Do Christian pacifists have a solution for stopping ISIS?

Mar 3, 2015 by

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A couple of folks I really respect — Kate Gould of Friends Committee on National Legislation (a.k.a., the Quaker Lobby), and Jim Wallis of Sojourners — were recently on The O’Reilly Factor. 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 O’Reilly’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 attempted to answer his question directly and rationally. Gould presents an argument for diplomatic measures to curb ISIS’s 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 O’Reilly. To these subtle, rational arguments, all he has to do is yell and berate. At one point, O’Reilly interrupted Wallis mid-sentence and demanded: 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 of O’Reilly’s viewers 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, 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?

Micah Bales is a writer, teacher and grassroots Christian leader based in Washington, D.C. He is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community, and has been an organizer with the Occupy movement. You can read more of his work at or follow him on Twitter.


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