The Crisis in Iraq? What is the Christian Response?

Experts share thoughts on the threat posed by ISIS, and what we need to do.

The Crisis in Iraq? What is the Christian Response?


Tonight, President Obama is expected to go before the American public to lay out his strategy to combat the growing threat known as ISIS.

For months, Christian leaders in the Middle East have been begging the world for help to fight that threat, which for them is all to real. They and other religious minorities have been on the run from the Islamist organization, also known as the Islamic State. Little by little, the world has woken up to the reality too, especially as the group very publicly decapitated two American journalists.

And now, there are fears that this terrorist organization—which has developed so much that it is almost a state itself—is threatening Western countries in their own homelands.

Western powers have begun to respond militarily. Pope Francis has said the aggressor in Iraq must be stopped, though he added, "I do not say ‘bomb,’ I do not say ‘make war.’" Some Christians compare the current situation to the rise of the Nazis and their threat to religious minorities. Have we not learned from the disaster that befell the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, they say. Others take a more pacifistic approach.

As we approach the 13th anniversary of al Qaida’s attack on America, we ask Catholic commentators to share their ideas on how Christians should respond. Here are some of the responses.

Russell Shaw, Catholic author and commentator

Clearly, military action is now necessary to stop these fanatics. The entire region, and the West as well, will be imperiled if they aren’t. It appears that President Obama is trying to create a coalition to take action, and that is highly desirable. The United States is hardly the only country with a stake in this, and if they have any sense of their own self-interest, many Arab countries should join the effort. But whether it’s a big coalition or a small one, the U.S. will have to take the lead. I trust that the President’s well-known diffidence won’t hamper that.

I have no idea what Pope Francis meant in ruling out both bombing and making war, while at the same time giving his blessing to stopping the aggressor. It’s axiomatic that in order to achieve an end you have to take the means. Perhaps this was just his way of saying, ‘Use no more violence than you must, and try hard to avoid killing non-combatants.’ If so, I fully agree.

Beyond the immediate crisis, the U.S. and its partners need to take a serious look at the underlying causes that give rise to groups like ISIS and start taking long-range steps to correct them. Failing that, we face the grim prospect of having situations like this repeat themselves over and over again.

Anne Hendershott, director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. She is the co-author with Christopher White of "Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church."

As one who just published a book lauding the courage of what we call a "new generation" of priests and bishops who are revitalizing the Church, I have been disappointed that so many of them have been silent on the threat posed by the barbarians of the Islamic State.  Perhaps they are fearful that they will be viewed as criticizing Islam.  But, the Most Rev. Amel Shimoun Nona, the exiled Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul of Mosul has warned us that if we do not understand the threat that Islam presents to us, "you too [in the West] will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home."   We need to move beyond our fears of what others will think of us, and condemn the barbarism of radical Islam, and the threat posed by those who desire to do us harm.   

Jude Huntz, director of the Office of Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Chicago.