Jihads and Youth Groups

We hear constantly about how young adults and teenagers are leaving the evangelical church in America and the rise of the nones. The picture that is painted for the future of religion in America is a bleak one, if all one listens to is these reports.

That's why I was fascinated by this recent article from Rolling Stone about the way that the Islamic State is reaching out and attracting young adults and teen agers from around the world.  The article is lengthy, but a great look at how teenagers are flocking to a stronger religious affiliation than their parents.  Far from watering down the Muslim faith to reach out to these young adults and teens, ISIS is calling for them to leave the comforts of home, to leave the ways of the western world, and for them to come and live and support and fight on behalf of Islamic State.

The article starts with the story of the three Muslim youth from Chicago, siblings, who plan to leave their parents and travel and join the Muslim state.  The oldest left a note for his parents:

"An Islamic State has been established, and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate," Hamzah had written in a letter he left for his parents, explaining why he was leaving the comforts of suburbia for the khilafah, or caliphate. "I cannot live under a law in which I am afraid to speak my beliefs."

The other siblings expressed similar opinions,  stating that "this nation is openly against Islam and Muslims" and that "Living in this land is haram [sinful]."  Although it's clear that many young people are leaving the evangelical church, many young Muslims are desiring to leave home and go overseas to serve their god.  The story of these teens is only one among many that have left home, from America, Scotland, UK, and elsewhere to travel to become part of the Islamic State.  According to one report, 33 people in the US have been detained or questioned for attempting to aid or join ISIS.  ISIS is actively recruiting on social media, and some report the DOJ is looking to prosecute those who voice support for ISIS on twitter.  This picture is but one way they are glorifying the fight against the western world.  

I encourage you to read the whole article.  As I read it I kept wondering why we have such a difficult time getting people to come to church on Sunday morning, yet these groups are able to get teens to leave their home, their parents, and the comforts of home to come and join the fight.  A couple of observations came to mind as I read the article as to why Muslims teens are drawn to this fight.

1.  They expect much of them.  Most church youth groups are known for their fun and games and trips they go on.  I have nothing against those things per se, but what came up time and time again in the article is that ISIS believes that everyone is able to contribute to the fight they see themselves in.  They don't see teenagers as people to entertained until they can grow up and be a part, rather they are soldiers that can fight alongside of them in the war against the western world. 
 In his first video appearance as self-annointed caliph, Baghdadi issued a direct call to not just fighters, but also doctors, judges, engineers and experts in Islamic law to help build the new "Islamic State," where all Muslims were now obligated to go.

This call is for all people, regardless of age or skill level.  By contrast, I often hear well meaning church members say something to effect of "The youth are the church of tomorrow!"  While well meaning, this can lead youth and even young adults to think the church has no place for them to serve.  We often put too low of expectations on youth as being just "kids" who need to "grow up" before God uses them.  But scripture is full of people that were used by God, of all ages, and we would do well to raise the expectations we have of our youth groups.  They can serve and promote and advance the kingdom of God now in innumerable ways.  

2.  They give them somewhere to belong to  Most teenagers feel like they don't belong, whether at school, church, or even their own family.  I understand that the message that comes from ISIS is mostly propaganda, but they still provide a place for these youth and young adults to belong to.  So much so that they are willing to leave home, country, and friends in order to travel half way across the world to join them.  Most people are desperately looking for a place to belong to, none perhaps more so than teenagers.  ISIS appears to be a place where all are welcomed, as long as they swear allegiance to Allah, and provide that place that can be called home. One of the main focuses in the story is on a young teenage muslim girl in Chicago, who struggled to fit in.  She thought leaving would make more sense than staying.  

In fact, in some ways, life in a city like Raqqa might be better. She'd have a whole community of sisters, a group of ready-made friends, just waiting. And everyone, it seemed — at least everyone she talked to — was under 25.

Everyone, but perhaps especially students, are looking for somewhere to belong to.  They provided a place for them to be a part of.

3.  They expect them to give something up to follow the call.  In most of our churches, people want to be able to have all the good things of life, and be a follower of God as well. We tell them they can be cool, well liked, a nice house, nice car, travel , and be a all that God asks them to be.   ISIS expects people to give up things, even family, to follow the call to come and join the Islamic State.  The higher the price for something, the more valuable it seems.  If all we ask people to give up is a few hours on Sunday to follow God,  we devalue the cross.  ISIS asks people to give everything, up to and including their life, and people flock to it in droves.  We need to send the message to the world and young people that the Cross of Christ is worth giving up everything for.  

Again, I know that the message that ISIS promotes is not reality. Much of this is propaganda at it's finest.  That's part of the article, also. But they seem to have no problem engaging young people to follow a religion, to give up something to be a part of it, and to provide somewhere to belong to.  

If this much can be done with lies, imagine what the Church of God, the body of Christ, can do with the Truth.  


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