ICYMI (that’s “In Case You Missed It”, for those of you who are not millennials or otherwise familiar with the ways millennials express themselves via texting and social media), there was a horrific rash of terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The response among American evangelicals has been predictable: An outpouring of rage against the Islamic State, and against Islam in general. Social media is filled with posts berating Obama for being soft on ISIS and/or accusing him of secretly being one of them. Posts about how we need to clamp down on illegal immigration. Posts about how we all need to WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! or else the same thing will happen here.
Now is not the time for that.
ISIS is all about perpetuating a narrative of “Islam vs. The West”. It’s how they have managed to gain so much traction in the Middle East. If you believe all the posts about Obama being soft on ISIS and possibly being one of them, all the posts about Islam as a religion of hatred and violence (where the hell are all those moderate Muslims and why aren’t they doing anything to rein in these wackos?), about how our Western way of life is at stake here and we all need to WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! or else the same thing will happen here, then you are buying into the exact same narrative that ISIS is trying to perpetuate. It’s what they want, because it is what gives them power and emboldens them to keep going with more of the same. “See? Those stupid immoral Westerners reacted just the way we told you they would!!!!!!!! It really is all about Islam vs. The West!!!!!!!!!”
Come on, people.
Even if Islam really is a religion of hatred and violence (heads up: it’s not. Islam is an excruciatingly complex, many-layered religious system which can be a daunting beast to anyone who hasn’t spent a lifetime face-to-face with it. So don’t go making simplistic pronouncements about something you haven’t taken the time or trouble to understand. But I digress), Christianity is not. We do not repay evil with evil. Instead, we overcome evil with good.
I am not saying that France or America should not act appropriately to defend their interests against those responsible for these horrific events. Governments are given the authority to wield the sword for the purpose of maintaining order in a broken world, to the extent that is possible. Going forward, our leaders will have to have some difficult conversations and make some difficult decisions as to what actions are needed to punish those responsible and ensure that this does not happen again.
What I am saying is not about that. What I am saying is about us as Christians. And this gets at the heart of a fundamental confusion which has afflicted much of American Christianity. It is the way we say “Our Western way of life is at stake” in issues like this, in the exact same manner in which we would say “Our faith is at stake” in these issues. You see, we believe, on some implicit, fundamental level, that Western civilization and the Christian faith are one and the same.
Heads up, people: They’re not.
Seriously, people: Why should we care what happens to Western civilization?
Don’t get me wrong. I like living indoors with heat, air conditioning, electric lights, indoor plumbing, and all the other technological advantages afforded by our society. I enjoy living in a world with freedom of speech and all the other advantages afforded by Western civilization.
But Christianity can do just fine without Western civilization. Christianity is doing just fine in many parts of the world, and has done just find for most of its history, without Western civilization. The qualities which make for a good citizen here in the Western world and the qualities which make for a good Christian disciple are not interchangeable, and we should stop treating them as if they are. As Christians, we have a story to tell to a world which is dying to hear it, a story which is, at the very least, distinct from the story of Western civilization. It is the story of Israel and her engagement with God, which reached its unexpected climax in the crucified and resurrected Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Our story as Christians is not the story of Western civilization. Our priorities are not the priorities of Western civilization. And for heaven’s sake, our fate is not tied up in the fate of Western civilization.
Come on, people.
As Christians, we are called to overcome evil with good. These people are intentional about doing evil. So if you really want to bring down ISIS, then you need to become equally intentional, if not more so, about doing good.
Look around you. The opportunities for doing good in our world are endless. Ask yourself: What are you grateful for? Show gratitude and support for those people in your life whom you are grateful for. Get behind those organizations which are doing things that you are grateful for. Next, ask yourself: What breaks your heart? Get behind people and organizations which are doing things to address those issues.
This comes back to what seems to have become a recurring theme around here this year: What sort of people are we becoming as evangelicals? Are we a people defined by anger and outrage? The crazy popularity of Donald Trump among evangelicals would certainly indicate this. The response of evangelicals to that Supreme Court decision earlier this year would certainly indicate this. And the response of evangelicals on social media to these Paris attacks would certainly indicate this.
Yes, we as a nation must take action against those responsible for these horrific attacks. Yet the conversations concerning what to do, when and how to do it, are not something which needs to be treated as a matter of faith. Whatever America does (or doesn’t do) will happen apart from what we do as Christians. As citizens of America, we ought to be involved in the process and work to shape those conversations and actions according to what we believe is right for our nation to do in response to these atrocities. But don’t let us conflate those conversations with how we are called to respond as people of God.
So before you send out that tweet or Facebook post about how Obama is soft on ISIS, how Islam is really a religion of hatred and violence, or how we all need to WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! or else the same thing will happen here, ask yourself: What does love require of me? If you can make a convincing case that what love requires of you in this hour is to make that post then hey, go for it.
But what I see is that you are simply buying into the narrative of “Islam vs. The West” that ISIS is trying to perpetuate, which is only giving them greater traction in the Middle East and emboldening them to keep going. What I see is that you are simply furthering the culture of outrage for which American evangelicalism has become known, and which has caused us to lose influence in the hearts and minds of the wider world.
This is not the way to overcome terror.