ISIS and Barmen

These last weeks have been filled with some pretty despicable acts of terror, the world over. Be it Boko Haram in Nigeria, or ISIS in Syria, Iraq or Libya. And before I launch into any kind of reflection on any of this, I would propose that you stop—wherever you are, and take a moment to pray for the those facing violence, the families who have lost loved ones, the world, and yes, even those twisted people who think that their cowardly and evil acts are in some way related to faith in God. Let us pray…

I have had some incredibly interesting conversations with people on this subject over the past week, and a few things have become clear. First, as a religious leader, I have a responsibility to speak with honesty and integrity about what is going on. Unfortunately, we live in an environment where nuance and subtlety are often not heard, and the media tries to put every statement into a camp of “for” or “against.” We can’t do that with ISIS. President Obama is wrong, ISIS and Boko Haram are forms of Islam, HOWEVER, to judge all Muslims on the basis of what ISIS and Boko Haram have done is completely ignorant and unjust. The perverted and disgusting form of Islam that is being practiced by these people is akin to medieval Islamic practices. The reason I say that we can’t just write these actions off as being terrorist acts or the acts of psychotic sadists is that there is perhaps something even more scary happening here that must be addressed. That is, a small, ignorant, and homicidal group is taking over the message of a religion and perverting it for their own gruesome purposes. The reason this may be scarier than just the acts themselves, is that we came to this same place a little less then a century ago, but it was Christianity that had been high-jacked at that time in history.

I speak of course of the German Christian Church in Nazi Germany. In the 1930’s the government of Germany had begun to take over the churches with the intent of using them as propaganda machines for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi death machine. They had quite literally insisted on putting Hitler’s portrait on the communion tables! Churches became the grounds on which the kind of anti-Semitism that led to the mass genocide of more than 6 million people was propagated, and all done in the name of God—the God that we worship. Now while much of the rest of the church was sticking its head in the sand, there were some Christian leaders who stood up and called this what it was—a perversion of Christianity to serve the horrific purposes homicidal, megalomaniacal lunatics. The result was the writing of the Barmen Declaration, which is included in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Confessions. This is an impressive document that reminds us that any religion, even our own Christian faith, can be perverted to obscene and tragic ends if we are not vigilant. As Barmen states, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.” That is exactly what is happening right now within Islam, and anyone who claims Islam is evil or that this has nothing to do with Islam is ignoring history at their own peril.

The rhetoric being used by our media on all of this is truly disturbing. On the right, the rhetoric has become a call to Christian arms against those evil Muslims. On the left, it has become a combination of rejecting the notion that this has anything to do with Islam, or an outright condemnation of religion all together.

The result? Shootings like those that happened in North Carolina. The Mosque bombings like those in Texas. The attack of a 57 yr old grandfather in Alabama. This has to stop, and the only way that it does is if good people like you stop letting absurd messages like these pass for news. Reject it. Call people on it. Refuse to tune in to it. This has to stop.

One further disturbing problem with all this. ISIS is hoping this becomes a battle between Christianity and Islam. They want this to happen. We are playing right into their hands. Their theology states that there is going to be an Armageddon battle between Christian and Islamic forces, and if we get sucked into it that way, it only elevates their ridiculous prophetic utterances. This cannot become another US war in the Middle East. If we are to confront this kind of lunacy, it has to be a coalition of all peoples, all faiths, all nations coming together to say that we will not stand for this kind of heinous butchery. This cannot be boiled down to Christianity vs. Islam, because if it is, they will win the ideological war.

Barmen reminds us that we cannot simply stick our heads in the sand when great evil is being perpetrated. But neither can we be sheep like the German Christians and simply accept what is given to us. A faithful response to all of this is to call falsehoods what they are, and refuse to be sucked into black/white, Christian/Muslim, West/East battles. Rise above all that. As Barmen says, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” Don’t let your faith be manipulated into a religious war.

I have several articles this week for you to think about. All of these articles have to do with the complicated realities surrounding ISIS and Boko Haram. Please, read them, and don’t simply take your 24 hour news network’s word for anything on this! Enjoy!

From the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA):

A pretty good in-depth article about the religious motivations of ISIS:

A reflection on how difficult it is to pray for our enemies:

The full text of the Barmen Declaration:


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