Brothers and sisters in Mennonite Church USA,
I write to you at a time when wars and rumors of wars are devastating the lives of many people around the globe. During the past year, the attention of the world has turned toward the Islamic State (ISIS), which has gained control of significant parts of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the abduction, massacres, and even beheadings of Yazidi minorities, Shiite Muslims, Coptic and Orthodox Christians and western journalists. Such brutal and evil actions make the human heart shudder. We mourn the incalculable losses sustained by the families and communities most directly affected by the violence.
Along with our government leaders, we struggle to understand what motivates the perpetrators of such cruelty or how best to stop the atrocities. Together with a number of allies, the U.S. military has unleashed hundreds of bombs, missiles, and drones on targets in both Iraq and Syria. President Obama has vowed a long campaign to “dismantle this network of death” and to root out “the cancer of violent extremism.”
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not claim specialized military or political knowledge, or pose easy solutions to the challenges facing our world. But I choose to stand with Jesus who spoke against the deadly downward spiral of violence. As followers of Christ, let us heed our Lord’s warning to those who choose to live by the sword (Matthew 26:52), and let us claim his blessing for those who seek to make peace.
ISIS has defined itself as an expression of Islamic faith, but we must resist the call to define this conflict as a “holy war” that pits Islam against Christianity. Many senior Muslim leaders and numerous leading Islamic organizations have declared that ISIS practices a distorted interpretation of Islam. Peace-loving Muslims and Christians from the region know best how to address a rogue state within their own territories. For example, see this amazing testimony from Christians in the region. Accompanying this letter, you will find a few other resources that help us better understand and respond to the challenge ISIS poses for us. Further, I invite you to continue to sow seeds of peace in the region through organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Offering relief and support to refugees is an expression of love for those whose lives have been turned upside down by violence and war.
In this time of increased violence, I urge that we choose to abide in Christ. Even as we acknowledge the realities of evil and violence in our world, we must put on the mind of Christ and remain rooted and grounded in God’s love. Let us trust in the Lord and hold fast to the words of the Psalmist who admonished that “the war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”
I appeal to you in the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Pray for peace and seek to walk in the way of Jesus who taught us to love even our enemies. Stand firm in the Lord.
Ervin R. Stutzman
Mennonite Church USA
Resources to consider:
“Forgiving ISIS: Christian ‘Resistance’ Videos Go Viral in Arab World,” Christianity Today Gleanings posted 3/17/2015
“Prayers of Protest: One Step Towards Embodied Discipleship,” a sermon by Safwat Marzouk, an Egyptian Christian and assistant professor of Old Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
“ISIS: Nonviolent Resistance?” by Eli S. McCarthy, in The Hill, March 5, 2015
“Confessing the Peace of Jesus in a Terroristic World,” a statement from EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team, August 2014