GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
[Spoiler Alert! Charismatic, Military, and utterly Politically incorrect information. Read at your own risk. You have been warned!]
For every century in the life of the Church, there have been places of persecution. In many instances, the persecution has included terrible, physical violence and even martyrdom. Rather than the world evolving into a more and more mellow environment, the persecution has actually accelerated. In the twentieth century, more Christians were martyred than in the previous nineteen centuries put together! Hopes that the world would mature and come to a more civilized and gracious demeanor have certainly not been realized. Increasingly, as the realities of Christendom have faded into a memory, there have been a number of forces assaulting Christians: Secularism, Radical Islam, and Paganism.
Many have seen the shift for which advancing secularism presses—it is a demand that Christian voices be silenced in the public arena. Secularism views faith as something that should be exhibited only in private or at church. In the public sphere, there is pressure to silence any reference to God, faith, or religion. Except Islam. Oddly, Muslims seem to get a pass in the secular, liberal press.
It is pretty hard to miss the impact of radical Islam. Groups like ISIS (also called ISIL) commit unspeakable atrocities, and groups like the Taliban try to see how far they can push the envelope. Without question, this is the most violent modern day movement. What is absolutely remarkable about it is the acceptance that ISIS and the Taliban have among “moderate” Muslims. Recent studies by Pew Research show very troubling percentages of Muslims around the world find “suicide” (I prefer the term homicide) bombers to be “always or sometimes morally acceptable.” This is not 2-3%, but in many nations as much as 45% of the population falls into that category. Additionally, the number who deny Israel’s right to exist is staggering. It is impossible to find purely diplomatic solutions to such positions. To be sure, this does not exist in a vacuum. There have been political and economic positions that have added to polarization. Sadly, the US Obama administration has pursued policies that have dramatically exacerbated entrenchment and fostered radical Islam. The denial that Islam is a component of the Islamic terrorist phenomenon is not only wrong, it is disastrously foolish. It is stupid on the level of denying germ theory in medicine.
In order to combat the terrorism of radical Islam, a “three-fold cord” needs to be adopted:
This is fundamentally a spiritual war. When there is a departure from the revelation of Jesus Christ as God and Man, a denial of redemption through his Cross, and a loss of power and abundance of the life that is found through the victory of His resurrection then there is error. It is a fruitless error that can only result in emptiness at best, pain and eternal separation at worst. The way we pray is with the Spiritual Warfare tools of Ephesians 6 where we wrestle, grapple, work and struggle to displace evil and overwhelm it with good. We also need to pray specifically for those who lead others into evil acts. One great resource for this is “Adopt a Terrorist.” I am praying for a Somali named Ma’all Daud. He is well educated but deeply deceived. Imagine what would happen if an army of us were to be praying specifically and powerfully for those who are leading people astray. I long to see the fruit that comes!
Second, Kingdom acts of kindness and power.
Not only do we declare the Lordship of Jesus, but we must advance incarnationally into the dark places and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. Those demonstrations need to be both gracious and loving, but also powerful. Kindness makes hard hearts tender. Supernatural power transforms. Wonderfully, when the Lord presents His manifest Presence in works of wonder, the circle of blessing can be very wide. For that to happen though, some people need to actually enter places where darkness has ruled. It is desperately difficult and requires sacrifices. It is also very dangerous. The good news, however, is that those who go do not go alone. We can go with the mantle of the power of the Spirit wrapped around us. Supernatural works of power are not reserved for some small cadre of super Christians. They are available to everyone in the Body. True, miraculous gifts are distributed as the Holy Spirit wills, but I am utterly convinced that He wills to manifest them more than we are open to them!
Another kind of Kingdom act that is essential is governmental action that is in concert with the way Jesus Christ views the world. I don’t expect the US, French, or English government to set up Bible studies in northern Iraq, but there are lots of things that can be done that will help. For example, the Obama policy against Syrian and Iraqi Christians which refuses to call what is happening to them persecution is evil, wrong, and reprehensible. While insisting that Muslims be received as refugees, Christians are being deported from the US. This policy needs to change. In order to make the change happen, two things absolutely have to happen. First, Christians have to vote. Only half of American Evangelicals register to vote. Only half of them actually vote. That means that only about 25% of Evangelical Christians vote. When you see the margins by which elections are decided this means that every recent election has been decided by people without an evangelical Christian worldview. That happens because the evangelical Christians are living with a paradigm that “the real world” is detached from their Christian life. What a tragic failure of discipleship that is! Pastors and church leaders need to disciple the people in their charge into a Biblical worldview.
In addition, indelibly discipled Christians need to go into government service. We need people who will stand up to the idiocy of imposing fines on Christian bakers who don’t want to decorate “wedding” cakes celebrating same-sex unions. People are making those decisions. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supported a lawsuit by two Muslim truck drivers who refused to drive trucks that carried beer. Government pressure resulted in the trucking company having to pay $240,000 in damages. What a great contrast against the pressures that are constantly brought against conservatives. For the last four years, hundreds of hours of administrative time has been consumed in my office wresting with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to secure certification for our “umbrella” exemption for all the churches in our Diocese. We have also had to battle against multiple attempts to seize assets for a tax bill from 2004 for our development agency, Ekklesia. On the phone, the IRS agrees we don’t owe, but every few months we get another letter threatening asset seizure. They simply refuse to update the record. Every few months another IRS employee generates a new demand. This has gone on so long, our Congressional Representative has had to get involved. Finally now, ELEVEN years into the battle, we have finally gotten a taxpayer advocate assigned to settle their records. Imagine the difference if a cadre of faithful disciples were to be deployed into agencies like the IRS to fairly apply the laws on the books rather than singling out “conservative” or Christian organizations for persecution. Maybe that is the vocation that the Lord has for YOU!
Third, there is a place for the use of force.
I know that there are many Christians who say that there is never a justification for the use of military force. I understand that it may be a position that is born out of conviction and godliness. Some people are absolutely authentic in holding that position. Others are superficial. Their disdain for the use of force is for conflicts far away. When the conflicts are close to home and involve their lives and loved ones, they want intervention by force. I’ve traveled a lot. What seems far away to some is well known from many visits all over the world. Sometimes there is a need to apply force. Where there are people who are seeking to rain death down on others and view their own death as something to be desired, the only interdiction that works for immediate threats is elimination of the threat by force. An example I have mentioned before was the presence of 3,000 of the original ISIS fighters on the road between Mosul and Baghdad. At that time there were only 3,500 ISIS combatants. The 3,000 that were on the Baghdad Road could have been eliminated without collateral damage toward innocent civilians. Strategic dithering missed that opportunity. Now, ISIS doesn’t have 3,500 fighters, they have 40,000. The problem with the way military force is used is the dilution of its effectiveness by political intrusion. Augustine talked about Just War Theory. Even Pope Francis has authorized the use of force against the advancing ISIS army. It is a just war indeed. Sadly though, some political leaders live in a world of the way they wish the world to be rather than the way it is.
At the same time that we battle against secularism and radical Islam, we are also facing the advance of Paganism. Paganism at its heart denies the “otherness” of God. It wants us to see ourselves as godlike, to see the world, animals, and trees as all part of the great sum of things that make up god. It has a lot of faces, trying to eliminate all distinctions of gender, behavior, and even species. The end of that trajectory is a world view that misses God and misses the possibilities that are present for us in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
This week, we look to the most amazing gift of the Incarnation of Christ. God becoming man for our benefit. He came as a helpless babe in order to be able to redeem even the powerless among us. The helpless babe did not spend His life in a manger. He grew up to be a man who manifested love, power, purity, and grace. He also poured out His life on a Cross for us, pouring out His life so that we could have life. He received our sin into His heart and life, suffering the consequences of it so we would not have to. Amazing grace indeed.
May this Christmas encourage you in the midst of a very challenging time. We are surrounded by assaults from many directions, but in the long run, we know that Jesus Christ will be the victor. It is almost unbelievable that He gives us an invitation to participate with Him in bringing that victory to life. Oh, come let us adore Him!
The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA’s International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.