I’ve spent some time in Egypt with Coptic Christians before and wrote some last week about my experiences with them and how it’s colored the way I saw this tragedy.
I don’t know about you, but in moments like this I feel great solidarity with Christians in other parts of the world, I empathize with their loss and envy their faith. But it’s easier to have solidarity with my brothers and sisters in persecuted places because in moments like this I don’t feel like I have a place to belong with Christians from the Western part of the world.
For my progressive Christian friends, we are strangely silent when it comes to groups like ISIS. Like classic liberalism, with it’s general and often-unspoken assumption that humans are basically good, and all we need is better and higher self-esteem, we progressive Christians don’t really know what to do when we see such blatant evil. So we tend to ignore or marginalize news like this. We don’t have categories for evil like this. (Miroslav Volf has pointed out that the idea of an afterlife with no Hell could only come from the American suburbs.)
But from my other more conservative (politically) Christian friends I see an equally disturbing problem. We have no problem identifying evil in ISIS, heck we have no problem identifying evil in lots of places, the only place we have a problem identifying evil…is in the mirror.
So when President Obama’s ill-timed remarks on the Crusades were made, we jumped on him for defending Islam and berating Christians. Our mental defense mechanisms went up well before the kernel of truth behind the president’s comments was planted. The President was only borrowing from the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr this basic idea, “Evil isn’t just out there, it’s in me too.”
The line of good and evil runs through all of us.
My wife’s step-dad is a Palestinian Muslim. She grew up celebrating Ramadan and seeing Muslim men and women who were everything that ISIS is not. So I have a very different perception about what Muslim people are like, but it’s not just that all Muslims are not like ISIS, it’s that I’m more like them than I like to admit.
I may not be cutting off people’s heads but I wear clothes that were made by people in the very countries and conditions that lead to this kind of religious extremism, and in the back of my heart I knew that I got the clothes at a discount because someone else was paying, I’ve clicked on websites that dehumanize women and at the other end of that was a person who’s life became more enslaved because of the traffic I created.
And so that brings me to Lent.
Little did ISIS know that they were actually performing their brutal acts of terror at a time where Christians all over the world are called to think about our own mortality. But Lent is more than just acknowledging that we will die, it’s also a season of self-reflection, it’s the one time of the year that we honestly try to assess the way we stand before God and not just look to our right and left to make sure we’re better than the next guy.
And if you are a person with even a remote sense of self-awareness you realize that you aren’t off the hook with evil. Maybe it’s the child that you walked away from or that Tinder date that turned a human being into an object, or the way you treat your parents or your spouse or the million other ways we’ve screwed up our lives and God’s good world. Yes we participate in evil at different degrees and different levels, and wearing shoes made in a sweatshop isn’t the same as beheading people but…
The line of Good and Evil runs through all of us.
This past week I’ve gotten several emails and Facebook messages calling for Christian Action in response to ISIS. I agree wholeheartedly, I’m just not sure those calling for it know what they are asking for.
The one thing that is unique in all world religions to the way of Jesus is the call to love, not just our family (even the pagans do that), not just our neighbor (plenty of faiths espouse kindness), and not just people who are poor (Islam and Judaism also care about the poor), the most unique thing to the way of Jesus is the call to Love our enemies and…watch this….pray for those who persecute you.
I haven’t once seen a call to that in the past 10 days, but prayer for enemies is a call to Christian Action.
Wars will be fought and I haven’t yet figured out how all that shakes out with the Christian faith, but I do know this, even if a war is justified, we shouldn’t call it holy. A holy response to evil involves the people of God laying down their lives for their enemies, praying for, blessing and serving the very people who would wish us harm. Not because they’re not evil, but because of our deep awareness that they don’t have a monopoly on evil in the world.
That we were enemies of God and God has loved us in spite of ourselves and calls us to do the same.
So if you want to share something about ISIS on social media how about this “God bless our Enemies, may your love break through their hearts like it did my own, may we not be overcome by evil, but may we overcome evil with good.”