Do You Stay?

I am not Seventh-day Adventist. I had no previous knowledge of Adventism until one year ago, when I was accepted as a graduate student and college writing instructor at La Sierra University, an SDA institution located in Riverside, California.

Over the past year, I have often heard my colleagues debate church politics and I was surprised to notice a wide variety of viewpoints. Therefore, in order to gain further insight on the diversity within the community, I sat down with three Adventist women and asked them about their experiences with the church.

I first spoke with Ysabela (Bella) Ramirez. She attended Walla Walla University for her undergraduate degree and is now studying English literature as a graduate student at La Sierra University. She was raised Adventist and is dedicated to her family church.

The first question I asked Bella was how she defines “faith” and if she believes it is necessary to be committed to a church in order to uphold this faith. Her immediate response was to smile and then admit that while it was a great question, it was also a difficult one.

After a moment of thought, she states, “Your individual faith is about you and your relationship to God” and as a Christian she believes it is important to live in obedience to the words of Christ on a day-to-day basis.

Yet, she also notes how “navigating a life committed to faith is not an easy thing to do” and so it can be helpful to be part of a “community of likeminded people where you can act out your faith together.”

When I asked her what she thought of the current political climate within the church, she admits, “For me personally, there are things with the Adventist church that I agree with and things that I disagree with.” And yet, while she is aware of the political rift within the church, she believes that this conflict is “a sad distraction from the true message of Christ.”

Overall, Bella remains committed to her church and she believes it is a place where she can further develop her relationship to God and dedicate her life to “imitating the character of Christ.”

After speaking with Bella, I spoke with Annemarie Gregory. Annemarie also studies as a graduate student at La Sierra University. Just like Bella, Annemarie was raised Adventist. But unlike Bella, Annemarie has left the church.

“For those of us who have left the church, we didn’t leave saying ‘screw you, we hate you.’ We still have a lot of respect and gratitude for what we have been given and what we grew up with,” Annemarie tells me.

She left because she felt that she could not “responsibly” be part of an organization whose attitude toward the LGBT community and women was so at odds with her values as a feminist and graduate student.

Annemarie is not unaware of her privilege. She readily admits that as a white woman she cannot fully understand the experiences of some of her friends, many of whom are minorities. Yet growing up, she found hypocrisy in the actions of the church and what she knew of God.

“I was raised being told that God was a loving God. He was not vindictive and He was not cruel. So when we got lessons in Sabbath school where the message of guilt and shame was so internalized, I began to disconnect. Either my image of God was wrong or their rules weren’t following His message,” Annemarie states.

For Annemarie, it took her some time to make the decision to leave the church and since leaving she believes that her “perspective on God has remained the same; it just suddenly makes more sense.”

Lastly, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kendra Haloviak Valentine. She holds a Ph.D. in New Testament and Ethics from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley (2002) and is currently a New Testament Studies professor in the Divinity School at La Sierra University.

Though she teaches at an SDA institution, La Sierra is known for its diversity among students. Any student under Dr. Haloviak’s guidance is respected, no matter their faith or lack thereof. However, she doesn’t hide the fact that she is an Adventist. And she is not just any Adventist, but one who is, as she says, “critically committed.”

“There is the potential of me not connecting with students. Not because I am an Adventist, but because I’m that kind of Adventist,” Dr. Haloviak says and then laughs. She continues, stating, “I want the church to be a better church than it is right now. And I’m willing to talk about the poor choices and I’m willing to talk candidly about how the church breaks my heart too, in its treatment of women and the LGBT community.”

Hearing about Dr. Haloviak’s concerns over the actions of the church, yet knowing her unwavering commitment to Adventism, I couldn’t help but wonder how she reconciled these differences. When I admitted this thought to her, she told me why she stays.

“My definition of the church is not what is happening this coming week at Annual Council (2018) in Battle Creek, Michigan. My definition of the church is your local congregation. So in the case of our campus, it is this community. Therefore, for me, in this community I see inclusivity, and openness, and conversation and diversity, absolutely, but I don’t see exclusion. I am not excluded from teaching here as a woman, so if this is my community then I can give this my all and be deeply committed to it. La Sierra is not the buildings or even this beautiful campus, but the people. So how could I not love this institution?”

If I was to trust in Dr. Haloviak’s definition of the community, one which is not solely defined by the church hierarchy but also by its local people, then am I not part of this community? I may have not been raised Adventist or currently part of the church congregation, yet I have a deep appreciation for the Adventist men and women I work with and whom I teach. I care about the decisions the church makes and how these decisions will affect my friends’ lives.

Reflecting back on the interviews I shared with Bella, Annemarie, and Dr. Haloviak, I realize that they had never really been interviews, but critical conversations between women who all have stakes in the Adventist community. While each woman’s perspective on the church varies, there is no doubt that they love and appreciate this community, our community.

So if we want to make changes in this community, one which we are deeply committed to, what do we need to do?

The first step Dr. Haloviak suggests is simple. Try.

Monica Shaar is pursuing a Master’s degree in English literature at La Sierra University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English literature and creative writing from UC Irvine.

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

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Interesting, that creative writing part. The denomination needs people who can effectively tell its story. Such expertise proves invaluable when passing the torch from one generation to the next. I hope to read some of your work.

Have you published anything on the web: fiction, non-fiction, stories, poems, essays …?



Firstly, thank you Monica for taking the time to ‘interview’ and discuss your findings, observations and initial reflections.

In listening to arguments presented in favour of the Compliance Document (as well as against WO) during and around the recent 2018 GC Autumn Council, the main concern stated was a concern that Adventism would become congregationalist. However, I heard no evidence cited for this ‘blind assertion’, nor a reasoned outline of the impacts that would potentially arise if such were to occur. The very least that those who claim this inevitable and apparently disastrous outcome could do is to provide a logically reasoned and evidence-supported case.

I would like to know what people would ‘fear’ would happen if Adventism were to move more towards a congregationalist model where there is much looser control by a centralised body? Because as far as I can see, a move away from centralised control to a much more hybrid model would actually reflect Dr. Haloviak’s concept of a true community - and one where a wider spectrum of people (as per Monica’s suggestion that she would be part of such) would be beneficially included. Kind of sounds like what Jesus did when He was better accepted by the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners than by the church hierarchy of His day.

Mind you, I also see that if there are those in the leadership sector who believe that the church is to go though a ‘shaking’ so that only the doctrinally pure are left, the what is being proposed above will have no appeal (and, in fact, likely a negative appeal/repulsion).

I wonder whether God would prefer maintenance of the existing status quo where people are leaving because they see/experience a big disconnect between the nature and character of God and the nature and character of the Adventist church? Or would God prefer that His Body (of which Adventism could be a part) reflect the nature and character of it’s Head?

I believe there is need for constructive dialogue about this underpinning issue as an initial phase of identifying the options for moving forward - not as a distractor from our ‘mission’, but in the course of living out our ‘mission’ within our daily lives because not doing so is actually compromising our mission.

What have we got to lose by doing this that we aren’t already losing?

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I wonder what would happen to “church” if we were MORE WILLING to fellowship with
those “who are attempting to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, spirit”
even though there are some NON-ADVENTIST behaviors in their life like Keeping Sunday,
non-vegetarian, use of coffee, tea, perhaps a little alcohol, wear jewelry, accept of GLT’s?

Those persons are ALSO part of God’s community of believers.
Are we TOO NARROW in our belief of WHO is a part of OUR Community?


Thank you, Monica Shaar, for your very open, transparent and nonjudgemental evaluation of Adventism!

Attending the fiftieth anniversary of Adventism Forum, held on the La Sierra campus, earlier this year, I learned of the very high percentage of non Adventist students attending there

It would be interesting for Monica to do a survey as to what percentage of these non Adventist students, , if any, convert to Adventism as a result of enrolling in an Adventist university,

All three women interviewed, found that the most disturbing and disheartening aspect of Adventism, was its treatment of women and the LGBT community.

The UNITED METHODIST CHURCH is a stellar role model for Adventism on both these fronts.

They have been ordaining their clergywomen since 1956!

Currently they have an ongoing committee, composed of world wide representatives, called THE WAY FORWARD COMMITTEE.

This group has been commissioned to explore how to make their denomination more inclusive of their gay/ lesbian/ transgender members

Already, multiple Methodist congregations have voted to become RECONCILING churches, that is, congregations who accept their LGBT members as FULL PARTICIPANTS in the life of church — not just barely tolerated “pew warmers “ as in many SDA churches.

The ultimate goal of this committee is to allow the performance of same sex weddings, for loving monogamous gay couples, by Methodist clergy.
Also to allow monogamous married gay clergy!

For those DISGUSTED by Adventism’s GLACIAL pace in promoting women and gay rights and in pursuing loving inclusivity for all, the question DO YOU STAY, becomes easy —-it is an easy transition to transfer to Methodism, which after all, formed the original roots of Adventism.

Returning to one’s roots, has never been more apparent, obvious nor effortless!


A local Episcopal congregation, around 150 members has a gay priest who celebrated
6th year with them recently. Prior to the desire of becoming a pastor and going to
Seminary he was a pharmacist. His church growing up was Baptist. His partner worked
as financial advisor prior to attending the Seminary with him and becoming a Deacon in
the church. They recently celebrated their 27th anniversary together.
Both of them are loved by their congregations.
Church tradition does not allow them to serve at the same church. Being a non-paid
position, the Deacon works as a financial advisor with a local firm.

I am an SDA first, but my group has limited religious activities. Only church and S.S. time
Sabbath morning. 6 years ago I met this handicap Jewish fellow I began with grocery
shopping for him. Later began taking him to Friday nite services at synagogue and dropping
him off sabbath morning and taking him home after his services on my way home. Now
on Friday evenings when he is unable to go I STILL attend as a way to begin my Sabbath.
I’ve been singing in a small Episcopal choir [of 2-8. Couple of times me and an alto sang
a duet for choir number. the others were out of town. I am also one of the Cantors. I have
been asked to be a Counter 2xs a month. I am basically a member without being one. I
conduct Bible Study and communion at my apartment weekly as an Episc. person.]
I do enjoy fellowshipping with Baptists, Methodists during the month.
The past several years I have taken un-churched friends to Sunday church. The SDA
church service is NOT a “good fit” for them. So introduce them to Christ on Sunday at,
for them, a more appropriate service.


Maybe she is inspired by another “creative writer.” I hope she does not end up doing “plagiarism by inspiration” as well… :wink: :roll_eyes: :innocent:


Steve, I really admire your “Sunday heretic behavior”… :laughing:

George –
I enjoy being around “God Lovers”
I enjoy introducing un-churched, non-churched to God but in an atmosphere
where they will enjoy coming back. Not EVERY church, including SDA is
conducive to doing that. So one has to attempt to match the person with
with the community they will enjoy.
Unfortunately, it is not always my Saturday church.


In your experience, what has been the most receptive, open minded, friendly Church among those you have been relating to?

#1 All 4 Episcopal churches are ALL Welcoming. No matter who they are or gender.
Or single or marital status. but then Episcopal tradition REQUIRES one to investigate,
to ask questions, to think, to put into practice Spiritual activities. That is WHY they
have the Prayer Book as a tool for teaching Spiritual practices. I enjoy using some
of it myself. I have learned to Sing the Compline [bedtime prayers]. Sing the Psalms.
Others individual churches in Macon. All 3 sponsor AA and NA programs.
Main church [Christ church] downtown feeds the homeless on Sat and Sun lunch.
1st Baptist downtown is all welcoming like the Episcopalians. Had their 1st gay
wedding couple months ago and attended by around 400 people.
Mulberry Methodist conducts a daily – Mon thru Fri lunch program for 150 to 200
homeless persons.
Centenary Methodist about 3 blocks from my house is ALL welcoming. The back
2 rows at church is where a number of GL’s sit together for fellowship in worship.
They help sponsor an AA and NA program. Also have a Sun.morn Spanish church.
—I like Ingleside Baptist for the preacher and its friendliness. Does have about a 3500
member congregation. But the pastor of 27 years does Bible teaching, even has a
class-like style teaching with an insert in the bulletin with “fill in the blank” statements
so people will follow his sermon and take the message home to think about. ALSO
in the bulletin is listed chapters to read every day for the week. An organized way to
get the 3500 to read the Bible through during the year.

As you get the idea each church is different. Speaks to the Spiritual, Mental needs of
different people. Perhaps to their different personality styles. These are my favorite in
Macon, GA.


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