Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Dealing With ISIS: What Would Jesus Do?

Recently the debate between those who espouse nonviolence in all situations as the Christlike thing, and those who hold to the so-called "just war theory," has arisen again, what with the horrific specter of Daesh, or ISIS, running rampant in the Middle East and beheading Christians, left and right.

As one who followed closely (in college) the debate between Mennonite groups and other evangelicals about the proper role of nonviolence, as well as Jim Wallis and the Sojourner's Fellowship, I was interested to watch the debate (if it could be called that) between Wallis and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor" (on YouTube here). O'Reilly was pressing Wallis (who is a close friend and advisor to President Obama) as to how he would deal with ISIS if not militarily. Wallis was trying to make the point that I have read made elsewhere, that the only ones who can really deal with ISIS are the Muslims themselves, and that we should be resourcing, encouraging, equipping them in that task.

What that means, precisely, O'Reilly didn't really give Wallis a chance to explain, so in truth I'm not sure how that would work. But it's caused me at least to spend a lot of time thinking about where I stand on this issue. What would Jesus do, if confronted with ISIS? What would He recommend?

Principle One: Turn the Other Cheek

There are a couple of principles here that I think are important. First, Christ's instruction to not resist an evil person is clear. (We know He said, famously, "Turn the other cheek.") And He modeled this approach to violence against His own Person: While Scripture says he could have called a league of angels to His defense, as He was unfairly scourged and nailed to the Cross, He did not; but rather, willingly bore the violence.

Principle Two: The Role of Government to Enforce Justice

I think it's also inaccurate to make a blanket claim, on the other hand, that Christ opposed any form of violence. The Old Testament Law instituted some rather violent responses to violent crimes (a life for a life, for instance), in the context that it is a God-given function of the state to enforce that sort of justice.

And of course, we know that Jesus came not to abolish the Law as expressed by God in the Old Testament, but to fulfill it.

Hence, I would ask those who supposedly oppose all forms of nonviolence: Would you really and truly disarm all police officers who are authorized by the state to use force to protect you and your family and your neighbors from harm? Would you say they were wrong to shoot the ISIS terrorist who held a knife to your daughter's throat?

Everyone is someone's daughter or son. The just and right responsibility of the state is to maintain a police force and an army which is prepared to use force to protect the lives of its citizens.

I know that some have criticized the Southern Baptists' call to action against ISIS as being inconsistent with Christian teaching insofar as it implies a recommendation of use of force against them. And yet it seems to me this is a proper and right function of the state we are citizens of, to use its power to protect the lives of innocents who are being brutally murdered at the hands of savages like those who call themselves IS (and are called by others, Daesh).

Christian Tradition and the Just War

The Mennonites and other Pacifist groups might say that it is an evil to bear arms for any reason. Yet in so doing, they go against that orthodox Christian tradition, first elucidated by St. Augustine, which holds there is indeed such a thing as a "just war." Force should always be a last resort, and must be exercised only by the state and not by individuals (although it could be argued as well that a man or a woman using force in defense of his or her family is also justifiable, when there is no other option).

In this I'm with C. S. Lewis, a man who knew firsthand (as an infantry officer wounded in the First World War) the realities of the tensions of a just war. Lewis noted that the history of the Church is such that its fathers collectively teach the legitimacy of the sword being used by the magistrate to protect the common weal. And also that Paul approves of the magistrate’s use of the sword (Romans 13:4) and so does Peter (1 Peter 2:14).

What About Dwekh Nawsha?

Does this mean I support the formation of the Christian militia to fight Daesh (the "Dwekh Nawsha")? The answer to this question must be a qualified "no." While I admire the courage of those who would personally put themselves in harm's way in order to protect innocent suffering Christians in Iraq and elsewhere, I think it is ill-advised on many fronts. First of all, the militia is not an official arm of any state, whose responsibility it is to bear the sword. Secondly, to many observers they appear to be rushing in ill-equipped for a fight with an experienced and brutal enemy.

Of course my "qualified" no might be turned to a "maybe" if there were no state actors willing and able to confront ISIS, or else if Dwekh Nawsha had the potential to turn the tide against ISIS in the same manner that Dietrich Bonhoeffer seized and exercised the opportunity to assassinate Adolf Hitler (which was, unfortunately, unsuccessful).

In Whom Is Our Trust?

I do know that our greatest weapon (which we have certainly not yet used to the extent that we should) in this and any other battle, is prayer. God says that in such matters we are not to place our trust in military solutions ...
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
   but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)
And we should continue to boldly speak out on behalf of those innocents who are at the mercy of ISIS' evil ambitions. God calls us to raise our voices bravely for the sake of those who have no voice.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
   for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
   defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

1 comment:

Larry Short said...

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