President Barack Obama says in public that ISIS is "not Islamic." Rather, ISIS is a perversion of true Islam, he contends. Is the good president practicing theology without a license? Does the good president know how to distinguish authentic Islam from its perverted expressions? These questions are my take-away from the excellent article by Graeme Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants," in The Atlantic. What ISIS really wants is to "purify" the world of infidels and establish a universal caliphate, a single global Islamic society. Not all adherents to Islam are ISIS followers, to be sure; but ISIS itself is thoroughly dedicated to the literal teachings of the Qu'ran and Islamic tradition. So says Wood.
If this is true, then why might the U.S. president enter the domain of Islamic theology with an apparent little white lie? Answer: for political motives. The president wants to draw the line between "us" and "them" and place the world's Muslims on the "us" side of the line. All of us who are not of the ISIS ilk--Jews, Christians, Yazidis, atheists, and Muslims--need to unite against the single threat: ISIS. If our political leaders accidentally identify international Islam with ISIS, then many Muslims might line up on the wrong side of the "us vs them" line. Therefore, the president opines, ISIS is not Muslim.
So, what's the matter with a little misleading theology coming from the White House? After all, it's a means to a noble end, namely, world peace. Right?
The president's political theology can also mislead us by avoiding certain topics. One topic this president avoids is Christianity. What we do not hear from the White House--yet we learn from the daily news--is that Syriac Christians in Syria and Iraq have been forced to convert to Islam or pay a tax, the jitzya; and they watch while their historic churches burn. The twenty-one Coptic Christian workers beheaded by ISIS in Libya were referred to by the president as "Egyptians." This is true of course; but what was deleted is that they were "Coptic Christians." So far, the White House has successfully kept the interests of the world's Christians out of his rhetoric. But, can he continue this omission indefinitely?
Here's why I ask. The Wood article on ISIS also makes clear something that will be of interest to Christian believers the world over, namely, the 2nd coming of Jesus. Jesus? Did I say, Jesus as in Jesus Christ? Yes, it's Jesus again right here in ISIS city
ISIS's theology includes an apocalyptic scenario in which the equivalent of the Battle of Armageddon will be fought on the plains of Syria, near Dabiq. The equivalent of the Children of Light (Muslims) will fight against the Children of Darkness (called "Rome" but could include America) led by an anti-Messiah, Dajjal. The battle will shift to Jerusalem. When only 5000 retreating Muslims are cornered in Jerusalem and Dajjal prepares to decimate the remainder, Jesus will appear. Jesus, who is the second most revered prophet in Islam, will come again on the clouds with power and glory. Jesus will spear Dajjal. With this victory, Islam will then rule unopposed. Christus Victor--Christ the victorious champion--will literally conquer evil through killing off the evil one. At least according to ISIS.
For Christians, of course, Jesus' victory that establishes the Kingdom of God is not won by military force but rather through humility, suffering, death, and resurrection. Instead of spearing evil, evil spears Jesus. It's a peaceful victory, at least according to the Christian promise. Despite these different interpretations, Jesus plays a messianic role in both religious traditions. So, at least this is one matter Muslim and Christian theologians might agree upon.
When President Obama finds out about ISIS's apocalyptic hope, I wonder what he will say? Hmmmmmm. After all, he wants the Christians on the "us" side of the "us vs. them" divide right next to the Muslims. This is a good idea, of course. Nevertheless, I ask: will President Obama need the equivalent of a white lie? Or, might theological truth help lead us toward peace?