, in full faith, suggested they bring down fire from heaven. Jesus did not call on fire from heaven. On another day, Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of crowds and to the jeers of the religious leaders. It is likely that both the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and the crowds who cheered Jesus on as he entered Jerusalem that day expected that Jesus was plotting a rebellion against the Romans by calling on the “Zealots,” a band of Jews ready to engage in a military rebellion against Rome (their main difference being whether they thought it would work). But Jesus did not call on the Zealots. In fact, he wept over the destruction that a future rebellion would level on the city. On another day, soon after that, Jesus was being unjustly arrested when one of his followers pulled out a sword and sliced off the ear of one of the guards arresting his rabbi. Jesus did not call on the swords of his disciples. In fact, he healed the destruction their violence had done. On that same day, Jesus himself acknowledged that a legion of angels would come to fight on his behalf if he simply called for them. But Jesus did not call on heaven’s angels. On the next day, Jesus stands in front of the representative of the Roman Empire’s oppressive force. He tells Pilate that his Kingdom is not the kind where citizens fight with the world’s weapons. Jesus did not call on violence from his Kingdom’s citizens. Jesus did not call on heaven’s fire, the Zealot militia, his disciples’ swords, the angelic army, nor his Kingdom’s army to fight the greatest injustice and evil that has ever been perpetrated in God’s world. On the Cross, as Jesus died, it would seem that this Way of engaging the world with love failed. But on the third day, God raised Jesus up from the dead, and set him as both Lord and Messiah.
Sometimes the Way of Christ seems naive or even foolish. But it is neither aggressive nor passive, neither cowardly nor controlling. Rather, the Way of Christ, the Way of Love is creative. It looks for answers on a plane beyond the spectrum of aggression–passivity. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But there are a few who are trying to live this other Way. Here is one example. I’m sure there are others. But I wonder what it would look like if a growing number of people who claim to follow the Way of Christ persistently lived and advocated for ourselves, our churches, and even our authorities to think in a more creative way about engaging problems and oppositions.
I’d love to hear your questions and stories, your opinions and disagreements as we continue to live in a world where ISIS and other violence movements continue to do damage.