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.


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.


An Initial, but Visceral, Response to the Murder of the Jordanian Pilot — 23 Comments

  1. Thank you for putting your thoughts into words and sharing them with us. I felt so emotional upon hearing the news of the Jordanian pilot. My reaction also was Kyrie Eleison. I was dumbfounded at our President’s reaction. That’s it? I realize that cooler heads must prevail, but we also must mourn and be shocked at such evil. To be so studied and almost flippant boggles the mind.
    Thank you for the reminder to pray for our leaders.

  2. beautifully done for an incredibly difficult subject. I too watched the video alternating between lolling away, prayerful though and anger.

  3. Thank you for this good article Pr. Thoma. What you write resonates with my own feelings and thoughts about this atrocity and utter wickedness committed by ISIS.

  4. As gruesome as this act was, I much prefer Pastors to remain in their calling. There is a vocation which is trained to deal with animals such as ISIS. We are called United States Marines; at one time this country understood what “Send in the Marines” meant and had the courage to do it. My Marines are ready – what we lack is a leader with the courage to lead.
    Dennis Peskey

  5. If the clery of this country had stuck to their calling during the Revolutionary War, there may not have been a country. If the clergy of today stay in their calling, Christianity according to the Bible will eventually be banned. The enemies of Christianity are both foreign and domestic and many times they wear a suit and have a big smile.

  6. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

    I think President Obama’s address is more consistent with the Lutheran understand of sin, confession and absolution than is this critique of his address.

  7. Obama’s vocation though is not a pastor, it is commander in chief. When we see brutality like we’re seeing from ISIS, it’s not time for a theological discussion from him about how bad all religions are, it’s time to send in the army and remove the guilty from this planet. Separation of the left and right hand kingdoms, you see.

  8. Let’s not forget, that Pastors, are people too. I refused to watch this, I in no way, want to see someone die, voluntarily. I read the foreign papers, daily. I see, quite a bit the nightly news, never discusses. I see what other countries, think of us. I’ve heard it, from others in EU.

    If we can discuss parodies, non pietist issues, & those are Pastors too, then why can’t a Pastor discuss how he, felt, when he saw this? Pastors should, their laity may & most likely have asked questions.

    Micah 6:8, covers this. It’s a Holy, Merciful, & Just Father who said It. Mercy, Justice, & Humility, His Idea, not ours. I’m thankful Pastor wrote this, I’m not the only one, who felt, thought, & said aloud, what was written here. I am grateful, Pastor’s are still people, too.

  9. Dear BJS,
    I have never been a person (or pastor) in the corner of the President, but he is the elected head of our country.
    The President has no clue on how to deal with ISIS, or many other issues.
    He made a mockery of many things at the National Prayer Breakfast.
    As I heard tonight from some (and it made sense), you know why he is contrary to “right Christian understanding”, he attended Rev. Wright’s Church for 20 years.
    I am not surprised at what I see from our president, just saddened; much of the time.
    But as always, that is why we vote.
    And we (I) still pray for him and all leaders.

  10. @Pastor Prentice #14
    Good comment, Pastor Prentice. To be honest, I don’t understand why Missouri Synod Lutherans are interested in what President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast. It is an interfaith gathering that we wouldn’t participate in, right?

    The ISIS problem is horrendous in this sinful world. It is unspeakable what they have done to the hostages they have taken and murdered. What about the horrific commuter train accident that happened in New York state on Tuesday? People were burned alive there too and I do understand the difference between the two events.

    I’ll probably get thrown off BJS for saying this, but could it be that people will take any opportunity to criticize the President? I don’t agree with the majority of what President Obama has done, but as Pastor Prentice said, he is the elected head of our country. We are to pray for him and all leaders.

    In Christ,

  11. It is an interfaith gathering that we wouldn’t participate in, right?

    …same as the eschaton, right? 🙂

  12. And now, Kayla Mueller, who could have been any of our daughters.

    We need a lot more of Pastor Thoma’s attitude.

    This nation looks more and more like a bunch of wimps, led by the chief smirking wimp.

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