December 10, 2015

What Adventists Can Do After an Extremist Attack

Editor’s note: News commentaries are intended to express the richness and variety of informed and responsible Adventist opinion on current issues. They do not necessarily convey the viewpoint of the Adventist Review editorial team or the General Conference.

, director of Adventist-Muslim relations for the North American Division

A wave of violence hit southern California last week, leaving many of us numbed.

“Why?” we asked ourselves. “Why would a seemingly normal man, happily married and blessed with a 6-month-old child, take the lives of people indiscriminately? How could a young mother kiss her daughter one last time before stepping into a dark world of death willingly?”

Two days after the married couple killed 14 people and injured 21 others in the San Bernardino shooting spree, I joined a small group of Seventh-day Adventists on a visit to a small mosque in the nearby city of Riverside. We wanted to hear from the Muslim community leader how this tragedy had affected his community.

At the time I was unaware that this mosque was the very place where the male shooter had regularly attended Friday services. I have to acknowledge that there was something somber about standing on the very same ground on which he had stood a few days earlier. Again I wondered why.

Soon we were introduced to the local imam. Dr. Kuko is a soft-spoken, gracious man, with a reputation for being a Muslim who loves God and people.

He was at a lost for answers, visibly disturbed. He also was asking “Why?” Why would the male shooter target people who had been kind to him? Why did he point his weapons directly at a Muslim coworker, a woman with whom he had worshiped at the mosque, and shoot her four times?

Evil defeats logic.

No matter what answers the next few days may bring, we will still be asking “Why?” But perhaps this is not the most critical question that needs to be addressed.

The day after the mosque visit, on Sabbath, Dec. 5, someone asked me after worship services at the Loma Linda University Church how we as Adventists are supposed to relate to the San Bernardino carnage.

There are no easy answers. But perhaps this incident can be the beginning of a conversation that we need to have as a large community of faith. Here’s what Adventists can do.

First “don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21). Paul speaks of evil. The evil that we witnessed in San Bernardino is based on coercion, death, and destruction. God wants to destroy evil — not just manage it but destroy it. How? With a powerful weapon: love. What if we were to seek out our Muslim neighbors and invite them to pray with us for God to bring healing after an attack? What if we refuse to hate?

Radicalized groups are the loudest voices explaining Islam today. They claim to offer the most faithful interpretation to the real teachings of Islam. To support their claims, they use horribly violent portions of the Quran.

If we adopt their view as valid, we unwittingly accept their legitimacy to speak for all Muslims, 23 percent of the world’s population.

So how to defeat evil? Give our Muslim neighbors an opportunity to explain how they understand those very passages that radicals use to justify indiscriminate violence. By giving voice to moderate Muslims, we are telling the extremists that we will not be swayed by their claims of authority and power.

Terrorism is a multilayered and complex phenomenon that I am not seeking to explain here. Instead I wish to leave you with these practical suggestions that will set you in a direction that honors God and humanity. May God help us as we learn to live as disciples in an age of terror and hatred.