There is a terrible evil loose in the world today. Militant Muslims who call themselves an Islamic State are claiming absolutism and committing heinous crimes in the name of Allah. It’s a simple proposition: convert or die. Where do they get the authority for these actions? Are these atrocities actually condoned in their holy scriptures?
How are we to think about these things? How do we think about the Muslims in our neighborhood or workplace? How can such divergent interpretations of the Quran exist from the same scriptures? And what about young defectors from our own western culture who join these destructive causes? What are we failing to offer them that they should find this militant action filling a void in their lives? How desperate are they? How desperate are we to get to them in time?
I received a prayer request from Doug Stevens, former Executive Director of The Leadership Connection, and now interim pastor for transitioning churches, outlining the dire situation in the Middle East and asking for prayer for the victims and those who are in danger from the advances of ISIS. You almost hesitate to open the morning newspaper these days for the thought of some new atrocity meeting you on the front page.
Surely when Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, He wasn’t thinking about these guys … or was He?
Here, in our relative comfort and ease, we seem protected from these extreme activities of human behavior, and yet you only have to go back to 9.11.2001 to prove that false. The potential for a terrorist strike is everywhere. This evil knows no bounds. What are we to do? Is there anything we can do? What kind of responses do we support as voting members of a democracy? What kind of attitudes do we try to convey in our conversations in the marketplace? How are we to be like Christ in the face of these worldwide threats? We can’t bury our heads in the sand.
In light of Doug Stevens’ timely request for prayer and his first- and second-hand knowledge of the situation in the Middle East, I have asked him to be our guest on BlogTalkRadio tonight at 6pm Pacific Daylight Time to talk about these and other related questions. Don’t miss this timely and informative discussion that I believe will help us be better representatives of the Gospel of Welcome in these troubled times. And remember, if you can’t listen at six o’clock tonight, you can listen anytime thereafter at our BlogTalkRadio website, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thecatch.
Following is a copy of Doug’s Call to Prayer
A Call to Pray
Pray for the people who are trapped in areas ruled by ISIS. The brutal regime that calls itself Islamic State has declared a modern caliphate, and has taken control of vast swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. In a blitzkrieg that began last year, thousands of black-clad warriors have rampaged through a region that was already in disarray due to political division (the Shia persecuting the Sunni in Iraq) and civil war (the uprising against the oppressive dictatorship of Assad in Syria). The world was caught off guard by this sudden conquest and is still reeling from (and bewildered by) the fierce success of this Al Qaeda splinter group.
ISIS is dead serious about its goals: the absolute Islamization of the Middle East — according to the most literal reading of the Quran and the strictest enforcement of Sharia law. This code, issued by Allah, approves the harshest of measures against all who do not submit to their Salafist interpretation of Mohammed’s revelations. This includes Muslims who have abandoned true practice of the faith (which is the majority of those who claim to be Muslim), pagans (who are either polygamist or atheist), Jews and Christians (who are considered “people of the Book” but highly suspect due to their refusal to recognize the supremacy of the Prophet). Those who do not comply with Islamic requirements, according to these fiercely fanatical Jihadists, are subject to a range of punishments.
ISIS has no qualms about enacting the severest of divinely-ordered retribution against any infidel (which is virtually anyone who has not pledged allegiance to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his declared caliphate). Their literal reading explicitly authorizes beheading, crucifixion, stoning, rape, amputation, enslavement, banishment and confiscation of possessions. No one is innocent, if they are deemed a non-Muslim. Children, women, the elderly, and non-combatants are not exempt. No other political or religious authority of any kind is acknowledged. Nothing can deter them from fulfilling their calling to conquer by the sword. They have the Prophet’s word on it, and his example.
We do not know how many people have been assaulted or killed by ISIS militants in the past year. Their victims number in the tens of thousands — men, women and children. ISIS openly takes credit for their orchestrated mayhem, documenting with sophisticated social media their violence and cruelty for the world to see and fear (I have read too many stories, seen too many photos of masked men doing the worst). They are completely confident in the rightness of their mission and methods. So confident, they are willing to kill anyone and/or die for their cause. Martyrdom is the highest honor.
ISIS is an anti-modern (or post-modern) apocalyptic cult, mobilizing a generation of disaffected and radicalized youth — and not only from Arab countries. Their calculated savagery is part of a recruiting program that appeals to those without a sense of acceptance, guidance or hope. They are boy soldiers (teenagers and young men — and some women, though females are always subordinate) enchanted by a totalitarian ideology providing absolute certainty, demanding total allegiance — and offering meaning, revenge and the spoils of war in a world dominated for too long by the West and traitors who fail to lead as true Muslims.
We remember (do we?) the Nazis and their unspeakable crimes against humanity, the holocaust in Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, and other monstrous atrocities that began almost unnoticed and went virtually unchecked until an unimagined scale of calamity reached the awareness of the outside world. Not before millions lost their lives and many more suffered terribly. We are now there again. Even though we have vowed, again and again, in the last century and in this new one, to never let it happen again.
I am not advocating for a particular response. I will leave that to the decision-makers, diplomats and military strategists of the nearby nations (Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran) and a broader international coalition, including the US and Europe, which is beginning to take the threat seriously. The need for forceful intervention is urgent even if the situation is complicated and volatile. Because waiting is not an option.
But prayer, begging the God of Abraham and Moses for deliverance, out of a solidarity with these people who are living this terror, is essential right now. Pray for Syrian and Iraqi children, mothers, fathers and grandparents. Under siege, in hiding, on the run, in refugee camps in neighboring countries (in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey). Pray for the leaders who can make decisions about providing resources and planning rescue operations. Pray that they would be given soft hearts, deep wisdom and great courage. Even pray for the ISIS warlords and foot soldiers — our sworn enemies, who do not realize what they are doing — that among them there may be one or two or more who would awaken somehow to the reality of the pain and horror they are inflicting, and fall under conviction, and stop this murderous crusade.
And finally, pray for all of us far away from this nightmare who are preoccupied with our own routines, comforts and concerns to the extent that this massive crisis barely penetrates our consciousness and fails to rouse our compassion. Pray that we would ask God to use us as peacemakers, as people who care and give generously to those serving on the front-lines, as followers of Jesus who will lay down our lives to save others.
The irony of ISIS is that their official doctrine states that the sinless Jesus (not Mohammed, who is neither sinless nor immortal) will return to this earth as the appointed Judge of all mankind. They believe that the army of the caliphate, under attack on all sides and reduced in number, will retreat to Jerusalem in the last days. They expect Jesus to return at the last minute and come to their aid. Thus, ISIS believes it will play a key role at the climactic moment in this eschatological scenario.
But who is this Jesus, this Isa (the Arabic name), who will return to the earth to fulfill God’s purpose? Is he not the Prince of Peace? Is he not the one who forbade his followers to take up the sword (“he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”)? Did he not call his followers to love their neighbors, to forgive one another, to make peace, to serve and sacrifice themselves for each other, even as he revealed the loving heart of God in the beautiful way he lived (celebrated by the Quran) and died (denied by the Quran) and rose again (affirmed by the Quran)?
Will someone give to the devotees of ISIS the good news of God’s love as recorded in the Injil — the New Testament Gospel, written more than five centuries before the Quran appeared and accepted by Muslims as a Holy Book? Will someone share the good news with millions of refugees fleeing for their lives … as they seek to survive, search for shelter, stay safe, discover the God who cares, and embrace a new way of living that brings hope and healing?
Paradise Community Church, Phoenix AZ