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How to Label a Terrorist

There's no question that the GOP presidential hopefuls are worried about ISIS. From the sixth primary debate earlier this month, in which ISIS was mentioned 38 times, to Sarah Palin's rambling endorsement last week of Donald Trump, in which she promised Trump would send U.S. troops to "kick ISIS' ass".

The Republican candidates like to contrast their aggression toward the terrorist group with the rhetoric favored by President Obama, who refuses to even label ISIS as "Islamic terrorists." I've written previously about the reasons behind the President's approach, an approach shared with the leaders of every other Western nation and even with Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush—but unfortunately, the Republican candidates have thus far failed to heed my words.

So I'm going to try to explain with an analogy.

There is a movement known as Christian Reconstruction. It's popular among some Calvinist circles, but is controversial even within the larger conservative Christian movement. Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains:

It maintains that the world should be brought under (reconstructed) the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas: social, moral, political, judicial, military, family, art, education, music, etc. Christian Reconstructionism advocates the restoration of Old Testament civil and moral laws in order to reconstruct present American society into an Old Testament type Mosaic form and that the three main areas of society--family, church, government--should all be Biblically modeled, the Bible being the sole standard. This would include severe punishments for law breakers.

To mainstream Christians, this view sounds just as disturbing as it does to non-Christians. Reconstructionists get their views by interpreting certain teachings of Jesus very differently than do most Christians. When Jesus speaks of the "kingdom of God," a Reconstructionist pictures a literal flesh-and-blood kingdom, prepared by Jesus' followers so that when he returns he will have a place to rule.

Traditional Christianity understands the "kingdom of God" more as a matter of loyalty than legislation, more a matter of piety than politics. Christians are called to follow Jesus above all others, even if that leads them into conflict with the civil authorities. As most Christians read it, Jesus' reference to the "kingdom of God" does not imply that he ever expected his followers to become the civil authorities. In the eyes of theologians who already worry that the American church has entangled itself too thoroughly with the state, Reconstructionism sounds nothing like Christianity.

Now let's suppose, hypothetically, that the Reconstructionists have converged on a state where they intend to take over the legislature. Let's suppose, further, that you're the incumbent governor of that state. As polls begin to show the balance tipping in favor of the Reconstructionists, you realize you need to make a speech about the dangers this movement poses to a multicultural society.

Consulting with your advisors and speechwriters, you learn that a number of Christians are upset that these vile theocrats have co-opted the name of Christianity. If you use the full name, "Christian Reconstructionism," you may be in danger of offending mainstream Christians. But if you refuse to connect the words "Christian" and "Reconstructionism," you'll offend the theocrats.

Which side would you offend?

Now suppose you had to make a similar speech about ISIS. Call them "Islamic terrorists," and you'll offend mainstream Muslims. But refuse to call them Islamic, and you'll offend the members of ISIS. Or take it a step further, and say their beliefs are a perversion of Islam—implying that you, an outsider, understand their religion better than they do. In that case you're belittling ISIS as well as offending them.

What would you choose this time? This year's Republican candidates have chosen to side with ISIS.

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