A Christian Response to Militant Islam
By John Morgan January 10, 2015
The advance of militant Islam with all of the terror attacks around the world in our lifetimes is one of the major issues of our lives. From attacks on targets in Africa, India, Pakistan, England, and France to the attack on America on 9/11 and the rise of the Islamic State across Iraq and Syria, Islamic terrorism and war is a major world problem, and likely the greatest one. Between the presidencies of George Bush and Barak Obama, America seems to be confused about how to think about the threat and how to handle the threat. As in all major issues, policies have to be based on the most important and enduring principles of truth.
Christianity is the largest and the fastest growing religion in the world according to Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity (2011). The Catholic tradition, the Orthodox traditions and the Protestant traditions have had enormous influence on the values and beliefs of millions of people around the world. Christianity was the clearest movement that provided principles for the emergence of democracy and freedom in the world. So, because of its role in the world, Christianity needs to have a clear statement of a few principles to guide an effective and civilized response to save civilization from the barbarism of militant Islam. Here I will list four and then I will give a defense of each one:
- It is evil to use force to coerce adherence to a religion or to punish or kill unbelievers.
- It is just to wage war against and defeat those who do.
- It is necessary to restrict the expression and expansion of religion by those who do.
- It is necessary for Islam to reform itself.
First, it is evil to use force to coerce adherence to a religion or to punish or kill unbelievers. Theologically faith can’t be coerced because of what faith is. Faith, by Christian definition, is a free choice by one created in the image of God to respond to God’s love with belief, love and obedience. This is why Christ told Peter to “Put away the sword” (John 18:11). The Christian faith is not advanced by force but by the spiritual weapons of prayer, compassion, persuasion and preaching God’s Word. Each person is called by Christianity to choose God but they are not coerced because coercion at best leads to a “false” faith, which Christ taught is no faith at all. Of course, over history some Christians failed to understand this principle of their own faith and they tried to coerce faith. They were wrong and Christianity reformed itself back to the principles of Christ. So religious coercion by force or terrorism or war is a sin against God and it is a sin against man.
Democratically, freedom of religion is at the core of the three freedoms that create
a free and just society. Those three core freedoms are freedom of religion, political freedom and economic freedom. Michael Novak makes the case in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1991) that these three freedoms are like the three necessary legs of a stool. If one of them falls, the others by logical consequence will fall. That’s why freedom of religion in America is the first freedom. The Founders knew the logical place of religious freedom to all others. Human beings are irrepressibly religious and to deny freedom in this area denies their freedom of thought and values and expression. This is also why religion and Christianity in particular has been viewed as a threat to tyrannical governments. It provides people with the motive to freely express themselves even if they disagree with the government. It is the violation of the first human right, the first human freedom, to coerce people by force in the name of religion.
The Islamic concept that militant Muslims follow is contrary to any sense of human freedom. Militant Muslims hate democracy. They live for a forced caliphate of people who submit to their interpretations of the teachings of Mohammed. Their religion and government are the same and both use the power of the sword to exact submission, punishment, revenge and death.
Second, it is just to wage war against and defeat those who do. If Jesus taught peace then how can Christians condone any war? There are two reasons. The first is that the Bible allows for the practice of self defense and the defense of ones country. The second is the separation of church and state in the Bible. The church and the state in the New Testament are separate entities. They have different people, different purposes and different powers. Romans 13 is the central passage in the Bible on God’s ordaining the role of the state. The people of the Church are those who place their faith in Christ. The people of the state are those who are citizens of a nation. The purpose of the Church is to fulfill the great commission of Jesus to expand his kingdom by discipleship to all nations. The purpose of the state is to suppress evil and to promote good in society to all under its umbrella. The power of the Church is the spiritual powers of prayer, love and preaching the Gospel. The power of the state is the sword, which means force with the implication of deadly force if needed.
The Church does not wage war. That is not its purpose. Whenever it did in history, it was wrong. In time, Christianity reformed itself to the principles of its founder. The government, however, does wage war when necessary to protect its citizens from enemies. It uses the sword against criminals to protect its citizens and it uses the sword against enemies to protect its citizens. A Christian can serve in the government, which is ordained by God, as a magistrate or a policeman or a soldier and he or she can participate in a just act of law, policing or war. Therefore it is just to wage war against and to defeat those who murder, terrorize and wage war in the name of religion.
Third, it is necessary to restrict the expression and expansion of religion by those
who do murder, commit terror and wage war. We fear any restrictions on religion because we fear it could be used against Christianity and other peaceful religions. We also fear it because of the sacred nature of religious freedom as the first human freedom. However, our establishment of the freedom of religion was based on the assumption that all religions would be similar to Christianity in that they would not preach or practice violence. So now we have to adjust to this the new reality. We now have a religion that will not play by the rules of Western Civilization which was born out of Christian principles. Militant Islam will not separate religion and state and will not renounce the use of the sword to advance its mission. So we have to adjust our laws to suppress those who would break the law, commit murder and wage war against our citizens.
In short, our laws must forbid the construction of mosques, the publication or broadcast of the ideas, and arrest the imams who preach the doctrines of advancing Islam by murder, terror and war. It is legal and necessary to prosecute the promotion and planning of violence against our citizens and the violent overthrow of our government.
But what about peaceful Islam? Peaceful Islam can have all the freedoms of all the other peaceful religions. However, peaceful Islam is related to militant Islam by history, by nations, by ethnicities, by tribes, by languages, by families and by a common scripture. In addition peaceful Islam has been slow to condemn the violence of the militant Muslims. The burden of proof is upon peaceful Muslims to demonstrate their peacefulness because of their relationship to militant Muslims. Muslim mosques, imams and their religious practice must demonstrate that they are peaceful and that they renounce the evil of murder, terrorism and war to advance Islam to be allowed freedom. Otherwise they must be shut down. Evil, criminal, illegal behavior cannot be tolerated just because it is done in the name of a religion.
Finally, it is necessary for Islam to reform itself. This is a given that is understood
by all high level intellectuals who want to see a solution to this problem from four star United State Army Generals, to academic Ph.D.s to the Pope. As Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al Sisi said in an address on December 28, 2014 at the Al Azhar University in Cairo, “Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion Muslims would kill the world’s population of 7 billion, so that they could live [on their own]?” He is stating the problem of why places like Egypt is becoming a pariah to the rest of the world because the rest of the world is viewing Islam as an existential threat- because militant Islam is making itself an existential threat by pursuing the destruction of the West.
The position of Christianity should be that Islam must reform itself. Christianity has had to reform itself many times over its two thousand years to bring religious renegades back to the principles of its founder, Jesus Christ. Islam is in its thirteenth century of existence and it is in need of reform to timeless principles of truth. There is debate about whether Islam is essentially a religion of peace or not. For the peaceful side there is the evidence of many Muslims who do live in peace and tolerance toward others. For the violent side there are some violent admonitions in the Koran and Mohammed, the founder of Islam, waged war to advance his mission. There is also the evidence of the worldwide problem of Islamic terror. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and so the proof of a religion’s peacefulness or violence lies in the practice of its adherents.
Outside pressure has its place and its influence. The governments of the world, the religions of the world, the intellectual centers of the world and the people of the world must continue to demand that Islam reform itself. However, ultimately the reform is going to have to come from some courageous Muslims who have the intellectual capacities and the gifts necessary to be leaders of the most pressing solution the world needs. Islam must find its Martin Luthers, its Pope John Paul IIs and its Martin Luther King, jr.s who will risk it all to save their people and the world. They will be revolutionaries. They will be recognized by the world as standing on the timeless principles of freedom. And they will most likely have to give their lives to change the world, which is far better than giving one’s life to kill innocent people.