6 May

I knew Elton Simpson.

On Sunday, May 3, 2015, Elton and a friend opened fire at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. He was shot and killed shortly after. Elton and his friend drove from Arizona to Texas to attack a gathering celebrating free speech — by displaying artistic depictions of Muhammad. Images of Muhammad are considered highly offensive to Muslims.

No, Elton was not insane. Elton was not mean. Elton was not rude. Elton was not wild-eyed. Elton was not constantly angry. Elton never threatened me. Elton was calm, level-headed, smart, and studious. He was generally kind and well-mannered.  Bright and articulate, he spoke smooth and easy. Elton was not a poor unwanted outcast; a down-and-outer he was not. Neither the simplistic narratives of the right or left work for him.

Elton Simpson


I am convinced the secular world will never properly understand people like Elton because the secular world will never properly understand Elton’s theology.

Secularist presuppositions cause many people to seek in vain for a non-theological answer for “radicalization”: economics, insanity, politics, personal nastiness, family problems, blood lust, revenge. Certainly, some of those factors play into some aspects of some people who commit what we know as terrorist acts. But these are not the core.

The core is theology. The core is taking Muhammad, his words and his actions, seriously. Elton took Islam seriously.

How do I know? Elton and I worked for the same company. We spent time together at our mutual workplace. For example, I once asked Elton if he was going to take a certain job promotion:

“Why not?”
“They would ask me to trim my beard.”
“Why must you keep your beard?”
“To be like the Prophet.”
“Why? You don’t worship him.”
“No, but he was the best example of what it means to live as a Muslim. Do you know what ‘Muslim’ means?”
“Yes – one submitted.”
Yes, submitted to Allah’s will – like Muhammad was.”
“Is that why you wear your pants this way?”
(Elton wore his pants slightly above the ankles)
“Yes, The Prophet never let his garment drag on the ground.”

Elton’s understanding of Islam was such that Muhammad’s example (as found in the accepted Hadith) was paradigmatic for the proper practice of Islam. The way he went about this was very matter of fact. Elton exhibited such a cool confidence in his interpretation of Islam, it is easy to imagine him convincing others to adopt his positions. I once witnessed Elton’s casual yet charismatic sway on display.


First, some context: Elton and I conversed at his local mosque a few times. Yes, I have been to the mosque Elton frequented in north Phoenix. Yet, I am not a Muslim. I was at Elton’s mosque to share the gospel with Muslims as they left Friday prayer. I am a Christian; a pastor and a seminary graduate. I engage in evangelism. This is how I ran into my friend at the mosque.

One Friday afternoon, some fellow Christians and I were at the mosque Elton attended, doing what we often did: quietly and peacefully handing out bilingual (Arabic/English) copies of the Gospel of John to all takers. We stood out of the exit paths, on the public sidewalk. We had an established protocol: when someone said “No”, we responded in clumsy Arabic – “Barak Allahu fik” (a common way of expressing thanks to a person) – and then moved on.

Some days, no one would speak with us or accept our offer of the Holy Injil (what Muslims call the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). This day was not like that – it seemed as if every other person was willingly taking a book – it was fantastic. Elton changed all that. He briefly spoke with me as he came out of prayer and then quickly turned to his fellow Muslims. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but after a brief but friendly-looking conversation, they would hand over the Gospel of John they had just received. Elton went around to as many folks as he could in a very short amount of time, smiling and chatting all the way. Almost every person handed over their book to him. Elton was in the adjacent parking lot by this time. Being that it was private property, we stayed put. Elton then slowly turned towards me and slyly smiled – he held up two hand-sized stacks of gospels and threw them all in the trash. Elton single-handedly stopped 30 people from having a chance to read the Gospel of John.

Mosque Evangelism
our mosque evangelism team after an outreach

As I left that day, I was rather depressed. A bleak feeling settled over me as I sat in my car, waiting at the stop light on 27th Ave. and Glendale. As I looked to my side, I saw Elton. We recognized each other immediately. I quickly rolled down my window and we had a brief conversation till the light changed. I asked him why he was so afraid of his friends reading one book out of the New Testament. I don’t recall his precise reply, but I believe it was something to the effect of, “I’m not afraid, I am just warning them about poison.” 

I believe Elton was genuinely concerned for the Muslims at his mosque. That is why he did what he did that day. I also believe Elton was genuinely concerned for the honor of the one he deems a Prophet – and that is ultimately why he did what he did on May 3rd.

Even though I was surprised by what Elton did – drove from Phoenix to Dallas to kill people who were supporting drawing pictures of Muhammad – I can’t say I was shocked. 

Why? I knew Elton’s theology.

                                                                                PUBLISHED 05/06/2015 ~ PHOENIX, AZ


Vocab Malone has a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is a Doctoral student at Talbot School of Theology. He has many recorded debates. His hobbies include reading, coffee, and geek culture.


  1. MustardSeedBudget.wordpress.com May 6, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    This is important. I am suggesting an article to my editor on this at GodReport.com May I contact you? I am a Christian journalist in addition to being a blogger. If I may interview you, plz text me ur phone number at 310-403-6471

  2. Jeff Sloan May 7, 2015 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks Vocab for being Elton’s friend. It is obvious you prayed for Elton. God has given us the freedom to choose and Elton sadly decided to direct his zeal toward the antithesis of God’s grace. Keep doing what you are doing. Elton and most Muslims believe the Bible has been changed and corrupted. However, the Quran is filled with references for Muslims to consult the Book – the Bible. Muslims fail to believe that biblical codices exist which were written prior to the Quran. The codices are basically the same as our translations today. But the lies persist about the holiness of the Bible. Pray, pray all of us who love Jesus, the Son of God, the Redeemer that Muslims’ hearts would be overwhelmed by His grace and love.

  3. revivalbiblestudy315 May 7, 2015 at 9:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on Revival Bible Study.

  4. SLIMJIM May 8, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    Wow. Ideas have consequences. It can also make people monsters. So long as we only see socio-economic/family background analysis of this crime, we will never get the full picture if we don’t evaluate the theology. Thanks Vocab for this post. I’m glad more people weren’t hurt.

  5. jay352 May 9, 2015 at 3:55 am #

    Reblogged this on Eatgrueldog.

  6. LibertasIntel May 11, 2015 at 1:56 am #

    Reblogged this on LibertasIntel.

  7. Mark May 13, 2015 at 6:15 am #

    Is islam a religion? I submit it is a death cult focused on sex and power, as evidenced by the whole 72 virgins as a reward, and the prophet’s marrying a 6 year old, then consummating the marriage when she was 9 years old. The stated goal is world domination,by force.

    As long as we call it a religion, islam has protections under the US constitution.

    Should we as a nation recognize a group that burns people alive to advance their attempt to dominate the world as a religion? How about ” honor killings”? How about forced female genital mutilation?

    Folks we need to call a death cult a death cult. 1400 years of observed atrocities should work against the legitimacy of islam, rather than reinforcing our misconception that it is a religion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: