We must recognize we are engaged in cultural war

November 18th, 2015

We are all horrified by the terrible violence committed in Paris the evening of November 13. We should be praying for the victims and their families and for the people of France who suffered this evil action.

At the same time, we must pay attention to the larger context in which this attack occurred. We are engaged in cultural warfare. The September 11, 2001 attacks on America, the bombings in Beirut, the beheadings of Christians in North Africa and now the Paris attacks are all part of a new kind of warfare being waged against Western civilization and mainstream Islam by a small group of jihadists.

In this battle, the vast majority of Muslims are our allies. We must carefully distinguish our enemies — the jihadists of Dayesh (which calls itself the Islamic State), Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the enemy. They believe themselves to be the only true Muslims, and most of their victims have been other Muslims.

Americans need to understand that all Muslims are not alike and that this is first and foremost a battle within the Muslim community. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims have been in a deep quandary. The Quran and its interpreters call for a political and religious leader to unite all Muslims in a unity of religion and state. The leader for this entity has been called a “caliph.” There has been no caliph since the end of World War I and the rise of modern Turkey. Without a caliph, Muslims have no way to make binding decisions about how to adjust their 7th century Scripture and doctrine to the 21st century. The issue is how to live faithfully as a Muslim today, and Muslims lack the governing body to answer their question.

Christians should remember we went through similar and even bloodier changes in the wars of religion from the early 1500s to 1648. During that time, the nation state was invented, and ideas of religious tolerance were developed. At that time Christians were organized into churches with decision-making bodies that could work out how to adapt to the new form of civilization. We had the great advantage that our Lord never sought political power, and the New Testament presumes we are living under pagan authorities. As Christianity developed, other relationships to government developed. There were many years when Christianity was tied to the power of the government, but those days are mostly gone now.

The culture war against jihadist Islam will not be won by military action, though such action is necessary to resist its expansion and to fight against terrorist actions. But we need vigilance and care. The war will be won by our ideas and our behavior in living the kinds of lives that represent diversity, religious freedom and mutual respect.

That is why we must welcome as many Syrian refugees as possible to America and demonstrate to Muslims all over the world the kind of hospitality and mutual respect that is America at its best. We Christians must take the lead in welcoming Muslim refugees, because it is what Scripture commands us (Matthew 25, Leviticus 19, Hebrews 13).

But there is a tactical reason to welcome them. When Western countries mistreat and reject Muslims, it becomes a recruiting tool and propaganda weapon for our enemies. I am deeply disappointed that so many governors (including those of Kansas and Nebraska where I serve) have rejected the idea of receiving refugees. They are pandering to our worst fears and failing to lead us to be our best selves as a nation. They are making a strategic mistake and giving aid to our enemies. This culture war will be won by the Christian values of love, tolerance, mutual respect and hospitality. As a nation and as states, we need to welcome the stranger among us.

Bishop Scott Jones serves the United Methodist Church Great Plains Conference, which is comprised of all of Kansas and Nebraska.

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