I think sometimes we like to believe the world is basically a good place filled with good people. The Bible tells a different story: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In Western Culture, we forget how bad sin can really be. But for our Christian brothers and sisters in Northern Iraq right now, they must literally flee for their lives because of sin’s cruelty.
A growing group of militants who call themselves the Islamic State (IS) and used to call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been making the news recently for beheading children, raping and murdering women, enslaving or killing men, and seeking to wipe out entire people groups. This is mass genocide and it is a terrible tragedy.
Large populations of Christians are being killed. Another religious group, called the Yazidis, are also being wiped out. Many have three choices: Convert to Islam, die, or flee. There is plenty of news coverage on this, and you’ve probably seen how horrific it is. I’ve been torn up for the last couple days thinking about this terrible persecution. I want to help make a difference, but I wasn’t exactly sure how for two reasons.
First, I struggle with global news because It is filled with problems occurring on the other side of the world, and frankly, I can’t really do much about them. And yet, when a group like ISIS is at large we simply cannot just sit around and do nothing.
Secondly, when I read these stories, my first thought is that we need to bomb these monsters into oblivion. They are doing seriously evil things and must be stopped. But I am somewhat troubled by the words of Jesus, “love your enemy.” IS is clearly an enemy of God’s people, so how do we balance this? The church endured terrible persecution, even in the Bible, but they never seemed to fight back. How do we stop them and love them at the same time?
I’ve done a fair amount of thinking and research on these two questions. To be honest, I’m still not sure of all the answers, and would love some comments with your thinking, but here are 6 ways you can actually do something to make a difference:
1) Love your enemy:
Romans 12:14-21 is a riveting passage in which Paul calls us to love our enemies. Here are a couple verses that highlight this: 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
From this it is clear, as Christians we are called to love the Islamic State. This seems insane, and I almost feel dirty saying it, but it’s the truth. We need to realize what it means, however. Loving someone does not mean you encourage or allow them to continue in their sin. It means we point them to Jesus and his saving grace. Members of the IS are evil, but Jesus died for them, and ultimately he is the only one who can change them. You will probably never meet a member of IS, but you can pray that they would repent and believe the truth.
2) Call on the government for justice:
Can you love someone and demand justice be served against them? Of course – God does this often.
I was talking with my friend Keith and he pointed out that Romans 12 is followed immediately by a passage where Paul explains one of God’s systems for dealing with justice. Romans 13:1-4 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.“
God has instituted the governments of the world to carry His wrath on the wrongdoer. ISIS definitely qualifies as a wrongdoer, and so we should be calling the governments of the world to bring justice. The US recently approved airstrikes on the terror group, and this is certainly a start, but more is needed. I can’t pretend to be a politician and know the answers, but our leaders will listen if we unite in this cause. So contact your congressman or the White House or Parliament or whoever is in charge of your nation, and call for action! One of the quickest and easiest ways is to sign this White House petition. You can also contact your congressman directly using this website – it will take 2 minutes and you will make a difference, so just go do it!
3) Love your neighbor:
This is more of a proactive approach than a reactive approach. ISIS is nothing new, there are many terrible examples of genocide throughout history. Kosovo, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and the list could go on. If we love our neighbor, we can help prevent things like this in the future.
Omar Shafik Hammami grew up as a Southern Baptist in Alabama. In 2012 he earned a spot on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list because of his work for the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. How did this happen? I don’t really know, but I do believe that if he had truly experienced the love of Christ in his own neighborhood, he would not have gone down the same path. So love your neighbor, you are an ambassador for Christ and can change the course of their future, and maybe the future of many others.
4) Support Relief Efforts:
Not only do we need to stop ISIS, but we need to help the people who are suffering at their hands. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Northern Iraq need help, and we should work to give it to them. Not only that, but we should support the other minorities in the area as well. Again, one way you can do this is by contacting your congressman or government leader.
I would also suggest giving to relief organizations like Open Doors. I’ve had trouble finding many other direct donation opportunities, so if you know of any, please share it in the comments. (Update: Nanci commented below with this link and recommended Samaritan’s Purse).
5) Don’t stereotype:
There is always a temptation when a group called the “Islamic State” starts killing people. While some will want to blame everyone who belongs to Islam for this, we should not make that mistake. I’ve visited Kosovo twice, where in the 90’s a group of Serbians killed thousands of Muslims. Many Kosovar had to flee their homes and lost family members at the hands of their enemy. During my two trips, I became friends with many Kosovars. I was shocked and appalled to hear that many of their family and friends were killed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Now, a group of “Christians” committed that atrocity, and again some would want to blame all Christians for that act of genocide. But we know this is not true Christianity. In the same way, we know that all Muslims do not support what ISIS is doing. In fact, many Muslims are being hurt and killed by these terrorists. So continue to love, encourage, and pray for your Muslim neighbors.
6) Pray and Fast:
This is, perhaps, the most important of all. Pray genuinely matters, and the Bible has multiple instances where God fights for his people in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat calls the people to pray and fast so that God would rescue them from Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. God hears their prayer, and when Israel goes out to battle, God puts their enemy into confusion and they all kill themselves.
In 2 Kings 19, King Hezekiah prays to the Lord to rescue them from the Assyrians. Again, the Lord answers his people, this time in an even more miraculous way. Here is what vs. 35 says, “And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.“
We should be praying for the salvation of people from ISIS in the same way we would pray if ISIS were outside our front door. We must plea with passion for God to intervene, and we must believe he can make a difference. The same God who threw the armies of Ammon and Moab into confusion and sent his angel to destroy the Assyrians is the same God today. How awesome would it be if the same thing happened today? What if ISIS turned on itself? God can and will bring justice, let us pray (and even fast) and ask Him to bring it soon. Garret Kell has put together a Scripture based prayer for the situation.
I’m not very good at fasting, but when the need is this great I think it is worth the effort. Not only that, it helps (in a very, very small way) to identify with the people who are suffering in Iraq. If you’d like to join me, spend some time fasting this week (it could be food, but doesn’t need to be – just make sure it’s a sacrifice). During the time you save, pray for relief and justice, and I believe if we unite as a global community of Christians for this, God will not allow the prayers to be wasted.
Your turn: What do you think we could be doing about ISIS?