Thursday, 21 September 2017

Prayer can change hearts of enemies

I DON’T want to be depressing but it seems pretty clear that we, that is the non-Islamic, historically Christian and currently mostly secular “West”, have no idea how to deal with Islamic extremism or extremists.

Military force? Only if sustained over decades and at the risk of creating more and more martyrs.

The “Prevent” strategy? It doesn’t seem to be preventing knife attacks on our streets.

Hate-speech legislation seems to be used more to harass the more fiery Christian street preachers who disapprove of certain lifestyles rather than to combat extreme Islam.

Meanwhile, the attack in Barcelona over the summer brought the number of people killed by Islamic extremists in Europe since 2014 to 461.

Governments in previous generations have found that brute force, legislation, and/or inept propaganda simply will not work against religious movements.

The story in China is interesting. After the victory of the Chinese Communist armies in 1949 and suppression of religion, the members of all Western Christian missionary societies departed or were expelled from China.

The churches in China were left to sink or swim in the stormy waters of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Mao believed he had eradicated the church with his violent anti-Christian campaigns. He was wrong. The Chinese church quietly blossomed and after 1978 it began to grow at an astonishing rate.

It is estimated that by 2030 China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, will exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and America as the largest Christian community in the world.

Individuals obviously vary but on the whole people will not be bombed, prosecuted or manipulated out of their religious convictions.

None of this is to say that military/police action, prosecutions of hate preachers (if it is genuinely hate speech) etc is wrong or unnecessary. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient by itself.

To win the “war against terror” we need to change hearts and minds through a better vision of life and, dare I say it, God, than the one which has captured the hearts and minds of the men and women of violence. At root, this is about conversion in the broadest sense.

Please, this isn’t an argument for a new crusade. As a Christian, I know most about conversion to Christianity but the needed conversion could come within Islam.

But a change of heart at that deep level is the only real source of security — the rest is simply restraint.

And in the meantime? Well, Jesus had some radical things to say about dealing with enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43)

Pray for them. Pray to whatever God you believe in, or the God you don’t believe in! Ask God to clear their minds and hearts of the darkness and the poison, to turn them to ways of peace.

Ask God to show them the awfulness of what they intend and to repent. Ask God to keep working on them till they at last understand what truly honours him.

Keep praying, keep asking. Will it change them? God alone knows. It will certainly change you!

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