Editorial: Digging Deep Into Adventism

(Spectrumbot) #1

Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? I have. Beyond that, I have even been invited to leave by remote acquaintances in online exchanges and through the pages of the Adventist Review. So, why am I both inclined and invited to leave?

Well, I am far from perfect; but, the issue at hand is not gross immorality, sexual indiscretion, substance addiction, or some other cherished sinful behavior. I am far too introverted, in love with my wife, busy with kids, and lead a much too conservative lifestyle to bother with any of that. Rather, the reason for concern is more intangible. I think differently.

While the majority of Seventh-day Adventists believe that the earth or at least life on earth was created by God through a divine push of supernatural power within the last 6-10 thousand years, I think God is lovingly calling life forward into the future allowing freedom within the constraints of natural processes which have been operating over the 13.8 billion year existence of the universe. Most Seventh-day Adventists hold that any type of same-sex sexual activity is a sin. I find that sexual intimacy in a loving, monogamous, same-sex relationship does not necessarily violate the biblical proscriptions against lust, domination, coercion, or any of the other 50 shades of damaging sexual activity. Many Seventh-day Adventists understand that the explicit or implied male headship model found throughout the biblical texts precludes the possibility of women as leaders in the church. I see the full inclusion of women in all areas of the church as a faithful expression of the principles progressively applied throughout the biblical narrative.

But, these divisive topics which we argue ad nauseam are merely symptoms of much deeper differences in our understanding of inspiration, interpretation of sacred texts, and location of authority. Some have described these differences as the religious response to a philosophical shift from enlightenment-inspired, foundational, modern thinking to a post-foundational, postmodern perspective. Others explain that massive sociopolitical, technological, and scientific revolutions necessitate a rethinking of authority and a reformation of faith. But, no matter the reasons or descriptions for this shift, religious institutions as repositories of shared traditions tend to resist it. On the other hand, spirituality which follows the Spirit where it will beyond institutional borders has flourished in the diminishing hegemony of modern rationalism. This has led many to proclaim that they are spiritual but not religious which may in fact be true; but, unfortunately is like claiming to be a linguist without speaking a language.

Given that we must speak a language to communicate, flourish within familiar contexts, and express ourselves best through the cultural institutions we know, Seventh-day Adventists such as myself who find ourselves on the bleeding edge of postmodernity have generally not felt the need to sever faith connections over differences in thinking. Rather, we appreciate the way religion can re-connect diverse perspectives into a unified whole. Further, we even seek to re-articulate our familiar Adventism by digging deep into our own religious denomination to discover the underlying aquifer which connects and nourishes all traditions.

Mining the depths of Adventism has revealed a new found emphasis on the centrality of Jesus’s love to our practices and beliefs; an inclusive vision of who is called to serve in the church; a deeper appreciation for the continuity, blessing, and social justice of the sabbath; a desire to care for God’s ongoing creation; a more profound and scientifically appealing sense of the holistic nature of human beings; an empathetic understanding of the need for intimate relationships regardless of one’s orientation; a humble and inclusive emphasis on what it means to be God’s remnant; gratitude for our denomination’s birth in brokenness which inspires authentic empathy for all other broken religions; and hope for a more immediate experience of the always coming Kingdom of God.

Excavating these ideas in a Seventh-day Adventist context yields insights not possible from any other perspective. These progressive insights are most faithful to our Adventist pioneers in doing what they did rather than believing what they believed. An emphasis on orthopraxy is inconceivable and exasperating to orthodox believers and the result is inevitable conflicts which have flared up into current hot button issues.

Understanding the reality of these issues and the underlying reasons, what advice would you offer? Is there a way for us to maintain unity amidst diversity? Can we appreciate the need for a variety of stories within Adventism? Or, should those who think differently leave the Adventist church? Which side leaves, the majority emphasizing believing what the pioneers believed or the minority seeking to practice what the pioneers did? Inviting those with different opinions on these issues to go find or found another community may achieve more comfortable uniformity; but, at what cost?

Surveys focusing on the millennial generation indicate that the most common reason for young people to leave faith communities is that they are perceived as anti-science and anti-gay. Pushing one another out of the church over these surface issues only further alienates young Adventists. This excludes them from the joy of discovering new insights and deeper spirituality within their own tradition.

But, not only are those who are pushed out of Seventh-day Adventism at a loss for the opportunity to dig deep in their own context. The entire community also loses the vital tension that diversity brings. Without the conservative ballast or the liberal sail, the communal Adventist ship will either overturn or slow into stillness. Only by working together are the traditional bridge and the progressive tuning peg prepared to hold the string in tension so that the stillness can be filled with beautiful music.

Brenton Reading is a pediatric interventional radiologist practicing at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6636

(Kim Green) #2

Great question…just how much and for how long can this “tension” be accepted within the Adventist church? It seems that this is the “Million Dollar Question” and how will it be answered is the other. Perhaps the “answering” part will be whether or not there will be fully ordained female ministers and/or how the LGBT community is treated, creation/science issues, etc. Furthermore, under the current GC administration, Adventism is brought back into the constraints of the 1950’s and then there is the classic struggle between the cultures of the First, Second and Third World countries.

I am not sure how Adventism will survive in this new century. But I do know that it will either have to adapt or it will continue to not be relevant or very meaningful to the rest of the First World countries. Nonetheless, as a church it needs to take a long hard look at the fact that in the hierarchy of churches it is not well known and the reasons why this is and fix it- or the rest of the conversation about Adventism is meaningless.

(George Tichy) #3

Adventism can only survive by refocusing. Currently the “institution” appears to be the center of the attention, like what the GC does or does not, what the GC decides about controversial issues, etc. It’s like the walls of a building being more important than the people inside the building.

This is probably one of the most important contributions of the TOP, aka T1P, where there is a clear attempt to help people in refocusing and bringing Christ to the center of our spiritual experience once again.

The “remnant” and the “special” and the “superior” and the “only true” church has been the major focus of Adventism for decades. The prophet has been kept on a pedestal that often overshadows even the Bible. It’s time to remind people who the center of our spiritual life actually is, who is the only One who has the keys of the Kingdom. The Denomination has a great number of keys to their offices, but only Christ holds the keys to Heaven.

(Kim Green) #4

Amen. It is the only “solution”.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

this is not a challenge of Adventism but a challenge of christianity.To challenge Adventism one would have to challenge Oct 22, 1844, Ellen White, The Sabbath, The Final generation. Christ demonstrated a unique way to,accept the sinner without condoning the behavior. I am a member of a church in which the minister of music died of AIDS. So I have no answers except such behavior was not and is not in God’s design. As a citizen I support same sex unions as recognizable for at least property rights. yet I stand with Paul as apposed to aberrant sexual behavior. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #6

“Excavating these ideas in a Seventh-day Adventist context yields insights not possible from any other perspective,”

How many ideas have originated with Adventists that may not be seen from other perspectives? The focus has always been on the particular beliefs in Adventism that are not found in other denominations but how have those beliefs resulted in better, kinder, more compassion and tolerant Christians? For many of us, it seems, not so much.

What kind of image could Adventists have projected if their core message and mission was like Christ’s? He did not initiate a new religion but emphasized that only in our relationships with others in loving and respectful ways could we be the disciples He commissioned to the world. He introduced no new doctrines, unlike Adventists, but broadened the meaning rather than narrowing as the Jews had done.

It appears that the attempt of Adventism was to return to the Jewish system by gradually introducing more and more doctrines to differentiate themselves from the “world” and in that, they have achieved some success. Many Adventists have virtually followed the Jewish system in being separate from the world, while still believing they present a message that others would want.

Young people are not staying in the church: this is recognized by all the church’s leaders. They are much better educated than their grandparents and great grandparents and while they may be fourth generation Adventists that pedigree is than it has been for their ancestors. They must make their own world they live in and many do not find that belonging to their parent’s church is the lifestyle they wish to live, constricted by both time and ascetic living.

(Charles Scriven) #7

Tom, I think you hurt our community when you persist in ignoring the FACT that lay and denominational leaders in many communities have ALREADY dealt with 1844, Ellen White, the Sabbath and the Final Generation. Our community is NOT monolithic (even if its most fundamentalist members would like it to be).

In Sabbath school classes and classrooms and around dinner tables across much of the globe, Adventists are rethinking these matters in a way that affirms the best of our tradition. You seem stuck in obsession with the worst of it. After a really courageous and well-written commentary, why return so quickly to flaws long ago put to rest (imperfectly) by so many of us. It seems–I hesitate to say this–ungenerous.


(Steve Mga) #8

My take on Brenton’s Confession is:
THIS is why it is difficult for SDAs to have Evangelism that is meaningful.
The tension between Praxis and Orthodoxy makes it difficult for SDAs to Embrace the World Community and tell them to come in, sit at the Lord’s Table, and feast with the SDA Community.
We can’t even embrace ourselves - Men and Women and Children - as Equals, how can we embrace the various Characters in the community as Equals.

I dont know about Brenton and his social circles. In my social circles I have friends who would NOT be allowed by my pastor and fellow members to become an SDA even though they are welcome members in other communities. I worship with them and embrace them on Sundays.
Doing nice things for the homeless this past 18 months – washing their clothes, cleaning the showers after their use, fixing breakfast and washing their dishes, making their coffee and tea in the afternoon and washing their glasses, wiping off their tables – has helped me to better understand the King’s Feast and him bringing in the dusty dirty, unbathed homeless to the Feast, and wrapping them in a nice robe over their unwashed, unperfumed, unkempt hair and bodies. They weren’t asked if Jew or Gentile. Male or Female [or even as people now days like to say - “confused”]. Not even asked WHY they were where they were found. Just come in, enjoy the Feast, and have Fun in the Lord’s House.
The tension between Praxis and Orthodoxy prevents most SDAs from exhibiting this Kingly Behavior in the Lord’s House. It causes an unsettling emotional and mental condition on those who Would like to have their community exhibit this Kingly Behavior because they would like to Invite.
I grew up badly as an SDA. I thought I was a good “conservative” SDA all my life. Quite some time ago I took a test, and to my horror, I am both a “progressive” and an “emergent”. This has created a lot of challenges for me in the past. At least I now know why.

(Carolyn Parsons) #9

Dare I say that corporate Seventh-day Adventism is not willing to discover new insights. As science and technology leads the way to a better understanding of life, the church doubles down on creationism and seeks to further restrict thinking on the issue by proposing changes to Fundamental Belief 6.

The human as a whole is a concept foreign to my upbringing as an SDA. In my upbringing the concept of the flesh being weak was paramount. This sets up a mind/body dichotomy. A whole being; a psychological, social, sexual, thinking person is my current understanding of humans, but this is because I learned about the human condition out side of my church.

If science shakes the foundation of the SDA church, it is because the foundation is not strong enough. Any bridge between disparate groups within the faith that are built on the same weak foundation are bound to fail unless a new foundation is established. Digging deep is the best way to build a new foundation.

(Allen Shepherd) #10

Is evolutionary theory really a more holistic view of humanity? Seems it fostered eugenics and racism, and genocide.

So how is that better than a view of Humanity as created uniquely by God? I think such as view as expressed here (evolution) is shortsighted and narrow.

(Brad(Luna)) #11

There seems to be a common thread here. Conservatives do not want the non conformists in their churches unless they shut up and change their minds. Otherwise they should get out.

They ignore our contributions to cast us off.

(Allen Shepherd) #12

You know Chuck, Ryan first struggled with the Bible teachings homosexuality, at least that is the take I have gotten from his posts: He finally came to the conclusion that Paul was wrong, and that set off a trajectory to leave, and finally deny the existence of God.

Now you say “lay and denominational leaders in many communities” have already dealt with those missteps, 1844, EGW, the Sabbath and LGT, and I assume homosexuality, etc. What really surprises me is that you remain a minister of this denomination. The present statements of belief say nothing about changing those teachings to confirm to some “lay and leadership community’s” opinions. Yet you purport to be a representative of the church. How do you deal with the cognitive dissonance? Why not just come clean and make the break?

And you have the gall to call Tom, clearly a Christian gentleman ungenerous. Don’t you think that just a tad ungenerous?

(Rich Hannon) #13

Allen: the thing is, your question of whether evolution is “better” is moot - if it is true. Science is all about reality-grounding and you are moving the subject into the moral sphere and evaluating it as if it were a moral theory.

Understand please that in this comment I am not declaring that I believe evolution to be just what current theory believes it to be. I am saying that it is not optional for religion to evade something that concerns itself with ontology, just because we don’t like its consequences. This, it seems to me, is what Adventism has been doing. And the end result of that road will not be pretty. At bare minimum it is death to evangelism among educated 21st century people. They will expect answers and it is not acceptable to say the Bible disagrees when they have not yet admitted the premise that the Bible is a priori normative, let alone that the book actually is saying what the literalists declare it to be saying.

(Carolyn Parsons) #14

It is not just evolutionary theory, but the entirety of the sciences, from psychology to social sciences to biology to genetics gives us a more complete picture of humans as a whole entity.

Racism and eugenics were not fostered by evolutionary theory but instead were used by racist people and those interested in eugenics to bolster their views. It is rather like people using religion for all kinds of evil.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

While I may agree that some of these doctrines are being rethought, it only means they are being reconsidered but are still part of the written Fundamental Beliefs. Until they have been removed from those official doctrinal statements, they are still part and parcel of Adventism. There has been no official statements to the contrary and are still being taught in churches around the world.

Yes, the church is not monolithic but personal beliefs and opinions vary and the leaders have determined what the Fundamental Beliefs are until they are changed.

(Rich Hannon) #16

Allen: your surprise seems to me to be a reflection of where you think the line ought to be drawn for someone who is a minister to disagree with current orthodoxy. That is a topic I think that ought to be heavily discussed. But you, it seems to me, have already declared Chuck to have gone over where the line ought to be. I hope you would at least explain why you think the line ought to be drawn where you implicitly draw it.

Much of that sort of disagreement leads to the amount of flexibility a community is willing to - or ought to - tolerate, if it is to be healthy. I resonate with what Brenton has written because I too have read calls by conservatives for liberals to get out. But such calls are only legitimate if we presume that everything we believe currently is true, and there is minimal new truth to discover. Thus we can safely rest on our pioneers’ laurels. I personally disbelieve that and would hope this meta question would be more worthy of our discussion time rather than castigating someone for going over the line.

Regarding Tom. Yes he is a Christian gentleman but IMO is also fixated on the ills of historic Adventism. Even to the extent - in part because he is no longer invested - that he may under-appreciate the efforts within the subculture to effect change. And I do think - sorry Tom, you will not like this - that he has been harsh and ungenerous at times. He is human, he was severely hurt in the past, and it shows.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #17

Charles You have and I have but neither Bic Kevin, nor Ted have. now who represents Adventism. You make an excellent point. I have no further business here.
Thank You. I have always defined Adventism as the 28. Seems you and others cherry pick. I don’t. It is a package or it is nothing. I believe, in short, that Jesus , the Christ, is my Creator, Redeemer, High Priest, and coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I believe my life and my testimony should reflect that belief. It seems you have a better digestive system than I. Tom Z

(Bille) #18

This is what I consider to be the real heart of Brenton’s essay. And it is also what I consider to have already been happening for years… even decades. There are, in fact, many of us, both from the “nobody’s” of the church like myself, and from the elite, the employed, the leadership, and the scholars of our church who fit his description. There are whole churches where it is “safe to be gay”… where it is “safe” to recognize the contribution of both “books” of God’s revelation in areas of scientific advancements of knowledge about our world and physical universe.

There are churches where women are not only in leadership positions, but are ordained by their respective Conference entities for the ministerial roles which they fill.

Not only are there individual churches that have not only made the change from the sterile unchanging concept of Truth that is characteristic of “modernity”, to “post-modernity” with it’s acknowledgement that “absolute truth” is always beyond our human ability… and even more so when it has to do with truths about the Eternal Infinite God Who has partially revealed himself in Scripture. But beyond these individual churches, there is a vast network… one might even say a potential “Infrastructure”… which is already in place should the church as a whole not move in the direction that will foster growth, harmony in diversity, which is built totally upon Christ, “The Solid Rock”.

At the moment many of us feel that we are members of a Seventh-day Adventist Church “in Exile”. Whether what emerges from the political maneuverings of this present time turns out to be one united Adventist Church… or many separate Adventist churches… we shall continue to be Adventists… and

Trust God…

… to work out the details.

(Allen Shepherd) #19

Chuck’s problem, as i see it, is not that he disagrees with some of the doctrines of the church, but the wholesale rejections of some very basic teachings. The Sabbath? 1844? EGW? Now I can understand a few deviations. Even Ryan was quite deviant for a period before he spit. But comprehensive disbelief? It just does not work for him or the church. It would be better to admit that you don’t agree anymore and leave amicably.

I and not telling him to go. But it seems to me a untenable situation. Can two walk together unless they are agreed? The beliefs he is challenging are not going to go away. Might as well deal with it and move on.

(Allen Shepherd) #20

But Tom, you do have business here. Your stories would be sorely missed, and your insights. I don’t always agree with you and am sorry you are not part of the fold, as i would love to have you as a member of one of my churches. But you have seen that disagreement is to deep to stay. So, you honestly took your leave. And admirable position. I don’t think Chuck has done the same.