By / Feb 2

On Sunday, Jan. 28, another Iran-backed militant group known as Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched a drone attack on a small outpost in the country of Jordan, killing three U.S. Army soldiers and injuring more than 30 service members. “We shall respond,” President Joe Biden said on Sunday. Over the past four months, Iran-backed militant groups have increasingly attacked both civilians and military forces throughout the Middle East. The increase in violence began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people in what has been referred to as Israel’s 9/11.

Since November, another group, known as Houthis, have launched what the State Department describes as “unprecedented attacks” against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as well as military forces positioned in the Arabian Peninsula to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping. These attacks against international shipping, says the State Department, have “endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms.”

Here is what you should know about the Iran-backed terrorist organizations responsible for numerous recent attacks in the Middle East.

How is Iran involved in the recent attacks?

Although Iran denies being involved in the attack on the U.S. outpost, the Shia-dominant nation has been accused of providing weapons and funding for several militant groups in the Middle East including the Houthis, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Earlier this year, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said that “Iran proudly announces that it supports Palestinian resistance movements for the liberation of their land.”

These militant groups are used by Iran to fight a proxy war against Iran’s enemies—namely Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S. (In proxy wars, states arm and support actors in another country to achieve their broader geopolitical goals.) Iran-linked groups using drones packed with explosives have attacked U.S. troops in the Middle East more than 150 times since Hamas’s recent assault on Israel.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis—formally known as Ansar Allah or Ansarallah (Supporters of God)—originated in the early 1990s in northern Yemen. They began as a theological movement and took their name from their original leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who served in the Yemeni parliament and advocated for the rights of the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority in Yemen. 

Zaydi Shiites are a minority within the Islamic world, with distinct beliefs from other Shiite groups (The two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, which differ in their views on political succession and the authority of Muhammad’s descendants. Roughly 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and 10% are Shia.) 

The Houthis follow a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, but the Houthi movement represents a complex blend of religious, political, and tribal elements.They seek greater autonomy for their region and oppose what they perceive as Western influence and Sunni dominance, promoted by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The Houthi emblem, which offers a general idea of the group’s views, is composed entirely of the following phrases: “God is great, Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, victory to Islam.” 

The Houthis have said the reason they were targeting ships that are Israeli owned, flagged, or operated, or that are heading to Israeli ports. However, many of the vessels that have been attacked have no connection with Israel

The Houthis originate from and operate out of Yemen, a country located in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the northeast. The capital of Yemen is Sanaa, one of the oldest cities in the world.

The Houthi rebels’ control significant territories within this Arabian nation, including Sanaa, and large portions of northern and western Yemen. They remain a major force in the decade-long Yemeni civil war. The conflict has led to a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced and more in need of aid. 

What is the Islamic Resistance in Iraq?

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is a loose coalition of Iranian-backed militias that oppose U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria. One group with that coalition, Kata’ib Hizballah, has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. military bases, including the recent deadly attack on a U.S. military base in Jordan. The group’s membership is deliberately vague, allowing each armed group a level of plausible deniability. There is evidence suggesting that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards play a coordinating role in the coalition. The group’s actions are part of efforts to drive U.S. troops out of the region, galvanized by the Israel-Hamas war. The U.S. has pledged to hold the responsible parties accountable, and there are concerns about the risk of military escalation in the region due to these attacks.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is part of the so-called “axis of resistance,” which also includes other Iran-linked groups in the region. These groups have carried out multiple attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria—and now Jordan—with the aim to push the U.S. to ramp up its Middle East defenses. The attacks have raised fears of regional escalation and have led to increased tensions between the involved parties.

What is Hamas?

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), is a Palestinian Islamist political and military organization. It was established in 1987 and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Islamic state in the land of Israel.

Hamas is widely popular in Palestinian society due to its anti-Israeli stance and its promotion of Palestinian nationalism in an Islamic context. Since its founding, Hamas has been involved in ongoing attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, indiscriminate rocket attacks, and other war crimes.

Hamas has a military wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. These militants are currently engaged in war with Israel and concentrated in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.

What is Hizballah?

Hizballah, also known as Hezbollah,  is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political and military organization that has state-like military capabilities including various missiles, rockets, and unmanned aircraft systems. The group is proficient in asymmetric and conventional tactics and has been involved in various attacks and operations throughout the Middle East. 

Hizballah was established in the early 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. It arose with the financial and ideological support of Iran and aimed to establish an Islamic state in Lebanon based on Shia Islamic principles. The group’s ideology is heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran.

What actions has the Biden administration taken toward these groups?

The Biden administration has redesignated the Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization. Kata’ib Hizballah has been on the list since 2009. Hamas and Hizballah since 1997.

The U.S. government maintains several lists related to terrorism, each serving distinct purposes and governed by different legal frameworks. These lists are tools for implementing and enforcing national security and foreign policy strategies. The most prominent of these are the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). 

The FTO is a list managed by the State Department that designates foreign organizations as terrorist groups. Designation as an FTO makes it illegal for persons in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide “material support or resources” to the designated organization. It also allows for the freezing of the group’s assets in U.S. financial institutions and denies entry into the U.S. to representatives and members of these organizations.

In contrast, the SDGT is managed by the Treasury Department, specifically under the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This list, which targets individuals and groups worldwide, focuses on cutting off financial support to terrorists. It includes a broader range of entities compared to the FTO list including individuals, groups, and companies involved in terrorist activities. Those designated are subjected to asset freezes and travel bans.

The Treasury Department recently sanctioned entities and individuals associated with Kata’ib Hizballah, highlighting the ongoing efforts to target the group’s financial network and its supporters.

President Biden removed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthi rebels as terrorists, arguing it hampered humanitarian assistance to people in Yemen. A U.S. official told Axios that the administration believes the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” designation is the “appropriate tool at this moment.”

For the past few weeks, the U.S. and other Western countries have also been carrying out military strikes against Houthi sites in Yemen in retaliation for the attacks on shipping. 

By / Oct 13

Nearly 40 years ago, terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins made this claim, “The difficulty of defining terrorism has led to the cliché that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, implying that there can be no objective definition of terrorism, no universal standards of conduct in peace. That is not true.” Yet, this line of thinking remains a cliché thoughtlessly espoused to muddy the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate forms of warfare. Even as recently as the past week, the terrorist organization Hamas has been referred to in similar language on a major news outlet in the United States in relation to the attack on Israel.

Freedom fighters and terrorists often do have many similarities. Both groups take part in a violent struggle to achieve a political goal, usually the overthrow or removal of an established government. Both groups tend to be non-state actors, that is, their political actions are not carried out on behalf of a sovereign nation-state.

What then separates a freedom fighter from a terrorist?

The moral requirements for going to war

The primary difference is how they align with the criteria of the just war tradition. First, let’s measure them against the jus ad bellum, the moral requirement for going to war:

1. Just Cause: Like nation-states, non-state actors may have just and proper reasons for going to war. For example, they may be acting in self-defense to prevent genocide or acting to restore human rights wrongly denied.

2. Proportionate Cause: Again, like established nation-states, non-state actors could go to war to prevent more evil and suffering than their warfare is expected to cause.

3. Right Intention: Non-state actors may also have the right intentions for going to war. They could, for instance, be motivated by Christian love and pursuit of justice instead of an illegitimate intention to go to war, such as revenge.

4. Right Authority: There is nothing inherently special about a nation-state that gives them a special status as the right authority. However, this criterion poses a special hurdle for non-state actors since what would constitute a right authority for them is often unclear. As Eric Patterson notes, one distinction between modern freedom fighters and terrorists is that freedom fighters  accept at least two forms of authority: “The first stems from customary international law and is now codified in the Geneva Conventions; the second is that they submit to some form of organized authority (i.e., ‘are under the command of a person responsible for his subordinates’).”

5. Reasonable Chance of Success: This is the primary criterion that works against the modern terrorist engaging in a just war. The use of terrorist tactics tends to lower the chances of success in warfare and offers specific challenges to establishing a just peace once the war is over. As historian Charles Townsend says, “Although the 20th century produced plenty of successful ‘wars of national liberation”, often with a significant terrorist dimension, none succeeded by terrorism alone.”

6. Last Resort: Another key difference between freedom fighters and terrorists is that the former almost always consider warfare to be the last reasonable and workable option for addressing their grievances. In contrast, terrorists rarely seek to exhaust reasonable peaceful alternatives, such as diplomacy or non-violent political pressure, before succumbing to violence.

Why terrorism is unjust

The jus ad bellum by itself offers distinctions between terrorists and freedom fighters. But most salient differences between freedom fighters and terrorists is in the criteria for jus in bello (criteria for just execution of war), particularly on the issue of discrimination.

The criterion of discrimination includes two key components: “innocence” and “deliberate attack.” The first rule of just warfare is that we do not target or intentionally kill the innocent. “Innocence,” says just war theorist Michael Walzer, means those non-combatants who are not materially engaged in the war effort. “These people are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done.” Walzer explains that, “The opposite of ‘innocent’ is not ‘guilty,’ but ‘engaged.’ Disengaged civilians are innocent without regard to their personal morality or politics.”

This is precisely what makes terrorism wrong, since it is defined, says Walzer, as the random killing of innocent people, in the hope of creating pervasive fear. “Randomness and innocence are the crucial elements in the definition,” he says. “The critique of this kind of killing hangs especially on the idea of innocence, which is borrowed from ‘just war’ theory.”

Sadly, modern warfare almost always leads to innocent civilian casualties—especially in urban environments. The key distinction, therefore, is that terrorists target the innocent for deliberate attack while “freedom fighters”—and anyone else engaged in just warfare—never do. This provides both a moral and strategic challenge for nations fighting against terrorists, since we do not want to become like the evil we are opposing. “Terror must never be answered with terror,” says historian Caleb Carr, “but war can only be answered with war, and it is incumbent on us to devise a style of war more imaginative, more decisive, and yet more humane than anything terrorists can contrive.”

Like you, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is grieved by the acts of terrorism perpetrated against those made in God’s image in the Middle East, and we are praying for peace. The ERLC has led an effort among Southern Baptist leaders and other evangelicals to organize support for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself and urge policymakers to confront evil, promote peace, and protect the vulnerable. We also ask Christians to pray for the preservation and salvation of those in the region and give toward their needs through SEND Relief. You can read and sign the Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel here

Click here to learn more about Just War Theory.

By / Sep 26

I have been involved for several years now with an organization that seeks to reduce the political polarization that seems to be growing in our society. The group is called Braver Angels. It specializes in hosting conversations between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One of the notable things I’ve observed is that prior to these conversations, the participants tend to have an extremely low opinion of the people with whom they disagree. They assume they are probably bad people. They can’t imagine they would ever be friends with them. After they spend several hours together with a moderator who works to keep the conversation constructive, things seem to change. They don’t come to a place of agreement. That’s not the goal of Braver Angels. But they do seem to gain a new appreciation for their conversation partners as people. And that is the goal. Genuine conversation, as opposed to the series of battles we constantly stage on television and on social media, helps to rebuild connections.  

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is very different from a Braver Angels workshop. We have a long way to go to cultivate civic virtue in which we view each other as friends and countrymen with political differences instead of as opposing armies occupying the same land. Instead, we have become comfortable dismissing entire groups of people. Worse, rather than merely dismissing them, we are building them up into demonic figures. The truth is that human beings are those made in God’s image who are afflicted with sin, rather than demons. The appropriate spirit to take toward them is one of sympathy and patience rather than war. 

This phenomenon of demonization has unfortunately reached virtually every part of the American political community and into many churches. Whether it is Q-Anon conspiracies, the dismissal of “soy-boys” and “snowflakes,” the blowtorch rhetoric of President Trump, or even something like President Biden’s prime-time jeremiad against “MAGA Republicans,” American political discourse has moved in the direction of villainization as a preferred mode.

Serving the Lord of the Beatitudes

But Christians serve the Lord of the Beatitudes. Within those passages in Matthew 5:2-12, we see the praise of meekness, mercy, and long-suffering in the face of trials. Further in the chapter, Jesus counsels reconciliation, turning the other cheek, and loving enemies. There is a worthwhile and longstanding debate on the degree to which these teachings apply to individuals over against our broader political lives. But it would be strange indeed if we were to believe there is no connection. Let us accept that Martin Luther was correct in seeing those commands directed toward individuals, the kind of person formed by obeying them will not be one who is quick to anger, who lacks empathy, who cultivates strife, and who inflicts damage with no regard for the need to make peace again in its aftermath.

One of the major deliverances of Christian teaching in the Bible has to do with the problem of sin. It is not something that can be conquered habit by habit such as by extinguishing drug use or overeating, though it is highly laudable to do so. The problem of sin is far greater than committing more good acts than bad acts or even eliminating bad acts. Sin is something that is universal in its application to human beings. Every person is afflicted by a sinful will that ultimately, without God’s help, cannot avoid seeking to remove every obstacle to the fulfillment of our desires. If we accept that the situation of the sinful creature is applicable to all of us (which is certainly the teaching of the Bible and the consistent message of the church), then it should be easy for us also to believe that humility is utterly essential. We must always be aware of the innate battle we are all fighting. We must be wary that at the moment when we most greatly revel in our own rectitude, we may be in tremendous danger of surrendering to sin.

When politics fails in its social role, war rears its head. However, we in the United States do not live in a society where politics and civil government no longer function. Our courts still operate. Our legislatures still meet. Governors and other executives carry on their work. There have been some tremendous tests, such as the COVID pandemic, the financial crisis of 2008, and terrorist attacks such as 9/11. It would be a lie to say that our response to any of the crises we have faced has been truly satisfying. Instead, we have seen sinful human beings struggling to manage the public interest, their self-interest, the constant influence of political opportunism, and our general failure to be omniscient even in a world of rapidly expanding information.  

To fail to acknowledge the problems of human sinfulness and limitation will be to amplify our growing sense of unease. What we must all do, from the highest technocrat, to the most powerful policymaker, to the corporate analyst, to the blue collar worker, to the church member, to the father or mother, is to be humble in our recognition of what we can really know and what we can really do. With greater humility will come greater room for love and understanding. The way to keep political violence at bay is to remember who we are and that the only king who will not disappoint (whether a person or a movement) is Jesus Christ, himself.

By / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Resources from the Conversation

By / Aug 18

On Sunday, the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan and quickly took control of the city. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Hundreds of Afghan civilians were seen close to the runway and around parked planes Monday, with some hanging from boarding ramps as they scrambled to get into aircraft, hindering evacuation efforts.” Events in Kabul are changing by the hour, but one thing should be certain: The United States should swiftly offer refuge for those fleeing persecution. 

Southern Baptists have a long history of “ministering care, compassion, and the Gospel to refugees who come to the United States,” and encouraging our churches and families “to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His throne (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9–12; Psalms 68:5; James 1:27; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 19: 33–34).”

The ERLC advocates for the dignity of the sojourner in accordance with Scripture’s expectation on God’s people to minister to the vulnerable. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a specific and consistent biblical theme, and he calls his people to do the same. Christ, the greatest example of love, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

The U.S. has a long history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution. The annual number of refugees is determined not by statute but by the president, in consultation with Congress. Under the Trump administration in 2020, refugee resettlement hit a record low of 15,000.

During the 2020 campaign, President Biden promised to “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time.” However, in April, he issued a memo instructing the Department of State to keep the refugee admissions at 15,000. Evangelical leaders urged the Biden administration to immediately reset the refugee ceiling as promised In May, President Biden officially raised the refugee ceiling to 62,500.

What is Priority 2 refugee status?

The U.S. government defines the term refugee as “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status is granted to “groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the U.S. refugee program.”

Why should P-2 status be offered for Afghans?

On August 2, the Department of State announced a Priority 2 (P-2) designation “granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members.” While this action is commendable, it does not explicitly call for P-2 designation for Christians and other religious minorities. Non-Muslims will face almost certain persecution under the Taliban.

In an Evangelical Immigration Table letter to President Biden, the table organizers made the case for the protection of other vulnerable Afghans: 

“there are many other Afghans likely to be at risk of persecution under Taliban rule, including Christians and other religious minorities, women and girls who have pursued the opportunity for education, and others associated with the U.S. presence in Afghanistan who may not qualify for Special Immigrant Visas. The United States should do everything reasonably possible to protect these individuals and, should they make the decision that they must flee as refugees, prioritize them for resettlement to the United States. Specifically, we urgently request you increase P-2 processing of Afghan refugees to the United States. The current policy of only allowing those who are in a third country to qualify for P-2 status is untenable and does not honor their commitment and sacrifice.”

By offering Priority 2 refugee status to Afghans fleeing persecution, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated.

How has the ERLC advocated for refugees?

The ERLC has advocated for a robust refugee resettlement program by making the case that the program has long enjoyed both broad bipartisan support in Congress and in the communities these men and women have enriched, including many Southern Baptist churches. We have urged both the Biden and the Trump administrations to maintain a strong program for those fleeing persecution around the globe.

Additionally, the ERLC has supported and advocated for the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, which designates Hong Kong residents as Priority 2 refugees and streamlines their admission process to the United States. This bipartisan bill opens up an asylum path for frontline activists in immediate danger. Additionally, the bill instructs the secretary of state to coordinate the intake of Hong Kongers as refugees with other like-minded countries. Passage of this bill would send a clear message to Beijing that the United States does not support the CCP’s attempt to silence its dissenters by denying them fundamental human rights.

The ERLC has also supported and advocated for the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act. This bipartisan bill designates Priority 2 refugee status for ethnic Uyghurs and others who are suffering from arbitrary arrest, mass detention, and political and religious persecution by the Chinese government. 

How can you get involved?

Pray. Ask the Lord to protect Christians in Afghanistan and help them remain courageous. Pray for vulnerable people trying to flee persecution. Ask God to grant them swift escape and guide them to a refuge and safe haven. 

Volunteer. Find opportunities in your local community to assist refugees as they are being resettled. World Relief has partnership opportunities throughout the country and provides plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Advocate. Call your local congressperson and senators and ask them to urge the Biden administration to prioritize providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

By / Mar 19

With the recent rise of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans, the terroristic shootings in Atlanta this week touched a tender cord for many in the Asian-American community. Though the alleged shooter, Robert Aaron Long, has taken responsibility for the murders, he has stated that his alleged crimes were not racially motivated.

However, with six of the victims being women of Asian descent, it feels sadly familiar. Last summer’s killings of Ahmad Arbery and George Floyd sprung to mind as more information came out about the Atlanta killing spree. It was difficult not to think of Dylann Roof, who joined an evening Bible Study on June 17, 2015, at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, only to kill nine church members, all of whom were African-American.

Even though Long denies his crimes were racially motivated, the church cannot overlook the facts of this tragedy and the growing hostility toward Asian-Americans in the United States. The New York Times is reporting that there have been almost 3,800 “hate incidents” against Asian-Americans in the last year. The reality is, our brothers and sisters in the Asian-American community are hurting, and have been since at least the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Having endured growing hostility and targeted aggression in the wake of COVID-19, Asian-Americans have been the regular recipients of hateful rhetoric and worse, bringing unimaginable pain and frustration. As hate and hostility seem to be growing nationwide, this community of Americans is suffering acutely.

Racism and the Tower of Babel

In lamenting the events of the last year, I have found myself wondering where all of this originated. We can certainly look at the stark heritage of racism in our nation’s history, what many call America’s “original sin.” And while there is no denying our country’s regrettable complicity, racism pre-dates our founding by thousands of years, all the way back to the Tower of Babel.

At the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, we see a picture of all of humanity together, united in culture, language, and purpose. Though, as the Bible makes clear, that purpose was to rival God’s reign over the world. God’s image-bearers were meant to rule over the earth as God’s representatives. But in constructing the tower, our forebears were attempting to rule as his replacement, which resulted in their exile, just like their forebears Adam and Eve. He scattered them and confused their language because together their aspirations proved deadly, and he knew things would get worse. It was merciful discipline. But, because sin infects every human heart, the desire to rule over something different from us has never left.

We still do not know if Long was motivated by racism or sex addiction or a combination of these and other sins. But we do know that human beings have brought our Babel-like tendencies with us to our respective cultures, languages, and ethnicities. Since we could not rule like or over God, we’ve now set our sights on one another. In our society, racism and white supremacy seeks to make other image-bearers, those who speak different languages and come from other cultures, subject to another’s rule. And because sin makes us think we can rival God, the sickest among us imagine that we have the right to give and take life, a right that only belongs to him. 

The responsibility of the church today

Those who are in Christ have a responsibility to speak out against racism and white supremacy. Why? Because racism and white supremacy have no place in the kingdom of God and are fundamentally antithetical to the gospel. And as we continue to see, these are problems that continue to plague our country and churches. As those who have been saved by grace through faith, we are called to the good works of protecting the vulnerable, caring for the oppressed, and fighting against evil. We have been saved not just from our sin, but into the work of the Triune God who saved us, to restore all that was lost in the fall. We seek to make straight what is crooked and make whole what has been shattered. Christ did that for us, and we go and do likewise.

Diversity and the destiny of the church

Our destiny as the church is a multiethnic one, a future that has been set from before the foundation of the earth. As Paul argues in Ephesians 2, any dividing walls of hostility between Jew and Gentile have been banished in Christ, resulting in a beautiful, multiethnic temple. The body of Christ, therefore, consists of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It was a plan, Paul says, that was set in motion from “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). In other words, for the glory of God and the holiness of his church, homogeneity was never part of the plan.

Because it was always God’s intention to build a multiethnic kingdom, we cannot say we are “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33) unless we say and show that we care about racism. Hate crimes against the Black community are the most notorious in American history, but a crime against any person because of their race is an affront to God’s genius, design, and image. As the body of Christ and as emissaries of the kingdom of God on Earth, we cannot sit by and watch our Asian-American neighbors, or any others, suffer such injustice.

We may never know the answers to the questions we have after the shooting spree in Atlanta. But there are two things we know to be true: God hates sin and comforts the broken. Right now, the pain present in the Asian-American community is real. Our neighbors are hurting and living in fear. We must join our voices with the chorus of lament and speak up in opposition to such forms of hate. Even more, we must get involved. We are a people called to love our neighbors not just with our prayers and voices, but with our hands and feet. Only then will all that has been shattered in this world begin to be made whole. 

By / Aug 9

This past weekend, the first of two mass shootings occurred when a man who feared a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” was replacing white Americans opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 and wounding dozens of others. This incident was the most recent example of the trend of domestic terrorism being carried out by white nationalists.

Here are five facts you should know about this ideologically motivated crime:

1. White-nationalist terrorism is a form of domestic terrorism that is carried out by those who espouse a white nationalist ideology. White nationalism is a political view that merges nationalism (i.e., devotion to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state) with white identity (i.e., the belief that white people have interests in common based on race that must be defended). White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and nonwhite immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide” (i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups). The terms white nationalist and “alt-right” are frequently used as synonyms—such as in the 2017 SBC resolution “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy”—since they both espouse white identity. (In rebutting these beliefs, Christians must be careful not to reduce them all to mere “white supremacy.” It’s natural to a want to use that term and apply it to the entirety of an evil movement. Because of the long, despicable history of white supremacy in America, that term retains considerable cultural weight. But if we imply that the problem with the movement is only the elements of racial superiority, then those on the alt-right who can effectively avoid that charge will be let off the hook.)

2. Domestic terrorism is defined in federal law as an act that occurs primarily within the jurisdiction of the United States that is dangerous to human life and that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the U.S., if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Despite this definition being included in the U.S. legal code, there is no specific federal law against domestic terrorism. (On Tuesday, the FBI Agents Association, which represents more than 14,000 active and former bureau agents, called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime.) Acts such as those carried out in El Paso would normally be prosecuted under federal hate crimes and firearms charges. A bill introduced by Congressional Democrats in March, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019 would, “authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.”

3. White-nationalist terrorism is a transnational movement that appears to be on the rise in the U.S. Last month FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency has made about 100 domestic terrorism-related arrests since October 2018, and the majority were connected to white nationalism. Wray’s predecessor, former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, told CNN on Monday that there is "a very alarming connection between domestic terrorist attacks here in the United States and domestic terrorist attacks abroad," and that, "It's not uncommon to see attackers referencing [other attackers abroad] in their manifesto." In his four-page online manifesto, the El Paso shooter referenced the terror attack in New Zealand in March by a white nationalist that killed dozens of Muslims.

4. In the past, many acts of white-nationalist terrorism were connected to white supremacists organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis groups. Increasingly, though, the acts are carried out by people who associate online, especially on websites that host user-generated message boards such as 8chan and 4chan. The El Paso shooter, for example, announced his killing spree on 8chan’s /pol board just prior to the attack. He also attached a four-page manifesto to his post, along with a document that included his real name. “The most important takeaways from the El Paso shooting are twofold,” says journalist Robert Evans, “(1) 8chan’s /pol board continues to deliberately radicalize mass shooters. (2) The act of massacring innocents has been gamified.” Studies have shown that sites like 8chan encourage “copycat” terrorism. As the FBI warned on Sunday, “U.S.-based domestic violent extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.” A Florida man was arrested that same day after allegedly calling a Walmart near Tampa and telling an employee he was minutes away from the store and planned to shoot it up. The local sheriff said the would-be terrorist  “was intrigued with the shootings over the last couple of days.”

5. In a recent article on “White Nationalist Terrorism and the Gospel,” ERLC President Russell Moore said,

White nationalism is not just another ideology, in a world filled with competing opinions. White nationalism is a manifestation of an ancient evil that we as Christians, of all people, ought to recognize immediately. White nationalism emerges from what the Bible calls “the way of the flesh.” This is a form of idolatry that exalts one’s own creaturely attributes, making a god out of, for instance, one’s ancestral origins or one’s tribal culture.

This is not incidental to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but is precisely what the gospel everywhere in the Bible confronts and condemns.

By / Apr 29

Jeff, Steven, Chelsea, and Travis grieve the recent attack on Christians in Sri Lanka this past Easter Sunday and discuss what to make of the recent surge in terrorism targeting faith communities. This attack on our brothers and sisters in Christ comes after other attacks on people in religious services, including on Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As people of the cross, we must confront these tragedies with mourning. And then we look to the hope we have in Christ as we consider how best to protect our neighbors and live courageously in a broken world.

Resources from the Conversation

Why Church Shootings Don’t Intimidate the Church by Russell Moore

Blasts Targeting Christians Kill Hundreds in Sri Lanka

The Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka podcast episode of The Daily from The New York Times

Blessed are the persecuted by Casey B. Hough

Mosque in New Zealand | New Zealand Shooting Suspect Is Charged With 50 Counts of Murder

Tree of Life Synagogue | 11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts

FBC Sutherland Springs | A stark, white room: Sutherland Springs still struggles with church massacre

7 ways to pray for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs by The Southern Baptist Convention of Texas

ERLC | Capitol Conversation Podcast

By / Jul 14

Over the last several weeks news headlines have carried pronouncements of unspeakable tragedy and carnage. Well-known singer Christina Grimmie was senselessly murdered in Orlando. Then, just a day later, the world awoke to news of the worst mass shooting in American history. France witnessed another terror attack, the brutal and intimate murder of a police officer and his girlfriend in front of their son. A member of Britain’s parliament was murdered. Each story elicited a similar sadness, outrage, and empathy.

Interspersed among these headlines were two incidents with related plots. In Cincinnati, a 4-year old boy was nearly killed when he climbed into a zoo’s gorilla enclosure. Then in Orlando, a 2-year old boy was attacked and killed by an alligator in Orlando. Responses across the media and in the general public were more diverse than following the human-precipitated tragedies, which surprised some.

When deplorable acts of violence occur through human agency, blame is ultimately laid at the feet of the perpetrator. Certainly social structures and institutional realities come into consideration, but an individual person is finally deemed responsible.

It is much more difficult, however, to determine a path of agency and justice in the wake of animal perpetrated violence. Some cast aspersions on the mother of the 4-year old boy who fell in the gorilla enclosure: Why wasn’t she paying attention? How could she let her child wander? A petition was even begun, asking police to investigate the mother for neglect. A few blamed the zoo for improper procedures. Many were outraged over the subsequent killing of Harambe, the gorilla who resided in the enclosure. Similarly, in Orlando some were asking why parents would allow their 2-year old to play near a lagoon in Florida when “No Swimming” signs were clearly posted.

These incidents provide a window into our society and, despite the unthinkable and horrific nature of their tragedy, provide opportunities for reflection.

For much of society, worship of God has been replaced by worship of the created order. Paul pointed out this sociocultural shift in Romans 1:23, “…and [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Stephen Webb argues environmentalism is a type of broadly acceptable and palatable civil religion; he says it is good politics and tolerable religion to worship nature. We saw this briefly last year when a Minnesota dentist was barraged with death threats over the killing of a “beloved” lion in Africa (this incident in particular showed the inadequacy of prevailing American cultural narratives). While the veneration of Harambe and hypothetical purported willingness to choose his life over the 4-year old boy is clear evidence of that, I do not think such a simple analysis sufficiently bears forth the intricate thoughts and emotions at play.

James K. A. Smith says a hallmark of our secular age is the possibility of belief. For 1,000 years Christianity served as the dominant worldview for much of the Western world, rendering unbelief almost entirely unheard of. Today the inverse is true: Where belief in a transcendent God is considered untenable for vast stretches of society, the possibility of belief – and subsequent poorly suppressed yearning for it – appears to lurk in the most unanticipated spaces. Frankly, we should not be surprised when so-called “ecosexuals” facilitate ceremonies in which humans are encouraged to marry the ocean, and then consummate said marriage.

Christians recognize it is precisely the distortion of orthodox Christianity that permits – and even supports – a misguided and disproportionate love of nature. Cognizant of how idolatry warps worship of the one true God and of the increasing secular pressure exerted on America, it is no wonder the imago dei has taken a backseat to animal activism and environmental worship. When nature is an object of worship, humans are subservient to its capricious and merciless whims. The created order is due sovereign respect, and we humans have no recourse save to spew vitriol at those poor parents who dared allow their children to interfere with its matchless wisdom and authority.

Stephen Webb, however, also argued since the decline and distortion of Christianity gave birth to the pathology of environmental worship, it is a pathology for which only Christianity holds the cure. How, then, does the church embody that cure?

First, we must never hesitate to remind a weary world of the dignity of life and the beauty of humanity. The world is fallen and humans bear the indelible marks of total depravity, but that doesn’t change the reality that all humans bear the imago dei and are worthy of charitable and generous love. Our world is losing sight of the preciousness of humanity – its loveliness and redeemability. In a society where the lines between human and animal are blurring, we must resolutely proclaim the beauty and uniqueness of humanity – rejoicing in our embodied reality.

In light of the Orlando nightclub shooting Scott Sauls challenged the church to embody the gospel’s humanitarian pulse and ethic. We value human life because it is created in the image of God; we value human life because God sent Jesus Christ to redeem it. This is the church must not tire of championing. Certainly we mourn the loss of Harambe, but far greater would have been the death of that 4-year old boy. And most tragically do we look on the death of a 2-year old in Orlando. The more we talk about the value of human life, the more opportunities we have to remind people that Jesus valued humanity so much He was willing to sacrifice Himself on its behalf.

Second, we must remind the world there is a larger frame from which to view these tragedies. In Genesis 1 and 2 God made mankind steward over the animals and creation, but in Genesis 3 that stewardship was rendered much more difficult. The fall introduced enmity and strife into the world, and as a result we cannot expect congenial interactions with wild animals, even animals residing in a zoo or a theme park.

What we can expect, however, is the glorious hope of a new heaven and a new earth. In that soon-coming reality we will never again know the pain of a dead 2-year old or 49-murdered souls. We will not fear animals because we are promised the wolf and lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like an ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food; truly in that day animals will neither hurt nor destroy (Isaiah 65:25).

Animals cause tragedy, nature is unpredictable, and humans commit unthinkable acts of cruelty because we’re not home yet. There is a day to come, however, when Jesus will illuminate heaven by His very presence and wipe away every tear. Let us speak generously of the inherent value of all human life, the unimaginable glory of a new heaven and new earth, and of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to ensure that men could dwell in that new creation of fellowship with God, with one another, and with the animals for all eternity.

Christopher Divietro

By / May 27

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

  1. Today, President Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. President Obama did not apologize for the bombing, which brought about an end to the Pacific theater of World War II. The president used the moment to advocate against the use, stockpiling and proliferation of nuclear weapons. In his own speech, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "At any place in world, this tragedy must not be repeated again." Residents of Nagasaki have asked why their city is not on the president's itinerary.
  2. Greece begins deportation of migrants living in Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia. The city was once a crucial entry point to one stream of the refugee highway that ran along the Balkan Peninsula, connecting Eurasia to Europe. This week, the camp housed around 8,000 migrants, most of whom have been trapped in the city for months, hoping to get to Europe. But this pathway was closed off as part of the EU's migrant deal with Turkey, and these migrants will be sent to state-run camps near Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. Ahead of the evacuation, riot police were readied, but Greek authorities have emphasized that the evacuation has been running relatively smoothly.
  3. Taliban leader killed in Pakistan by drone strike; Taliban announces replacement. Mullah Mansour was killed in a quiet Pakistani province called Baluchistan. This marked the first strike the U.S. has conducted in the province, as Pakistani forces had refused to grant permission for U.S. drones to operate in the area. The New York Times reported that the death of Mullah Mansour has shattered a feeling of security that senior Taliban leaders enjoyed operating in Pakistan. The Taliban announced a replacement, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, a hard-line religious scholar who formerly had charge of the Taliban's religious courts. Most analysts do not anticipate a major change in the Taliban's direction under Akhundzada's leadership.
  4. President Obama visits Vietnam, lifting the decades-long arms sale ban. President Obama said, “Sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself.” However, the move has drawn the ire of human rights experts, who argue that the move was made without adequate concessions from the Vietnamese government on human rights issues.
  5. Iran's Assembly of Experts, a major power center in Iran, has elected a new ultraconservative hard-line leader. From the AP: “The selection of 89-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an ultraconservative who called for the execution of opposition activists after Iran's disputed 2009 election and asked Iraqis to be suicide bombers against U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003, signals the power hard-liners still wield in Iran despite a recent nuclear deal with world powers.”

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].