Category Archives: Current Events

Thoughts on the Inauguration and Bible Prophecy

I’ll do my best to be non-partisan in my remarks below. Some have wondered if the election of Trump and the threats to the inauguration would have prophetic significance. I would suggest that we tend to blow current events out of proportion, simply because they are what we know and our fears for the future magnify them. A lesson or two from history may be helpful.

John Adams was so contemptuous of Thomas Jefferson that he left the White House in the middle of the night on March 4, 1801, refusing to attend the inaugural ceremony of the man who had vanquished him.

Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote in 1876, was urged to lead an army into Washington to stop the “corrupt” handover of power by Congress to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes; luckily, Tilden declined. Nonetheless, Tilden and his backers insisted they had been robbed. President Hayes was thereafter called “His Fraudulency.”

So bitter was the rivalry between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt that they said not a word to each other during the 1933 inaugural drive from the White House to the Capitol. Hoover and Roosevelt never reconciled, and they hurled insults at one another with regularity. The last three paragraphs are are deeply indebted to a brilliant essay posted earlier today:

As riveting as the current election and its aftermath have been, in many ways it is nothing new, so breathe out slowly everyone, relax, and enjoy the ride, wherever it leads. Prophecy is not concerned with the ins and outs of political intrigue. It is written to provide direction and hope to the people of God. No matter how out of control things appear, God is still in control.

Disappointment with the San Antonio General Conference Session

Last weekend was spent at the Calimesa SDA Church Retreat at Pine Springs Ranch in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California. During the Sabbath School time the teacher was addressing the weekend’s theme of “When Things Don’t Turn Out. . .” He was addressing how we should respond when things don’t turn out the way we expect, personally, in local communities, and worldwide. He invited me to be prepared to say something about the General Conference Session and the big thing that didn’t “turn out” there, the vote to give official endorsement to divisions of the church to consider mission as a key factor in decisions regarding women’s ordination. Time ran out before I was able to speak, but I thought my notes there might be useful or encouraging to someone here. My apologies if this blog is annoying to those who might disagree with my conclusions.

Let me begin with the history of ordination. While the word “ordination” appears in the King James Bible, that English word comes from the Latin, it is not found in the New Testament. Ordination as we know it developed gradually over the early centuries and became fixed in the Middle Ages. Ordination of women did not occur then on two grounds: 1) the Bible nowhere required it, and 2) no one had ordained women before, so tradition supported the Bible’s silence on the question. These two reasons also sufficed for the Adventist pioneers, who adopted male ordination from their previous churches. This was not a theological act but a practical one, providing credentials to those who spoke for the church. When I entered ministry in the early 1970s, the traditional situation remained in place and the lack of biblical clarity meant I was neutral to negative on the question when calls to ordain women began in the 1970s.

In the years since, society in many parts of the world has completely changed on the role of women. In the 1950s nearly everyone assumed that some roles should be filled only by men: physician, soldier, lawyer, fireman, police officer, truck driver, President of the United States, and airplane pilot, to name only a few. In more and more places today, women fill virtually all roles in the work place except for ministry in churches like ours. Absent a clear “thus saith the Lord” on the matter, a tradition was threatening to present the church as completely irrelevant to society in many parts of the world.

So I took a fresh look at the Bible in light of the new situation. Acts 15 provides encouragement to do that. The earliest church believed that the Bible (the Old Testament at the time) taught circumcision as an unchanging requirement for salvation. But God’s providence in their experience led them to re-read the Bible and open the way for uncircumcized Gentiles to participate in the church. Things that once seemed obvious from their study of the Bible were no longer so in light of the Spirit’s leading. In my own fresh look at the Bible it dawned on me that the Bible nowhere asks the question “Should women be ordained?” It doesn’t address the issue directly. That means that the “answers” people were finding on both sides of the issue lacked the clarity of direct speech from God. Why doesn’t the Bible address the issue directly? What does that tell us about God? Evidently God never addressed the question in Scripture because He could live with the situation as He found it (male ordination). It was not the most important thing to challenge people with in those days. God addressed people on issues when they were ready to hear it (John 16:12) or when the mission required it (Acts 10-15).

This was the conclusion of the majority of members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee. For many it was a change of mind. They learned that the Bible does not settle the matter in an absolute sense. Where mission requires it, women can be ordained. Where mission suggests that ordaining women would harm the church in a particular society, it should probably not be done. There were holdouts on both sides who believed the Bible clearly forbade or required universal women’s ordination, but the clearest trend of Bible study was in the direction of mission being the determining factor in any part of the world. That meant the world church allowing local jurisdictions to decide what was the best approach for their areas. This was not a pro-women’s ordination conclusion, it was a pro-mission conclusion. And it seemed to me that this was the only reasonable outcome at the General Conference session in San Antonio (July, 2015). I realize that there are many on both sides who still disagree with me on this. And I affirm them as brothers and sisters who have the same right I do to study and seek the mind of God on this question. Where God has left room for differing opinions, we dare not cut each other off.

Having said this, the denial of the TOSC conclusion and process in San Antonio was heart-breaking for many of us. I was heartbroken for the many women who felt the action showed disrespect to their perception of a call from God to do ministry. I was disappointed for those parts of the world who felt distrusted when their local judgment on the matter was rejected. I felt distrusted and disrespected when my earnest attempts to bring reason into the discussion were summarily dismissed with assertions and condemnation, rather than collegial debate.

But I realize that in the ultimate scheme of things my disappointment and that of others does not matter all that much. If I am right about Scripture and about God, God has been waiting a long, long time to see His people come to their senses on many issues. He has been waiting a long, long time to see healing of the divisions in the universe. He has been waiting a long, long time to see the ministry of women being affirmed by us in the same way He affirms it. If that is true, things in San Antonio didn’t turn out for God either. . .

Review of Adventist Churches That Make a Difference, by Gaspar and May Ellen Colon

A new book is coming out shortly by a couple of friends of mine. I thought you would want to know about it. The book Adventist Churches That Make a Difference, by Gaspar and May Ellen Colon, was designed as an enhancement to the Third Quarter 2016 Sabbath School lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist world church. As such, the book was subject to many constraints. It was held to a brief and fixed length. Each of its thirteen chapters had to be similar in length. And each chapter had to correspond to the topic of that week’s lesson. The format has been a popular one, since many members and teachers are eager to supplement the Sabbath School Quarterly with additional resources.

Given the constraints of the format, I didn’t expect the book to break any new ground. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. This is a landmark book. It not only advocates that every Adventist church should be deeply engaged in its community, but it provides dozens of specific illustrations of Adventist churches around the globe who are doing just that. These kinds of ministries are divided into four types: 1) relief, 2) personal development, 3) community development, and 4) confronting injustice. Colons use a fishing analogy to describe these ministries. 1) Relief is giving a hungry person a fish, 2) personal development teaches people how to fish, 3) community development provides the fishing tools, and 4) social justice makes sure everyone has equal access to the fishing pond.

Gaspar and May Ellen Colon are eminently qualified for the task they take on in this book. For many years she has been in the General Conference Office for Sabbath School/Personal Ministries and Gaspar has been director of the Center for Metropolitan Ministry based at Washington Adventist University. In these capacities they have traveled all over the world encouraging community outreach and observing first-hand the many success stories that are out there. While most churches in the Western world are stuck in neutral, some have actively filled recognized needs in their communities, causing these churches to be highly valued by those outside the church. These success stories are a gold mine of fresh ideas that stimulate thought and provide readers with options that their own churches can consider.

The book is extremely well written and easy to read. The variety of stories keeps the reader’s attention. But the stories are not just random and entertaining, they are structured into a carefully crafted philosophical foundation. That foundation is built on both Scripture and the best scientific evidence of how groups of people relate to each other. While the Colons are not specialists in the Bible, their use of Scripture is measured, solid and persuasive. The stories illustrate how real churches in real communities apply both biblical and scientific principles to real-life problems.

This book is MUST reading, not only for SDA Sabbath School teachers, but for pastors, local and worldwide church leaders and all members who desire that churches make a difference in their local communities.

The Status of ISIS

In the wake of the Brussels attack (and Paris and San Bernardino and Istanbul) people are wondering if ISIS is getting too strong to stop. Actually the opposite is the case. I believe that ISIS as a traditional caliphate is on the ropes. The recent attacks in Europe are a sign of weakness rather than strength. Let me explain.

The core theology of ISIS is an eschatology grounded in the Qur’an and the Hadith, the normative sources of truth in popular Islam. It envisions the end-time re-establishment of the caliphate, a form of government which is ruled directly by God through a designated caliph, the religious and political successor to the prophet Muhammad. In order to establish a caliphate, you need a trans-national entity (ISIS only declared a caliphate after expanding its territory out of Syria and into Iraq, thus evaporating the long-standing border between the two) that fully implements islamic law (Sharia). And the ruler of that entity must be an adult male of Qurayshi decent (the tribe of Muhammad) and a person who exhibits morality and integrity. Followers of ISIS believe that they have a true caliph in the man who calls himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

A crucial element that distinguishes ISIS from al Qaeda is the possession of a trans-national territory, the Islamic State. In the theology of ISIS, as soon as the end-time caliphate is established, all faithful Muslims are to come to it and pledge allegiance to the caliph. Leaving it for nearly any reason thereafter is considered apostasy. So the fact that they are now sending people on terror missions to Europe is an act of desperation that goes against their own theology.

By declaring a state, ISIS in a sense planted the seeds of its own demise. To run a state, one is actually forced to govern; to collect taxes and provide services, including the kind of conventional military defense that is necessary to hold and govern territory. Governing territory has taken the bloom off the Islamic State dream. The citizens of the Islamic State are becoming increasingly restive. At the same time, the bumbling alliance against ISIS in Iraq and Syria the Levant is now beginning to close in on all sides. Many cadres of ISIS are deserting their forces and sharing their knowledge of ISIS with its enemies. This gives Western intelligence the location of top leaders, who are being picked off one by one.

As a trans-national entity that governs and wages traditional warfare, therefore, ISIS’ days seem to be numbered. But as a force capable of spreading terror outside the Islamic State, they will probably continue for the foreseeable future. The question, therefore, arises, how can Muslims themselves combat terror? What type of theology may be persuasive for those considering jihadism as a way of life?

To be concluded. . .

Can Muslims follow Christ as Muslims?

This is the last in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

We need to clarify this question before we attempt to answer it. Before the Enlightenment and the subsequent modernity project, there was no concept of religion as something separate from culture and ethnicity. This is why the ancient gods were attached to people groups: the gods of the Babylonians, the gods of the Assyrians, etc. The idea that one could choose one’s religious affiliation is a rather new idea, particularly outside of traditionally Christian lands.

This means that as a Muslim encounters Jesus, his worldview, beliefs, values and practices will be gradually reoriented to reflect his newfound Kingdom identity. Some will express this transformation by removing themselves from association with anything Islamic. Others may choose to retain their birth identity when they become followers of Christ: culturally they remain Muslims but spiritually they are disciples of Jesus, and are no longer attached to that which conflicts with their allegiance to Christ.

This is a choice that is best left to the new believer, since for those of us outside of their context, it is difficult to assess how much they can keep and how much is a compromise that leads to syncretism. So our role is to nurture the new believer and constantly ask questions of clarification that may help them to think deeply about matters of faith, practice and allegiance to God in Christ. We offer them biblical guidance but allow them to choose the path to which God is leading them.

How are we to understand Islam then? Islam is contested territory where God and Satan are both at work, acting from within. For the past twenty years I have witnessed the manifold wisdom of God among Muslims. I have seen redemptive windows in their most important ceremonies. I have seen cues about Jesus that point to him as the Word of God, the Spirit of God, sinless, born as God’s mercy to mankind. I have been able to piece together the story of the Great Controversy from the Qur’an and have used it as a bridge to the biblical witness in which Jesus is central. In the poetry of Rumi I have rescued lines that invite intimacy with God. I have found questions that have triggered meaningful and relevant conversations with Muslims. Questions such as, “what does it mean that Jesus is known as Messiah?” or “do you know what Jesus is doing in heaven right now?” “Why is the Sabbath so important in the Qur’an?” Or “how can ISIS be defeated in the way of God?” That question can lead to the understanding that God’s government excludes the use of force.

Like never before, Muslims are searching for partners in faith who are willing to put an arm around them and point them forward. Sadly, such partners are few, since too many are more interested in denouncing than in restoring.

The current crisis of radicalism is waking up the Muslim world, and according to the Qur’an God has a group, the true People of the Book, who can be trusted and will provide answers. God is pouring out dreams and visions in the Muslim world. In addition, missiological research and anecdotal evidence are showing that God is using what Muslims already know about Jesus as a door opener.

Isaiah 60 gives us a window into the future: the descendants of Ishmael are coming to worship God, bringing the gifts from the land. Because of the faithfulness of God, we can joyfully join him in reaching out to Muslims, knowing that the vision is certain, and it will not falter.

I plead with you, dear reader, to change the conversation with regard to Muslims. Make joining God’s mission the burden of your heart and tongue. You will be blessed!

What about the “Muslim God”?

According to the Bible, there is only one God, the One worshiped by Abraham. Other gods do not exist. Satan and his associates are imposters, God’s rivals in name only. Jews, Christians and Muslims agree on this.

This one creator God is known by various names in different languages and those who worship him in all these languages and cultures have very different ideas of who He is. So while we disagree about his nature, the fact remains that there is only one God, whom we all (Muslims, Jews and Christians) worship with greater or lesser insight into his true character and mission.

Are Muslims worshiping a “different god,” meaning a different spiritual entity? No, that is not even possible; because we do not believe a different god exists, unless we are prepared to believe that Muslims worship Satan unknowingly.

Jesus’ example towards the Samaritan woman is instructive here. He did not tell her, “you worship the wrong God.” Instead He told her: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” And then he led her into a full understanding of who he was in comparison with that which she did not know. This is what I mean when I say that we move from common ground to higher ground.

What about Mohammad and the Qur’an?

This is the fourth in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

As we briefly consider the contested topics of who Mohammad is and the inspiration of the Qur’an, we need to assess their influence from the frame of the Great Controversy. If we do this, we will ask: In what ways has Mohammad’s presence and the message of the Qur’an advanced or obscured God’s self-revelation? Since there are differences of opinion and interpretation regarding both issues even among Muslims, we need to engage each view in its context, rather than trying to offer a blanket answer.

At the very time when Christianity was experiencing its darkest hours (Christological disputes and the politicization of Christendom), Mohammad rose with a message that had two main pillars: God is One, and there is a Day of Judgment in which the actions of everyone will be brought into account. The Qur’an was the voice by which this call was made, and unlike what most Muslims think today, it bears a positive witness towards the Bible. At the time of Mohammad’s death in 632, more than 10,000 pagans had rejected idolatry and embraced the call to follow the God of Abraham. The extent of the reformation that began under Mohammad’s leadership is hard to over-estimate.

When I am asked by Muslims what I think of the Qur’an, I tell them that in every way in which its message echoes the ancient path of the prophets that came before it, I will accept it. Why? Because truth is truth no matter where it is found. I am not interested in being politically correct, nor culturally sensitive (in the postmodern way), but rather truthful to the way in which I understand God’s mission among non-Christian people groups. This is the positive side of the Great Controversy that, once affirmed, gives me a solid platform from which to bring the biblical story of redemption.

For too long, mission has suffered because Christians have invested their energies pursuing questions related to the origins of the Qur’an, the sexual life of Mohammad, and the violent past record of Islamic wars of expansion. These questions may never be settled among us. I am struggling with some of them myself, since the historical sources give different pictures. In the end, however, keeping our focus on God’s mission makes Satan look smaller. And that gives us reason to hope, which translates into mission.

Good News to the Muslim world

This is the third in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

If you were God, how would you convince your children that you have always had a place for them in your heart? You would do so by showing them the many ways you were always present in their past history. You would open their eyes to see how you are present now. You would reaffirm your commitment to remain in relationship with them throughout eternity.

Muslims see themselves as the spiritual children of Abraham through Ishmael and his mother Hagar. So it is our privilege to open more deeply to them the story of God’s plan for restoring this world from violence and sin through the seed of Abraham. That story centers on the missional heart of God searching for Hagar to offer her and her progeny promises of blessing and greatness. God hears, this is the promise that God made to Ishmael. And as a perpetual reminder of His mercy, Hagar was bidden to call her child Ishmael, “God shall hear.”

God wanted to make Ishmael great from the beginning, but these promises could only be activated as Ishmael’s descendants remained faithful to God. The ultimate blessing of Abraham comes when the descendants of Ishmael accept Jesus, the One sent from heaven, as Lord and Savior; the way, the truth and the life. Muslims are much, more open to consider the plan of salvation after understanding the way in which God had purposed a life of blessing for their community from the beginning.

Those who only see darkness in Islam’s prophet, book and practices will find it difficult to explain how leaving millions of people in darkness is consistent with the mission and character of God. Why would God preclude millions from the light of truth with no apparent reason other than the fact that there were born into “the wrong family”?

The other extreme is to be avoided is to ignore the worrisome signs of deception in Islam, simply because we also find manifestations of truth there. Affirming what is right and true in Islam cannot be a substitute for Gospel proclamation. In other words, the truth we find in Islam is a platform from which to sensitively launch the Story that challenges every other controlling story. The direction moves from God (found in common ground) to God (as revealed in “higher ground”). God’s story says yes and no. Yes to what is right, no to what does not align itself to the will of God.

Islam and the Mission of God

I am sharing a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gabriela Profeta Phillips (Director of the Adventist-Muslim Relations Center for North America), who spoke last night at Loma Linda. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Enjoy. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

Confusion describes the current state of affairs when it comes to understanding Islam. And there are good reasons for feeling this way. Hardly a day goes by without gruesome violence, bloodshed, and anger in the name of Islam. We live against the backdrop of Paris, San Bernardino and ISIS. We are horrified by the war machines of Syria that kill and maim and show no signs of slowing down. Our world has changed since 9/11 and it is hard to get used to this new one.

When teaching I used to be asked: Is Islam peaceful or violent? My response was to say that the answer depends on whose Islam we are inquiring about. Today, nobody asks that question, the answer seems obvious if you watch the news. Yet things are not quite that simple.

All Muslims (adherents to Islam) have five core teachings: believe in God, in angels, in the revelation of God through sacred books, in the prophets, and in the Day of Judgment. Beyond that there is much diversity of interpretation among Muslims. So the more vulnerable the Muslim community feels in any place, the more likely it is to provide new recruits to groups who claim to be fighting in the name of God. When we view our Muslim neighbors through the darkest possible lens, we increase that very sense of vulnerability which can bring out the worst in people.

As Adventists consider the plight of their Muslim neighbors, what is the best starting point for an evaluation of Islam? What is the biblical approach? If we live under the authority of God as revealed in the Bible, the lenses that guide our enquiry have to start with an understanding of God and the way in which he is active in this world. So the most important question for understanding Islam is: How is God working out His purposes among Muslims and what role does Islam play in His purposes? To the degree that we can answer this question, we can also ask: How do we cooperate with what God is doing?

In the end, the question whether Islam is peaceful or not is not the most important one. It is not Islam that drives the way we do mission, it is God. If we can recapture a clear understanding of the mission of God and from there look at Islam, the confusion we feel about Islam resolves itself. When Islam is viewed through the lens of God’s mission for the world, we find that both God and Satan are at work and we can find evidence of their presence.

We have seen that it is perfectly possible to write books on what is right in the Qur’an and books on what is wrong with the Qur’an. Both kinds of books make sense to many people. So is it a matter of choosing which side to pick? Not really… Let’s understand first what God is doing in the world and then there is the chance we may see the issue with more clarity. To be continued. . .

From Waco to ISIS: The Road Back to Sanity, Conclusion

What is the biblical response to religious violence? I would suggest at least two things. First, it is important for every follower of God to be aware of their own ignorance in spiritual matters. There are some things we can know about God, but there are also many things we don’t know for sure (Deut 29:29). In many religious groups certainty is a higher value than truthfulness. People won’t necessarily admit that or even be aware of it. But as you observe their interactions with others it becomes clear that once they have made up their minds, people of differing opinions become the “enemy.” But this behavior flies in the face of Scripture and is a symptom of human pride.

The apostle (Rom 11:13; 1 Cor 9:1-2; 15:9) Paul was one of the great thinkers of the Christian church. Among other things, apostles were the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 11:47-50; Eph 2:19-22). God spoke to Paul in visions (2 Cor 12:7-10), so he was an inspired writer, who was later added to Scripture (2 Pet 3:16). Nevertheless, Paul makes this startling and candid admission: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor 13:9, KJV, ESV, NIV). Although Paul received special revelations from God, he was ready to admit that his knowledge was partial and even his prophesyings were partial. Full knowledge of spiritual things is not a present reality, but something attainable only in eternity (1 Cor 13:12). This conviction harmonizes with the teaching of Jesus, which include the assertion, “I have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now” (John 16:12). It is healthy to have religious convictions and act on them, but when those convictions lead one to kill people in the name of God, something very twisted has occurred in the name of conviction.

From an Islamic perspective, a similar caution can be found in the Qur’an itself (Al ‘Imran 3:7): “It is He Who has sent down to you the Book. In it are verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundation of the Book: others are not entirely clear. But those whose hearts deviate (from the truth) follow that which is not entirely clear. They seek discord and search for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its true meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:’ and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.” From this passage it is clear that absolute certainty in religious matters can lead one to deviate from the truth by seizing on hidden meanings which God did not intend.

A second response to religious violence is to understand that the divine answer to the world’s problems is not political, financial or military. Whenever religion mixes with politics and economics, true religion is the loser and human pride is exhibited in corporate ways. The spirit of Jesus, taken from His own testimony in court, is clearly stated in John 18:36, NIV: “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’” Peter somehow missed the memo and endangered Jesus’ legal defense by his violent actions in Gethsemane (John 18:10-11). The true religion of Jesus does not live by the sword. His kingdom comes from another place. Jesus spoke even more pointedly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:43-45, NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Ultimately, behind religious violence is a picture of God as a violent, blood-thirsty tyrant. Jesus here says that those who love their enemies are like their Father in heaven. That is what God is really like. He is really like the One who was beaten, slandered and killed, yet said “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In the words of Jesus, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9).

From an Islamic perspective, the violent approach to religion should struggle much more to reconcile itself with statements like the following in the Qur’an (Al Nahl 16:125-128): “Invite all to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance” (16:125). This text suggests trusting the outcome of one’s witness to God, who alone truly knows the heart. Violence takes away another person’s choice and implies that God is pleased with forced submission. “And do thou be patient, for thy patience is but from Allah” (16:127). The key here is the character of God. The Muslim’s religious convictions cannot ignore the fact that the core portrayal of God’s character is as the merciful and compassionate One (Al Fatiha 1:1, repeated in the opening line of nearly every sura in the Qur’an). We are to be merciful, patient and compassionate to those who disagree, because that is what God is like. “Allah is with those who restrain themselves, and those who do good” (16:128). There are times and places where communities may need to defend themselves. But such actions are “emergency measures,” they are not for the purpose of exhibiting the character of God. Such actions, even when necessary, are to be regretted. They are not the substance of true religion, even for Muslims. To murder innocent people “in the name of Allah” is to bring shame and disrepute on God Himself. Such actions do not draw unbelievers to God, they drive them away in disgust.

Whether one is an Adventist or a Muslim, the solution to religious violence is centered in two things, humility and the character of God. Humility arises not out of God’s limitations, but ours. Humility is simply recognizing the truth about my own limitations. My ignorance about God is greater than my knowledge about Him I have many things to learn and many, many to unlearn. To take the life of another on the basis of my own understanding of truth is foolish arrogance in the extreme. Words fail.

The centrality of the character of God is evident at the heart of both Adventism and Islam. The central question at the heart of Islam is “What matters at the end of life?” When you come to the end of your life or the end of the world, what will truly matter? Will you wish you had played more video games? Will you wish you had binge-watched more TV series? Probably not. The Islamic answer to the question is found in two things: What really matters is God and good works. In other words, the two things that truly matter in Islam are submission to God (the word “islam” in Arabic means “submission”) and developing a character that does the things that please Him (good works). At the core of Adventism one finds the same basic question and the same answers. If you read the Conflict of the Ages Series from Ellen White, it begins and ends with the phrase “God is love.” The character of God is what the whole thing is about. And the same Adventist author says that the one thing we will take with us into eternity is our character (DA 331; RH, Dec 13, 1892).

The ultimate “jihad” is not political or military, it is a battle for the mind and the heart. Muhammad seems to have understood this principle, in spite of all the literal battles he chose to or had to fight. It is reported that after one campaign he announced to his soldiers. “We have now completed the lesser jihad. We now go home to the greater jihad.” The battle of faith is not about guns and tanks and fighter planes, it is the battle to control ourselves and to love one another. For sinful humans beings hurting others is relatively easy, controlling ourselves is difficult. If religion is to mean anything in this world, it must make us better people than we would be without it. Our study of Waco and ISIS does not suggest that they offer promising paths toward peace and self-control. Turning the other cheek is a true miracle that you won’t find in Waco or Raqqa (capital of the Islamic State). Genuine religion is more needed than ever in this world.