I’m pleased to publish this guest post by Tim Scheiderer on how Christians ought to be thinking about their response to ISIS and other similar terrorist organizations.

Islamic terrorism’s path continues to widen in the West. Last year, it darkened streets in the City of Light on a November evening. Parisians and others were out for an evening of varied enjoyments, only for 130 of them to be murdered by eleven ruthless men. The next month, 5,600 miles away, a husband and his wife brought death to a facility for the disabled in San Bernadino. In 2016, so far, terror has struck geographically-ranging locales such as Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul and two more horrific events in France—the Bastille Day killings in Nice and the slitting of a priest’s throat in Normandy. All incidents were carried out by ISIS soldiers or associates.

So where does your heart run in response to these gruesome acts of terror? To shock? To rage? To sadness? To a thirst for justice … even revenge? For many Americans, a thirst for justice or revenge is the beacon our hearts hone in on.

America possesses and reinforces a certain culture of reaction to invasion or threat by an internal or external aggressor. It is captured in Colonel Christopher Gadsden’s famous yellow flag from the eighteenth century, which details a coiled rattlesnake and the words, “Don’t tread on me.” The snake is in both a defensive and offensive posture ready to strike if threat or attack occurs. Such an image coupled with such a statement embodies the American attitude.

The Church in America often exhibits this attitude as well when terrorism happens. With each incident, many Christians publicly or privately call on the federal government to destroy the terrorist network and call for this with “an eye for an eye” vehemence. This response is understandable seeing the evil acts are an affront to our security and our very lives. And American Christians have been infused with America’s individualistic culture, which is a significant catalyst adding fuel to the fire of this philosophy. During these times of horror, our minds default to American mantras like “Don’t tread on me.” The patriotic impulse kicks in and our defiant quest for justice is declared. Is this type of reaction justified? Calling for justice is not unbiblical. But we must also ask what our first reaction should be to such action.

During the time of Rome’s occupation of Israel, justice was an endangered ideal. From the Temple to the tax booth to the throne, extortion and abuse of power and position was commonplace. Hence, personal justice and revenge were sometimes being carried out by the citizenry. Yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says that a lack of justice in the state does not legitimize an individual filling the void created by the government’s malfeasance. Instead, Christ said to those who experience injustice to demonstrate charity and deference. In light of His directives, calls for (lethal) justice against aggressors should be secondary.

Therefore, the American Church should have a different, primary reaction. Christians should call for terrorism to be stopped by the saving power of God. The Muslims inspiring, planning, facilitating, and committing these atrocities have the same image of God stamped on their persons as the Amazonian witch doctor or the secularist in Tokyo whom the Church evangelizes. Being made in God’s image gives humanity an inherent worth. It is the value of a privileged existence separating mankind from all other portions of creation. If they never believe in Christ, these Muslims have the same fiery fate as all others who fail to believe.

“But, is not a call for justice or conquest the proper response to such evil?” one may ask. Consider Christ’s thoughts on justice put to practice. During his time, a key member of the religious minority was arrested for his beliefs in the same region of the world where ISIS is now active. As is the case today, the ruling religious class was striving to stamp out all competitors. Their means were ruthless for those who disobeyed their blasphemy laws. For stating he saw Christ standing at the right hand of God, they stoned him.

As he was dying, there were no precatory prayers on his lips. No curses upon those stoning or their families were uttered. Instead, Stephen prayed that God would forgive them. In due course, Paul would act in the same godly manner when persecuted. He even orchestrated his trial proceedings so he would have an opportunity to speak with the Roman emperor Nero, the chief terrorist of his day. Not to verbally condemn him, but to testify of Jesus Christ.

Stephen and Paul’s situations bear a resemblance to ours. It is not a full resemblance, but the spirit of their reactions is what must be pondered. When confronted with the threat of or immediate violence, these men responded with compassion, with pity. They did not see people as enemies worthy of death and conquest. They saw their humanity, souls which one day would be held accountable for their horrific, sinful acts, but not by them. They had been charged with the task of “making disciples.” To them, no horrific act by a person would disqualify that person from being evangelized or prayed for.

The Church in America cannot see (in part or in full) the “ripeness of the fields” if we are solely or primarily calling for the militaristic defeat of ISIS. We will see enemies and not fellow images of God who desperately need the gospel as well. How we identify them will determine how we view them. One may support defeat militaristically or politically, but it should not be the Church’s primary call. If God’s salvation comes broadly to ISIS and the Muslim world, the physical atrocities will decrease noticeably or significantly or altogether. Furthermore, lives will be saved and not ended.

Rome’s terror was eventually conquered by spiritual transformation and not by political solutions nor militaristic strategies. Exemplifying the spirit of Christ, i.e. loving one’s enemies, actually worked. It could very well do the same again.

Tim Scheiderer is a writer living in metro Washington, DC. He is a former journalist and graduate of Southern Seminary. To read more of his writings, please visit tpscheiderer.com.

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  1. Before raising the yellow flag with the snake and caption that says ‘Don’t tread on me,’ we need to ask one question. Is the terrorism practiced by groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS are first strike or is that terrorism a retaliation and response to past Western interventionism?


    1. Both. Western interventionism is one of many excuses employed by an entirely self-sustaining (contemporary) Islamist ideology – a decadent ideology that doesn’t need much by way of ‘evidence’ to justify itself in terms of retaliation,


      1. Joe,
        There is no excuse for terrorism. But just the same, there is no excuse for ignoring the effects of Western interventionism. And all one has to do is to go through the specific examples of Western interventionism to see why it contributes to the effects it does.


        1. I’m not ignoring the effects of Western interventionism. I’m saying there is an autonomous component to contemporary Islamism (which always proves to be fertile ground for terrorism) that doesn’t need a great deal of ‘provocation’ to justify it’s aims. In other words – it doesn’t take much to piss off an Islamist or offend their equally decadent Western apologists.


          1. Joe,
            I cannot reconcile these two statements of yours:

            Western interventionism is one of many excuses employed by an entirely self-sustaining (contemporary) Islamist ideology – a decadent ideology that doesn’t need much by way of ‘evidence’ to justify itself in terms of retaliation,


            I’m not ignoring the effects of Western interventionism.

            Please note that our government has recognized the roots of Arab hatred of US policies going back to the Eisenhower administration. And those roots have not changed.

          2. My first word was “both” (but Western intervention is more often than not the flimsiest of excuses for Islamist atrocities).

            Unmistakable Russian interventionism in Ukraine hasn’t prompted any ethnic Ukrainians living in Western countries to murder Russian civilians or blow up airports!

            What possible connection to political events in Arab countries explains why a group of wealthy, university educated Bangladeshi ISIS supporters massacred 20 people in a Dhaka coffee shop in July? The poor priest who had his throat cut in France a few weeks ago wasn’t responsible for the invasion of Iraq! A complete lack of Western interventionism in sub-Saharan Africa hasn’t prevented Boko Haram militants from slaughtering tens of thousands of people in Nigeria. Nor does Western interventionism fully explain why British teenagers (mostly from Indian and Pakistani families) head off to Syria to fight for ISIS.

          3. Joe,
            What kind of logic are you employing here. Because interventionism hasn”t caused other ukranians to rise up means that western interventionism is a flimsy excuse by Muslims who resort to terror? How variables are you ignoring here.

            And instead of just asking questions here, why not read and ask Muslims you know the questions you have?

          4. Curt according to your logic ALL acts of generational revenge must have their blood thirst satisfied before there are any solutions — sounds like a disgusting course of Victimology 101. Scripture puts a stop to such violence – “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezek. 18:20 NKJ)

          5. Stephen,
            First, not sure what you mean by all acts of generational revenge.

            Second, you are ignoring key parts of what I have written:

            There is no excuse for terrorism. But just the same, there is no excuse
            for ignoring the effects of Western interventionism. And all one has to
            do is to go through the specific examples of Western interventionism to
            see why it contributes to the effects it does.

            There is no justifying Islamic terrorism. At the same time, Western Interventionism does cause effects. When we sin abuse others, a likely response can be sinful and/or abusive.

            You write as if I am favoring one side. But I think that is your perspective. There are serious faults to find with both sides.

          6. Do you not think that Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia aren’t trying to influence the course of events in Syria? Egypt’s borders haven’t changed much in 5000 years but they still have a problem with ISIS affiliated Islamist groups.

          7. Joe,
            Don’t you think that Syria’s neighbor’s have a bigger stake in determining the outcome in Syria than we do? Then why are we bombing them?

            And your comment about Egypt shows a lack of reading about ISIS or Egypt. Do you think that the violence is always a 1 to 1 correlation? And isn’t el-SIsi a dictator that the West supports for similar reasons that Russia supports Assad in Syria?

          8. With ISIS there is a moral argument for defeating them (as with Fascism). The current Western leadership went with the moral argument of toppling Assad but ISIS were never simply an anti-Assad group of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims (although that certainly played a part)

          9. Joe,
            Part of the start of ISIS definitely comes with our invasion of Iraq. Its leader was held in a US detention center in Iraq.

            But what is missed the Islamic view and opposition to injustice. In addition, there is a desire to reclaim past glory, and there is the constant reminder of Western interventionism. And I am sure I leaving out a few other factors.

            As for Assad, there is as much a moral argument for ousting him as there is for ousting el-Sisi in Egypt. But both nations serve as customers different military industrial complexes: Syria buys Russian weapons and Egypt get American made weapons through aid. Realize that through aid means that US dollars go to the arms manufacturers while the weapons is the aide that nations like Egypt receive. So there are internal pressures to maintain these fascist regimes.

          10. Curt. It seems that you are discussing Western Interventionism, but the people you are talking to are discussing the collective reasons behind Islamism or Sallafism, or militant Islam or whatever term you wish to use. Western intervention has a role, but it is far from the only reason for the current troubles. If the west leaves the Mid-East, the conflict will not end. If European powers had not cut up the Mid-East after WWI, the Shia and the Sunni would still be at each others throats with Christians, Yazidis, Jews, and Druze caught in the middle. Barring the rise of a specifically Islamic power to replace the Ottomans, I can’t see any counterfactual that wouldn’t have involved a great deal of violence and chaos. Western Interventionism may have held that off for almost half a century. Maybe that made things worse, though. Like a boiler with the pressure steadily increasing, all the religious, tribal, and national tensions eventually had to erupt and the sheer ineptitude both the Bush and the Obama administrations pretty much gauranteed that it would be now. I hate to say it, but I don’t see any solutions. The last chance was blown by Bush II. Iraq needed someone like MacArthur to provide definite strong leadership in achieving a set plan to rebuild infrastructure and improve peoples day to day lives, but Iraq got the Keystone Cops who were determined to have elections before the people even had electricity and water. As I understand it, some twelve or more years on, people still need electricity and water, now more than ever.

          11. Will,
            As for the sectarian violence, what you say is contradicted by some of the Muslims I know. So how much sectarian violence we would have is debatable, though I would not say that either there would be none or there would be the same.

            And it’s not that you would have salifism without western interventionism. The real issue revolves around the recruiting of terrorsist and desires to strike the West and Asia rather than staying local. Heck, just our 2003 invasion of Iraq and our treatment of detainees at Guantanamo was known to increase recruits for terrorist organizations. But then when a list of interventions starting with the 1953 coup in Iran to support for dictators to support for Israel’s Occupation, supporting terrorists, waging war against nations, conducting murderous sanctions and for conducting terrorists acts ourselves, there are plenty reasons for Muslims to be angry and see themselves as being in a similar role of Muhammad when he sought to undo the injustices he witnessed. And much of this was known during Eisenhower’s administration.

            In other words, our immorality has sparked immorality from Islamic terrorists. We should note that becoming a terrorist is not easy personally. And this because of the tremendous internal and societal prohibitions one must overcome to rationalize the violence. We can’t justify the terrorism. Then again we can’t close our eyes to the immoral nature of Western Imperialism and interventionism.

          12. Good word and logical use of the facts Joe!

          13. Only Eisenhower? Why not Jefferson who invaded Libya rather than pay for hostages? There you go, playing the blame game down the rabbit hole of history rather than looking at things as they are. Islamists are older than the US and don’t need US policies as an excuse to hate and oppose us. We are the ones who seem to have trouble granting Arabs a moral agency independent of us. As long as we do that, we will never have a realistic foreign policy.

          14. Will,
            Then I guess we declared war on Japan in WW II because after Pearl Harbor, we were playing a blame game.

    2. This is not a game worth playing. It goes back to the sixth century and the only point to it is propaganda in one way or another. As Billy Joe said, we didn’t start the fire. I honestly think the tendency westerners have to blame ourselves for everything that happens in the world is part of a heritage of gingoism that causes us to say “of course it,s our fault. Who else could be to blame? After all, we are the only ones who are rational and moral and the rest of the world is not responsible for their actions.” It would be far better if we could throw these nineteenth century ways of thinking overboard and look at people as they really are and deal with the world as it is. It’s not easy, though. For the most part we have rejected a truly racist past, but our thinking is shaped in reaction to that racism so the model that controls western thinking (if only in reaction against it) is still racism. In the current times we bend over backwards to prove we aren’t racist but still see people through that filter.


  2. I think a distinction needs to be made between “the cross and ISIS” and “western civilisation and ISIS”, and the two treated quite differently, despite the obvious links.

    Paul affirms that “rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Rom 13:4), yet also commands Christians to submit to the authorities and trust God for justification and vengeance (Rom 12:19).

    Evangelism by sword must fail, for the same reason that conversion by law-keeping fails (see Acts 15). Only God can bring grace; the actions of man – whether his own actions or the actions of others – are futile for salvation and holiness.

    And yet Paul’s letters are written to Christians under the yoke of Rome. He does not want them to be (or be seen as) rebels or troublemakers, for that is antithetical to the gospel. Within 400 years, this same submission will – partially – win the Empire itself to Christ.

    Which then raises awkward questions. What does one do when one has a Christianised empire, and yet Christian theology looks forward to an eternal rather than temporal Kingdom? Does Jewish OT law provide a basis for a God-pleasing legal code? Do you seek out a foreign invader to conquer your lands so you can get the authentic “alien and stranger” experience?

    And what about the justice system? Paul commands Christians to refrain from vengeance, and yet declares only a few words later that the authorities are God-appointed agents of wrath. What happens when Christians *run* the justice system? Do they eschew the pursuit of justice for fear of stealing God’s role and rule? How does one defend the orphan and the widow if one will not resist their oppressors?

    Tim is correct to decry calls for vengeance: “They have offered offence; let’s kick their butt!”. And yet rulers are called to enforce justice, which means opposing and even killing the oppressor. The Kingdom of God will not be won by the sword in any form or manner, and yet our obligations to our worldly kingdoms – and to justice – may nonetheless require us to take it up. God desires a kingdom of Peace, and yet the Old Testament is full of faithful and commended warriors who defended Israel.

    On a change of topic, I don’t think it’s either sensible or profitable to put the blame for aggression towards the west or the church primarily on us. While the Gospels and writers urge good and peaceable behaviour from Christians, neither they nor Christ himself create an expectation that this will result in peaceful treatment; in fact, they promise the opposite – his disciples’ love will bring hate from the world (e.g. John 15). Likewise, Islamic aggression and world conquest is written into the bones of Islam. While they certainly don’t appreciate the west mucking about in their business – and there may well be western mis-doing here and there – the west’s primary offence against Islam is that it is not Islam (and the orient’s offence, and southern Africa’s offence also). This is true of Islamic teachings and philosophy, and has been true of their practice over the last 1300 years.

    Despite the Christian Church and the West being quite different entities, they both need to handle external aggression with the same principle: figure out what is right and then follow that. If we create offence because we are doing wrong, then we need to stop doing wrong. If we do not create offence despite doing wrong, then we still need to stop doing wrong. But if we create offence while doing right, we should not pull back from this, but instead find ways to handle the consequences.


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