We live in a world that is sadly marked by violence and terrorism. It seems like very few days go by, if any at all, without some horrible act of terror or random violence.
The lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election was heavily dominated by the question of what to do about violence and terrorism. It’s an important question — perhaps one of the most important questions this generation could ask itself.
Different candidates had different thoughts and ideas they put before the American people, but none of the candidates truly advocated for dealing with terrorism the way Jesus calls us to deal with terrorism. Ultimately, American Evangelicals rallied around the candidate who said that we should deal with terrorism by “bombing the s— out of them.”
Bombing people is part of what fuels terrorism — it’s more of the problem and in no way the cure.
But regardless of how the world or how secular governments decide to deal with terrorism, what should Christians do? I mean, aren’t we the people who were tasked with changing the entire world?
The question of what Christians should do about terrorism is one that goes to the root of the problem. Too often it seems as if the world, and even many Christians, want to focus on ending acts of terrorism by killing terrorists. This, of course, will never work, because you can’t get rid of an illness until you address what causes and spreads the illness.
Instead, I would invite us as Christians to begin asking, “What causes or fuels terrorism?” Once we can answer those questions, we’ll know where Jesus people should spend their efforts. Here are what I believe to be some of the root causes of terrorism and where Christians could spend their efforts fighting it:
Oppose war and armed conflict.
Terrorism often seems to emerge as a response to pre-existing conflict. Like bacteria that grow in ideal conditions, terrorism seems to best grow and flourish in the petri dish of war.
Take for example ISIS: The world’s most gruesome terrorist group only had the ingredients they needed to flourish because the United States went to war in Iraq, and because we decided to give weapons to Syrian rebels we thought were on “our side.” ISIS came to power in the vacuum the United States created in Iraq (Saddam Hussein would have squashed them) and began their quest with weapons from the United States. None of this would have happened had Christians stood up and universally opposed the war in the Middle East.
A great way to fight terrorism is opposing all war — because war has a way of creating terrorism like little else can.
Engage in peacemaking efforts with people who feel they have been treated unjustly.
While accurate, the word “terrorism” often leaves us dehumanizing those who commit acts of terror, and this causes us to completely miss so much that exists under the surface.
“Terrorists” often are not the monsters we assume them to be, but are people who feel they have been terribly and unjustly treated by others. In their own minds, many of them believe they are righting a wrong and fighting evil and injustice. The more we “bomb the s— out of them” and their families, and the longer we refuse to give aid and shelter to refugees, the more they feel they are the victims of injustice and oppression — which means we need people willing to listen and go about this a different way.
Fight for the just and fair distribution of resources.
They say the wars of the future will largely be fought over water, and I don’t doubt that will be true. Nothing makes people feel they need to take drastic action like being denied access to natural resources needed to survive. Whether they are basics like food and water or other things needed to thrive (like fuel and electricity), when one group of people is denied access to these resources by the hands of another (as Palestinians often have access to these basics restricted by Israel), the natural inclination is to increase the severity of response until a just distribution exists. This doesn’t make the use of violence right, but it does make it more understandable.
Want to prevent terrorism? Fight for those who are victims of the unjust distribution of resources before they get to the point where they feel that violence becomes the only option.
Be a voice against religious fear and hatred wherever you find it.
While not all terrorism is rooted in religious fear and hatred, it is undeniable that much of it is. Perhaps more accurate is the recognition that much of terrorism is a desire for one’s religious beliefs to be the standard by which the rest of society is forced to live by.
Christians must oppose the ideology of evildoers who are spreading hatred toward those who don’t share their beliefs, and we must oppose any religious fanatics who want to write their views into law. While we must not use violence against them — the very thing that keeps the cycle going — we must forcefully and unapologetically fight their ideas.
Whether it is the desire for ISIS to establish a caliphate or Franklin Graham’s desire for like-minded people to take over the United States government on federal and local levels, we must instead fight for a world where the hateful messages of religious extremists are drowned out by messages of love.
The question of what to do about terrorism is an important question, but “bomb the s— out of them” isn’t the correct answer.
The correct answer has to address root causation.
Want to contribute to creating a world that has less terrorism? You can do that by opposing war, engaging in peacemaking, fighting for distributive justice and opposing religious hatred.
Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.