How should we deal with ISIS, an Islamic terrorist army who beheaded an American journalist, threatened Iraqi Christians with conversion or death, and slaughtered Middle Eastern Muslims?
President Obama has promised to present his “game plan” later this week.
Meanwhile, “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson offered his plan—and it sounds like Holy War.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked how “we” should deal with ISIS with the exact meaning of the pronoun “we” being obscure—whether it was Christians or Americans or American Christians.
Robertson’s answer was instructive about how the Bible is used.
“Worldwide, planet-wide, biblically speaking, [there are] two groups of people—the children of God and the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” Robertson answered. “That’s 1 John 5:19. Ephesians 2 says: The evil one works in those who are disobedient. Galatians 3: They are prisoners of sin. Second Timothy 2: The Bible says they’ve been taken captive by Satan to do his will.”
Robertson, then, said, “On this ISIS thing, ‘all who hate me, love death,'” citing Proverbs 8:36.
“Why is it that when we’re not even over there, in the Middle East, why do they continue to slaughter each other when we’re not even on the premises? They can’t blame us. We left Iraq,” he said.
“You either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible. I’m not giving up on them but I’m just saying, either convert them or kill them,” Robertson said.
“I would much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ.”
But Robertson said he’s ready for a gunfight.
Set aside how wrong he is about the U.S. involvement in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular.
Agree with how right he is to feel deep concern about the monstrous behavior of ISIS, which is afflicting terror across the region—assaulting everyone outside their ideological camp.
Focus on how Robertson uses the Bible. Clearly, he cherry-picks selected passages.
He ignores the Sermon on the Mount with no citation of Jesus’ teachings related to making peace. No reference to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” No citations of “blessed are the peacemakers,” “make friends quickly with your accuser,” “but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” and “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Robertson could have taken a literal approach with texts that advance an interpretive range from pacifism to transformative initiatives. He took another path—holy war.
Convert them or kill them is the way of holy war, the Christian empire against the evil empire.
ISIS’ theology is a mirror image of Robertson’s theology: “convert or die.” Of course, ISIS distorts mainstream Islam, which teaches “no compulsion of religion.”
But then the Crusades were as much a distortion of Christianity as the obsession of some Americans to Christianize the U.S. war in Iraq.
Remember the U.S. forces, which placed the name “New Testament” on an M1A1 Abrams tank barrel and those who put Bible verses on cover sheets of intelligence reports for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?
What about the corporation that inscribed biblical references on weapons’ sights used in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Holy war, just war, just peacemaking. The Christian tradition has a lot of elasticity shaped by culture and circumstances.
From my perspective, leaping from a literal reading of the Bible to the application of a foreign policy is too great a hurdle to clear to be reasonable or prudent.
It uses the text in illegitimate ways—the Bible is no more a foreign policy manual than a science book. But the Bible does provide us with a moral compass.
The biblical witness teaches us that faith always transcends political loyalties, agendas, national interests, national war plans.
And it offers us a constant reminder to beware of self-righteousness.
Any time “we,” Christians or Americans or American Christians, see ourselves as the righteous ones and the other as the evil ones, we run the risk self-deception. We justify actions that are no different than those we abhor.
As flawed as the rules of just war are, just war does provide a filter for how Christians define and apply the use of force.
Let’s hope President Obama’s team used the just war filter when determining the “game plan” against ISIS.
For those of us who talk about ISIS within a church context, from an explicit Christian perspective, let’s avoid the simplistic and destructive trap of “convert or kill them.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.