It is hard to know what to do about ISIS. Headlines are continually being filled with the latest atrocities committed by this group. Last week the murder of 28 Ethiopian Christians was captured on video and shared online. They join the 21 Egyptian Christians also martyred, the Jordanian pilot burned to death, a young woman from Arizona and other hostages being decapitated for all to see. I can only imagine the countless other atrocities committed under the black flag of terror. It makes me ill just thinking about it. Even worse, it makes me furious.
The actions of ISIS exhibits the worst sort of human behavior – butchery sanctioned by an ideology of hatred, fear and revenge. The frenzy stirred by adherents of ISIS masquerades as religious fervor as they unleash hell on earth. ISIS ironically flourishes under the banner of Islam – a variation on the word Salam – which means “peace.” There is no peace to be had with them; only crimes against humanity, and a reluctance by the nations of the world to stop it.
There appears to be two irreconcilable worldviews at play in the crisis ISIS poses – one that believes it is a holy obligation to kill someone different from you, and one that believes humans beings can coexist, even when we hold different values and beliefs. Unfortunately it may take sacrificing the second view to prevent the first from succeeding. My great fear is that we will cease to see those involved in ISIS as other humans created in the likeness and image of God and see their inhumane actions as evidence of their inhumanity. Once we declare them monsters rather than people it become much easier to do heinous things. In doing so we may give them their holy war.
In my darker moments I wonder if there is only possible one end game with ISIS – US or THEM – and we are the ones with more bullets and bigger bombs. This enemy has already declared war upon us. It is a scary time. Perhaps in the short-term prudence is a better virtue than enacting vengeance, but it is difficult to envision another way. Especially when the innocent are dying, we feel compelled to care for and defend the least of these. The call to arms for others becomes stronger. Emotions are high. Mine are tempered too. The atrocities are too ugly to ignore.
I keep returning to those pesky words of Jesus, “You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you’’” (Matt 5:43-44). I hate it when he says things like that. He calls me out (he calls all of us out) on the fear and anger that can be overpowering, as another way emerges. If I am a person God loves, I must love my enemy, because God loves my enemy too. Sometimes that is a difficult truth to accept. Yet I also know deep in my heart we cannot allow this bloodshed to continue. That is not a call to war on Islam, ISIS has already declared war on peace. Order must be restored. But how? By who? When? I am reminded of the prayerful lament:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13)
I look forward to that day of singing. It still seems almost impossible to grasp.
I know this to be true: as those created in the likeness and image of God, and all people have a right to exist. Call me a jaded American, but I believe they have a right to determine their own future in this life, free from the tyranny groups like ISIS impose. We live in a multicultural, multilingual, multi-religious, inter-connected world. To avoid our self-destruction we must learn how to coexist, no matter how tightly we hold our own set of beliefs. As a presidential election cycle gears up at home, we would all do well to remember that here in the United States as well. In this broken and violent world can we still claim that God loves us? Yes, I believe we can. But not without also living in the tension that God also loves our enemies. So what are we going to do about it?
We live in the paradox of working to protect the vulnerable while loving our enemy.
When a clear way forward is difficult to see, prayer is a helpful centering. So that is what I have been doing. I encourage you to join me. Perhaps new vision will emerge. I pray it will.
“Dear God, make the violence stop. Please. Help the perpetrators of cruelty see another way forward. Guide them to see YOU in their neighbor and that our common humanity cannot be demonized or disregarded. Help me see it too. Curb my anger and frustration and help me become the agent of peace you call me to be. Protect their little ones, their mothers, and their young women who are afraid and threatened. Give strength to those who have abused, violated and tortured. Stir up in their young men the passion to build rather than destroy, to protect rather than rape or kill, to befriend rather than hate. Make that true of our people as well. Guide our leaders to make good and solid decisions – weighing options and outcomes, setting aside the politics of the moment for the greater good. Renew our people, so that our country would be known as an agent of peace. Help us realize our past failures and motivations and repent of them. Dear God, forgive me and forgive us all. If there is no way beyond the bloody conflict I fear, protect our service men and women. Guide us to act not out of vengeance and thirst for blood but to help communities in exile who seek the same thing we do – a better future for our kids. Help us see you in our neighbor, rather than simply labeling them “enemy.” Bring this conflicted world together so we can build a new future together in partnership in a peace that surpasses understanding. And if need be, and the time comes to either deny you or stand strong – give me both the humility and courage to march in confidence to my end with the martyrs. Amen.”