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How a Radical Jihadist Led Me to Jesus (part 3 of 3)

Written by Aaron Taylor : July 2, 2008

bible readingNow that Khalid knew he had my attention, he decided to walk me through the finer points of his worldview as a maestro would with an inquisitive pupil.

“Islam is not religion, you probably think Islam is a religion. It’s not. It’s a pure divine belief.  Comprehensive. We had a divine social system, economic system, political system, private system, and a system of what to do when somebody invades your land, what to do when somebody invades your home. We’re onto the concept which a lot of people are talking about today, the issue of fighting or jihad in Islam. Jihad in Islam is one of the things that protects the Muslims around the world.”

“So jihad is primarily defensive?” I thought to myself, “Does that include 9/11?”

Khalid and I had an extensive debate on that one—and a host of other topics. For hours upon hours, for two straight days, Khalid and I went back and forth on just about every topic imaginable: the prophethood of Muhammed, the crucifixion, the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of Scripture, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror, democracy, freedom of religion, the role of women, the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands, the finer points of Sharia law.

In many ways, I felt that I took a beating in my debate with Khalid, though I still walked out of there with my head held high. Rather than feeding the fire-breathing stereotype of a my-way-or-the-highway American evangelist, I decided in the end to make a symbolic attempt at reconciliation, at least on a societal level. Though Khalid left me with little hope of reconciliation between the West and Islam, I found out later that my presence did have a disarming effect on Khalid—somewhat. Khalid conceded that I wasn’t what he expected and, at the very least, he confided to me that I helped him see that American Christians are also concerned about the moral issues he’s concerned with and that not every American Christian agrees with U.S. foreign policy.

Then I returned home.

For weeks I walked around in a daze. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that if Khalid and his repeated threats to fight with all means necessary until U.S. troops are removed from Muslim lands, if his ideas represent only 10% of the 1.3 billion Muslims of the world, then we are looking at a problem of global significance. Hearing the rage and frustration of Khalid helped me to see that the anger and frustration of millions of Muslims directed at America and Western Civilization didn’t emerge from a vacuum. And how many jihadists does it take to execute a terrorist attack capable of destabilizing the world order? Only a handful. All I could think of was America is not ready for this.

But then another thought struck me.

As I poured myself into watching documentaries, reading scholarly journals online, and scrutinizing the TV news, I realized that something was changing on the inside of me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. After a couple of months I realized that something had happened during my debate with Khalid that I never thought would happen. Khalid had presented an authentic challenge to my faith and I knew that if there was to be any victory at all, like the victory that was prophesied, then I would have to get to the bottom of the issue. Khalid’s charge was simple. Jesus didn’t leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society. At least Muhammed attempted to solve the world’s problems.

Tell me, preacher man. How would you implement the Bible from a governmental point of view?

I poured over the Scriptures for months with this question in mind. Did Jesus really leave us with nothing in terms of how to implement the Scriptures from a governmental point of view? Certainly he left us with something. Or did He? If He did, then we Christians in the West had better find out what it is and get off our lazy derrieres and do something. If He didn’t, then why didn’t He—and how come the vast majority of my charismatic brothers and sisters seem to think that He did?

After months of pouring over this simple question, I realized that my entire world had been turned upside down. But the twist in the story is my life was turned upside down not because I discovered that Khalid was wrong, but because I discovered that he was right. I realized that not only did Jesus not leave a comprehensive system in place to regulate society; He flat out refused every single form of earthly power that people tried to impose on Him. Not only was He not interested in establishing an earthly throne as Israel’s rightful King; He wasn’t even interested in taking on the role of a judge (Luke 12:14).

It’s not that I didn’t know this before. It’s just that suddenly the thought of the Son of God coming to earth to live, die, and be raised from the dead—without suggesting some type of economic, judicial, or political system to give humanity a helping hand—took on a new and profound significance. If Jesus didn’t attempt to solve the world’s problems through seizing the reigns of political power, then He must have found a better way. That better way, I’ve at last discovered, is the cross. At the cross, Jesus taught humanity that it’s better to suffer injustice than to be the cause of it, it’s better to relinquish power than to pursue power, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s better to die than to kill.

I find it odd that after 25 years in the charismatic movement—including three years of Bible school, ten years of traveling the world, and countless conferences for Christian leaders—I’ve heard hundreds of sermons on the cross, but never have I heard a sermon connecting the cross to an ethic of non-violence. I’ve heard the occasional sermon about taking up the cross and denying myself (usually that translates into thou shalt pray and fast a lot). I’ve heard numerous sermon examples about how some saintly follower of Jesus way over there somewhere chose to bless his persecutors rather than to curse them, but never have I heard a sermon about the cross as a challenge for Americans to think differently about violence, war, and—God forbid!!—Patriotism.

Since my time with Khalid I’ve traveled back to Africa to build a radio station, started a vocational training program to help suffering Christians in Pakistan, and—much to the consternation of friends and family—traveled to the West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams. After I wrote a scathing newsletter last year detailing the suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, our ministry has lost a considerable amount of support. Most of my family and friends (including my most trusted mentors) simply don’t understand why a promising missionary like me would put his entire career on the line to challenge such sacred cows in American evangelicalism. Rarely do I feel I have the right words to say when responding to my critics. Even now, all I can think of is, on November of 2006 in a cold, abandoned London warehouse, a radical jihadist led me to Jesus.

Image Attribution

Author Bio:: Aaron D. Taylor is an author, speaker, a missionary/evangelist, and the founder of Great Commission Society. Aaron is currently writing a book about his conversion to pacifism. Aaron is moving with his wife to the West Bank next year to serve the Palestinian Christian community. To book Aaron D. Taylor to speak at your church or event, please contact him at 636-208-6828 or fromdeathtolife@gmail.com

Kimberly Roth is a co-editor for the Jesus Manifesto. She over-thinks and cares way too much, so she rambles on at www.barefootbohemian.blogspot.com.


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Viewing 17 Comments

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    Thank you for this story.
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    Thank you Aaron. I think I agree with you in theory, but my willingness to follow through in action is still trailing behind.

    All the best with the forthcoming move.
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    Great stuff, Aaron. Intriguing questions and a compelling testimony.
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    At one point in my life I had read and gone along with some of the beliefs of the Christian reconstruction/ theonomist movement. The claims Khalid made about Islam seem very similar. That Jesus did not leave us with a system of social law because it already existed in the Old Testament and it forms the right basis for governing a "Christian society"- I thought it made sense at the time. But the fact that Jesus chose the cross over and against all the other means of social reform, condemning the Pharisees who were zealous for a restoration of the Law, and commanded his followers to do the same...What was it he said after all, when he was accused of breaking the sabbath Law, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice"? After reading all that brilliant stuff written about how the Law gives us a perfect model for governing society (including the institution of the death penalty), I've come to see as you do that giving up control in these areas is essential if we are to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
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    "At the cross, Jesus taught humanity that it’s better to suffer injustice than to be the cause of it, it’s better to relinquish power than to pursue power, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s better to die than to kill."

    WOW, I love those words.

    Thanks for sharing your story Aaron.
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    So does that mean you've become an anarchist or christarchist?
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    I'm pleading ignorance here. I'm not sure I know the difference, but if I had to choose between the two without knowing how the term christarchist is normally used, I'd choose christarchist. Christ alone is supreme!
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    Wise choice! I find labels, even well-intended, often serve very different purposes in other's mouths.
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    Not meaning to try and label you. I just was unclear from your beautiful story whether or not you concluded that it was better to have no government but Christ or whether you felt that it didn't matter which government style was used as long as those in power were dedicated to Christ first.
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    Thanks for taking my well-intentioned jab gracefully, Maria. I too, am curious as to your answer, Aaron.
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    Which is which (Christarchism and anarchism) and where are you getting your definitions?

    I don't know the details of Christarchism but I can tell you that most Christian anarchists (see the Jesus Radicals website for one articulation of such a position) would not be comfortable being described as espousing "no government but Christ", at least not for the world at large (this would certainly apply to the believer, and has anarchistic implications, or as they put it "Christianity, lived rightly, looks a lot like anarchism"), and I'm pretty sure they would take issue with the idea that it "didn't matter which government style was used as long as those in power were dedicated to Christ first."
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    Okay, now I'm really confused. Are you saying it's okay for Christian's to have no government but Christ, but not unbelievers? Anarchism is the idea that we can all get along with out government, right? If Jesus didn't give any direction for government then is the conclusion that we shouldn't have government, or is the conclusion that it's not important what the government style is, or is the conclusion that God gives us direction for government style in other ways? Or maybe there is another conclusion I didn't mention?
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    Anarchism is a political philosophy that rejects coercive control of others (violence being but one form of coercion), and works toward the realization of forms of human organization that are non-coercive. Christian anarchists like the Jesus Radicals recognize the anarchistic implications of Jesus' teachings of non-coercion and join the anarchist quest for a more just society. Their motivation would be something like "no government but Christ" but they would not impose that understanding of things on all anarchists. Nevertheless, many anarchist groups employ consensus decision-making that looks a lot like what Yoder called the "rule of Paul," whereas many churches simply duplicate coercive models of leadership.

    Others, like myself, recognize those same implications but do not believe that an anarchist society is possible for the world at large. The difficulty with some of your other questions is that I don't know who "we" is. If "we" means Christians, then we already have no government but Christ -- "Jesus is Lord" means that Caesar is not, and that George W. Bush is just the President of the United States. As aliens and strangers, we respect the governing authorities where we find ourselves, but our true allegiance is pledged to a crucified king, and our citizenship is elsewhere.

    In that sense, then, it doesn't matter what forms of government the world experiments with, though some forms of government are more pleasant and more subtle in their coercions than others. [There is also the issue of economics, which would only add to the length of this comment, so I'll refrain.] I reject the assumption often found in American Christians that God has some sort of preference for modern democracy.

    Jesus did give us direction for government -- the church -- but the ethics of that directive are incompatible with nation-building. The true site of non-coercive human organization is the Church, though unfortunately it is frequently colonized by principalities and powers to the point that it often models the world rather than functioning as sign, a foretaste, and a herald of the future God has for us.
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    To clarify my position, I believe that Jesus left us with an anarchist model that seeks to create an ideal community in the life of the Church, but isn't necessarily a model that Christians should try to impose on the whole of society. I believe Jesus didn't leave the world with a system of government because His intention was to create an alternative society that renounces violence and aims for economic equality among its ranks. To the degree that the Church lives out its calling as a society that renounces violence and aims for economic equality, the Church exposes the inadequacy of earthly kingdoms built on violence as instruments for achieving moral ends. I agree with Ted that an anarchist society isn't possible for the world at large--although I'm sure there are a lot of secular anarchist that would take issue with me on that.
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    Well said, Aaron.
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    Does manipulation fall into the coercion category that anarchists are trying to avoid? I've observed a lot of that in churches, even ones that are pacifists and use consensus decision making. And how would one discriminate between manipulation and appropriate social discipline? I guess I'm confused as to how coercion is defined. For example, is making my child have a time out a form of coercion? Is removing someone from membership coercion? Church discipline at its extreme excludes people, that's not very do able in the world at large with 6+ billion people, unless excluding them means putting them in prison. And I don't think its possible to put a person in prison without resorting to force.
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    You ask some great questions. Yes, I would consider manipulation a form of coercion, or at least something unsavory. And a too-narrow definition would render any form of social influence "coercive" in some fashion. It may not be the best word, but I don't have a better one at the moment. Struggling over the limits of language and ethics, however, is preferable to resorting to violence or condoning the use of force because they are easier to understand. I'm not sure how coercive a time-out is, but giving my six-year-old a time out is preferable to hitting him, though hitting him might be more 'effective' sometimes.

    It is also true that even (especially?) groups with the best of intentions fail to live up to their ideals. To the person who is disappointed that pacifism cannot stop violence, I might retort that neither can violence. But there are deeper questions here. Does this even work? Is it worth holding such a standard, which looks stranger and stranger as you poke at it? To this I can only offer a counter-example: most of us would affirm a sexual ethics of chastity -- fidelity in marriage and celibacy for single persons. And most of us do so in spite of the fairly obvious fact that chastity is ineffectual against promiscuity in the world at large -- or even among Christians, it would seem. Do we abandon the standard for this reason? Most of us don't.

    The NT concept of the church always presumes an "outside" to which one might return (or be sent) if the terms of community seem unfavorable. It's true that this limits personal autonomy in the sense that one cannot be a part of the community on his or her own terms. But no one is forced to be a part of the community. This only works for a social group that is, among other things, non-territorial -- hence the NT imagery of aliens, or sojourners. It is not a program for governing all people in a given geographical territory, but it still comprised a constellation of political claims that were made over and against the political claims of the Roman Empire.

    It is possible that this is an unsatisfying view of the political, that it does not answer the big-ticket questions about good governance in a given geographical territory. Perhaps this simply means, as many have assumed over the centuries, that we must find those answers someplace other than the New Testament. But maybe it means that to make ourselves responsible for those questions is to pretend to the knowledge of good and evil.

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