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Is Conquest or Conversion the Christian Answer to Islam?

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Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 09/10/14

The possibilities

Radical Islamists seem intent on conquest. It has always been so. From the beginning and down through the ages, radical jihadists have attempted to convert people to their religion by force. “Convert” they cry “or we have nothing to offer you but the sword.”

The world looks on in horror as the wolves of ISIS give Christians and other minority groups the stark choice to abandon their homes, convert, pay the harsh tax or die. In Nigeria Boko Haram ravage villages, kidnap children and burn churches in their attempt to establish a caliphate, while across the Middle East Christians are persecuted, denied their civil rights and marginalized by a range of Islamic-based regimes.

What is the Christian response? How do you love your neighbor if he wants to cut your throat? Do we launch a new crusade? Do we return violence for violence? Do we seek to slaughter and begin our own beheadings? Certainly we are entitled to self-defense, and the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 is an example of a Christian-based attempt to quash the advance of militant Islam.

The military response may provide an adequate defense, liberate prisoners and bring a limited justice and a fragile peace, but it does not solve the deeper problem. One can be forced to convert outwardly to a religion. People can be forced to obey Islamic law at the point of a gun or the edge of a sword, but no one’s heart can be converted by force, and so it is impossible to coerce someone to convert. It is especially true that is impossible to force conversion to Christianity because Christianity is not simply a religion of rules. It is only through the power of love that a person can be truly converted to Christ.

The long term, and only real solution to the problem of radical Islam is conversion to the fullness of the Christian faith. Historically, Islam is a truncated form of Christianity. It mixes a simplified understanding of Jesus Christ with ancient tribal customs and laws. For a Muslim to convert to Christianity involves an acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It means baptism into Christ in the name of the Holy Trinity, and acceptance of the fullness of Christian doctrine, but real conversion is more than adherence to a list of doctrines.

A complete conversion of heart and mind is necessary. Like everyone else Muslims need to be attracted to the radiant goodness, truth and beauty of Jesus Christ. They must see the radical love that Christ offers and compare it to the radical violence their own extremists offer. How can this happen? It can only  happen through the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit.

Warren Cole Smith, interviewing Evangelical missionary David Garrison relates in this article how large numbers of Muslims across the world are indeed converting to Christianity as a result of powerful personal experiences. There are movements of Muslims to Christ, and by that I mean not just individuals, but movements of at least 1,000 within a community who have been baptized or 100 churches planted over the last two decades … one of the most striking examples is what’s happening in Iran today … many people are voting with their feet and they’re turning away from Islam and they’re walking toward Christianity … tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the last few decades have come to faith in Jesus Christ and followed him in baptism.

How do such conversions happen? In his book A Wind in the House of Islam Garrison explains how individuals are experiencing dreams, apparitions and angelic appearances that convince them to follow Christ. In addition to such supernatural experiences Muslims must see the love, life and light of Christ exhibited in the world. When the power of Christ’s love radiates from those who are his disciples, the people who walk in darkness will see the great light and wish to follow it home.

One of the ways this powerful love is most vividly expressed is in the face of the martyrs. When a Christian dies with forgiveness on his lips and a song in his heart very few can help but be moved. Anyone with a touch of humanity, intelligence and compassion will see the cruel ruthlessness of the murderer and compare it to the sublime grace shown by the martyr. This is why Tertullian so famously observed that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The barbaric actions of the radical jihadists are shocking to all sane and compassionate people, but history may show that the cruel, bloodthirsty executions may be the very thing that turns the tide against Islam. It will be a long term project, but the courage, patience and forgiveness of Christian martyrs may turn the hearts and minds of many to the Christ the King of the Martyrs—the one who showed by his submission to death that the way to life, love and liberty is not through force of arms, but through arms spread wide on a cross.

Fr Dwight Longeneckeris the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at

Boko HaramIraqIslamIslamist MilitantsJesus ChristSaints
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