Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, once again made news for the things that he’s said about politics and his faith. Now, obviously, this is also a large reason why he gets interviewed. People know that he is going to get attention and likely say something a bit out there.
This time Phil offered his thoughts about the ISIS terrorists.
"In this case you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible. I'm not giving up on them, but I'm just saying, either convert them or kill them. One or the other.” - Phil Robertson
Those who are not part of radical Islam are being told by ISIS, “Convert or die.” Phil Robertson’s solution sounds pretty similar.
It has not gone unnoticed that Phil is calling for a similar ideology of the terrorists.
Robertson’s solution of “convert or die” was a chilling echo of the ultimatum that Islamic State militants gave to Christians, Yazidis and other minority religious sects who live in their new “caliphate.” “Hundreds” of men have been killed for refusing to convert to the Islamic State’s extremist interpretation of Islam," Amnesty International reports. “Hundreds, if not thousands” of women and girls have been abducted and some may have been raped or forced to marry the fighters. - NY Daily News
A Confusion of the Two Kingdoms
As Lutherans, we have a beautiful doctrine that helps speak into these kinds of situations known as “the two kingdoms.” It could help correct Phil Robertson where he has gone wrong and at least help him more clearly articulate what he was trying to say.
Luther said this about the Two Kingdoms:
"God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly… The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself.” - Martin Luther
There are, properly understood, two kingdoms. The kingdom of the right, which is the spiritual kingdom and the kingdom of the left, which is the world. The kingdom of the right is the Church and is made up of only Christians. It is ruled by God with grace and mercy. It is ruled by the work of Christ and calls Christians to do the same.
The kingdom of the left is also ruled by God, but the mean by which he rules is different. God rules the kingdom of the left through governments and other earthly authorities. The kingdom of the left protects all people and does so by the authorities that God has put in place. It rules with law instead of grace.
Luther also said:
"We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters… But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal."
In other words, as Christians we live in both kingdoms. And as a part of the kingdom of the left, we submit to the authorities and laws of that kingdom unless they directly go against the kingdom of the right. And as a part of the kingdom of the left, we don’t take matters into our own hands to bring justice to evildoers but we rely on the authorities that God has put in place (unless the authority itself is the problem, i.e.: Hitler).
Phil Robertson’s Confusion
As Christians, we should desire that even the worst of people would be saved. As a part of the kingdom of right, we are called to love, pray for, and desire the salvation of everyone. This is where Phil spoke rightly when he wanted to convert the ISIS.
But Phil also gets himself into trouble when he suggests that if his conversion was unsuccessful that we should kill them.
The problem with this is not that they aren’t guilty and shouldn't be stopped, but in the “Convert or die” proclamation. What if a member of the ISIS converted to Sunni Islam, which is not a radical, extreme form of Islam? According to Phil’s statement, they still should be killed. According to Phil, it seems that only the conversion to Christianity counts.
I’m not sure Phil actually meant this, but this is why people freaked out. Because it echoes of the “Convert or die” tactics that led to what’s happening with the ISIS. They don’t care whether your are Christian, Jew, or Sunni, if you’re not their brand of Islam, they will kill.
So how do we respond as Christians to ISIS?
So what’s a Christian to do? Does the Christian seek the salvation of the ISIS? Does the Christian hope that the United States steps in to stop the ISIS? And can someone want a person’s salvation and their death at the same time?
When we properly understand the two kingdoms, we can actually answer yes.
Yes we want the ISIS to be saved. And yes we want them dead.
We want them saved because “God wants all people to be saved.” And we want them dead because justice says they need to die. Because it may actually be less loving to let them keep killing.
But here’s the catch, it’s not a “Convert to Christianity or else...” We can pray that there are family members who still have influence in the lives of the ISIS and that they will hear God’s truth. But we also pray that if special forces show up, they eliminate the threat.
We don’t pray that the special forces has Christians who want to evangelize to the ISIS. We pray that the special forces has Christians who have deadly accuracy as a sniper. We don’t pray that a group of Christians show up trying to convert them with guns in their back pocket just in case.
We pray in the tension that God’s two kingdoms would be at work. We pray that the kingdom of the left is at work rescuing God’s lost people, wherever they are found. And we pray that the kingdom of the right is at work protecting and caring for all of God’s creatures.
Luther understood this tension well:
…In the same way, when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish…
…The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1-5]… Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved