The Face of Evil

Today marks the 13th anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks on our country (read my sermon from the tenth anniversary, Sunday, September 11, 2011, here). Many friends have changed their Facebook profile pictures to images from that day, or like the one above, from our recent trip to New York City. #NeverForget, #911Anniversary, #Remember911, and #September11 are all trending on Twitter. It's a day forever etched into our national memory.

Today, the face of evil has a new name: ISIS, or ISIL. They are terrorists, perhaps more evil than the ones who attacked the US (the group was even condemned by Al Qeada for its brutality). We have all been horrified and saddened by the very public beheadings of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Both were men of faith: Foley a Christian and Sotloff a Jew. Following these killings and many more innocents, folk began calling upon President Obama to respond. I saw many posts from folk angry about what they perceived was posturing or stalling or, even worse, indifference. And too many pundits capitalized on the suffering of others for their own benefit. 

Last night, the President addressed the nation (full transcript here), outlining our military response.  Here are a few highlights:

"Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not 'Islamic.' No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state."

"So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat."

"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."

Summing it up, we will be ramping up action against the terrorists.

Long ago I grew tired of political "debate" as we call it America now-- you'll never find my TV tuned to either MSNBC or Fox News-- so I can only assume that those who disliked the President before his comments still do, and those who support him still do. I am more concerned that the best way we know how to respond to evil is to retaliate. 

I wonder how much we have learned over these thirteen years.

How do persons of faith respond to evil? How do I, as a Christian, respond to fear? I obviously do not have access to tanks or missiles, and I myself am not a representative democracy. The best tools I have to respond to hate and evil are the teachings of Jesus, so I look to the Bible for solutions to the very real concerns I have for peace for those who suffer.

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up with wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not grow weary" (Isaiah 40:31).

"An angry person does not produce God's righteousness" (James 1:20).

"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no danger because you are with me" (Psalm 23:4).

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17, 21).

"See that none of you repays evil for evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

"Turn aside from violence and oppression. Establish justice and righteousness" (Ezekiel 45:9).

The witness of scripture is clear: war does not make for peace. Coincidentally, last Sunday we sang Down by the Riverside in worship, the refrain of which is: 

"I ain't gonna study war no more."

As more resources are directed to war, persons of faith must pause for prayer. So we lift up before God:
  • The families of those who have been killed, that they may be comforted
  • The fear and restlessness of the innocent, that they may find peace and security
  • Our fearful and vengeful hearts, that we may experience forgiveness and grace
  • The hearts of those who embrace wrath and violence, that they may be changed
  • That war, anywhere and everywhere, may end
From the United Methodist Book of Worship, 520:

Remember, Prince of Peace, the people of the world divided into many nations and tongues.
Deliver us from every evil that obstructs your saving purpose, and fulfill your promises of old to establish your kingdom of peace.

For the curse of war and all that creates it,
O Lord, deliver us.

From believing and speaking lies against other nations,
O Lord, deliver us.

From narrow loyalties and selfish isolation,
O Lord, deliver us.

From fear and distrust of other nations, from all false pride, vainglory, and self-conceit,
O Lord, deliver us.

From the lust of the mighty for riches, that drives peaceful people to slaughter,
O Lord, deliver us.

From putting our trust in the weapons of war, and from want of faith in the power of justice and good will,
O Lord, deliver us.

From every thought, word, and deed which that the human family and separates us from the perfect realization of your love,
O Lord, deliver us.