NASHVILLE (BP) — Prayers for both the defeat of and the salvation of Islamic State terrorists are not contradictory, Southern Baptists’ lead ethicist says.
Christians should “pray for the Gospel to go forward, and that there might be a new Saul of Tarsus turned away from murdering to Gospel witness,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a Wednesday (Feb. 18) blog post. “At the same time, we ought to pray, with the martyrs in heaven, for justice against those who do such wickedness.”
Prayers for both the defeat of such enemies and their conversion to Christ “are not contradictory prayers because salvation doesn’t mean turning an eye away from justice,” he said. “We can pray for Gospel rootedness in the Middle East, and we can pray to light up their world like the Fourth of July, at the same time.”
Moore’s comments came three days after the release of a video showing the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptians — all, or nearly all, Coptic Christians — in Libya by members of the Islamic State. Many news reports said all were Coptic Christians, while National Public Radio reported one of the victims was not. Text that accompanied the video is addressed to “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church,” according to news reports.
The beheadings appear to demonstrate the Islamic State’s terrorism is spreading beyond Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is carrying out a murderous campaign in those countries to establish a militant Muslim regime in the Middle East. The Sunni Muslim terrorists that largely make up ISIS have executed, driven from their homes, abducted, tortured, enslaved or forced into marriages hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minorities, as well as moderate Muslims. On Feb. 11, President Obama requested congressional authorization for limited use of American armed forces to defeat ISIS.
The terrorists in the video released Feb. 15 are identified with a Libyan group that allied itself with the Islamic State last year, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said in comments for Baptist Press, “It has been said that those who were executed by [the Islamic State] were citizens of Egypt. While I certainly did not know any of them individually and do not know their hearts, they were self-proclaimed citizens of the Kingdom and followers of Christ.
“It is my prayer that Christ stood to welcome them into the Kingdom as He did for the martyr Stephen,” Page said, referencing the early Christian whose stoning death is recorded in Acts 7.
Like Moore, Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, offered a two-fold approach to Islamic terrorism.
“Unquestionably and undeniably, the No. 1 need and the No. 1 hope in this world is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Floyd said Feb. 16 in addressing the semi-annual SBC Executive Committee meeting. “And our No. 1 goal that should never ever be compromised is to penetrate and push back the lostness in this world.
“Simultaneously, we must speak for those who are unable to speak up for themselves tonight.”
Southern Baptists “need to stand for the children, the women and the men who are being brutalized and abused and murdered globally, all in the name of religion,” and they need to challenge America’s leaders also to stand for the victims, Floyd said. “We need to champion, as Southern Baptists, religious liberty globally.”
He urged Executive Committee members to call on their churches “to join in this valiant effort of deep prayer for men and women and children who are being abused and murdered in all kinds of ways.”
In his blog post, Moore said Christians feel prayer for the defeat of the Islamic State and for the salvation of its members is contradictory primarily because “we sometimes forget that we are called to be a people of both justice and justification, and that these two are not contradictory.”
The Islamic State “is raping, enslaving, beheading, crucifying our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as other innocent people,” he wrote. “To not pray for swift action against them is to not care about what Jesus said we should seek, what we should hunger and thirst for, for justice. A world in which murderous gangs commit genocide without penalty is not a ‘merciful’ world but an unjust horror show.”
The Gospel of Jesus “does not say, ‘Don’t worry about it; it’s okay,'” Moore said. “The Gospel points us to the cross where sin is absorbed in a substitute. God’s righteous condemnation of sin is there. He does not, and cannot, enable wickedness. And God’s mercy is there in that he is the One who sends his Son as the propitiation for sin.
“The Gospel doesn’t leave sin unpunished. Every sin is punished, either at the Place of the Skull, in Christ, or in the judgment of hell, on one’s own.”
In this case, Christians “not only have the common grace standing of caring about stopping murder and injustice, rooted in the image of God and the law written on the heart,” he wrote. “We also have the personal implication here. It’s our household being wiped out in the Middle East, the very place where our church started. For us, this isn’t a matter of ‘they;’ it’s a matter of ‘us.'”
In a Feb. 18 news release, Moore announced the ERLC’s Leadership Summit on racial reconciliation March 26-27 will include addresses about understanding and evangelizing Muslims. Afshin Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, will speak in both the plenary and breakout sessions. He grew up in a family of Iranian immigrants in Texas.
The Egyptians who supposedly were beheaded by the Islamic State were working in Libya because of the unavailability of jobs in their home country, according to news reports. They had been kidnapped by the terrorists several weeks before their execution.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 85.3 million, according to a 2013 estimate by the U.S. State Department. About 80 percent of Egypt’s Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, but the word Copts sometimes is used to include evangelicals and Catholics.
In the Fifth Century, the Christian Church divided over Christology, with the Coptic Orthodox rejected as “believers in Christ’s one nature to the point of denying his humanity,” according to Christianity Today. The Coptic Orthodox now reject the notion they are heretics but believe Christ’s human and divine nature make up a single nature, Christianity Today reported. About 200,000 Coptic Christians live in the United States, according to a 2012 report by Christianity Today.