Building Bridges: the State of Adventist/Muslim Relations
by AT News Team
Relations between Muslims and Christians have run the gamut, through the centuries, from amicable neighbors to bloody crusades and everywhere in between. Especially since the tragedy of 9/11, watched with horror by most human beings including faithful Muslims, there has been an increase in self-identified Christians engaged in name-calling, public excoriation, Qu’ran burning and outright persecution of Muslims. Meanwhile, there are self-identified Muslims who return these angry and hurtful attitudes and behavior. It could be said that these people on both sides are engaged in a contest to see who can show the least honor for the principles taught in their respective Holy Book.
Along with other followers of Christ, as well as faithful Jews and Muslims, there are Seventh-day Adventists calling for faithfulness to the love and compassion Jesus consistently urged upon all people everywhere. The following is a brief overview of just a few of the ways in which Adventists are attempting to build bridges and make peace.
The Global Center for Adventist Muslim Relations has been based in Loma Linda, California. The center’s web site says it “is operated by a team of Adventists (Adventists are a movement of last day followers of Jesus) who believe that God loves all people and expects those of us who are submitted to God to treat each other as Brothers and Sisters. We, of course, do have differences in our beliefs, but we can still be friends! In fact, we believe that faithful Adventists and faithful Muslims can work together in improving our communities because we do share a concern to act and live as God desires.” The web site goes on to showcase the wide diversity of the team: male, female, Pakistani, American, Kenyan, and Argentine. (www.gcamr.org)
In 2006, representatives from CGAMR, Newbold College in Binfield, England, and the Shia Muslim community in the United Kingdom met to share their perspectives on end-time events. Jerald Whitehouse was the main speaker for the Adventist point of view and Sheikh Bahmanpour, head of Islamic Studies at Islamic College in London, spoke on behalf of the Islamic Center of England. There were other speakers as well, focusing mostly on shared beliefs about the return of Jesus and the restoration of peace and justice. (www.adventistworld.org/article/17/resources/english/issue-2006-1008/world-report)
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America also has an Adventist Muslim Relations ministry, with Heidi Guttschuss as director. Its purpose is “to build positive bridges with the world of Islam and to share our unique end-time truths in a way that is both affirming and life changing.” (www.nadadventist.org/article/479/ministries/multilingual-ministries/adventist-muslim-relations)
A number of individuals are also working for better relations. In 2006, Stephen Dickie, an avid student of Christianity, Islam, and Bible prophecy, published a small book called Islam: God’s Forgotten Blessing. He speculates that perhaps Islam was actually brought forth by God during the Middle Ages to protect Divine truth during the worst era of persecution and corruption. Dickie’s unorthodox conclusion, that Islam may fit into the “seven trumpets” of Revelation, is controversial, but thought-provoking. The book is available through his web site (below) and at some Adventist Book Centers. More importantly, Dickie fervently espouses an attitude of love and respect as Christians seek to share their faith in the Messiah with committed Muslims. Dickie’s web site, www.StrawberryMeadowAssociation.com, contains a number of documents on the topic, as well as links to Qu’ran and Bible web sites.
Stephen Wohlberg, author, TV producer, radio host, and Bible teacher, specializes in end-time topics. He promotes Dickie’s book and is active in many other ministries all over the world. Wohlberg’s web site, www.whitehorsemedia.com, identifies him as a “Jewish Christian” and as a member of an Adventist congregation.
Quiet Hour ministries has produced materials on both Adventist Muslim relations and Adventist Jewish relations. The Spring 2010 issue of Echoes, the Quiet Hour newsletter, includes a story by Heidi Guttschuss about a friendship she developed with a secular Muslim woman.
“Building bridges” is a recurring theme in these materials. In 2009, Bryan Gallant, director of Adventist Muslim Relations for the Quiet Hour, visited the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference camp meeting, and led a seminar on the subject. He said that in the spiritual realm as well as in the physical one, the deeper the abyss over which one is trying to build a bridge, the deeper one must dig on both sides of the divide, in order to put down strong foundations for the bridge.
Gallant and his wife had lived for some years in a mostly Muslim society and had learned to love Muslim friends. The premise of his presentations was that all should meet others with respect and the honest desire to be a truth seeker who recognizes that all truth, no matter where it is found, belongs to God. The Gallants have discovered that Muslims “are all about the day of judgment, believe Jesus is coming back again, and some are actually waiting for an end-time movement.” One man told Gallant a Muslim writer has said that before the return of Christ a group would arise who would call people to return to genuine Biblical living, and that Muslims should join those people when they appeared. He looked at Gallant and asked, “Do you think the Adventists could be that group?”
Gallant reported his sorrow that he had to caution the man that not all Adventists would welcome the idea. However, both he and his Muslim friend understood that most Muslims are generally no more familiar with the Qu’rans than the majority of Christians are with the Bible.
The view of Christianity which Muslims most often see is that of polytheists, drinkers, eaters of pork and other forbidden things, and immodest. As for being truly submitted to God (which is what the word Muslim means), they do not often see that among Christians. If an Adventist identifies himself or herself to a Muslim as one who tries to live in complete submission to God, this will provide one small stepping stone. As the friendship grows and the Muslim learns that the Adventist shares many lifestyle ideas with Islam and does not worship Mary as the Mother of God, more stepping stones will be built.
In 2010, Southern Adventist University hosted an Adventist Muslim Relations Summit, sponsored by the North American Division. Speakers included Licila Reis, Rhoda Lapp, Heidi Guttschuss, Jarod Thomas, Ira and Esther Farley, Jeff Gates, Frank Strack, Justin Jones, Christen Cool and Luther Whiting. The keynote speaker, invited by Gallant, was former U.S. Congressman and United Nations representative Mark Siljander, PhD. Siljander confessed that he had once been a right-wing evangelical who deeply misunderstood Islam, but chose to study more deeply and now promotes understanding and respect between the two cultures. (www.gccsda.com/?option=com_content&task=view&id=2908)
Oakwood University recently opened its Center for Adventist Muslim Relations. Citing the fact that in the U.S. many Muslims are of African heritage, Oakwood hopes to diminish the negative attitudes and myths found on both sides and increase respect and understanding. To that end, it has developed an online certificate program for pastors and interested lay people. The program began at the end of February this year.
If you are interested in understanding more about Islam and the common ground between Adventists and Muslims, these and other sources can get you started. Unfortunately, there are also many voices who disagree vociferously with the goal of understanding and friendship. Adventist Today will continue to monitor and report on bridge-building efforts because they are rooted in fundamental Adventist values.