Father Jacques Hamel. Source: CNN

France Church Attack: How can Christians respond?

Islamic State have claimed their first attack on a church in Europe, killing a French priest. An attack like this on Christians is rare in the West, so how as Christians, can we respond?

What happened?

A priest has been killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in France. On Tuesday 26 July, two men armed with knives entered Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church, in Normandy, France. During morning mass the pair took the congregation hostage before forcing Father Jacques Hamel to kneel down. Witnesses say the pair then filmed themselves as they executed the priest and made a statement from the pulpit in Arabic.

The men were shot and killed by police as they exited the building, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is Greater”). While this is the first incident of a targeted attack by Islamic State on a church in France, its certainly not the only terrorist attack in France linked to the group.

Father Jacques Hamel. Source: AFP

Father Jacques Hamel. Source: AFP

Earlier this month, on 14 July, 84 people were killed and over 200 injured as a man drove a truck though crowds in Nice as they celebrated Bastille Day (French National Day). While Islamic State claimed the attack, no firm connections have been made between the group and attacker.

On 13 November 2015, attackers killed 130 people and injured over 350 in Paris, in another attack claimed by Islamic State.

What makes this attack different to previous attacks is that this one was specifically done within a church building. This attack, like all terrorist attacks was horrifying, but the target was more specific.

The church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Photo: AP

The church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Source: AP

How have people responded so far?

The Catholic Church in France has described this attack as horrifying and that they are shocked such violence would take place inside a church.

France’s President Francois Hollande has also condemned the attacks and French politicians have said this attack marks a “new stage” of extremist terror. Similar reactions have come from regional Islamic councils, calling it an “abject and barbarian attack”.

Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia, says, “We’ve seen the actions of Islamic State escalate over the last few years. This latest attack in France is horrifying.”

While this is the first of its kind in Europe, this particular attack is not unique for Islamic State.

This has happened in other parts of the world.

Christians in countries impacted by the actions of Islamic State – including Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria, to name a few – have all noted churches being targeted in attacks.

Christians have also been a major target for Islamic State militants in the past. The video of 21 Egyptian Christians in orange jumpsuits being executed on a beach by the group made world headlines in February 2015.

How can Christians respond?

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the justice that God desires.”(James 1:19-20)

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

God changes our hearts. This attack may leave us horrified, but we know there is a biblical response.

  • We can pray for the families of those involved in the attacks and for Christians in France to continue trusting Jesus.
  • We can pray that God would work in their hearts and give them strength to live out Matthew 5:44.
  • And we can continue sharing Jesus’ message of hope and forgiveness in the midst of fear and hopelessness.

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