Friday, December 12, 2014

Love Your Enemies – Even ISIS. Even the CIA. Even “Christians” who hate their neighbor.

I have been contemplating Paul Louis Metzger’s recent post, “Who Is to Blame for the ‘Jihad Generation’?” (It can be found here: He notes the increasing attraction of Western-raised Muslims to ISIS, resulting from what Afzal Amin identifies in this way: “‘young Muslims in inner-city Britain have been left disenfranchised by politics and let down by imams and other community leaders.’” Dr. Metzger sees this trend as relevant for United States youths who likewise experience “disillusionment and distress over a lack of opportunity to flourish as honorable members of democratic and capitalistic societies,” and he recommends that “these same societies must become intentional about inspiring hope that involves deconstructing exclusive structures and fostering widespread ownership.”

Metzger is uncomfortably on-point about this. But only momentarily. It is when he suggests that Muslim leaders need “to connect better with youths to make sure they are well-adapted in their Western cultural contexts” that he drifts into parochialism—the tendency to focus on one’s own culture and community, often missing key contrasts and connections with those of other cultures and communities. This is indeed strange territory for Dr. Metzger, given his intense commitment to intercultural dialogue and diplomacy. But where those concepts collide with the boundaries Western culture, he (I would imagine reluctantly) allows that “the current crisis involving ISIS requires military intervention,” even as “efforts in diplomacy must never cease.” He adds, “I cannot imagine governments negotiating with ISIS.”

ISIS and other organizations arise as products of their culture, just as organizations which better fit our Western sensibilities do. We are to value all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, even those who utterly reject our Trinitarian theology and its implications for loving interrelationships of human persons. The Trinitarian stands somewhere between the isolating individualism of the West and the uncompromising conformity demanded elsewhere. In defense of those intent on defeating diversity, even through persecution and murder, consider communities where resources have not only been historically scarce, but where whatever meager supply has been available in the past is routinely exploited for the sake of the personal luxuries of those in the West. Just as we are called to love the excessively individualistic religious consumers wreaking havoc in the North American Christian Church, we are likewise called to love those whose enthusiastically enforced conformity offends our fondness for casual diversity. In both cases, our love for those persons within each, and all other cultures, requires us to seek diplomacy, not warfare. And yes, even with ISIS.

I am unapologetically extremist in this matter. I understand how ludicrous it seems to allow a case to be made for ISIS as a cultural expression of a group diverse from our social standards, and seeking to conform (or eradicate) all others to theirs. The practices of ISIS are imagined to be so diametrically opposed to our own beliefs and behaviors, as to be indefensible. And yet, our own expressions of our “Christian nation’s” cultural bias do not bear close scrutiny.

Today, on a  nationally syndicated Christian radio program, I listened for as long as I could (probably ten minutes or so) to an impassioned rationalization in favor of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. Even as the presenters sought to differentiate between that euphemism and “torture,” they began to use “the ‘T’ word” for those practices in which physical pain and suffering are inflicted for the purpose of eliciting information from “detainees,” another euphemism made necessary by the indistinct legal category that is neither “arrested” nor “captured.” These “techniques” have been, according to the representatives claiming to speak for a national Christian lobbying and litigation organization, both effective and necessary, as well as legitimate and appropriate. Their primary justification for these acts rested on two principles. First, that the torture of those detained, abducted, or otherwise secured by American interrogators, was intended (and, in hindsight, effective) toward “saving American lives.” Second, they argued that “Muslims believe” that if one has held out so far as possible before divulging information, there is no condemnation awaiting them, even if they betray their compatriots. Thus, “those people” respond well to torture, and we are, therefore, justified in using it so that the lives of “our people” may be spared. Or so the presenters argued.

The question we must ask about these organizations (particularly ISIS and the U.S. Government, but indeed all others who have sought to rationalize their heinous behaviors as “necessary” and “justifiable” by whatever standards they draw from their culture) is this: “Are we going to seek diplomacy among diverse cultures, or are we going to seek the destruction of other cultures in order to enforce our own conformity through applying a ‘convert or die’ warfare model?” Before you object that this is a false dichotomy, that there are other options between, try to imagine the sliding scale along that imaginary spectrum between diplomacy and destruction. What a third option must ask is not whether, but to what extent we will “do evil that good may come.” (In Romans 3:8, the Apostle Paul suggests that this is a very bad idea.)

Among the most effective rationalizations, of course, is that “there’s no reasoning with ‘those people,’” especially since, “they want to kill us, you know.” Throughout the New Testament, there are examples that prove that rule. Jesus’ reasoning with Pilate, Stephen’s reasoning with the Jewish leaders, and many other instances show that logic often fails. But there are also exceptions that prove the rule as well. On occasion, in fact, God intervenes to turn the rule on its head. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about loving one’s neighbor by extending God’s grace to them, as much as it is about loving God in response to His gracious extension of neighborliness with us. (This is a pun based on Metzger’s Christology, in which the incarnation—that Christ came in human flesh—can be said to be an instance of “when love comes to town.”) That those neighbors include those who wish us harm? Jesus’ opinion was that we are still responsible to love them. Can His followers opt to do otherwise?

Again, influenced by Metzger, and his co-author Brad Harper (Exploring Ecclesiology is one of several places you’ll find the concept discussed, but Metzger’s Connecting Christ puts the practice squarely in context with significant examples of doing so with leaders of other faiths), I fully agree that Christians are responsible to adopt the Apostle’s example and do not go around our Christian convictions, nor stop short at our convictions, but to go through our convictions to engage those outside the faith—even if where we’re going through those convictions is into the hands of those whose greatest aspiration is that we die, immediately and directly as a result of our beliefs and behaviors.

The solution for the Jihad Generation is not to be found in making Western democracy and capitalism more attractive than ISIS. The only hope we are offered as Christians is found in following the example of cruciform, sacrificial servanthood, loving even those who hate, despitefully use, and even kill us. 
If you do, then it should be for far more important reasons. Still, I would support your decision, whichever way you go.

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