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Nonviolence in the Face of ISIS? Ridiculous!

Nonviolence in the Face of ISIS - Ridiculous

A couple of folks I really respect – Kate Gould of Friends Committee on National Legislation (aka, the Quaker Lobby), and Jim Wallis of Sojournerswere recently on the O’Reilly Factor. For those of you who don’t watch cable news, this is a television program where Bill O’Reilly basically screams at people and incites hatred of anything non-white, non-rich, and non-Republican. I normally don’t watch the show. But when I heard that Kate and Jim were going to be talking, I tuned in.

I knew almost immediately this wasn’t going to be good. It’s Bill’s program, so he gets to frame the question. Here’s what he asks: Do Christian pacifists have a solution for stopping ISIS?

It’s the wrong question. O’Reilly knows it’s the wrong question, and that’s why he’s asking it. Unfortunately, both Gould and Wallis attempt to answer his question directly and rationally. Gould presents an argument for diplomatic measures to curb ISIS’ support. Wallis tries to explain that O’Reilly’s rhetoric of holy war will only lead to a wider conflagration and cost more lives.

This is great for Bill O’Reilly. To these subtle, rational arguments, all he has to do is scream and berate. At one point, O’Reilly interrupts Jim Wallis mid-sentence and demands: How would you stop the ISIS savages from murdering innocent people? How?

When Jim isn’t able to articulate a slam dunk solution to ISIS in 140 characters or less, Bill shuts him down. You’ve got nothing! You have nothing, Reverend. The ISIS people would behead you and everybody you know, and you’d be saying, “you know, the Muslim people have got to deal with it from within.”

O’Reilly sums up the interview like this: If your philosophy were in place during World War II, we’d all be speaking German.

Maybe so. Then again, maybe the Nazi state would have fallen under the weight of its own evil, crumbling in the face of overwhelming Christian martyrdom. Who knows? It’s hard to say just what would happen if the church decided to be the church, rather than trying to justify ourselves according to the fallen philosophies of this world!

One thing is for sure: It’s impossible to argue for nonviolence using the violent logic of Empire. Those of us who are committed to the nonviolent way of Jesus simply can’t explain our conviction in terms that the mainstream culture will find satisfying. The way of Empire is all about preemptive strikes, shock and awe, and subduing any possible threats with maximum force. But the way of Jesus leads us to the cross.

The message about the cross is absolute nonsense to those who are caught up in this bitterly feuding, hateful world. But for those of us who are being immersed into the beautiful mystery of Christ’s love, it is the power of God to transform the world. Our faith demands that we be ready to sacrifice anything, even facing the kind of martyrdom that our Coptic Christian brothers did when ISIS beheaded them.

This kind of faith is unjustifiable to people like Bill O’Reilly, whose commitment is to a world of peace and security upheld by force of arms. That’s the way every human empire operates. It’s the way of the world. But that’s not the way of Jesus.

When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.

That’s not a message that most viewers of FOX News are ready to hear, but it’s one that the church of Jesus Christ desperately needs to proclaim in the midst of such a dark and violent time. The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

We are called to speak loving truth in the face of the hatred of ISIS, Bill O’Reilly, and all the other murderers and false prophets who seek to confuse, divide, and destroy God’s people. We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.

This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers, much less win us any arguments with Bill O’Reilly. But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.

Are you ready to risk living in that life and power? Are you prepared to see what love can do?

Related Posts:

How Can I Forgive?

The Refining Power of Suffering

  • Duncan Pugh
    • Thanks, Duncan. Want to tell us about why you shared this link? 🙂

      • Duncan Pugh

        Sorry! I was being lazy … because if you look at that letter it makes a lot of sense and Empire. although not mentioned explicitly, is a theme throughout. It is definitely an olive branch and yet it received almost no coverage in the MSM whatsoever as far as I can remember? Has anyone else seen it or the hashtag #Letter4U? I don’t use twitter because it gets hacked and sends nasty messages to my ‘friends’ if that’s what they’re called on there?

        • Thanks, Duncan. It does seem like there are doors open to peace, if we are ready to pursue them.

          • Duncan Pugh

            Yes but I believe that the media want to prevent this … had you heard about that letter or the hashtag?

          • No, I hadn’t heard about it at all!

          • Duncan Pugh

            I shared it on google+ and had an Iranian student contact me to ask my views … obviously I had no idea who he is but I made it clear that peace is what most of us want. I also explained to him that as an ex teacher of Religious Studies I could tell him that most white English students do not believe in God at all and that religion is bad per se as far as they are concerned. I’m not sure what he made of that.

  • Rene Lape

    I don’t like the way O’Reilly bullies his guests, but I think he makes a point when he says that Quakers and pacifists generally need to move from criticizing “the world” and those who are trying to deal with issues of violence and come up with a positive plan that they can actually work to implement.

    As you know I am not a pacifist as a citizen. I want to believe if I was threatened with violence myself, I would respond with the love I do truly feel for all God’s children, even the one who has somehow wandered down a path that leads him or her to become what everyone else sees simply as a “monster.” But if someone near me was threatened with violence, especially someone who’s a child or totally innocent, and I had the means to prevent the harm through violence, I probably would do it.

    Micah, or anyone out there, if you woke up at night and heard someone next door threatening your neighbors with violence, I am pretty sure you would call the police. That is why we have them, to subdue those who are acting violently towards others. I don’t think Quakers oppose having a police force. I know I don’t. I want them to act rationally and with as little violence as necessary, but if it is necessary, then use it and try to deal with the underlying issues after the violence has been ended.

    The issues we face with ISIS have arisen largely because of our over-intervention in the lives of Middle-Easterners over the years. I see that. I know that being the main force attempting to subdue them now will in some ways only exacerbate the problem We must let the Muslim world take more of a lead on handling the problem. It’s all exceptionally complicated. A really amazingly good book I am reading now is called Radical and is by a Muslim man who was born in Great Britain and went through radicalization and de-radicalization. His name is Maajid Nawaz. I would recommend it. But back to the main issue: I do think force is required here AND a long-term plan for putting resources into the hands of people like Nawaz to help organize the world Muslim community to deal with the underlying issues.

    • Hey, Rene. This essay is by no means intended to be a policy prescription for the US government. Empire’s gonna do what Empire does.

      My questions are more for those who want to follow Jesus with our whole lives – to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. For us to practice this kind of love, I am convinced that we must lay down the final resort to violence and pick up our cross daily, even if it means martyrdom.

      Does this make me scared? Yes. Does every natural impulse in me rebel against risking my life (and the lives of loved ones) for love? Absolutely. Yet, I’m convinced that’s the calling that we have in Christ Jesus.

      I don’t hold myself up as a shining example. When threatened, my first instinct is to hit back. But, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and with the assistance of the other children of light, I am seeking to become the kind of person who demonstrates the character of Jesus, who accepted death in order to demonstrate the magnitude of God’s love for human beings – even murderers, hypocrite, and tyrants.

      • Duncan Pugh

        I’ve actually just returned from my first bit of activism for a while today and I was told a story about how hundreds of Quaker activists gradually accumulated at a protest in absolute silence forming a stark contrast with the other protesters. Nonetheless my colleague said that it made a very powerful statement.

    • Joey

      A good read on this subject of facing your enemies with love is “Kidnapped by the Taliban”

  • SusanJ

    thanks, Micah, for this thoughtful piece. I especially appreciate your highlighting the fact that “it’s hard to say just what would happen if the church decided to be the church…”

    One thing that bothers me about this post, though, is your characterization of O’Reilly and his show, especially this:

    “We are called to speak loving truth in the face of the hatred of ISIS, Bill
    O’Reilly, and all the other murderers and false prophets who seek to confuse,
    divide, and destroy God’s people.”

    It gives me pause when anyone attributes inward states to others (“hatred”) but, worse, do you seriously see O’Reilly as a murderer? False prophet, maybe, although I doubt anyone including O’Reilly considers him a prophet in any sense of the word.

    I just watched the episode very carefully. I thought O’Reilly made some excellent points, and he surely didn’t scream; in fact I thought he was quite respectful. I wish Jim Wallis especially had been better prepared to be concise; O’Reilly’s format allows only brief statements.

    I watch O’Reilly pretty regularly via iTunes, just to be aware of some of what Fox News is up to, but I’d missed this episode – so thanks for that as well!

    Unfortunately, I feel like you (and Jim Wallis for that matter) missed an opportunity to demonstrate HOW one “speaks loving truth” in the face of Bill O’Reilly…. I thought Kate Gould did as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

    • Thanks, Susan. To be clear, I don’t know whether Bill O’Reilly has ever personally murdered anyone, but his rhetoric is deeply hateful and – in the context of US foreign policy – incitement to violence. A false prophet of Empire if there ever was one.

      • Duncan Pugh

        Fair enough! lol

      • Robertson / Robertson 2016

        “For those of you who don’t watch cable news, this is a television program where Bill O’Reilly basically screams at people and incites hatred of anything non-white, non-rich, and non-Republican. I normally don’t watch the show.”

        “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

        Hi, Micah. I ask that you please read again Susan’s post. (1) I think that to be found a false prophet, one has to first present themselves a true prophet. (2) Starting a piece with gross characterizations of a host and of a show you admit you “normally don’t watch” creates a subtle contradiction: For it seems that while proclaiming your will to grace in the midst of violence, you reserve grace in the midst of disagreement or political opposition.

        • Mick

          Thank you , interesting to listen to those who only insult those who want to stop evil and murder . As if non violence as a political or spiritual method will do anything but promote more violence and more death . We are to love those who persecute us and malign us , as we are called to love Micah . But if Micah was harming my child or mate , calling the police or stopping that act is not something Jesus speaks against . To suggest we have a magic formula to stop terrorism based in non violence is cultish . For as Christians we know many brothers and sisters still today are murdered for living the Faith . This editorial sounded like it came from MSNBC ,a political diatribe based in hateful political rhetoric . Nothing loving or Christ like allowing thousands to have their limbs ripped off in the name of Jesus .

  • Susan Chast

    Yes. Not without fear. But yes.

  • Pingback: Christian Nonviolence and ISIS: You’re Asking the Wrong Question « Holy Spirit Activism()

  • broschultz

    Debating any issue in a forum that refuses to accept that our battle is with powers and principalities in high places is a waste of time, like throwing pearls before swine. The ISIS issue needs to be the subject of a prolonged session of prayer and fasting. I don’t see anyone willing to do that. If the churches that consider themselves to be Christian would gather for such a time they might hear from God and with His wisdom have a path to advocate in this situation. But we don’t need titled church officials we need modern Holy Ghost filled versions of Old Testament prophets. Men and women with a relationship with God who know how to seek Him and hear Him. .
    A little spiritual discernment on what is happening in the spirit world would be nice before making a decision that could kill just as many, if not more, “innocents” than if we just let the story play out.

    • Amen, Jim!

    • charlesburchfield

      i think everywhere everyone is being prepared for just such a task as you express here. i think of my own life as pain school & my majors are in empathy & honesty. who is graduating this year?

  • Micah, thanks for sharing a perspective I don’t often hear from the people I know.

    • Thanks, Peter. I’m glad it’s helpful! 🙂

  • Ethan Feldman

    Let me accent this article with an account of my own highly unexpected Christian conversion. I am a Jew. It was Passover. I was preparing the Passover Haggadah at a time when Bush Jr. was claiming “Mission Accomplished” as he launched us into a multi-year trillion dollar war over non-existent WMD’s and a spurious connection with 911. Also, the Palestinians were being particularly pummeled and Rachel Corey, an American non-violent protester in the Palestinian settlements had been bulldozed and killed by the Israeli army. I was asking myself, “Where does non-violence as a source of social and political change first show up in a biblical context, because the old tribal warlike ideation of the God of Judeah was not working too well these days.” The answer was obvious: Jesus, who said:You can kill me if you want to but I will still love you and ask for your forgiveness. I was meditating on the courage it took to do that, and realized at that moment that: THE ONLY STONE YOU CAN THROW AGAINST SOMEONE WHO HAS MORE POWER THAN YOU IS THE STONE OF LOVE. ENEMIES ULTIMATELY CANNOT DEFEND AGAINST LOVE. Then, lying in bed, I then opened my heart up to Jesus, thinking I would get a “Right on. I’m okay, you’re okay.” kind of response, but instead there was suddenlty an EXPLOSION in my head, like being in the middle of a kettle drum, and I went flying from my bed and landed across the room. It was like the Universe was saying, “You got one thing right, buddy, now don’t forget it.”

    • Wow! Thank you for your story, Ethan! That’s really cool.

    • Tanya English

      Amazing Grace gotcha! Wow.

      • Ethan Feldman

        Thanks Tanya. Amazing Grace is a good word for it. I put down the word “conversion” only reluctantly. I would say, yes, I am still a Jew, and the way Christianity is currently practiced, almost, especially in America, as a form of nationalism and a club where you are in, or out. To me, the Amazing Grace sees no religion. My Father is no respecter of persons seems to apply to all labels, including “I am a Christian”.

    • Patrice Wassmann

      wow! Thank you for sharing your amazing experience!

  • Joe Snyder

    Dear Micah,
    This is so right. In the end the answer is not measured, thoughtful strategy (although that is needed, too) but prophetic witness, foolishness in the eyes of the world.
    I have been too busy to contact you, but occasionally read your good work. We are planning a men’s retreat in a week and a half and I’m focusing it on safety. How do we find that radical safety in Jesus Christ where we are so safe that we can risk beheading (or ridicule by O’Reilly)? Any suggestions, thoughts, prayers welcome.
    Yours gratefully,

    • Thanks, Joe. I hope your retreat goes well.

      A book that has inspired me deeply in the past year is Ched Meyer’s “Binding the Strong Man.” I’m not sure how it would relate to your men’s group, but I recommend it if you haven’t already read it.

      • Hye Sung Francis Gehring

        He has a copy. I’ve seen it in his library! hahah

        • Joe Snyder

          Hye, are you secretly working for the CIA that you have such knowledge of our bookshelves?

      • Joe Snyder

        Thanks, Micah. I discovered Ched Myers a while ago and that book really opened Mark to me in a powerful way. Took it from least to most useful in my categorization of the gospels. It may not play directly into this topic for the retreat, but it colors much of my understanding of the everlasting gospel.

    • charlesburchfield

      that is exactly my question these days & in the back of my mind as iI read this post of micah’s. in fact the answer will probably cancel my need to take on many more convos in the blogs i’ve been following in the last year or so. maybe all those other convos were supposed to get me to be seeking a higher form of peace.

  • Jane Steele Valentine


    • charlesburchfield

      i am curious abt the story of your life & why you think this is true.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Did Kate Gould or Jim Wallis ask Bill O’Reilly if he was a follower of Jesus? Did they ask him if he understood the consequences of being a faithful follower? If not they may be the ones not asking the right questions. I didn’t listen to the program, but I’d guess they didn’t. The cost of following Jesus is neither rational nor does it result from answering the world’s questions directly. So, who is it that is asking the wrong questions?

    • Those would have been good questions to ask.

  • Micah, love you, but you fall short. If all we have to offer the oppressed is a cross to climb up on, we have neglected half the gospel.

    I agree with you that our love for our enemies makes us risk the cross–or beheadings–in our efforts to forge a just relationship, a covenant, with them. We do so because we’re following Jesus, and in imitation of God our Father (Matthew 5:44-45), the God who risks all to forge a covenant with God’s offenders. So you are spot-on right in most of what you say.

    But following Jesus is not a death sentence. Jesus, our healer Messiah, believing in a resurrection, risked the cross (and lost that bet, that time), but the cross is not the goal of his agenda. God does not incarnate to die. God incarnates to heal the world, this world.

    God continues his messianic agenda in the church, for we too are to be an incarnation: God’s spirit has been poured out among us, we are the body to God’s spirit, God’s incarnation lives a physical worldly life in us, as God did in Jesus. We too have the agenda of the healer Messiah.

    We can give the oppressed a means to end their oppression, though it’s not guaranteed—the risk of the cross is real. We can offer an alternative to violence for stopping violence. We can offer to the oppressed the opportunity to create a just relationship with their former oppressors, the chance to create a just future for their children.

    This alternative to violence is to inspire our enemies, to replace whatever their demons are with the same spirit that infects us: God’s, God’s spirit who longs for a fair, trustworthy, though confrontational relationship with us.

    This is a hard-nosed, realistic proposition. O’Reilly’s solution is bankrupt. Just how successful has violence been at establishing justice, or at ending oppression? All we have to do is offer something that does better than violence, which is a low bar. For more, see

  • Randy Oftedahl

    Just came across this post. Thank you for raising this most important question. Here is another response which, like your article, shows a better way: