A hope for Adventist rebels and worriers


(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

It looks like the discussion over Adventist sectiness vs. denominationalism prompted by Gary Land's review of Seeking the Sanctuary is already going down the same old track between the worriers and the rebels. The worriers rightly fret that loss of distinctiveness makes Adventism meaningless, while the rebels hang around the self-aware contingent edge smugly smiling at exclusionary ideas like remnant or unique. They hurl "sect" and the worriers only wish it were more true.

In fact, the worriers see everyone who leaves as not having enough faith or moral fortitude or devotional discipline or doctrinal insight to see the light while the rebels wander down to the cave (or pop into a forum or blog) trying to prove that this is all shadows, the real light is outside. Of course this is a classic oversimplified binary (do you smell another dialectical synthesis coming?), but frankly we've got to get beyond this tired trope of the intellectually smug vs. the doctrinally secure.

In fact, there are rebellious worriers (like Cliff Goldstein) who remember the emptiness of pure contingency and tint their arguments for uniqueness with smugness and there are clearly worrywart rebels (some in the Spectrum community) who spend a lot of their valuable time caring about a denomination that they don't much care for.

Mad good Adventist props if you already know this, but it's been the week of prayer with the Review featuring the usual top down slew of "encouraging" articles on hope.

Well, I've got a hope that includes more than a multi-roomed mansion in heaven. I hope for a better Adventist conversation.

We need to stop arguing over the importance of doctrines and start importing them into our globalized 21st century world. This goes beyond deconstruction or apologetics and gets at movement-building and the creation of meaning. A belief is not true or untrue according to this or that list of texts or historical significance, it is true to humans when it has meaning and to have meaning it must apply to life. Why does this sort of reapplication make me hopeful? Because no institution or person controls all the contexts of human life -- although everyone tries.

Let me offer an example: the Adventist ideal of conscientious objection. Traditionally this has applied to war. And as people like Ron Osborn and Doug Morgan have pointed out, this attempt to balance the responsibilities for safety and peace has waxed and waned through Adventist history around the world. But in a globalized world perhaps we can expand on the notion of conscientious objection. What is it rooted in? The individual conscience. So, here have a denomination telling it's laity to follow their conscience. That's actually pretty radical stuff, especially given the history of tens of thousands of splits in Christendom over matters of conscience.

But Glacial View destroyed the conscience-driven hope of many worriers and rebels. I'm glad that Bull and Lockhart devote time to Glacier View and the self-supporting movement because I think that both help us to find common ground for the future. That's what lies behind the sad legacy of Glacier View. The powerful (and people we paid and trust) used their institutional clout to control conscience, especially in the one place (a college) where ideas should be sorted out. And that also parallels what lies behind the interesting rise of the self-supporting movement during the same time. Rebels worried (and joined a forum chapter and took up drinking wine) and worriers rebelled (and joined a home church playing Countdown videos and took up drinking wheat grass). What drove both was the the growing sense of a more muscular GENERAL CONFERENCE that threated individual creative theological expression.

Of course most Adventists didn't really care. They paid their tithe, sent their children to Adventist schools, used the word "balance" toward the end of Sabbath School lesson discussions each week, and reflected with the Review. The conscientious objectors were both on the outside.

But let's face it, if you visit the Spectrum Blog and are still a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church you probably shuttle between worry and rebellion. I sure do. I worry about us losing our sectiness and our whatever intellectual honesty. The Advent movement should not become another centrally controlled denomination nor should be devolve into a meaningless mishmash of charismatic pastors or national churches. Comparing Seeking a Sanctuary and "Words of Hope," I think that the biggest thing missing from our paid leaders is a vision for the future of Adventism. They want to assure of salvation and cheer us up rather than engage in the tough work for exciting our ethical imagination.

What's always made Adventism interesting it's part mainline, part evangelical, slightly fundamentalist, part historic peace, a little Catholic, and in part a religion of the American 19th century and now a bit emergent. I would hope that as we pick leaders for the future, we find men and women with a vision for what it means to be an Adventist in the 21st century.

But it's not just them. It's the laypeople too. And I for one find mission in the dream of an Adventism translating its values into just action for humanity. A faith that addresses the environmental, economic, ethnic, sexual, gender, religious liberty realities gets us beyond worrying and rebelling over sectiness and moving forward as a movement.

This will take a lot of trust in humanity and even more faith in God. Perhaps too much. But I do have this hope. And I'm sticking around to do my part.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4110