I have long said that one of the main things wrong with the structure of my church's services is that you can't raise your hand during the sermon and ask a question or disagree - like in a classroom. I have walked away from sermons with many questions and concerns and I know I am not the only one.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church (and I talk about this church because it is the one I have personal experience with) the lesson study period should be the time for open discussion. However, I have noticed that even during these periods people are mum and the discussion is dominated by a class leader/teacher whose qualifications amount to his popularity with other church members. That leaves a group of people, not sure enough of their knowledge to participate in a discussion, possibly being taught by someone whose interpretation of the material, or whose view in general, may be askew. Where are the checks and balances?
This past weekend, a few minutes after I sat in the back of a class during lesson study, I heard the teacher say "Well you know the spirit of Satan is strong too. Look at those suicide bombers. They are under the power of Satan and they are willing to face adversity up to death."
I was appalled. I could only hope that the other people hearing him understood that what he said was hateful, at best misinformed. Our Bibles and history are filled with wars and acts of violence carried out in God's name. Even if we believe that suicide bombers are misguided, we cannot dismiss the foundation of their rage.
Admittedly, there are those who bring harm to others for political reasons, but for many, politics and religion are intricately intertwined. Even as the scriptures of every religion advocate for treating others well and against violence, they also make room for defense of righteousness and righteous people. As with every religion, there is dissent among Muslims. Some believe that bombers act against Islam; others believe that many Muslims have forsaken Allah by choosing to integrate and assimilate, and more so by calling some acts of violence terrorism.
The Sabbath School teacher's comment reminded me of an old joke: A Baptist man gets to heaven and is welcomed by St. Peter at the pearly gates. He is told to go enjoy all the bounties of the kingdom, but to be quiet as he went by a particular room. St. Peter gives the same instructions to a Methodist, Unitarian and Lutheran that follow. Eventually someone asked why it was so important to be quiet around that room, to which St. Peter replied, "The Adventists are in there, and they think they're the only ones here."
I have seen various versions of the joke, with many denominations taking their turn in the room. It is a joke, I suppose that could be made of Christianity in general. Christianity interpreted as exclusive goes against the basic theology of Godly love and compassion. Love and compassion begin with understanding, not by dismissing others as being of Satan.