I’ve been asked by many people, “When are you going to blog about ISIS?” And my answer thus far as been, “Probably never.” Even though I have quite a few thoughts on Christians and violence, I don’t have much wisdom for how nations should fight against other (aspiring) nations, or the best tactic to rid the world of terrorists. When people asked another question: “What should we do with ISIS,” I’m always reluctant to answer until I know what they mean by “we.” Does it refer to our American identity or our Christian one? The two are not the same; they are very different. Strangely, Christians in America often use “we” to refer to their national identity rather than their Christian identity. North Korean and Saudi Arabian Christians rarely confuse the two.
I don’t know what to do with ISIS. The current crisis defies simple answers. So I will give neither a patriotic nor nonviolent tirade about the most effective solution to the problem. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts that I can ground in the biblical text with a good degree of confidence.
First, destroying ISIS is not the same as destroying evil. America could nuke every terrorist to hell and Satan would walk away untouched. Satan doesn’t need ISIS. Perhaps he’s using them, but I suspect he’s putting more energy—as an angel of light—into moralistic, consumer driven, power hungry religious movements that are covered in a thin veneer of Christianity. Or, Satan could use the false notion of "world peace" to steal what belongs to Christ. In any case, our real fight is NOT with flesh and blood. We cannot fight a non-flesh and blood enemy with flesh and blood weapons. It doesn’t work. You can’t hit him. Fighting against evil with flesh and blood weapons is like punching the fog, shooting a cloud, shooting pool with a rope. Or in the words of Spurgeon, fighting evil with violence is like “groping in the flames of hell to find your heaven.” Jesus conquered evil by dying, not by killing.
Second, regardless of what the nations should do (or will do), the church’s mission is different. Even if the nations wage war against other nations, the church’s identity is one of peacemaking and healing. And the hundreds of thousands of refugees and families ripped apart by violence need both healing and peace. The church’s first response should not be, “how can we blow up ISIS,” but how can we be Jesus to those suffering from violence. “The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army,” Spurgeon said, “yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition.”
Third, never underestimate the power of non-violence. History doesn’t like to glorify non-violence; our nation and identity was born out of bombs bursting in the sky. But wipe away our militaristic lenses through which we view the past, and you’ll see that many seemingly invincible powers were resisted and overcome through non-violence. Read about André and Magda Trocmé in Le Chambon, France, who saved through non-violence more than 3,500 Jews during WWII. Or the citizens of El Salvador who removed a militant dictator in 1944 through non-violent action. MLK and the civil rights movement turned the Jim Crow south inside and out through non-violent means. Nonviolent campaigns in the Philippines ousted the American-backed dictator in 1986. And many other non-violent revolts succeeded where violent revolts wouldn’t have stood a chance: Poland, Czechoslovakia (1989), East Germany (the Revolution of Candles), Lithuania, Liberia, Finland, Estonia, Hungry, and Bulgaria. Many more forces of evil were put down through non-violent action, as recording in Mark Kurlansky’s Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, and more recently by Ron Sider’s forthcoming book Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried. Or my own quick summary at the end of Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.
I’m not saying that non-violent action will stop ISIS. What I am saying is that we should not poo-poo non-violence as a ridiculous suggestion. I don’t even know what that would look like and I would never say that non-violence is always the most effective means. What I am saying is that it has worked—many times over—and people who mock it have little historical grounds to do so. It’s an option.
In any case, as Christians, we should be more concerned about faithfulness not effectiveness; we need to take our marching orders from the King of Kings and Prince of Peace, and we should not be blinded to think that a destruction of our enemies through violence will actually conquer evil.
And I’m certainly glad that Jesus didn’t destroy me—even though I was His enemy.