How to Win The War on Terror

By April 6, 2016Archive

EMM-War_On_Terror-OlneyOn Easter Sunday, at a peaceful park in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed at least 74 people and injured 362 others. You probably forgot about it already. The terrorist group was targeting Christians but killed more Muslims, which is not surprising considering that Christians make up just two percent of the population. Of those killed, 24 of them were children—four more kids than were killed during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Enjoying a big turkey sandwich on the couch after the exhausting Easter festivities at my church where I serve as a pastor, I scrolled through twitter to get all the gory details. The story wasn’t even an hour old before many began to cynically decry the imbalance of attention given to attacks that happen in western countries like Paris, Brussels, and the US compared with places like the Middle East and Africa. I believe that it is a valid concern, as it reveals something ugly (though admittedly unsurprising) about human nature: what most of us naturally care most about is our own safety. When people “like us” are gunned down at cafes or torn apart by a bomb in an airport, we are forced to feel vulnerable. We are filled with rage and questions: what could they have against someone like me? And as we know, this phenomenon extends far beyond terrorism. If you are a white American living in the suburbs, chances are you get far more worked up about a school shooting across the country than you do about the multitudes of young black males being incarcerated or killed in a city near you. Because that’s just the way things are, right?

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has vowed vengeance for the blood of the innocent, and states that his goal is to eliminate the extremist mindset. But the question (that should be) on everyone’s mind is, how? Vengeance is simple and rational: blood for blood. But mindsets are delicate, complicated, and often irrational things. How do you wage a war on terror?

Full disclosure: I’m way out of my league here. I’m a young white pastor with a privileged background. I count myself among those hypocritical rubberneckers who check twitter or turn on the news when something happens to “someone like me” but scrolls right on past dead kids in the inner city or in third world countries. I honestly don’t know where to start in following my own advice. So I’m going to write a blog with the hope that someone reads it and informs me about why I’m out of my mind or how I can get more involved. I hope that’s better than nothing, and I apologize if it’s not. So here goes.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman world was a scary place to live. The popular mode of execution for outsiders was to be hung on a cross to die a slow, shameful, and agonizing death by asphyxiation. Crucifixions were “routine” in the way that terrorism is becoming for us. But there was one odd and utterly innocent Jew named Jesus who decided to undergo it willingly. He walked into dangerous places and extended truth and love to both the oppressed and their oppressors, and when he finally hung on the cross for messing with the system, he cried out to God his Father for the forgiveness of those who nailed him there. That was Good Friday. Christians believe that two days later Jesus rose from the dead. Well, at least they clearly believed that back then because they started doing things that only an utter lack of the fear of death could explain. A Christian named Stephen was “stoned” (another favorite mode of execution where people literally throw rocks at you until you die) and he too cried out for the forgiveness of his persecutors, including a terrorist named Saul who oversaw the whole event. Either something in Stephen’s love had an effect on Saul, or Stephen’s prayer was answered, or both. Because Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle: the greatest missionary who ever lived and the man who personally penned the majority of the New Testament (the last third of that Bible that you laid somewhere). According to tradition, eleven of the twelve apostles were brutally martyred for their unwavering faith in the resurrection of Jesus. The other guy? He (John) was exiled to an island called Patmos and wrote Revelation, the latest and weirdest book of the Bible. When we look back on it all today from a historical perspective, we see that those who claimed that Jesus’ followers “turned the world upside down” were not exaggerating (Acts 17:6). The love of Christ transformed and conquered Rome. As the theologian N.T. Wright put it in, “The cross [became] the sign that pagan empire, symbolized in the might and power of sheer brutal force, has been decisively challenged by a different power, the power of love, the power that shall win the day”. 1

What would you call such sacrifice? Misguided? Heroic? Extreme? I think extreme is the right word. The apostles were extremists, and the early church was extreme. Today we might derisively write them off as a cult. They staked their lives (and their family’s lives) on the resurrection being true. And the world is infinitely better for it. And might it be that a world that disavows “extremism” in general will always be baffled and powerless in the face of it, no doubt primarily because those who most strongly disavow extremism are those who are comfortable and thus see no need for extremes? I think this explains much of the response of the Western world since September 11th: baffled and powerless. As people living in an irreligious, consumerist society that depends upon the suffering and exploitation of much of the rest of the world for our comfortable and convenient lifestyle, we have almost no resources to deal with religiously motivated terrorism. Why? Because while we are slaves to the fear of death, the terrorists are not. At the end of the day, if military might is our only strategy to destroy a mindset like that, we might as well be fighting fire with gasoline. 2

But perhaps there is another way? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly thought so. Recall his words from that jail cell in Birmingham:

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

What if our only hope to destroy extremism is…extremism? A different kind of extremism that is radical and creative in its application of God’s law: to love one another (Romans 13:9). This is how King and his disciples challenged the hearts and minds of segregationists in the South. What if the only thing more compelling to the hearts and minds of young men prone toward radicalism in the Middle East than dying in order to kill your enemies is dying in order to save them? What if we loved our enemies more than they hated theirs, and found that perfect love casts out terror? What if instead of going to disgraceful movies about imagined persecution in our public schools (yes, I’m looking right at you, God’s Not Dead 2), ten thousand American Christians were moving willfully to Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria to buy homes and love their neighbors, knowing that they would be persecuted and die (is that even possible?)? What if 2 Timothy 3:12 is true? What if instead of vaguely hoping in the resurrection on Easter, we were passionately pursuing it like Paul (Philippians 3:11-12)? What if safety was not our first thought when praying for our missionaries—even our kids? “Safety first” was certainly something Jesus never said. What if we did more than pray for those two percent in Pakistan but died alongside them? What if the more that died, the more missionaries came, and the more that percentage rose until the violence ceased and every knee bowed and every tongue confessed? What would it look like for the global church to consistently communicate and embody a compelling vision of peacemaking that involved Middle Eastern countries to surrender not to the Taliban or to ISIS or even the US, but to Jesus?

Now, I know that neither America nor American Christians are the hope of the world, but rather local churches living in the power of the Spirit. And I am encouraged by the popular movement to stand with persecuted Christians in the Middle East. But I am a bit disturbed not merely by the attitude that it’s “normal” for people in the Middle East to die, but by our own apparent lack of readiness to literally die as followers of the Crucified Messiah. 3

When our Lord said that you cannot serve both God and money, I think it’s helpful to replace the word money with “security.” That’s what money-as-false-god promises us after all. But when you think of security as the rival lord that Jesus is referring to, the picture clears up even more: only someone who doesn’t really believe in the resurrection of Jesus can choose their own “security” over loving a refugee—or a terrorist. I know that doesn’t help much with public policy (we all ought to be concerned with protecting our neighbors’ security), but let’s be honest: if none of us are loving, if none of us are dying, then all we are doing is debating one another (or more accurately, hating). 4

Here’s the point: what would it take in 2016 for Christians to actually be known for our love (John 13:35)? It’s great that loving our city has become a given among Christians, but what about loving enemy cities? Could anyone casually accuse Christians of being hateful bigots if they had at least one friend who was now a missionary in a dangerous part of the world, committed to making it a place where people no longer wanted to be terrorists? 5 Would churches be arguing over trivial matters like music and minor points of doctrine if their members were becoming martyrs? You’re right, they definitely would. But in all seriousness, why isn’t our government pleading with our churches to send more missionaries, political correctness be damned? If the world should have learned anything in the last 2,000 years, it is that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform a society while respecting its culture: no military force can do that. Equality will never be found in Iraq and Syria; love will never flourish between Israelis and Palestinians until the God of love who shows no partiality is worshiped there again. Maybe our government isn’t pleading because they don’t really believe that we believe our own message. We just aren’t extreme enough.

Maybe I’m only an idealist (that is my Myers Briggs type after all. INFPs unite!). Maybe it’s the Jonah series that my church is embarking upon that is making me uncomfortable with how much God’s people (me included) really still do hate “those violent Ninevites.” Maybe all of our good young men will just continue absentmindedly binge-watching violent Netflix series or “killing terrorists” as they play Xbox, continuing to be indoctrinated with the myth that violence saves and that mindsets can only be changed with the bloodshed of our enemies. 6 I know I just rattled off a lot of “what-ifs” and “maybes.” But I can’t help but have hope because I was once a young man desperate for a cause, blinded by fear and hatred for those I didn’t understand, always fantasizing about heroism and violence. But now, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for me, I’m learning to see the futility of hate and the power of love. I truly believe, by God’s grace, that transformation is possible for everyone. I believe that we suburban Americans can learn the joy of loving others more than our own comfort, I believe that hardened gang members can become gentle and kind, and I believe that even blood-thirsty terrorists can be born again. Or at least I’m trying to believe it. Are you?

We are losing the war on terror. If we want to “win” the war on terror, we need to be willing to lose. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

  1. Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006. 100. Print.
  2. Please note the word only.
  3. Maybe it is time that we gave our lives for our soldiers rather than vice versa.
  4. My intention is by no means to minimize the fact that missionaries are dying in the Middle EastClick here for an article about four Bible translators who were martyred just last week.
  5. Credit to N.T. Wright again for that idea. Not that this justifies them morally, but aren’t Islamic terrorists also partially “products of their environment” like everyone else?
  6. Just to be clear, I’m not a “pacifist” or opposed to media, just opposed to mindless conformity.
Dane Olney

Author Dane Olney

Dane Olney is joyfully married to his high school sweetheart Brittany and they have a son named Levi. He is the Discipleship Pastor of VCC and is pursuing an MDiv in Christian Ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary.

More posts by Dane Olney

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Valerie says:

    So good! A lot of truth in this article and a lot of good thoughts to ponder.
    The one thought for me that won’t go away is from the statement, “we are slaves to the fear of death”. I think that is a true statement but I don’t think our (Christians’) fear of death is what we might first think (physical death). I think we most fear the death of personal self wants- the fear of loosing the life that I (white, American, middle-class) me has planned for myself (marriage, kid (s), house(s), car(s), iPhone(s), vacations, “earned” comforts of life).
    I have to ask myself, “If I am offended by the person who cut me off in traffic or the person who didn’t make my coffee to my perfect standards or the person who has 16 items in the 15 item grocery line….how could I possibly be loving my church family, much less my neighbor or enemies!!! First I must be dying to myself!!! (Galatians 2:20. Luke 9:23, Mark 8:35, John 12:24, Phil 2:1-30 and so many more!)
    So, how can we exhort one another to be dying to self??

  • Bihar says:

    I was given this article to read while I was in one of countries you mentioned in your article, loving new neighbors and friends there. I didn’t read the article till I returned home. You are spot on, and one of four verses that has been on my heart since I began my wonderful journeys in summers to the Middle East is John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The hospitality of my friends there is hard to beat, but what we have to give them is the irresistible unconditional love of Jesus.

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