I recently wrote an article titled “Ten Reasons Why I Think the Debate About Origins is Weird.” The article triggered a flurry responses, some quite contentious. While reading through the comments, at about 140 deep, Tom Zwemer lamented, “Any debate regarding origins is vain, unproductive. . . It has created more heat than light.” This got me to thinking about this dynamic platform which allows us to have discussions that at times turn into brawls over ecclesiastical issues. I began ruminating on whether or not the articles I, and others, write do any good and whether the discussions that so often follow accomplish anything.
I would like to suggest the following benefits
1. Spectrum and similar websites provide an alternate perspective on our church. The Adventist Review and Adventist News Network serve a purpose. Their collective goal is to tout positive news about Adventism; to encourage the faithful; to promote the official understanding of Scripture, Ellen White, and the way we practice Adventism; to promote the leadership’s agenda; to deal with church tragedies by giving hope, and to portray scandals, problems, and controversies in a fashion that puts the church and church leadership in the best possible light. This is not a cynical view. I would argue this is a necessary and appropriate, it creates and promotes unity and cohesiveness.
However, these official communication vehicles provide only a single view point. These publications will never be the first to publish an article exposing a failure in the church or leadership. You will never find a story that objectively lays out both sides of a thorny theological issue. The alternative, independent websites allow us to have a more complete picture of the true health of the church and variety of issues facing the church.
2. Spectrum, and other websites, foster transparency and accountability. In the past it was much easier for church leadership to gloss over problems and wrongdoings. This practice was based on the misguided assumption that it is better for the church and church members to not know. Today, when someone gets wind of a problem or issue, they dig into it and write an article. That article is read by someone who sees another piece of the puzzle, and they too write about it. The next thing you know, the story, and some underlying issues become more clear. While we hate to have our dirty laundry aired in public, it forces change, it forces correction, it forces accountability. I would argue that often when problems are exposed early it allows corrective action sooner, resulting in less damage. It makes our church healthier.
3. It is a way to know I am not alone. On Sabbath morning, July 3, I sat all alone, in the Georgia Dome and listened to Ted Wilson give his sententious sermon. I was very unsettled by it. My discomfort was compounded because I was all alone. Within immediate eyesight there was not a single person who was not wildly enthusiastic. I sat there and wondered if I was missing something, if I was crazy, if I was not really Adventist. If all I read were the official publications, I would continue to feel every bit as out of step. The articles and discussion in Spectrum remind me that I am not alone. There are others who struggle like I struggle. We are not alone in our questions.
4. It is a place for conversation. Conversation can be enormously valuable if we allow it. It is how I expand my understanding of issues and ideas. It sparks my creative juices. This article and others are the result of conversation. Conversations are how relationships develop. I have made acquaintances, some of which will turn into friendships because of these Spectrum conversations. In a religious tribe like Adventism, where our natural inclination is toward knowledge rather than relationships, these conversations have inestimable value.
5. These conversations represent knowledge. I know things other people don’t know. Others know things I don’t know. Together our knowledge increases. By reading Spectrum I have learned things about history, evolution, creation, other religions and Christian thinking. I have learned things that help me in my relationships with Adventists, other Christians and those who have no real faith tradition at all. Most importantly the things I learn help me in my relationship with Jesus.
There are some cautions I need to keep in mind.
1. It is easy to come to these discussions looking for a fight. Just recently someone sent me a link to the Educate Truth website, where I have taken some hits for my Spectrum article “Ten Reasons why I Think the Debate about Origins is Weird.” I immediately wanted to jump to my own defense, but after reading the articles, and thinking about it, I found I didn’t really have anything to add that would not just sound defensive. Then I had to ask myself, was there anything I could learn from the articles and subsequent postings?
2. I need to be ready to admit I am wrong when I am. Sometimes it is being factually wrong and other times, it might be wrong thinking or a wrong way of looking at things. Occasionally it might simply be a wrong spirit toward those who do not agree with me. There are two principles here, truth and integrity. If I am not willing to admit I am wrong, I end up in uncomfortable positions.
3. It is so easy to become entrenched in a position. I left Adventism at 19 and returned in my my early 30’s. Most of my Adventist experience has been lived out in Southern California, with its liberal reputation. Since moving to more conservative Northern California several years ago, I find myself longing for the deep and honest conversations with my church friends. Differences were valued. It was a culture where we could more openly discuss ideas, differences, questions and struggles. In the area where I currently live, I find there are, more or less the same number of liberal and conservative Adventists, but both camps tend to be so deeply committed to their constellation of beliefs there is no room to learn from those who see the world differently. There is often an arrogance that accompanies whatever position they hold.
4. Those who write and those who post comments do not necessarily represent the universe of readers of a given article. Even when an article has 100 or 200 comments you will find they will come from maybe 20 to 30 people and that the bulk of those will be from less than a dozen. Generally speaking, you will not find changing minds among those who post. This does not mean it does not impact others who would never dare to post but love to read. It may very well be that articles here have the biggest impact those we rarely or never hear from.
I continue to appreciate and embrace the positive thoughts and conversations here. They warm my heart. However, the contrary thoughts and denunciations, perhaps actually add more to the conversation than positive comments. Without contrary opinions, the value of the conversation would be diminished. I do not expect to change anyone’s mind or opinion in the short run, but sometimes it is an article or a comment that plants a seed, that grows into new and better ideas. And those blossom into better ways of seeing the world: in community.
Let the conversation continue. __ Steve Moran works in Silicon Valley. He is the head elder of his church and a member of the Central California Conference Executive Committee.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2611