An Initial, but Visceral, Response to the Murder of the Jordanian Pilot

The following may or may not be of any use to you, except perhaps to say, “Hey, look at what that pastor wrote. He said something that could get him on some government list.” Well, whatever. If I see it show up in public, I’ll be surprised. It is simply as I have written below: An immediate reaction written no more than a few minutes after having viewed the videos I reference. It took about ten minutes and was cared for with very little editing.

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kyrie eleisonI just watched the video of the Jordanian fighter pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive in a cage. It was incredibly difficult to view to be sure, but my discomfort is a pittance in comparison.

My first response was to pray inaudibly. As the soldiers surrounded al-Kasasbeh and prepared to light the fuel-filled trench which led to the cage, I mutely prayed. But as one of the soldiers bent down to ignite the pyre, I heard my own voice repeatedly choking, “Kyrie. Kyrie eleison.”

I’m a Christian pastor. That was my initial response — to pray.

As my petitions became more vocalized, I sensed another fury being stirred from my innermost. I experienced the indescribably helpless and futile desire to climb through the computer screen and do whatever I could to stop what was unfolding, not having a plan, but merely wanting to go to al-Kasasbeh and to scream to him through the flames that he wasn’t alone. I scrambled in my mind to douse the flames. I wanted to combat the men present. I wanted to do anything I could, all the while knowing full well that I would most likely meet the same fate. I wanted more than anything for al-Kasasbeh to know that someone was there, I was there, with him, fighting for him, and I was not going to turn away, that evil would at least be bruised.

I’m a Christian pastor. That was my second response — to defend and to fight.

Just after al-Kasasbeh finished thrashing in the cage and was overcome by the flames, he fell to his knees with his head bowed. The demonic cameraman was precise in his effort to zoom in so that anyone watching would be able to see the flesh boiling and dripping from his face. After only a few moments, al-Kasasbeh toppled backward to the floor of the cage and a front-loader dumped a pile of dirt and stones on his remains. The fire was out. He was dead. The struggle was over. At this point, I paused the video. I stood up, walked outside, and quite literally screamed at the top of my lungs, “Somebody, anybody, DO SOMETHING!”

I’m a Christian pastor. That was my third response — to let my thoughts pull back and peer past reality’s curtain, even if only for a moment, and to become action.

Having read in the news that the President of the United States had viewed the video as well, and having heard that he made some related comments in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, I tracked down the video of the speech and watched. His response was far different than mine.

He chose to criticize Christianity. He chose to chastise the Christians, saying things like, “Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He added, “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Why, Mr. President? Why?

My reaction to the barbaric video, the reaction of a single American who is essentially powerless to do anything, was first to pray, and then to fight through to stop it, to stomp out what was clearly and definably evil, even if it meant sacrificing myself.

Your reaction, that is, the reaction of the one American who isn’t powerless to respond, well, you decided to chide the ones who, age after age, have shown that an unearthly courage burns within their very cores, a courage which has so strangely and yet so consistently lifted them to brave this world’s monsters — even when the monsters have arisen from within their own ranks. You chose to reprimand the ones who, set firmly upon the cross of Jesus Christ, have been moved to set the standard in history for loving-kindness, mercy, and defense of the helpless. You reprimanded these ones, Mr. President. You have chosen for so long to avoid even using the term “Islam” lest you offend the ones who have actively pursued all of the standards for evil on this globe. You have preferred to defend an unchanged barbarism that has continued from its birth until today while choosing to seize every opportunity, even the National Prayer Breakfast, to dress-down the Christians. You deliberately chose, right there at that podium, to traverse such an inappropriate distance and reference the actions of ones from generations ago whom we have been more than willing to call out by name as imposters. What you have done is quite simply offensive, ignorant, contextually non-applicable, and revealing.

This will only be tolerated by the church for so long.

When that time comes, certainly, as is always the case, my first response will be to pray for you, Mr. President. My prayer will be that God would give you wisdom. But also, my prayer will include a humble petition that the Holy Spirit’s courage be granted to the church because the hour will have arrived for her to collectively see this nation and to behold it as a man in a cage being burned alive by monsters. If you are standing in the same place then that you are right now, when they do, they will see you among the monsters, Mr. President.

You should know that as a pastor, in a very visceral sense, I’ve now become acquainted with the spirit of my second response. You should also know that I’m okay with it. The Lutheran Confessions to which I fully subscribe, and the Word of God to which the Confessions bend their knees as true expositions, they appear to be okay with it, too. If you question this, to start, you may read Martin Luther’s explanation of the Fifth Commandment in the Large Catechism.

Acknowledging all of these things and considering what may be a possible future, I would suspect from history’s truest record, that my third response, if it were to occur, would most certainly not be a solitary one.

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