ISIS, Franklin Graham, and Christian Freedom

Posted: March 23, 2015 in Church, Random Topics, Theology and Faith, World Religions
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Mass murders, gruesome decapitations, and bombings mark headlines seemingly non-stop.  ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups have made it clear that they want nothing but the destruction of Western civilization and the implementation of Sharia law.  It is an aggressive and violent program to bring others into submission, to assert control and power over their enemies.  Christians have been no strangers to the persecution that follows groups like this.  Many have lost their lives because they refused to bow the knee and denounce Christ.

Seeing this reality has caused many Christians to be alarmed at any and all Islamic groups, painting them as a homogenous group with the same agenda.  Influential voices, like that of Franklin Graham, have communicated concern for the future if Islam is allowed more power and Christian influence in the American culture continues to wane.  In fact, Franklin Graham recently said, “I believe it’s going to get worse, and we see no question gaining influence in Washington by those that represent the Islamic faith.  We do have a problem in this country and we are losing our religious freedom and we’re losing it a little bit day by day.”

Let us pretend for a moment that Islam is a homogenous group (a very unfounded claim) and that Graham’s concern for our religious freedoms in this country are being attacked, diminished, and eradicated.  Let us imagine that all of Islam has the same goal and that goal is domination of Western culture, elimination of Christians, and the imposition of Sharia law on all peoples.  That is a legitimate claim for at least some Muslims, but let us assume for the moment it is true of all Muslims.

It is ironic that Graham denounces the imposition of another religion’s system of laws while lobbying for Christians to employ the same tactics to ensure our power and our rights.  The jihad-like call to return to a “Christian nation” resound from many Evangelical leaders, including Graham.  If we can only get enough voter turnout, then security and the maintenance of our “freedom” will be ensured.  While Islamic extremist groups evangelize at the point of a sword, Graham is calling for a Crusade of his own.  The methodology between the two isn’t extremely different because they are both based on a will to power and a hope in political systems to achieve their goals.

As a pastor, I find it deplorable that so many of people within the Church have given ear to this kind of thinking.  It isn’t inherently Christian.  The will to power, the desire to protect our rights, and the perception that freedom is achieved through a political process is misguided and misplaced.  If Christian still means to follow the life and example of Jesus, then we need to reconsider again what it means to be the imago Dei (image of God).

First, how we use power is of great importance.  God demonstrates the way power is intended to be used.  It is not through domination but through humble obedience and kenotic (emptying) service to others.  This is the way of the Cross and the Kingdom of God.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king.  Jesus is cryptic, but says that if his Kingdom was like that of Rome and others his followers would defend it with the sword.  But, that’s not the kind of politics Jesus is enacting.  Jesus doesn’t make the move to will power.  Instead, he gives it away.  Ironically, in giving it away Jesus receives all power.  But, again, it is not a power to dominate but a power of dominion (proper ordering), stewardship, holy-love, and compassion.  That is power.

Second, I find the use of “rights” language problematic.  “Rights” are assumed to be something that I possess, own.  This language tends to revolve around the individual, thus denying our need for the social.  And, where my “rights” are in conflict with another’s “rights,” they must be defended at all costs, lest I be trampled under foot by the world.  Because it isolates the individual as the sole possessor of these particular rights, we also negate our contingent and dependent nature.  Not only are we social creatures, but we are also not the Creator!  Our life is not a “right.”  It is a gift.  And, should we lose our life, the One who gives life is able to restore it – even from the depths of Sheol.

We are reminded in Philippians 2 that Jesus empties himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, and humbles himself unto obedience – even to death on a cross.  His very death that does not grasp and cling to his own life is what brings life to us.  As the Christian community, we are constantly called to “daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus.”  If we have any “rights,” they are not to be grasped and held onto with such tenacity and fear.

Finally, the idea that freedom is dependent upon a political process is sadly mistaken.  The reality of persecution is all too real for many in the world.  I don’t diminish the sacrifice that many make by giving their lives while giving faithful witness to Christ.  However, these martyrs demonstrate what freedom in Christ really is all about!  Paul and Silas sing in prison after being beaten!  Peter testifies to Jesus’ work and ministry before being crucified upside down.  John is exiled to the island of Patmos because he proclaimed Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

The early Church, and many since then, have been those that did not have “freedom” in the political sense, yet demonstrated profound freedom in Jesus to love as Jesus had loved them.  Their lives proclaimed forgiveness, healing, mercy, and love that even extended to their enemies.  After Christians became a separate movement outside of Judaism, they experienced intense suffering and persecution.  They often did not have political or social clout or power.  They were branded atheists and threats to national security.  Yet, the Christians persisted in loving those society did not deem worthy.  They served the poor, the sick, and the hungry.

They embodied a new social ethic that enacted peace, extended mercy, and manifested love in tangible ways to friend and foe alike.  Few can deny the profound impact the Church had on its surrounding world, even while they had no power or freedom of which to speak or protect.  We can learn a great deal from our heritage on the means for engaging the world as cross-bearers embodying a new way to live in the world.  The freedom to love, pray for, and do good to our enemies is also freedom from a life entrenched in fear of the future.

Works Cited

You may find the above Franklin Graham quotes here:

  1. Sylvia says:

    i think a lot lately on the balance of politics and “what Jesus would want”. on one hand, i think our country is a system God smiles upon as it does give freedom for most denounces violence and persecution. on the other hand, i completely agree with your statement about not using God to assert our agenda and extend the arm of power and control. it’s a delicate balance and i’m not sure where that balance is a lot! this blog post i read last night says a lot i agree with and which i don’t have the eloquence to try and repeat. i think you’ll enjoy it!

    • Levi Jones says:

      Thanks for posting the other article, Sylvia. I can relate to much of what Jen Hatmaker is saying. In an effort to grasp for power, I think the Church has often lost its power. Its witness has been damaged. And, what I fear most about the American church is that we are so deeply invested in the Capitol Hill politics of our nation that it goes beyond simple participation in the system. We actually love the system and, for many, it is a insidious form of idolatry. And, as Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). In many respects, we have treasured the wrong things and our hearts have been captivated by a “culture of power.” The will to power is much more at home with Nietsche than it is with Jesus.

      • Sylvia says:

        much agreed. i have an acquaintance who is an extremely politicized evangelical and lately i have been gently trying to point out that if the effects of her efforts are driving away the very people she is wishing to reach, and only drawing in those who agree with her, she might want to re-think her approach. but no luck. as i reminder of what you bring up, i simply recall the headlines over the last couple of days of ted cruise wanting to bring back the politicized evangelicalism of the lost moral majority. that type of Christian approach i’m afraid only breeds division… and it’s not about their beliefs, it’s about their method. it leads non Christians to look upon the message of Jesus with disdain, and repels many Christians themselves. i have not come to understand or put in context Romans 13:1-7 yet in my life. but, i like what you say – that if you put our government before the principles of Jesus, then it becomes almost a form of idolatry levied by the quest for power and control. at that point, we’ve just become another pagan. or another nietzsche. nice touch by you.

      • Levi Jones says:

        Thanks, Sylvia, for your thoughts. It’s interesting, to me, that the end result is typically violence in this approach. Sometimes it’s physical violence. Other times, it’s violence manifested verbally or through schism (as you pointed out). And, as Stanley Hauerwas has shown us, violence is the failure of imagination to conceive of another possible future. This is the saddest aspect of our politics. When we can no longer imagine other possibilities besides violence (of which certain types of evangelism can become violent), we cease to have any capacity to find hope that reflect God’s Kingdom way in the world. In such instances, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for us to live as faithful witnesses to Christ and his cross.

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