Adventist Forum Conference 2014 Kicks Off in San Diego

(system) #1

Following a rosy San Diego sunset, the 2014 Adventist Forum Conference, celebrating “The Great Adventist Stories,” commenced this evening in the Fairbanks room of the Sheraton.

Harmony-laden treatments of well-loved songs like “We Shall Behold Him” welcomed conference attendees to the first program of the weekend. United, a musical group made up of La Sierra University students and alumni and directed by Sergio Anthony Leiva, were an inspiring opening act.

Brent Stanyer, conference co-chair with Brenton Reading, then welcomed the approximately 70 people in the room, who have traveled to the conference from places as near as Loma Linda, Redlands and Riverside, and from as far as British Columbia, Kansas City and Alabama.

San Diego Forum chair Gordon Rick added his welcome, with a short history of the Forum annual conferences (which haven’t actually been annual since 2003).

Gordon Rick

And then we jumped into the stories.

This weekend is all about stories. Lots of different stories.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

This quote, from a popular TED talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is printed on the back of the conference program.

Twenty-three different presenters are lined up to tell stories this weekend. The format is inspired by TED talks, with a time limit of 17 minutes for each presentation.

Tonight, Friday, the focus is on The Great Controversy. (Tomorrow we talk about The Great Disappointment and Sunday the Advent Hope.)

Roy Branson

Roy Branson, former editor of Spectrum and now associate dean of the Loma Linda University School of religion, was the first to stand up and tell his “growing up Adventist” story.

“I grew up in Cairo during the Second World War, where the big question was: Did we fill up the bathtub with water before running down to the air raid shelter?”

Branson then talked about experiencing thunderstorms for the first time after his family returned to live in the US, and being scared that what he was hearing was the Second Coming.

“Growing up Adventist, this saga of the great controversy terrifies you,” Branson said. “We must be aware that our story can have that kind of effect.”

But also we learn that what we do matters, and it matters a great deal. It matters in a cosmic sense. We are major players. . . on a large stage, in a big saga.”

Referring to Deuteronomy 26:5-9 (first sentence: “A wandering Aramean was my father.”) and to the Apostles’ Creed, Branson pointed out that it all starts with story. It is the story that creates further meaning.

Roy Branson

Karen Clausen-Brown

Karen Clausen-Brown, assistant professor of English at Walla Walla University, then stepped up to give a presentation on the connections between John Milton and Ellen G. White in the Great Controversy story — a topic which she has studied in depth.

Milton’s stories in Paradise Lost seem to anticipate our Adventist stories, Clausen-Brown told us. She described how influential Milton’s work was in America, and intriguing parallels in the descriptions of Christ and Satan in the story of the great controversy.

Apparently J.N. Andrews, after hearing White’s descriptions of her great controversy visions, also recognized similarities, and asked her whether she had read John Milton. When White told him that she had not, he brought her Paradise Lost. She said that she put the book onto a high shelf and did not open it until after she finished writing her visions, so that no one could say she had received her inspiration from others.

Clausen-Brown also described differences: Milton believed in Satan’s republicanism and God’s monarchy (even though he was against the monarchy and for republicanism).

Clausen-Brown concluded by saying that White’s Great Controversy is a unique contribution to a long-standing conversation about religion and politics in the US and England.

Karen Clausen-Brown

David Barrett and Dale McCreery

David Barrett and Dale McCreery, friends from British Columbia who produce the Storying Life podcast, were an endearing double act, demonstrating the value of different points of view. They each held their own microphone for their presentation.

They disagreed, they interrupted each other, they told folksy anecdotes about mushroom picking together, they emphasized that it’s not important that we all agree on ways of doing things.

Rajeev Sigamoney

Rajeev Sigamoney, a filmmaker and assistant professor at Pacific Union College and co-writer of controversial web series The Record Keeper, was up next. We all wanted to know the inside story of why the series, sponsored by the General Conference, has been cancelled.

Sigamoney told us that he needed convincing when Garrett Caldwell, communication director at the GC, approached him about working on the project. The argument that won him over was that this series could be used to replace Revelation seminars.

He said that he decided to pour himself into the project — the most difficult he has ever been involved with — but felt he would not be surprised if it fell apart.

The project was transformed for him when they decided to change the language — when “God” became “the current administration” and the “Devil” became “The General.” The narrative of the Old Testament through the New Testament became a familiar story of civil war. It made the story new and different — and also relevant.

The GC’s communication department raised nearly a million dollars to shoot the series, Ted Wilson showed the first two episodes to a large crowd, a GC committee vetted the scripts and signed off on them.

But now the project has been “put to sleep” by the GC.

Sigamoney listed several issues that he believes stirred up controversy:

1) Ownership of the series. Sigamoney said he argued that GC shouldn’t own it; big organizations are not the place for innovations. This is not their area of expertise. They are of necessity risk averse. Really, would a GC committee have approved of, say, the Book of Mark if it were put to them?

Jesus and the disciples operated outside their church. Martin Luther operated outside his church. Ellen G. White operated outside her church.

So the question is: How can we innovate in a global organization like our church, or create structures for innovation to take place?

2) People started to care. “When we hit 25,000 fans on Facebook, I thought: We are going to get taken out,” Sigamoney said. If nobody cared about it, it would have flown under the radar.

Are we truly ready to be relevant? To exist outside committee meetings?

3) Finally, people started to wonder: If someone outside our church watches this series, and decides to come into our church, how are they going to fit in? But Sigamoney said he believes this is the wrong question.

“I believe that God is calling us to a place where we can hear new things — things we have never heard before,” Sigamoney said. He quoted an Ellen White statement about how there would always be new light. "We need to ask ourselves whether we are flexible enough to change."

“We have this notion that God spoke to every generation up to Ellen White, but that God is not speaking to us now.” We don’t think he is speaking to us about women’s role in the church, and the LGBT community.

“I believe in not walking away from this rich tradition, but that we should. . . be willing to adapt into something relevant. I believe that God used us through this project.”

In response to a question about whether there is any future for The Record Keeper, Sigamoney said that his understanding is that the current GC leadership will not release it. The North American Division tried to take it off their hands, but it became too political. The series uses an African American woman to represent the Holy Spirit, and that was an issue for some people, and even tied into the issue of women’s ordination in the minds of some, he said.

However, it keeps being leaked online; when it is taken down, someone else puts it up.

“In the end, we got to create a product that we are hugely proud of,” Sigamoney said. “And the church paid for this.”

Rajeev Sigamoney and Paul Mugane

Wrapping Up

After all of the stories and presentations, there were questions from the audience.

Paul Mugane, who teaches at San Diego Academy and moderated tonight's program, ended the evening.

“The thing about the story is that it says more than the speaker intends to say," he said. "It goes beyond the wisdom of the speaker. Story is one of the mediums the Bible uses to bring us the mystery of God.”

Stay tuned for coverage all weekend of the 2014 Adventist Forum Conference.

Top image: David Barrett and Dale McCreery. Photos by Ray Dabrowski.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(jeremy) #2

i wonder if there are any updates from the raindance festival showing of the record keeper:

(Aage Rendalen) #3

Seventy people? Has Spectrum/Adventist Forum become so irrelevant that it can’t even attract its own supporters to an annual conference?

(Rajmund Dabrowski) #4

So, what is amiss with a biblical … when two or three gather in my name?

(Elaine Nelson) #5

Only that there is scant interest. If two or three gather, it indicates that only two or three are sufficiently interested to attend. What other explanation is there?

(Marianne Faust) #6

wish I were there…btw…who is there? George, Hopeful, Kim, Kenn, Patti, Bille…???

(Aage Rendalen) #7

Ray, I can appreciate the fact that Spectrum finds itself in a pickle as to how to project its presence. Back in the day, the magazine was at the cutting edge of research into the history of Adventism and its institutional quirks. It was seen as an instrument of the devil by the White Estate (I well remember the anger in D.A. Delafield’s eyes when I asked him about the magazine at the Vienna GC session in 1975) and as a beacon of hope to the progressives. Now, it’s in danger of becoming irrelevant because it no longer strikes fear in the heart of conservatives, and progressives are impatient with its woolen approach to today’s issues. It’s ‘woolen’ in the sense that while it clearly is in favor of women’s ordination, the issue is not pushed with the moral urgency of a Dave Larson or John McClarty. The same goes for the rejection of so-called scientific creationism. Nobody is in doubt about where Spectrum stands on this issue, but all Spectrum does is to issue one careful position paper after another. There is no voice there. YEC is a direct threat to the credibility of faith and the future of the Christian fellowship. That deserves a soap box. But liberals are often so open-minded that they’re fearful of supporting their own ideas.

In the meantime, it seems that the Spectrum ‘council’ is more concerned about not offending the enemies of everything the magazine (and blog) has ever stood for than mounting an assault on bigotry and stupidity and speaking up for its own vision of what the life of faith is. I’m sure the latter is what this year’s conference is about, but why not sharpen the conference theme to make it obviously relevant. Why not invite people to explore what faith looks like in the 21st century; how it is possible to remain a believer in face of a disintegrated 19th century faith. You own that debate and you should push it. It is very relevant and would attract a lot more than 70 people (although I assume numbers are better today). But it would mean that you’d have to come clean about the extent of your break with the 19th century. You have to be real to appeal to more than loyalists.


Marianne, the commenters don’t come to the annual meetings. One has different community feeling when interacting with the website than is present at the annual meeting.

(Jeff Chesterfield) #9

I do appreciate Spectrum for challenging traditional ideas and beliefs held within Adventism. I only found Spectrum by way of Historic Adventist websites that refer to Spectrum articles in order to criticise the liberal views. I used to generally agree with the criticisms and lap up ultra conservative views spouted on certain sites. However, by reading more and more of the content on Spectrum I have found it necessary to dig deeper and research topics from a number of difficult angles and really grapple with the material. This is something that I wouldn’t have done if I only immersed myself in the conservative worldview. Having to think and reason is much more rewarding and this makes Adventism more real to me.

I must say, though, that my experience of Adventism is one that is much more rooted in the Victorian era, with 1950s. Contemporary representation of Scripture, for example, Record Keeper and the like would seem a long way off and a step to far.

To me this is in contrast to the radicals in the EGW era.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #10

Aage: you and I left when we found out that Adventism was not a faith but an excuse. I believe there is a Christian faith. many who left, left with a skeptical doubt. Those who stayed have their own reasons.I know that time is too short for me to play games. So my witness is to the finished work of Christ for me. The past is but prologue to a great future. regards Tom Z.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #11

I would attend if they were anywhere near me.

(Frank Peacham) #12

Perhaps attendance would increase if there was live internet coverage.

(George Tichy) #13

I am sure it would.
Maybe I missed the info, but will the videos be available somewhere for us to watch?

(Rohan Charlton) #15

I doubt it.

But the GREAT news is that you CAN watch Pastor Kevin Paulson’s presentation on Youtube!!

He took the final presentation of the SinPros‐ium. (Oh the Glory!)

Now…I know you may not want to watch it yourself George, but I had the idea that you could play it for your keets. Press play, leave the room and come back to a full update (or an orgy of impulsive avian self‐harm. But thats no problem, being a psychologist you can bring your birds back from the brink of trauma to full psychological health).

(George Tichy) #16

Yes, i indeed could “bring them back from the brink of trauma,” but only if they could survive such a torture. Which I think they can’t!!!

So, out of kindness, sensitivity, and mercy, I will spare my good keets from this deadly experience since they can’t actually fly away for protection agains this torture.

(Ok, let’s call a halt to this. At some point it becomes just plain insulting to Kevin. I think we’re past that point here. - webEd)

(Marianne Faust) #17

ah, okay…but I would really like to meet you all!

(Bronwyn Reid ) #18

Numbers are not good indicators of relevance or irrelevance. There are a lot of people who appreciate Spectrum discussions who do not live near Southern California. Live streaming of presentations would have attracted more participants via internet. Are the stories that are shared being recorded?

(The conference is being recorded. However, I do n not know what will be done with it. - webEd)

(Bronwyn Reid ) #19

I was thinking of watching Stephen Bohr’s presentations on male headship but I don’t have a male residing in my home to ask him to interpret Scripture for me.

(Bille) #20

That’s OK, Bronwyn … Since Stephen is a male ordained minister, with all the privileges of “headship”… he has the authority to give you permission to both listen and to accept him as your interpreter of scripture…

(Do we have a symbol, typeface, color, or an emoticon for “ironic mode”?}

(Kevin Seidel) #21

⸮ - seems to be the closest I could find with a web search.
You might also look through, though I didn’t see irony in the list.