Jim Bratt is away today. We welcome Angie Mabry-Nauta. Thanks, Angie!
One week after one of recent history’s most gruesome religious hate crimes, my head still spins and my stomach still churns. How could something like this happen?
Twenty-one Coptic Christians died in Libya via beheading at the hands of ISIS. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, this event set off global waves of responses. The victims’ families grief-stricken; Christian communities bewildered and disgusted; tens of thousands of Egyptians fleeing Libya; innocent Libyan civilians suffering the wrath of Egypt’s retaliative air strikes, and an American journalist prodding Christian congregations to urge the U.S. government to take holy war seriously because the U.S. “is the only country with the power to lead this fight.”
Indeed, humanity’s animal instinct when attacked is to strike back, and our natural emotional reaction is to villainize the aggressor.
However, holy war, says evangelical Christian author, social justice activist, and speaker Rev. Jim Wallis is not the answer. “War is always the result of a failure to resolve human conflicts without violence,” writes Wallis. “War is a consequence of our sins. Even when theology is used to justify the use of force, or ‘just war,’ it is still a failed and sinful response to other sins.”
Additionally, as befitting as our indignance over this and other ISIS atrocities may be, neither our hating ISIS, Islamic militants, or forming sweeping generalizations about all Muslims are the answers. “I have decided to stick with love,” said the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
What, then, are God-honoring rejoinders?
1. Reject the notion of holy war. “The beginning of our response to ISIS must be for all of our faith traditions, leaders, and members to completely reject the concept and language of holy war,” Wallis urges. As congregations, we could urge our religious leaders to speak for peace, diplomacy, and nations working together. As Americans, we could utilize our democratic privilege and contact our congressional representative, senators, and the White House, and implore them not to declare nor enter into holy war.
2. Grieve. An act this heinous, perpetrated against innocent men because of their Christian faith, is a devastating loss; and losses need to be grieved. We didn’t know those who died, but they were our brothers in Christ. So, go ahead. Get angry over the situation. Cry for the men and their families. And then do it all over again, if you must. Respect the grief process for yourself and Christianity, and allow yourself to feel.
3. Lament. There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying out to and questioning God amidst confusion, anguish, and despair. As a matter of fact, it’s biblical. The Psalms and book of Lamentations are filled with Israel’s bitter words addressed to God about their situations. Lament to God is an act of deep faith, a way of staying connected to God when we might want to walk away most. (For a good example of loving and letting God have it, see Robert Duvall as Eulis “Sonny” Dewey in the 1997 film, The Apostle.)
4. Pray. Pray for peace, pray for cooler heads to prevail in leaders’ meetings, pray for God’s comfort to surround all who ache, pray for an end to ISIS and their actions, and then pray some more. God promises in Scripture to harken to us when we call, and to bring healing where there is pain: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land,” 2 Chronicles 7: 14.
5. Trust. This may be the most difficult part because, simply stated, we wonder what the heck is going on. If God is omnipotent, how is it possible for something like this to happen at all? If God is omnipresent, why didn’t God force ISIS to stop? If God is all loving, how could God allow such hatred to exist, and for people to suffer so grievously? These and many similar questions have most likely crossed our minds and lips. As unsatisfying as it is, we will never know. And yet, God remains the One who sees what we cannot, the One, as Job was so overwhelmingly reminded, who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of this world. If there has ever been One to whom we can give our anger, confusion, vengeful desires, God is the One.
Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer, speaker, and Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She currently serves John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. Angie’s articles have been printed and posted in Christianity Today, The Christian Century, RELEVANT Magazine, Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women, and elsewhere.