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An Authentic and Thoughtful Christian Perspective about ISIS

Obama admits to not having a strategy. Duck Dynasty Godfather, Phil Robertson, wants to “Convert ‘em or kill ‘em.”

So what is a thoughtful honest strategy for confronting a terrorist group like ISIS?

ISIS doesn’t need any more explanation. We know what it is – evil personified. They have morphed out of Al Qaeda who were ironically too liberal for their most radical Islamic interpretations, namely that there should be a new national Muslim identity – a Caliphate. They have chosen Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant) as the territory from which this new “state” will emerge.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP. Photograph: AP

ISIS has brutally killed 1000’s, mostly non-Sunnis, in this quest for power. Ethnic Christians and a small people-group called Yazidis have found themselves in evil’s path, but so have the armies of Syria (both the national army and the various rebel groups), Iraq and even Lebanon. It seems anyone who isn’t willing to lay down their “flag” and join the newly self-appointed ISIS Caliphate is deemed a traitor and deserves to die. The execution of two American hostages by beheading has horrified the West and captured our daily imaginations – mostly how we can “demoralize and destroy” to use our President’s words, this new evil encroaching on our freedoms and international interests.

But I’m not a politician, I’m a private citizen and a follower of Jesus. But I’ve spent 32 years in the Middle East. I speak Arabic. I’ve been many times to Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East. I’ve met personally with the leaders of Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Bin Laden family. And the politics of this are complicated to be sure. To bomb or not to bomb? Boots on the ground? It would seem that any attempt at a real diplomatic solution would be ridiculous with such a group.

Then what should the attitude be of followers of Jesus in the West? How should we talk about ISIS amongst ourselves and if we had the chance to speak to one of our Congressional representatives, what might we encourage them to do? As “people of the book” (the name Muslims give to Christ-followers), what is our posture?

Unlike President Obama or the Duck guy, Jesus had a strategy. Believe it or not, he was smart. He lived under an occupying force and dealt with zealots (men who would have been considered “terrorists”) and lest we forget – he was killed. So Jesus knew pain, suffering, persecution and terrorism first hand.

Jesus had a strategy for dealing with enemies like ISIS. Here are five:

1. “Take the log out of our eyes, before we help get the speck out of someone else’s eye.” Are there logs in the eyes of the West, America specifically, that we need to first recognize? Where did ISIS get its weapons, for instance? And are there logs in the eyes of those of us who claim the way of Jesus as the way for the whole world? If the church had done its job of sharing Jesus in the Arab world in years past, would we have this issue? If the boys who are now men in ISIS, ten years ago, had heard and received the good news of Jesus – would they be doing what they are now?

2. “Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear.” We need to see, hear and understand – it’s the parable of the Sower. There are reasons ISIS exists. We may not like them, and we might not want to understand them, but a mature and wise person will seek to know. Ask the question “Why?” Why is there an ISIS? If you were in their shoes would you be tempted to do something similar? If you grew up in a country with no power at your disposal, no outlet for travel, economic opportunity or education – and someone handed you a gun and said “We can take what should have been ours anyway” would you be tempted? It’s easy to say “No.” But….Are you sure?

3. “The harvest is ripe.” Who has attempted to bring them good news? Saul was a terrorist before he became Paul – killing Christians just like ISIS is doing. There’s always hope. The good news is the Power of God for salvation. Do we believe that? Who’s willing to go? Now.

4. “Turn the other cheek, carry the pack an extra mile and give them the coat off your back.” Jesus was rooted in Middle Eastern culture. He understood the power of shame and employs it brilliantly in these three simple strategies in these words from Matthew chapter 5 – the Sermon on the Mount. Each are used by Jesus to show that the one who is being abused can take power back from the abuser by taking charge of the situation. “Turning the cheek” wasn’t being passive – but a way to force the man who struck first to think about what he was doing before striking again. Forcing a civilian to carry a pack an “extra mile” was actually illegal – so the Roman soldier would be in big trouble for his superiors if someone saw what was happening. Taking of your “outer cloak” and showing your nakedness would have been a huge shame on the one who saw – not the one who took it off – but the one who saw. Shaming is Jesus’ clever way of granting power to the powerless.

What if we spent a billion dollars on creative ways of shaming ISIS – what might we come up with?

5. “Love your enemy, bless them and loan without expecting return.” Develop a long-term strategy for confronting evil. These injunctions of Christ – to love, bless and give to our enemies – are long- term strategies. They may not work right now within the current situation, but we have to be asking about the next generation. Who are the kids playing soccer in the dirty streets of Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan who could become successful businessmen and women, OR the next ISIS? We never heard of ISIS just one year ago. We didn’t know about Al Qaeda before 9/11. Who is the next ___________? And how do we move beyond our short-sighted 4-year-at-a-time policies to a more enlightened policy of generations?
To love, bless and give to your enemy speaks of development and opportunity. Are we taking economic and educational reform seriously enough in countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan? If not, why not?

Of course, there is a legitimate argument to be made, that when people such as those within ISIS submit themselves fully to evil, war is our last option. Christians and those committed to the ways of Jesus have argued that position through the lens of “Just War Theory” since the days of St. Augustine. However, I believe we are too quick to employ that as a strategy when Jesus gave us some clear methods for confronting our enemies. His way is not passive. The way of the cross is perhaps the most aggressive stance towards evil ever taken. The love that God offers the world, in Christ, is not wimpy – it is a robust affront to the systems of our day that cry out for blood and revenge. The way of Jesus is the hard way. Forgiveness, love, choosing to lay down our lives is the most difficult path in the face of real enemies. Evil is real. But love is far more powerful.

Ironically the Phil Robertson’s of the world use the exact same language as ISIS – “convert or die.” There is another Way!

Paul summarized this way of Jesus well when he said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ISIS is evil, but they can ultimately be overcome by good.

Carl Medearis is an international expert on Muslims/Christian relations and Arab/American relations. You can learn more about him on his website:

19 thoughts on “An Authentic and Thoughtful Christian Perspective about ISIS

  1. Good thoughts overall, but saying “…the Phil Robertson’s of the world…” can be as much a negative summary statement as the negative summary statement you’re critiquing. What if we didn’t throw Phil under the bus on this to make a point, but instead followed your steps 1-5 (which are great steps, by the way) even in regards to this?

    • Christopher Boswell

      Maybe saying the Phil Robertson’s of the world was taking it to stereotype land, but a major point was made through saying it. Phil Robertson said on National Television, “Convert them or Kill them.” ??? This was awful for the already terrible reputation of Christians. Not that we should care what the world thinks, we should be bold in our faith and confession, but that doesnt mean we associate ourselves with those who make radical statements similar to ISIS themselves. Our primary of letting people know what Christianity is about should be through our love, not our public embarrassment. I think it is necessary to use stern and steadfast language to separate ourselves from such actions as Phil Robertson’s for the sake of unity and the Christian reputation.
      But I think you have a good point. Phil Robertson should be loved to and this kind of situation is frustrating, and it’s not always clear how to react appropriately. I wonder what a good christian response (defense) to the general public should be about Phil’s comments? I think it would be poor for us to claim that Phil isn’t a christian. His national witness has been wonderful through his T.V. Show. But we also can’t associate ourselves with such bombastic comments.

    • Carl Medearis

      Several of you picked up on the Phil Robertson thing. A couple things there:

      1. I did watch the actual interview and he did say “convert them or kill them.” Twice.

      2. I didn’t say “Phil Robertson is of the world.” I said “The Phil Robertson’s of the world….”

      3. Phil’s point really wasn’t to convert them. He actually was a bit offhanded about that part. In fact he and Hannity joked about it – as if they could “really be converted.” So I think “kill them” was actually his point.

      Just can’t imagine Jesus talking like that.

      • Jesus had some pretty harsh words for people who twisted religion: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
        “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Matthew 22:13-33

        • That scripture passage was probably too long to post, but just imagine Phil addressing ISIS with the last line, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

  2. Sorry, but you lost me after #1. I interpret it as your saying it’s our fault ISIS exists. I know that’s not what you said, but when I read between the lines that is what I see.
    Phil Robertson also said his first option is to convert all of them. Funny how you left out. This is pure evil we are dealing with, pure and simple.

    • Jesus never responded to “pure evil” with violence though. quite the opposite actually

      • Don’t forget the money-changers in the temple. Jesus would be charged with assault today for what he did there.

        • luke wheeler

          That’s the strongest argument you could make? He through out the people who were making it hard, if not impossible for the poor to make their offerings, which they had to do before Jesus died on the cross. Which I think that part of throwing them out was well over paid for by his death.

  3. Very good points, but as I read your first point I feel compelled to share a deeper, overlooked perspective…the Good Samaritan. I have a friend who was raised in Northern Iraq – he is a Christian. His family left when he was about 11 years old. From his description, Christians are / were third-class citizens. Attempting to share Christ with their Islamic countrymen was about as fruitful as a Samaritan preaching to the Sanhedrin. I think Mr. Robertson’s approach is more of a “fight fire with fire” or maybe a “money changers in the temple” mindset.

  4. I assume you’ve read Walter wink at some point. He says some wonderful things about “the third way” of Jesus and how to expose the powers of the world in their injustice. What I think you fail to mention here is that those creative strategies that we need to employ in this fight will often involve is dying to our own interests, often literally, in service of our enemies. What does that look like when it isn’t wrapped in bombs and boots on the ground?

  5. Did you at least listen to the entire interview with Phil Robertson? I know all that most people know of the interview is the quote shared in this article and by the media. I didn’t particularly like the comment either, but after hearing the interview it all made more sense. I’m not going to share his points because others need to look into what he actually said and make up their own minds.

  6. Scott McCrary

    Pretty sure that Saul had a divine encounter with God. It’s not like a Christian shared the four spiritual laws with him, so #3 is not a good example. Not saying we shouldn’t try to share the Gospel with them but to imply us going to ISIS compares to Sauls conversion is apples to oranges.
    Considering ISIS has beheaded journalists there to cover their story perhaps a better Scripture would be whoever wants to save his life will lose it because any Christian who tries to share the Gospel of Christ is probably going to be martyred. Aside from giving our life the only thing we can really do is pray for God to intervene.

  7. A Thoughtful Christian Reply to “A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS” by Ky Harrod

    I just read the article, “A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS” by Carl Medearis, and it was very thought-provoking, to say the least. First, I should probably disclose that I’m no expert—I’ve never been to a Muslim country, and I don’t speak any of their languages. I don’t have a PhD, and I’ve never been to seminary. However, I’ve been a student of American History, current world events and the Bible for many years.

    Right away, Carl refers to Phil Robertson’s assertion that when it comes to members of ISIS, the U. S. should either “Convert ‘em or kill ‘em.” He later points out the irony that ISIS members say the same thing to their victims, “Convert or die.” I wonder how many people really believe that Phil has not put any thought into this, and that he truly meant that the U. S. should point a gun at the head of any captured ISIS members and give them the opportunity to either “convert” to Christianity on the spot or be killed? Carl could have been a little more charitable to Phil, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he has thought this through and maybe even prayed it. Maybe Phil meant that ISIS members are not animals—they are people, and for that reason, we should try to share the Gospel with them. We should pray for them, and hope that they will have an incredible change of heart. But if they don’t—then what they are doing to innocent women, children and unarmed men is so horrendous that they must be stopped even if it means using deadly force. Isn’t it very possible that a more eloquent Phil might have said exactly that? But then he wouldn’t be the same Phil that so many of us love.

    Carl refers to the scripture, “Take the log out of our eyes, before we help get the speck out of someone else’s eye.” There is more than a speck in the eyes of ISIS. We’ve all heard the stories of their atrocities as they expand their power. So what about the U. S.? We have an enormous amount of power. How have we used it? Well, we fought the Nazis in World War II. We fought the spread of communism during the Cold War. We fought Iraq—the first time—to liberate Kuwait after they were invaded and to stop Iraq from invading another country. We fought the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11 because they provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda. And now we’re fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Why? What finally got us involved in this fight? It’s because of the slaughter of thousands of innocent people who need our help. Not only do Americans look for moral justification to fight, but when we do fight, we go to great lengths—and put ourselves at greater risk—to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties. And one of the best things that could happen to those we fight, is to be taken captive or defeated. We treat our captives humanely and release them at the end of the war. Look at the Japanese, the Germans and the Iraqis. Once we defeated those countries, we didn’t rape and pillage. Instead, we invested billions of dollars in reconstruction, and we returned government control.

    Carl quotes, “The harvest is ripe,” and asks who is sharing the Gospel with ISIS. Well, when it comes to foreign missions, the church in America has a long history of sending missionaries and an incredible amount of financial support.

    Carl also quotes the scripture, “Love your enemy, bless them and loan without expecting return.” Who can forget the videos of crowds of Muslims around the world rejoicing at the news of the 9/11 tragedy? It’s pretty clear that many of them hate us. But we don’t hate them in return. On the contrary…we fought to liberate Kuwait when Iraq invaded. We fought the “christian” Serbs who were killing Muslims in Bosnia. What did we gain from that? How does it benefit the U. S. when we fight ISIS, stopping them from killing and creating refugees out of their fellow Muslims? Could it be that these are examples of loving our enemies, blessing them without expecting return?

    I’m glad that Carl admits that “Of course, there is a legitimate argument to be made, that when people such as those within ISIS submit themselves fully to evil, war is our last option. Christians and those committed to the ways of Jesus have argued that position through the lens of “Just War Theory” since the days of St. Augustine.” But then he goes on to say, “However, I believe we are too quick to employ that as a strategy when Jesus gave us some clear methods for confronting our enemies.” Please provide a few examples of when we were too quick to resort to fighting. Surely, you’re not referring to this latest example, when thousands of innocent people were surrounded and about to be slaughtered. Were we too anxious to fight Nazi Germany? One of the great things about the U. S. is that in spite of our powerful military, we are very reluctant to go to war.

    So—without any commentary—let me leave you with a few scriptures to prayerfully consider and apply to this current situation with ISIS:

    “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13

    “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

    “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” James 2:15-18

  8. Before we “crucify” Phil Robertson. Think of what he said. Convert them or kill them. I am sure as all things this was taken out of context as well, but is this not exactly what you are saying. We should concentrate on converting them. That was Phils point, we should convert them, if we are not going to try to convert, then we would be forced to take other ideas. This might not be the politically correct way of saying it, but Paul was not politically correct in his day. We need to stop being self righteous Christians and really let our boots hit the road. If the church would stop all the pointing and bickering about he said she said, then maybe we could concentrate on really making a difference in the world.

  9. Christianprincess

    I have read this article and many of the comments beneath. I like many wonder what the “right” approach to ISIS should be, particularly in light of my faith as a follower of Jesus. I’m a little disturbed that this has turned into a debate over whether we should give grace to Phil or not. The issues concerning ISIS are serious and involve lives that will be lost no matter what method our government chooses to use. From our homes and churches in America, it can become all too easy to dismiss many of the very challenging points that the author of this article brought up in our responses, as Christians. I see too much comfort with handling our enemies with killing, guns, bombs, and violence among the Christian community. Is war necessary at times? Yes. But should that be handled with more prayer and true consideration before jumping into it or any form of violence? Yes!

    I pray that Phil Robertson meant his comments in the most prayerful and compassionate form, but history causes me to doubt that. He has made several comments that have been stereotypical at best and discriminatory at worst about blacks, Asians, gays, and now ISIS. (Of the groups, I am tempted in my flesh to want to agree with him on ISIS, but I know that they too are human beings, created in the likeness and image of God and have souls worth considering, not matter what final decisions are made by our government.) Before it is said, I am not a liberal nut trying to make Phil or any other conservative Christian look bad. I am a person who is concerned by his and many others’ casual statements and stances toward one of the most precious gifts and responsibilities that God gave us: the gift of life and the responsibility to love every human being as we love ourselves.

    I do pray that we find the way of Christ concerning ISIS, but more importantly that we find a method going forward that will enrich and protect the lives of those in the region and not just seek “victory” for our interests here.

    God bless you all and thank you for loving students, families, and communities.

    • Regarding your comment: “I see too much comfort with handling our enemies with killing, guns, bombs, and violence among the Christian community.” There IS comfort among the Christian community, thank God! How else could they deal with the loss of husbands, fathers, mothers, sons & daughters?!?! How else could they live out their lives with terrible disabilities?!?! Many of these people who sacrificed everything did it out of a selfless love for their fellow human beings–out of a love modeled by their Savior, who gave His life to save others and said there is no greater love. Before you condemn them for resorting to “killing, guns, bombs and violence” better consider their motives. 1 Corinthians 13.

    Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
    Greetings to you in the most precious name from our Lord Jesus Christ!
    I am very glad to share with you that our Living God has filled my hearts with His burden & vision in in my life to reach specifically to the Muslims by The Gospel of Jesus Christ & plant House Churches inside Muslim community. While Muslim terrorist groups such as Islamic state , Taliban, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram are killing Christians in different countries, He is leading me to reach out to the Muslims for His own glory and help them to know that Jesus Christ is The Only Living God and Saviour.
    I am facing lots of challenges and oppositions by the Militant Muslims but God has protected us and the believers for His own glory. The believers at our fellowship from Muslim background are constantly facing opposition from their own family members, relatives and Militant Muslims for their new faith in Christ.
    The Militant Muslims tortures, beats, mocks, spat, try to burn believer’s houses for their new faith in Christ. The believers are reaching to their Muslim neighbors, relatives and militant Muslims in the midst of persecution & oppositions by His grace & mercies.
    However, I humbly request you kindly pray for God’s protection in my life, family and the new believers from the hands of militant Muslims. Pray also for His wisdom and guidance in all our lives and ministry.

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