Alert: Consumer warning! Reading, believing and then doing the following may be hazardous to your life. Seriously. I don’t take this lightly as our lives have been endangered many times by living this out!
“Terrorism” is the use of violence against non-combatants in order to intimidate and coerce a population for political (or religious) purposes. A terrorist is someone who does that. The organizations behind terrorism are typically not official governments or religious bodies, but groups of loosely formed zealots seeking power, while sometimes using larger organizations or governments as cover. (All my definitions).
Terrorism and Terrorists can never be excused or justified. They may have their reasons for doing what they do, but their reasons are always and by definition inexcusable and illegitimate.
Finally, as part of the introduction to this difficult topic, I must say that Evil exists. Real, unfiltered, satanic evil. I have seen it firsthand. Its flames are fanned by the one true enemy we all share – the Devil (and his legions). Satan is real. Demons are real. Evil is real. And the spiritual war against us is real. Never underestimate this reality.
So…back to the question – what do we do with terrorists as followers of Jesus?
First we should never over generalize a population. I’m not talking about the gross and embarrassingly simplistic overgeneralizations like “All Muslims are terrorists.” All but the most imbecilic know that’s not true. I’m speaking more of the seemingly wise variety of over generalization like “The Hezbollah are terrorists.” Or, “The Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are working together to drive Israel into the Sea.”
It’s those kinds of over generalizations that are most unhelpful. Because they are often said with such conviction and made to sound true. When I point out to audiences here in the West that the Hezbollah and Hamas have almost no goals in common and totally mistrust the other, people are shocked. Hezbollah are all Shi’ite Lebanese while the Hamas are all Sunni Palestinians. (Those are major differences for them and that’s just the start).
Calling the Hezbollah a terrorist organization (as our government does) is partially true. But partial truths are almost always unhelpful. The Hezbollah is also the largest humanitarian organization in Lebanon. They are part of the Lebanese political mainstream. They run schools and build roads and “help little old ladies across the street”. And they also bomb civilians in Israel from time to time. And have a fairly open view of Islam that is quite tolerant of other faiths. Their actual fighting force only numbers a few thousand (most estimate that between 2 and 4 thousand are ready for battle at any time). Many of our friends in Lebanon were part of the Hezbollah. They were normal working class Lebanese who wanted a good education for their kids. Many of the Hezbollah elite send their kids to college at the American University of Beirut to get a good Western education. How is that for complex and confusing?
Point is, when we oversimplify or over generalize it either clouds or prevents the real discussions that need to happen.
Secondly, we must understand the terrorists and their organizations. Some feel we give them legitimacy when we speak to them. I disagree. I don’t legitimize an inner city drug dealer by going to visit him “in the hood” and sharing with him about Jesus. Understanding an enemy or a “bad person” is simply a good strategy in learning how to love them.
Terrorists have reasons. They may be nationalistic. Religious. Power/control. Money. Whatever. But they have their reasons. Trying to figure out what they are and then fight the battle at that level makes a lot of sense. So lets look at a few examples:
The Drug Lords in Columbia. Why do they terrorize the population with gross killings, often of innocent people? Is it because they are Catholic? We’d guess, probably not. Because they are trying to win some land back? Not that I can tell. So it doesn’t seem nationalistic or religious. So…why? Maybe it’s just good old fashioned power and money. That’d be my take. So how do you fight someone who lusts for more power? And is greedy for more money? (I don’t know, by the way, I’m just asking the questions here)!
What caused the Hutus in Rwanda to kill approximately 800,000 Tutsis in 1994? Many of those doing and assisting in this terrorism would have called themselves Christians. Many would have been Anglican. So was it Anglican Terrorism? No. Was it nationalism? Somewhat. Fear? Yes. Power and money? Yes. Racism? Yes. Were there events that led up to the killings that could have been recognized if the world was paying attention? Yes!
What about Burma? Congo? Zimbabwe? Northwest China? Parts of India? Sri Lanka? Inner city gang violence? Just a few years ago in Northern Ireland? Stalin? Hitler? Has it ever occurred to you that most extreme violence that has terrorized whole populations in the last two generations have NOT been in Islamic countries?
So why do groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda exist in the first place? Where did the Islamic Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah get their roots? What was the Iranian Revolution of Khomeini all about? Why has this kind of extremism risen only in the last 30 years? And mostly in the last 15 years. These are the questions we should be looking at.
And then…what do we do as individuals who are trying to act and react like Jesus would have us? You and I don’t run governments, so what do we do?
Here’s my proposal:
- We look at the clear commands of the scriptures and focus on those. Do good to those who harm you and pray for those who persecute you. Do not repay evil with evil, but return evil with good. Give to your enemies (Jesus says to loan to them without expecting repayment – I think that’s called a “gift”). Pray for them. Love them. These are the clear commands from Jesus and Paul (who before he became an Apostle was a religious terrorist). Start there. Actively think how you can implement those commands.
- Find some materials written by those sympathetic to the cause of whatever organization or group you’re looking at and learn about them. Go ahead. Don’t be afraid to learn something from their angle. You may think they’re even crazier after having read it, but that’s ok.
- It’s hard to love those you don’t understand and it’s hard to understand those you don’t know. So meet a terrorist. Seriously. Start where you are – go slow. Maybe a gang member (not the leader) of a not-so-bad-gang in your city. Sit down with them and try to understand why they do what they do and let them know you are motivated by the love of Jesus to get to know them. You’d be surprised at the similarities between inner-city gangs and the Hamas or Taliban.
- Put as much effort into thinking of creative ways to love and bless these bad guys as you have (in the past) put effort into thinking about how you’d like to “Nuke ‘em”. Really. Seek God in prayer and put on your thinking cap with a few friends and come up with some wild strategies. Who knows how God might lead you.. Think of them as your wayward kids and you’re trying to win them back. Bombing your son when he goes off the rails won’t likely bring him back around, so why do we think a “get tough policy” will win the hearts of the terrorists.
- Get involved in any one of a number of organizations who work with these kind of people. There are diplomatic entities like my friend Chris Seiple’s, Institute for Global Engagement. Another is run by a colleague Doug Johnston called The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. And if you want it to be more clearly and overtly Christ-centered, get involved in what we do.
And in the end, loving and blessing, at least in the biblical sense, is not wimpy passive non-action. Quite the contrary. If you see Jesus that way, then you’ve got the wrong Jesus. He was a man’s man. Tougher than nails. All the way to the cross (carrying it on his back, by the way). Never think of love as being passive. It is the strongest and most assertive of all forces.
Go ahead just love the hell out of the bad guys! It could even be fun!