It's notable that, following the latest ISIS-inspired terrorist atrocity in Nice which killed 84 people, Facebook didn’t activate the tri-color French flag profile picture overlay feature as they did following the Paris attacks in November 2015.
Perhaps the grim reality is that, second time around, fewer people would feel motivated to use it. It reinforces the pervading sense that such acts of indiscriminate mass slaughter are feeling increasingly 'normal'.
But as Christians we are not called to simply accept the status quo. While changing our profile picture or tweeting #PrayForNice are worthy ways of showing solidarity for those who have been affected, there are also specific things we can do that will make a tangible difference:
1. Actually pray for Nice (and the terrorists)
The sad truth is that too many of us who tweet #PrayForNice or #PrayForParis are unlikely to get around to doing so in practice. But we should.
We should pray for the many people who have been affected by the violence and fear another horrendous attack. And while we're at it, we should pray for the Islamic extremists who perpetrate these attacks. However warped their ideology and minds have become they are loved by God just as much as the people they are attacking.
Yes, sceptics will respond scoffingly, 'I thought you were suggesting tangible things to do in response. Why don't you do something that actually makes a difference?' They may even create a meme to tell you so.
Feel free to ignore them. They don't believe in the power of prayer and, as a Christian, you do. It's as simple as that.
'For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms' says St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (6:12).
The point is: there’s a spiritual battle being waged as well as the ones we see in the physical dimension. As bizarre as it may seem to our non-Christian friends, prayer makes a difference in this spiritual realm. The acts of terror committed by ISIS are at root, demonic. While we must work to solve the social and political issues that create an environment for terrorism to spread, we are also called to pray in the spirit for God’s kingdom to come in the places where darkness currently prevails.
2. Love Muslims
At a practical level, there are also many helpful things Christians are uniquely positioned to do in countering the environment that allows fear to spread.
In my home town, the secular non-Christian population is mainly oblivious to the Muslim neighbourhood on their doorstep. It is the churches who are most engaged with the Islamic population, through a variety of interfaith activities and cross-cultural initiatives. Church schools which are also attended by Muslim children are also reaching out.
While some Christians can fall into the trap of regarding their Islamic neighbours with suspicion, our churches are actually ideally placed to show love to Muslims. Get to know your local imam, ask him what you can do to love and support Muslims in your area. Could you host a dialogue event? Could you share some food and drink together (perhaps even at the end of the Ramadan fast)? Can you create points of contact between young people?
That doesn’t mean you agree with their religious beliefs (in fact you’ll probably have a very interesting time honestly talking about your differences) but it will mean that you are willing to build bridges with a community that is often misunderstood and demonised. Most Muslims are concerned about why young people are being led towards ISIS, and tackling the problem together is surely better than regarding each other with suspicion.
3. Support causes that foster peace
There are lots of brilliant Christian-led initiatives making a real difference on the ground. Aid agencies, refugee charities, interfaith organisations and local churches are able to bring help to those affected by extremism and conflict. You may not be able to go to the Middle East refugee camps, but other Christians are already there making a difference.
For example, you can find out about initiatives led by:
- Church Response for Refugees
- Christian Aid
- Christian Solidarity Worldwide
- Embrace the Middle East
- Foundation for Reconciliation and Relief in the Middle East
- Home for Good
- Open Doors UK
- Release International
4. Confront fearmongering
‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18)
As Christians we are called to be people who don’t give in to the narrative of fear. Hope and love are the storylines we are meant to live in.
Whether it be from authority figures or people on your Facebook timeline, take a stand against those who play into the hands of ISIS by ramping up the climate of fear.
My personal bugbear is those who cast blame for the activities of ISIS on the refugees themselves, conveniently forgetting that the vast majority of those who have fled the Middle East did so because of the bombs going off in their homeland. So respond to that Facebook post, sign that petition and live like a Christian who knows where their security truly lies.
5. Share Jesus
It’s almost too obvious to state, but maybe we are quick to forget it. If you want to introduce people to someone who can banish fear and replace it with love then tell them about Jesus.
The world feels like it’s gone crazy recently – political turmoil, terrorist attacks, military coups and a global refugee crisis. Many people don’t know where to turn. Many bury their heads in the sand and hope it’ll go away.
As Christians we are called to recognise the grim reality of our world. We acknowledge that the creation is broken and hurting – it was ever thus. But we are also called to proclaim good news of another Kingdom that begins right now, in us and through us. Grim reality meets hopeful certainty in Jesus Christ. So share him and let’s not let fear win.