Why Can’t we be Truthful about Islam? Part I

Following the terrorist bombings in Brussels the other day, our church bureaucrats felt called upon to issue official statements. The Belgium-Luxembourg Conference issued a statement that none of its staff or their families were affected by the attacks, although Conference President Jeroen Tuinstra reportedly avoided the subway bomb (which was detonated about an hour after the airport bombs) by deciding at the last minute to drive to the office rather than take the subway as he usually does.  Tuinstra stated:

"But obviously our concerns and prayers go out to the victims and their families.  We are shocked by these attacks. Violence in whatever name of God, can never be excused. At the same time we must be careful to not treat a particular ethnicity or religion differently. Among the victims are all persuasions present, Muslim, Jew, Christian or Atheist. "

Indeed, violence in “whatever name of God” cannot be excused. Lately, however—as in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino, Istanbul, Iraq, and Lahore—almost all religious violence has been done in the name of Allah.  “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greater”), the jihadists shout as they open fire on concerts, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, restaurants, subways, airports, marketplaces, and other crowded venues.

And what is meant by the statement, “we must be careful to not treat a particular ethnicity or religion differently”?  Does that mean that law enforcement and intelligence services should not focus on Muslims in trying to prevent terrorist attacks?  Does that mean that Western immigration officials should not give extra scrutiny to Muslim applicants for citizenship?  If so, it is extraordinarily ill-considered policy advice. 

The Inter-European Division, headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, stated

"Firm and unconditional is our condemnation of all acts of terror, violence and oppression. May weapons, hate and violence cease! No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism. We are all brothers and sisters, children of one same Father.”

No religion is responsible for terrorism? As noted above, the terrorists themselves say that they are terrorizing in the name of Allah.  Many of them are affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a fanatically Islamic entity.  Islam does not demand terrorism of its adherents, but it does demand that they fight holy war to expand the borders of Islam, or at least support holy war with their means.  (The idea that there is a “greater jihad” that refers not to physical warfare but rather to an “inner struggle” comes from an unreliable hadith—a purported saying of Muhammad not contained in one of the six reliable collections of sayings.) 

Terrorism is a tactic of jihad, and many Muslims do not agree with it.  But even as a tactic, it is specifically sanctioned; Muhammad himself is believed to have said, "I have been made victorious through terror." (Bukhari 4.52.220—Bukhari is the most reliable collector of hadiths, the “gold standard” on sayings attributed to Muhammad.)

Not content to allow the matter to be addressed solely by spokespersons for the conference and the division, Elder Wilson issued his own statement:

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Brussels who have sustained terrible explosions causing death and destruction.  One of those blasts was very near our Seventh-day Adventist headquarters for that region.  I have prayed for the people of Belgium and for our church members who can be a spiritual strength to others in this very difficult time.  We thank our youth for having encouraged many in the city, including the police station, this last Sabbath on Global Youth Day…may our youth and members continue to provide Christ's ministry of love and compassion in Total Member Involvement during this traumatic situation. Today, during our General Conference committees, we will earnestly pray for the country of Belgium, our church members and the families affected by this terrible tragedy."

Elder Wilson thus deprived the bombings of human agency. Apparently they just happened, like bad weather.  And the unfortunate people of Brussels were forced to “sustain” this “traumatic situation,” this “terrible tragedy.”  (By the way, I have grown weary of the misuse of the word tragedy. A tragedy arises from a situation that could not have been avoided given the best of intentions. A deadly hurricane or tsunami is a tragedy, cancer is a tragedy, an infant dying from SIDS is a tragedy.  A terrorist attack is a crime, an enormity, an outrage, an atrocity, and an act of evil, but it is not a tragedy.)

So why does the Adventist Church feel the need to tiptoe around Islam? Why do we support the lie that Islamic terrorism is just some random “tragedy” unrelated to Islam or Muslims? 

I believe there are two answers, which I will discuss in the two parts of this article.

A.     We are frightened of Muslims

First, and probably most importantly, world church officials fear that if we are less than tactful about the “religion of peace,” Muslims mobs will go on a rampage in some outpost where an Adventist Church is surrounded by a Muslim-majority population, and Adventists would be the victims.  This is not a theoretical concern, but a reality.  On August 14, 2013, a mob burned down the Adventist church in the Egyptian city of Assiut, and tried to kill the pastor. The pastor and his wife hid in an upstairs apartment; the mob did not find them, but did set the church on fire with them in it. “By God’s grace, we escaped the flames,” said the pastor, Salib Nasrallah, as reported by ANN. “But we still suffer from the emotional and psychological stress that we had to go through.”  The Egyptian government has since rebuilt the church and it has re-opened.

It was fear of mob violence that led the church to act as it did in the case of Dr. Eric Walsh.  Dr. Walsh was Public Health Director for the City of Pasadena, California, as well as an associate pastor at the Altadena SDA Church, when he was victimized by an unruly mob—no, not Muslims but gay activists. Dr. Walsh had the misfortune of being asked to deliver the commencement address at Pasadena City College after the Board of Regents discovered that their first choice, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, could be viewed on the Internet enjoying sodomy with his boyfriend. Crestfallen by their elders’ ephemeral brush with probity, a group calling itself “Students for Social Justice” began poring over Dr. Walsh's uploaded sermons, and found that he had called homosexuality a sin, Darwinism a Satanic belief, and stated that Muhammad had been influenced by Satan to found the Islamic religion. 

Regarding Satan’s role in the founding of Islam, I was on record with biblical proof over a year before L’affaire Walsh. Adventists have always believed that Revelation Nine prophetically refers to Islam; the passage relevant to the origins of Islam is Rev. 9:1-2:

I saw a star out of heaven having fallen to the earth, and there was given to it the key of the pit of the abyss, and he did open the pit of the abyss, and there came up a smoke out of the pit as smoke of a great furnace, and darkened was the sun and the air, from the smoke of the pit.” 

If Scripture is allowed to interpret itself, the star that fell from heaven to earth was Satan.  (Luke 10:18: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning”; Isa. 14:12: “how art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning star.”; Rev. 12:7-9 “then war broke out in heaven. . . .The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan . . . He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Rev. 12:4: “And [the dragon’s] tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”) 

This is as clear as prophetic interpretation ever gets, so Dr. Walsh’s statement about the satanic origins of Islam was biblically supported.

But our world church officials were afraid that if our authentic beliefs were known in the Muslim world, mob violence would ensue.  So they decided to disown Dr. Walsh and, in the process, disown our Adventist method of prophetic interpretation. The word came down that Dr. Walsh was to be thrown under the bus, and the deed was duly done by Southern California Conference spokesperson Betty Cooney:

"[Dr. Walsh] does not hold ministerial credentials from the Adventist Church, does not speak on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and as far as we know, does not represent his views as anything other than his own.”

Denominational officers came to Altadena to explain their decision to a congregation stunned by this disgraceful repudiation of their beloved and gifted pastor Walsh.  The Altadena congregants were told that “lives were at stake,” and that Dr. Walsh therefore had to be defenestrated.    

It was a question of prudence and sound policy.  The Church is a large international entity with assets and interests in many countries and cultures, including Islamic ones.  So it is just sound policy to be circumspect with regard to Islam. Anyone with international corporate management experience would have made the same decision.

All of which reminds me of some very pointed comments about “policy”:

"When God raises up men to do His work, they are false to their trust if they allow their testimony to be shaped to please the minds of the unconsecrated. He will prepare men for the times. They will be humble, God-fearing men, not conservative, not policy men; but men who have moral independence and will move forward in the fear of the Lord. They will be kind, noble, courteous, yet they will not be swayed from the right path, but will proclaim the truth in righteousness whether men will hear or whether they will forbear."  5T 262-63

"Some will be honest when it costs nothing; but when policy will pay best, honesty is forgotten. Honesty and policy will not work together in the same mind. In time, either policy will be expelled, and truth and honesty reign supreme, or, if policy is cherished, honesty will be forgotten. They are never in agreement; they have nothing in common. One is the prophet of Baal, the other is the true prophet of God. When the Lord makes up His jewels, the true, the frank, the honest, will be looked upon with pleasure. Angels are employed in making crowns for such ones, and upon these star-gemmed crowns will be reflected, with splendor, the light which radiates from the throne of God."  Counsels for the Church, 179.1

"When we place every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God above worldly policy, above all the assertions of erring, failing man, we shall be guided into every good and holy way."  Counsels to Teachers, 487.1

Clearly, we are not at liberty to compromise, hide, or de-emphasize one particle of Bible truth on the basis of worldly policy.  In the end, such policy will avail us nothing. Persecution will come regardless.  “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20. “Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12

Collins brought this passage to my attention:

"Preachers should have no scruples to preach the truth as it is found in God's word. Let the truth cut. I have been shown that why ministers have not more success is, they are afraid of hurting feelings, fearful of not being courteous and they lower the standard of truth, and conceal if possible the peculiarity of our faith. I saw that God could not make such successful. The truth must be made pointed, and the necessity of a decision urged. And as false shepherds are crying, ‘peace,’ and are preaching smooth things, the servants of God must cry aloud, and spare not, and leave the results with God.”  2 Spiritual Gifts 284

Every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, every ray of prophetic light, is to be placed above considerations of policy.  We betray our mission and our master if we censor truth and speak pleasing things in a vain attempt to buy peace and worldly ease.