Violent terrorism is affecting people across the world. Anglican Pastor is dedicated to being pastoral. For us, that means talking about the things people talk about and experience in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is off limits.

We’ve seen terrorism in the Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria as well, and the Middle East, and most recently in Paris and Lebanon. Because there are Anglicans in most of these places, part of my ministry has involved hosting overseas visitors from many of these areas. I have heard stories from people who have lived through these attacks, or who have assisted survivors. I vividly remember spending time with a Nigerian church leader, listening to his heartbreaking story of churches burned, people killed, and peaceful citizens exiled. It is heartbreaking for me to hear, but how much more devastating and tragic for those who are affected.

So it is right that Christians here in the United States and elsewhere ask how to respond to this violence in a Christian way. We want to see this violence stopped, and we want to see peace. And we want to see refugees and those affected healed and made safe. We want to be a part of making that happen. We want to respond.

Reaction

But first, before thinking of a response, we have to acknowledge the experience of people as we face this kind of evil. It is good that we are able to talk about our anger, or fear, or desire for vengeance. Of course we are angry. And if we pretend we don’t desire vengeance, that desire will still be there.

And we experience fear. It wouldn’t be human to be indifferent to suffering, and it would not be wise to ignore our fears.

But in responding we have to first go to the cross of Christ himself. Our God is the crucified man. His crown is a crown of thorns. And even the risen and ascended Jesus bears the scars of the wounds we inflicted. He suffered as one of us, and that was his glory. This is where we must always begin.

So beginning at the cross, how do we respond?

Military Intervention

As a pastor, I’m not authorized to go beyond the creedal theology of the Church as it explains Holy Scripture. So I won’t tell you my personal speculations on military intervention in this forum. But there are important aspects of a Christian response that need to be addressed.

If you believe that military action is sometimes justified, then you fall into a stream of thought in Christianity called “Just War.”

However, we need to remember that just war theology’s very core principle is that vengeance can never be a goal of military action. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” means that we can never take revenge. Some would say that vengeance is actually impossible anyways.

A just war would always be defensive. It would always be about the present and possibly the future, but it would not be about getting revenge.

And the defense is not merely a defense of one’s own family and country. That is important, and understandable. But it isn’t enough. Defensive warfare must be waged on behalf of any vulnerable people where possible, not just one’s own.

So if you are a Christian and you advocate for military action against terrorists, in order for your advocacy to be Christian, it must put forward ideas that defend and protect the vulnerable.

But, alternatively, if you are a Christian pacifist there are a few things you need to think about.

Christian pacifism is not “passivism.” Perennial protests against the military are not necessarily a sign of pacifism. Christian pacifism is active. It gets involved in conflict, trying to make peace. It creates an army of peacemakers.

And Christian pacifists have often been in the lead in being peacemakers and negotiators. They have sometimes advocated for use of force when that use is a restraining power, rather than a destroying power.

The point is that you aren’t a Christian pacifist simply because you oppose military intervention. You are anti-military. A true Christian pacifist will put forward peaceful proposals and get actively involved in supporting those efforts.

Refugees

The face of the Syrian refugee has become the image of the terrorized. Yet there are refugees in Lebanon, Nigeria, the Sudan, and all over the world.

The refugee crisis causes many Americans to swing between compassion and fear.

We feel compassion for people who are driven from their homelands by violence, torture, and destruction. But then we fear them because they are different, or we suspect sleeper agents in their midst.

As a pastor and priest, I’m not authorized by the Church to spell out one Christian answer to dealing with refugees. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have views or that I can’t share them. But when I’m being pastoral, I have to leave room for discernment.

In the matter of refugees, I can only talk about the American situation. I’m not as familiar with what is happening in Europe or the Middle East, or Africa.

But there are two aspects of this as well.

First, receiving the fleeing refugee and the outcast is a Christian practice. It has been this way from the earliest days of the Church. Accepting the risk and danger of doing so is precisely what Christians were willing to do – and that’s what made them so different.

Second, Christians have always led the way in serving those who aren’t like them. Jesus told us the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us this exact point. The Samaritan was not a faithful Hebrew. He was a syncretistic outsider. And yet he loved his neighbor.

It is fundamental to our faith to welcome, serve, and love all peoples. We can’t each individually serve every person, but the Church as a whole must.

We are called to serve Muslims, atheists, Christians, men, women, children, gays, lesbians, good people, evil people, nice people, mean people, conservative people, progressive people: “for God so loved the world…” In fact, even though pluralism has been misunderstood and misappropriated, it actually came from Christian theology. We don’t believe in coercion (we haven’t practiced this belief well), and we believe in the individual conscience. Because of this, the Christian Church was a main reason for the eventual rise of tolerant societies that didn’t enforce one religion.

Our belief that we have a right to evangelize people goes along with our belief that people are free to not believe. Religious freedom is for everyone, not just for us.

With these two things in mind, we may have different viewpoints on exactly how to serve refugees, or deal with diversity and pluralism when it causes conflict. But we have to find out how to help where we can. We have to advocate for the vulnerable and weak, and not just for Christians who are persecuted or vulnerable.

Christ the King

How do we respond to violent terrorism?

We pray. We serve. We seek peace. We give up vengeance and allow our anger to be placed on the cross of Christ. We seek out the vulnerable and the weak, and care for them. We allow people freedom of conscience, while at the same time displaying the grace of God in Christ.

If we are advocating for a military response, we need to promote defensive and restraining strategies. If we are against military responses, we need to advocate peacemaking solutions or restraining solutions.

If we are concerned that terrorists might hide among the refugees, we need to support solutions that prevent that, while still seeking to serve the vulnerable.

As I write this, Christ the King Sunday draws near. Let this be a reminder that whatever we do, in word or deed, we do it in the name of Jesus Christ, not simply as Americans defending our own safety and security. We have another Kingdom that is not from this world.

Photo: Public Domain