“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” –Brian Zahnd
Having a daughter one day (more than one hopefully) is the greatest longing of my heart, so when I watched this video for the first time, my heart was smashed into little pieces. Imagine being a father and having your child go through this. Would you not give your life to bring your child to safety? A lack of compassion is a sign of a weak heart. And a compassionless heart is an ugly heart. If you still fear letting Syrian refugees or any refugees into your country, maybe this video will touch your heart, like it did mine.
The people of France are in everyone’s hearts right now. There are few if any words that can heal the immense pain that the French people and the people of the world are feeling right now. There is little that we can do to erase the fear that such devastating violence brings. However, the sadness that this brings upon us all is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of our shared humanity, something that we all too easily lose sight of and something we must certainly strive to retain.
I am a Parisian. I am a human. But first, I am a Christian. Even though my heart is with the people of France, it is also with people everywhere suffering. Many people realize this, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but France was not the only country that suffered immensely this past week. We cannot forget that what happened in Paris is what people live through on a daily basis in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
We must not forget our common humanity and the value and worth that every single human being has, even those that are deemed lost causes by this world and sadly by so many Christians.
As beings created in God’s image, we must acknowledge that all people are worthy of love. As followers of the Crucified God, we are called to forgive all people at all times and in all circumstances. The choice to love and forgive is entirely our own. There are no ifs, ands or buts. We can and must choose to forgive, no matter the circumstances. We can and must choose the response of radical love over vengeance.
So in the midst of this, we must join in mourning with the French people and all others suffering. We must put ourselves in their place and imagine the terrible pain they have experienced and are experiencing.
At the same time we cannot forget our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Christians we must reach out to them as well, both the Muslims in our own communities and across the world, both peaceful and violent. We must be peacemakers. The vast majority of Muslims do not support the kind of violence just perpetrated upon Parisians, and yet now, as the inevitable targets of direct and indirect anger, judgment, hostility and hatred based on what some other radical so-called Muslims have done, they too have become victims of these terrible acts of violence. And those Muslims who do support and have even participated in these terrible acts are, whether or not we know it or believe it, themselves victims of generations of violence, injustice, hatred, bigotry, pain and loss which has seeped into their souls and so embittered them that they now are simply passing that on as it was passed on to them or their families and ancestors. To break the cycle of violence and retribution, we have to take seriously the call that Christ gave us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. Loving your enemies is a simple calling in declaration, but much harder to carry out in action and yet at the end of the day it remains our calling. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not some idealistic notion that cannot be attained until Jesus returns. It is for the here and now.
To break this cycle we have to rebuke the myth of redemptive violence, for it is a lie from the enemy, a lie that degrades our humanity. We, as Americans need to take responsibility for the sequences of violence that breed radicalism. Violence breeds violence. The road to peace is not war, but peace. War is simply a short-term answer for something that can only be overcome through peaceful means. The stories of real-life peacemakers like King and Gandhi tell us that peaceful means can and do bring peaceful change, we just need to give peace a chance.
Social Activist, author and peacemaker Thomas Merton put it well, when he said that, “The tactic of non-violence is a tactic of love that seeks the salvation and redemption of the opponent, not their…defeat.”
No one is beyond redemption. That is why we must seek the salvation and redemption of those who live by the sword. If we seek to kill those who live by the sword with the sword, we ourselves will eventually reap what we have sown and die by the sword. It is the story of cyclical violence. I can guarantee that as the number of bombs falling on ISIS increases, the number of terrorist attacks carried out in return will increase. A violent response is exactly what causes radicalism to grow. If you believe otherwise then why has the ‘War on Terror,’ led to an increase in radical Islam and violence?
Let us not forget so quickly the history of violence that has created the chaos from which refugees are fleeing. Many of the countries filled with violence and war were quite stable before their governments were overthrown, either directly or indirectly by the West. The U.S. and its allies are undoubtedly responsible for much of the instability that the Middle East is experiencing. The U.S. has blood on its hands. To deny this is to rewrite history, to deny history.
The kingdoms of this earth will respond how they have to respond, out of fear and vengeance, but we as Christians are called to be radically different, for we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom and our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.
So how does responding in love look like? Well, first I will tell you what it certainly doesn’t look like. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for hate. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for vengeance and violence. There is no room for participation in acts of war and destruction, not for genuine followers of Christ.
Feeling anger in response to terrorist acts such as what happened in Paris is normal and human. Our emotions reflect our deepest concerns, and anger is meant to be a healthy signal that something wrong has happened. But the Bible tells us to “be angry” and yet “do not sin.” When anger goes beyond being an indicator that a wrong has occurred to actually driving us to counter with more wrong, then this is sin. Anger is about setting things right, not adding wrong to wrong.
I’ve been deeply saddened by the fear-based reactions of many Christians advocating to refuse entrance of Syrian refugees into their states. They have rejected Jesus himself, for Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Many of the refugees are our Christian brothers and sisters. So we are not only rejecting Muslims, but our own brethren in Christ. Fear drives us away from Jesus, I pray that love for others brings us back to him. Perfect love drives out all fear and we have nothing to fear, because we know that Christ has already won!
The Bible is very clear about helping the needy. If you aren’t a Christian then my quarrel, our quarrel, is not with you. However if you call yourself a Christian, then you might as well tear the whole New Testament and much of the Old Testament out of your Bible if you believe our faith allows us to reject immigrants.
For the sake of those who are not as familiar with the Bible, here are some verses that make it pretty clear as to how refugees should be treated. (All verses taken from NLT translation).
Job 31:32 “I have never turned away a stranger, but have opened my doors to everyone.”
Leviticus 19:9-10 “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop-do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 19:33-34 “Do not take advantage of the foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Ezekiel 16:49 “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
Exodus 23:9 “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
Malachi 3:5 “…I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me…”
Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8:41-42 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people in Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm….”
See Isaiah 58:10 as well.
Matthew 25:35-36 “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:45 “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”
Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command, Love your neighbor as yourself.”
See Luke 10:29-37 also.
So what are some practical ways Christ followers can love our enemies as well as our local and global neighbors?
John Piper (yes I’m quoting John Piper), talks about loving your enemies in a post he wrote that can be found here.
Mr. Piper asks the question, “What is this love?” He goes on to list three simple steps we can take as Christians to love our enemies and I will paraphrase the three points and add my own thoughts.
- ‘Simply greeting them’ – What I like about this is that even if this can’t be done to the members of ISIS, it can be done to the Muslims all around us and it really can make an impact. I had the opportunity to visit a Somali mall in downtown Minneapolis with some people from my church led by Jay Perske, who is doing amazing ministry outreach with the Twin Cities Somali community. The simple act of smiling and greeting the Somali Muslims walking about in the mall would instantly light up their eyes. I could see the gratitude and appreciation that was evident in their interactions with us. They wanted to be understood. They wanted to be accepted. It’s a simple step and it can really make a profound impact on not only others, but yourself. It breaks down fear and it builds trust and helps you see the humanity of another human being who comes from an entirely different background.
- ‘Practically meeting their physical needs.’ –This is another great way to love your enemies. No, this doesn’t mean arming them and sending them monetary support (hint, hint U.S. government). Once again this can be hard for us to do, when ISIS is far away in another country, but there are Christians who are called to those areas of conflict and we must support them, because the reality of what enemy love can bring is incredible. There are countless stories of non-violence leading violent people to Christ. Some of you may have heard of the story of the ISIS member that became a Christian.
- ‘Praying for them.’– God is always at work and for me prayer is still a mystery. But the Bible tells us that it is something to engage in. I believe it is more than just a sign of obedience to God’s will, but an engagement in spiritual warfare. The enemy is always at work, but so too is the Holy Spirit and prayer is not something to be taken lightly, it is perhaps one of the most important elements of our faith.
Pacifism is not passive. Pacifism does not mean being some weak-minded hippie. No, pacifism seeks reconciliation at the possible cost of one’s own life, by far the most courageous pathway any human can choose. It takes tremendous bravery to respond in love and to refuse to hate your enemies. Firmly saying, ‘I refuse to be your enemy,’ will begin to transform the hearts of your enemies, I guarantee it, Christ guarantees it. This will open new doors for the Holy Spirit to work through and in your actions for those who do not know Christ.
Prayer is great. Acknowledging your enemy’s existence is great. Serving your enemies is great. But first you have to SEE. First you have to open your eyes to truly see those who consider themselves your enemies. Once you know who they are, once you have seen them, you must seek to understand them, seek to know their history, their suffering and their beliefs. Once you have SEEN then you can immerse yourself in the conflict and contend for their reconciliation.
My pastor Greg Boyd shared a beautiful sermon this weekend and in it he gave his testimony of an encounter with a potentially violent person. While driving Greg crossed paths with a bicyclist who was clearly drunk. After getting out of his car, Greg found himself being confronted by the man, who apparently thought Greg had cut him off. The man grabbed Greg by the shirt and pushed him up against a car and was threatening to bash his face in. At this point Greg could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath and knew that this man could easily do what he was threatening to do. Rather than attempting to resist or respond in force, Greg simply said, “You can punch me and hit me, but I am not allowed to hit you, because I am a follower of Christ.” Immediately the man relented and drew back and the situation was resolved.
For many of us in this circumstance, fear would bring us to respond in-kind, but Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to repay evil with good. Imagine how the state of the world would change if every Christian lived like this.
This week I encourage us as Christians to step out and interact with our Muslim brothers and sisters, locally and maybe even globally if the opportunity arises. A good friend of mine from house church has been a wonderful example of being Jesus to Muslims. My friend Josh (who is on fire for Jesus) has been getting to know Muslims in his neighborhood in Minneapolis. I have been so inspired by his walk with Jesus and how he models Jesus to the people he meets. He sent me an email this week, entitled ‘Jesus is for every Muslim.’ I think that perfectly encapsulates what we as a church need to be about. Joshua is taking the time to understand Muslims and what they believe. Here is an excerpt from the email he sent me after a very meaningful time at our house church this weekend.
“We the church have done a pretty lousy job reaching Muslims because we have refused to see the Truth that they have in their culture, faith, and even in their holy book, the Quran. Our typical approach is to bash their prophet (Mohammed) and bash their book. After we have done that we feel that we have to tell them what they need to believe in order to be Christians.
Our approach is different. Instead we look to what we can hold up that they have in their culture, faith, and even their holy book. We use the common ground we have in these places as a bridge to talk about Jesus (whom they love). This naturally leads to sharing from our book (which the Quran holds up very highly as well).
Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” We are doing our best to keep focused on this and let so many of the things that we tend to get distracted by be left on the side.”
I leave you to ponder the words of a man whose son was in Paris during the attacks.
“My son was in Paris last night. He took the metro back from the Eiffel Tower right under the area of the shootings, without knowing it. He and his friends had discussed going to the rock concert where the majority of the killings took place. They had discussed going to the area where the bars were. It’s only a trivial choice; half a kilometer, half an hour, and it would have been him. One day it catches up with all of us. President Hollande has declared war. But war is already on us. In us. War is what the enemy wants, and we are the enemy. In the intense shock and grieving of all these situations there has to be another voice. To appear weak? Helpless? Is that so bad? Because we already are. Rolling down the road of terror. Who was it that gave the wagon the first push? It doesn’t matter. What is important is to stop it, entirely. I pray that all of us have the faith and courage at least to jump off, if not–as Bonhoeffer said–seek to derail the wheels of the wagon.” – Anthony Bartlett
Thanks for reading,