By Jared Wright, M.Div. student at La Sierra University. Driving along I-5 between Mt. Shasta and the Oregon border on my way to visit the in-laws last week, I passed a large barn with a message to passers by: “State of Jefferson.” I had heard talk of making two states out of California, and the writing on the roof piqued my interest.
In 1941, Gilbert Gable, the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon and some like-minded Northwesterners announced the formation of the State of Jefferson [http://www.jeffersonstate.com/] (part Northern California, part Southern Oregon), declaring that they would be seceding from California and Oregon every Thursday. Yreka, California, would serve as the new state’s capitol. Historians who have written about the Jefferson secession agree that the independence movement was part whimsy, part real.
Gable and citizens living near the California-Oregon border were fed up with state governments that dictated policy from afar, imposed taxes, and generally called the shots, while remaining grossly inattentive to the needs of the citizens. Of particular concern was a lack of paved roads along the border region into the wilderness where timber and rich mineral deposits provided unlimited opportunity for economic development. Repeated calls for aid from Sacramento met empty pledges of help that never arrived.
The secession movement found sympathy from residents of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath counties in Oregon as well as Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc counties in Northern California. California residents of Lassen and Shasta counties added to the movement’s momentum, but Jefferson State met an untimely end. Less than a week after the establishment of the State of Jefferson, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor putting an abrupt halt to the Jefferson “uprising.”
The spirit of Jefferson State lived on, however, and in the 1970s, talks of secession again rose among those who opposed majority rule - most being those living in Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Today, the stalwarts who sell T-shirts and bumper stickers sporting the Jefferson State logo (two X’s that stand for being double crossed) will tell you that Jefferson is primarily a State of Mind, albeit one with a lingering core of supporters.
I find myself sympathizing with the Jefferson people, because I have experienced being part of a system that calls the shots from a distance, yet fails to provide help where it is vital for growth and development. I have seen vast resources – not timber and minerals, but rather female and minority leadership, inclusiveness, and intellectual honesty – overlooked and untapped because of persistent majority rule.
I have also witnessed the formation of a new State in Adventism: it’s already here, though it remains by-and-large a State of Mind. The need for Indie Adventism, as I’ve dubbed it, is not the need to create something new (no new sects or denominations), it is the need to affirm and solidify what already exists.
This new State of Adventism thinks independently. To a large degree it acts independently as well. Indie Adventism has already begun drafting a constitution of sorts, which includes the imperative of ordaining women as well as men to the ministry. Indie Adventism affirms the progressive nature of our understanding of truth, sees our fundamental beliefs as malleable, and believes that beliefs must stand up to intellectual scrutiny and criticism. Indie Adventism acknowledges the centrality of community and sees inclusiveness as an integral part of community. Furthermore, Indie Adventism tends to reject assent to a specific set of tenets as a test of membership.
The list of ways that Indie Adventism thinks and acts independently of the World Church could go on and on. But to get to my central point, there are three reasons that I believe there is justification for an officially independent fellowship of Seventh-day Adventist Christians:
1. As mentioned above, the “Majority Rules” attitude of the Power Structure in Adventism pandering to the broader constituency, as in the case of Jefferson State, hinders regional growth and development.
2. There is a need for the existing group of independents to be able to act with authority and integrity, which cannot happen when it acts in opposition to the group to which it has voiced its allegiance. In other words, such defiant acts as moving forward with the ordination of women (as the most obvious example) against the expressed will of the World Church diminish the integrity of the group.
3. There is currently an unhealthy battle of wills in which the (not fully) independent minority impose and project their will on the World Church majority and vice-versa. This projecting of wills upon the other side is not only unhealthy - it is also counter-productive.
Elaine Nelson unwittingly provided a pithy, anecdotal synopsis of what Indie Adventism looks like in a conversation that ensued from a recent Spectrum Blog post:
“I attend [services] and have held office in the Adventist church which I attend. Everyone who has asked me to take a position has been fully informed that I am not a member. It was dismissed with "that makes no difference," if one is willing to work within the church that is all that counts… If one wishes to worship there, that is all that is required. My tithe goes directly to the local church to use as they choose... as long as the church operates smoothly, contributes to the [local] conference and always meets its budget, and grows in membership there is no reason for the administration to raise a voice against it.”
It’s time that we acknowledge and affirm what we have; it’s time for Indie Adventism (part whimsy, part real) to come out of the closet.
p.s. Jonathan Pichot recently made an excellent case for the formation of an Indie Adventist University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4154