“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, I have been baffled by the rhetoric that has been offered by many in relation to the liberties that the alleged perpetrators, as well as those who may be like-minded or associated with them, should be afforded. It is not surprising at all that the overall population would – in a moment of fear, anger, and hand-wringing – call for the suspension of liberty in favor of safety and retribution. This, we know, is a prophetic fulfillment – and, in fact, it would be more surprising if we did not see individuals moving in this direction.
What baffles me is the number of Seventh-day Adventists, who are fully aware of – and subscribe to – our prophetic understanding, who fail to make a simple connection between the way we treat terrorists and Muslims today and the way Sabbath-keepers will be treated in the future. Such individuals act as though there is no logical connection between the liberties that are suspended now and the liberties that will be suspended in the future; as if the liberties that are suspended now will somehow be magically restored in the future.
But here’s a little secret: once liberty is taken away in America, it will not be restored. You cannot advocate the suspension of liberty now with the belief that it will be maintained later. You cannot advocate the suspension of liberty for another person because he or she acts or believes differently than you do, while believing that your liberty will be maintained simply because your views are the correct ones. Either liberty applies to all, or it applies to none.
What I am specifically speaking about is the fact that there are Seventh-day Adventists who are fully comfortable with young Dzokhar Tsarnaev not being immediately read his Miranda rights for the sake of “national security,” and the fact that guilt has already been immediately ascribed to him even before he has gone to trial. We live in a society in which every citizen has the right to a fair trial. We also have a “presumption of innocence.” The fifth and sixth amendments guarantee these for every citizen, regardless of perceived indiscretions.
Furthermore, as it relates to his Miranda rights, law enforcement contradicted itself when on the one hand they told the public that no threat was imminent after Dzokhar was arrested, and then turning around and not reading him his Miranda rights. So which was it? Was there an imminent threat, or was there not?
Beyond that, I am also baffled with how there are some who – upon learning that the mosques these alleged bombers attended in Cambridge supposedly has “radical ties” – have said that these mosques should be shut down. Really? So the rights of law-abiding Muslims to enjoy the “free exercise” of their faith should be prohibited because a few within their midst may have engaged in criminal and terrorist activity?
As Ben Franklin said long ago: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It is not surprising at all that the masses would clamor for safety at the expense of liberty; but, as Seventh-day Adventists, we know better. The preservation of safety is not a goal for a Seventh-day Adventist – at least not at the expense of liberty (for one and all).
Because, here’s the reality: the way we treat alleged terrorists and Muslims today is the precise way Sabbath-keepers will be treated in the future. The groundwork that is laid today is the ground that will be stood upon in the future. Thus, “enemies” of America are not a Seventh-day Adventist’s primary concern; enemies of liberty are.
In a quote from Ellen White that seems somewhat far-fetched for some right now, she reveals the exact thinking that is present today towards Muslims as a future reality towards Sabbath-keepers. And, again, just because the exact issues and beliefs may be different, doesn’t mean the principles are any different:
Those who honor the Bible Sabbath will be denounced as enemies of law and order, as breaking down the moral restraints of society, causing anarchy and corruption, and calling down the judgments of God upon the earth. Their conscientious scruples will be pronounced obstinacy, stubbornness and contempt of authority. They will be accused of disaffection toward the government (The Great Controversy, p. 592).
Those who may be tempted to respond that the difference between us and them is that Sabbath-keepers are law-abiding citizens who don’t commit heinous crimes towards other Americans – as terrorists do – are missing her precise point. Her point is that Sabbath-keepers will be “denounced as enemies of law and order” and that we will be “accused of disaffection toward the government,” despite the fact that these aren’t true. This is, precisely, what many alleged terrorists and Muslims suffer today.
But let me close by making this point: these principles, that any Seventh-day Adventist should advocate, should be pursued regardless of any eschatological beliefs. This is because these principles do not simply derive from our understanding of prophecy, but our understanding of the gospel and of who God is. This is, I fear, what some Seventh-day Adventists do not understand. The way we treat terrorists is not necessarily reflective of our eschatology, but our soteriology.
Thus, these principles are universal and timeless – for they are the ways in which God has always interacted with sinful human beings in every age (and our Constitution, though not a religious document, has captured like no other secular document). Though we are sinful, He approaches us with an attitude of innocence rather than of guilt; of faith rather than suspicion. We see this at the very beginning in the Garden of Eden. When God approached Adam and Eve, He didn’t accuse them, but asked questions and gathered information – and then He not only promised redemption, but actually justified their continued existence. (This does not mean that an individual shouldn’t be held accountable for his or her criminal behavior when due process is followed.)
Furthermore, God has always allowed others the liberty to disagree with Him and even sustained sinful creatures by His grace while they were rebelling against Him. And, in the very end, when the wicked are destroyed, it will not be because God has decided to revoke liberty once-and-for-all, but because the wicked will follow their own liberty to its natural conclusion.
Thus, the way we treat terrorists, or Muslims, or any other stripe of “infidel,” is a reflection of our understanding of God and His gospel. And Seventh-day Adventists should thus continue to be the foremost advocates of liberty, not just because of our unique understanding of eschatology, but because of our unique understanding of God. To deviate from principle, even in the shadows of a perceived threat against “national security,” has dire consequences.