Grieving July 8, 2015

I’ve been reading Spectrum magazine for decades, and participating in it in as an online forum since—well, since it became an online forum. Spectrum has thought itself a loyal critic of the church, a place where dissenting points of view can be voiced, or underreported church news given an airing. At its best, it functions creatively and constructively.

Yet in the polarized world we live in, it shouldn’t be surprising that people with differing points of view are considered disloyal and destructive. And the critics are right to this extent: some of what we talk about here implies that we think the church should be different than it is. One of Spectrum’s elder statesmen, Charles Scriven, has become known for writing and saying, in a scores of thoughtful and articulate ways, that the church must change.

But what if the church doesn’t want to change?

It’s not the first time I’ve suspected this may be a difficult expectation to hold on to. One of my first pieces in Spectrum magazine, 12 years ago, asked the question, “Whose church is it, anyway?” It seemed to me then, as it does now, that our church functions most enthusiastically in the fundamentalist, literalist mode. Back then, I held out hope that although some segments of our church are evolving differently from others, that there was enough elasticity in our system for cultural differences.

But these past couple of weeks has dimmed that hope. It wasn’t just the vote. It was the booing. The us vs. them. It was some of our leading pastors employing against women the cruelest Biblical metaphors: Nadab and Abihu, the rebellion of Korah, spiritualism, witchcraft. Really? After all that, it seems to me that July 8, 2015, was a watershed moment for the Seventh-day Adventist church. It will never be the same church, no matter what we do now.

What kind of church have we become? To how many will we cease to be relevant? I fear that we’re running out of time as God’s chosen remnant. I fear we may be so fossilized, so bedded down with fundamentalism, so on the defensive against change, that we may never again speak prophetically about anything of importance. All we can do is conserve, dig ourselves in, like the servant with the one talent. And when that happens (as we see in Scripture) the chosen are replaced with others. Even if they don’t know it.

Historians tell us that we weren’t always like this. That we were once a dynamic, evolving movement. Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart date the end of our plasticity to Ellen White’s death, though you can see it coming before that in the sniping between Ellen and the church leaders, her “exile” to Australia. But now we’ve grown into a real church with a real bureaucracy. The ubiquity of the “highest authority of God on earth” quote in the past GC session shows that we are now being asked to obey a papacy as infallible and as authoritative as the one of Rome, even if it speaks ex cathedra only once every five years.

The hopeful, the healers, press answers upon us. It wasn’t a strong vote, they remind us, the spread not as large as it used to be. Some, using a lawyerly interpretation, say that it didn’t change anything: the Pacific Union and the Dutch Union read the vote broadly as permission to continue to do what they feel convicted to do, which—let’s be honest—amounts to defiance of what most delegates were voting against on July 8. Might that signal the beginning of a liberating regionalism? Others remind us to be understanding of the southern hemisphere opposition: the church is doing better there than it is here, so let’s be prepared to accommodate them.

Nevertheless, a sort of dark pessimism has set in. I was surprised to see the number of Seventh-day Adventists on Facebook who wrote some variation of “This isn’t my church anymore. Where do I go now?” A family who I always thought of as the most Seventh-day Adventist of all Seventh-day Adventists, a couple who had church workers on both sides of the family and went into ministry themselves, wrote us, saying, “We feel so separated from our church. Like we don’t belong here.” My wife is one of that handful of female pastors who got ordained here in the Columbia Union. Even though she knew, as most of us did, what the outcome of the ordination vote would be, she found herself heartbroken for several days, grieving, struggling to sleep.

Some, in protest, are wearing black, nicely accessorized with bright ampersand jewelry. Some want to divert their tithe. Some talk about another chance in five years. But at the end of five years, will enough be left to care? Can it even be brought up again? As a pastor, I wonder what bitter hostilities the actions of the defiant unions will unleash. I hope we remember that it will play out not just in denominational committees, but in congregations, among friends. How many members will say, “This isn’t worth it”? Particularly if they feel like the prevailing mood is, “You lost. If you can’t accept that, goodbye and good riddance.”

Meanwhile, those that set the scene for this discord appear to be unbothered, as though this dramatic close-vote decision has settled something.

I’ve been writing about my church for over a decade in Spectrum magazine and this forum. Lately I feel my words running out. All the arguments have been made. All the opinions hardened. The church may survive not ordaining women. But the disappointment here is only a reflection of other problems in the western church that we can’t solve, either: the slow dying of thousands of small churches; the inability to tame our bureaucracy and its travel budgets; the refusal to be creative in evangelism, while relying on ethnic growth that is unlikely to last into a second generation; the money siphoned from local churches and conferences to independent ministries; the disappearance of our elementary and secondary schools; the ultra-right-fueled divisions that are tearing congregations apart; and (probably most important) that we’ve been waiting so long for Jesus to come, with no response for the scoffers other than to cry wolf about every change of tide in culture, as we’ve been doing for 200 years.

In these past few weeks, I’ve felt tongue-tied (finger-tied?), not knowing quite what to say. Perhaps my ability to speak here is coming to an end. Over the years I have read on this forum some of the most intelligent, creative, hopeful thinking I’ve ever heard anywhere. Yet it appears to me to have failed, for the most part, to open dialogue with church leaders. Doug Batchelor, who takes tens of thousands from local churches, gets praised publicly in the GC session. 3ABN, ditto. When our GC leaders need an international broadcast to the church, they choose 3ABN, its thrice-divorced founder as their master of ceremonies. But here at Spectrum? Where are our division and union presidents, if even to say, “I don’t necessarily agree with you folks, but I appreciate the lively, creative discussion you stimulate, and your continued loyalty to this church. Perhaps I can help, by erasing a little of the mystery, quashing some of the gossip, listening to your concerns”?

Maybe the ugly comments discourage them. I understand: more than once I’ve had to stop reading comments on my pieces. (I wish my supporters were always wiser and kinder than my opponents. One person described this forum as “the Adventist fight club.”) But then look at the gloating, revengeful responses left to fester on every official church social media page after July 8! Why does our church seem more willing to make nice with angry conservatives, than to dialogue about change?

I hope, I pray, I beg, that good people won’t leave this church. As important as women’s ordination is, I remind you that the center of our theology is Christ, and our goal to be, like Him, righteous, merciful, kind, just, and forgiving. (Right now, forgiveness is something we might want to be especially mindful about.) Nothing that happened at San Antonio can keep us from comforting the sick, the dying and the mourning, supporting mission hospitals, teaching children to be godly men and women, telling the world about Christ’s love, feeding the poor, visiting the elderly and shut-ins, growing in character, praying for one another, studying the Word, lifting up salvation, and encouraging each another in Christ. How stupid we would be, how ungrateful, to abandon all of that now!

Here’s a promise that other “losers” have lived by, in far more trying circumstances: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6:9).

Loren Seibold is a pastor in the Ohio Conference, and co-contributor (with Monte Sahlin) to Faith in Context, a blog about the intersection of religion and culture.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6974
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Amen for this part. May God help us all.

Side note: Some of the wording is a little off for my taste like the losers and the stupid part but we’re human afterall. Lol

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Perhaps you are slowly realising that Spectrum does not represent Adventism. You would like to change the church, but you’re right the church doesn’t want to change. It wants to be bound by the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. If you really want evolution, homosexual church members, and women’s ordination, perhaps you really need to start another denomination.

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Profound reflection. Thank you so much for voicing these concerns so eloquently. Echoes my own thoughts and feelings to a very great degree.

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So you are saying that to be an SDA I have to reject homosexual church members? Really? Then consider me gone. Don’t think Jesus would be welcome in your “church” either.

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Wow, Pagophilus, straight to the point.

I agree with you wholeheartedly but it could be interpreted as being a little harsh. Either way, both sides have been harsh and both sides need to forgive each other.

No, I won’t be leaving the Adventist church. But the Adventist church leadership has, I feel, left our marvelous end-time message. I still feel a part of the message of love and forgiveness as I’ve come to cherish it. I don’t mind announcing to my new friends that I’m an Adventist – after all, I’m hoping they don’t know too much about the smarmy politics being foisted off on our delegates. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for God’s blessing on all those who truly are committed to HIM – not to politics. And in another five years, we can have a new president who will honor God rather than tout his own private goals.

I keep reminding myself that the “vote” was not a strong showing. Only small percentage points differentiated between those who are progressive and those who felt it necessary to follow the rigid leader at the pulpit. Too bad so many of the voters were also beholden to him for their very livelihood.

This does not worry me. I live in one of the progressive areas; I have had my day of church leadership and am now retired. I know truth will succeed in the end. God will return very soon to separate the wheat from the tares. I praise Him for the wonderful message of some of our most progressive preachers. Won’t name names because I don’t want to perpetuate a schism; but Loren Seibold, I’m totally in your camp. Bless you for speaking out…

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I think he means practicing homosexuals, cause there are people who are attracted to the same sex but don’t have sex with the same-sex.

I think we shouldn’t reject them but they do need to know what God says about their practices in a loving way. It says in the bible a man shall not lay with a man as he does with a woman. It’s very clear how God feels about that.

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You seem to persist in unkindness.

Jesus, remember, reached out to the otherwise excluded. Then he sent the Holy Spirit (John 16) to show us the further implications of his teaching, ones the disciples were not ready for, and we may not be ready for, either.

Gay people, for example, are born gay, at least usually, just as curly-headed people are born curly-headed. Thus they can be rebuked for heartless promiscuity, for example, but we can neither rebuke nor exclude them for being responsibly human, body and soul alike.

To a substantial degree, whether we are moral or not is a choice. For all the things that are not a choice, Jesus seems to say: embrace and love these people.

I expect you think otherwise, but I hope your readers do not.

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That’s not what he said. He said that if we want to have homosexual church members (practicing or not) we need to start another denomination. Whether he meant what you think he did is immaterial - where this logic ends up is exactly as crass as he stated it. It ends up in bold faced rejection of those that Jesus came to seek and to save, and I for one want no part of that.

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Loren you have articulated very well what I am feeling. But I don’t know yet if I can end like you, hoping that good people won’t leave this church. It has been spelled out very clearly that this is what many of the literalists expect us to do. I agree that we should not give up and I will never give up on Christ. But we have the call to spread the Gospel. And I don’t know how this can be done in a church run by blind fundamentalists.
How can I convince people of God’s love with this kind of mindset not only in a small minority, but in the highest ranks of our church? I pray that God will give us an answer. I really don’t know what to do? And I hope whatever his answer, that we all do it together.

(interesting that there is one person here in Germany, who is given the opportunity to write a whole (Fundamentalist) Magazine with tithe Money, and he is also divorced 3 times…if you look for their skeletons in the closet…it’s almost always female)

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Pago is very certain that he knows how the whole denomination should act. So is Ted Wilson.

I left the denomination when it was clear to me that I could not support any of the levels from the local congregation to the GC.

I could not tolerate the local congregation’s treatment of teens, non-SdA Christians, the poor, or the community

I could not tolerate the Local Conference’s attack on gays

I could not tolerate the world leadership’s continuous lying about many issues

  • the origins of the EGW writings
  • the origins of the Bible
  • the argument for 1844
  • the evidence about the duration of life on Earth
  • which health issues are important and which are not
  • the role of women
  • the false claim that tithe is Bible-mandated money for ministers

Then I realized

  • the denomination is chronically incapable of admitting it got anything wrong, which is the fundamental problem behind all of the above

But the #1 thing that made me decide to leave was that most members like this certainty! They like thinking that they know stuff that other people don’t. And they pick leaders who reinforce that certainty.

It is a train wreck.

But don’t worry - God’s people are found in all the churches, and God’s truth for each individual is found by searching for oneself.

There are lots of examples of bad organizations being kept going by good people. The RC, LDS, JW, SDA, and all of other denominations are like this. So are the other religions.

At the end of the day, when Jesus comes, He is not going to take any notice of what organization has you on their books.

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july 8, 2015 will certainly forever be a dark day for our church…the betrayal of trust on the part of those whose vote showed they thought only of themselves, even if done in ignorance, is now a realization that will never be forgotten…

but just this morning, for the first time since the vote in the alamodome, i awoke with the joy and freshness i usually wake up with, knowing that jesus is my partner in the heavenly sanctuary, and that my translation into everlasting paradise is one night closer…jesus loves me, he hasn’t forsaken me, he’s still developing me, he’s still supplementing my efforts with his perfect merits…nothing can take away the awe and deep gratitude i feel for everything jesus is doing for me…disappointments, even the ones that hurt, like san antonio, can only make us stronger and wiser…we see things in a truer, less naive light…and perhaps the future for the church and the world won’t unfold as we have come to expect…

it’s all good… :sunglasses:

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But the church has changed—already. Few Adventists in the last century considered themselves “Fundamentalists,” for example, and were quick to point out the differences “between them and us.” Somebody/s have change the church to fit with more or less reactionary social conservatives in the U.S…

I am a third-genearton Adventist and grew up in a church who was proud of the notion of “Present Truth,” which Baptists, for example, believed was dangerous, and who took intellectual pleasure at not being like Roman Catholics in that regard; but (some) church leadership is digging their heels in on this. I—never mind my parent’s generation—have lived through tremendous change, some generated by leadership, some by local culture, some by the wisdom of our theologians.

For example, vegetarianism was an ethical, not only a health-based practice that has all but disappeared among Adventists on those grounds (as that notion is becoming more and more typical of the average American); women conference secretaries in the 1930s were commonplace then removed from leadership in the 1950s and 1960s—that counts as change; literalism in Biblical hermeneutics was put under real pressure and not always supported as the only intelligent way to reach a spiritual truth; we had little or no music in the sanctuary for a long time, then we did: change. If a need to preach against the notion of devil possession rose, it was handled locally, not internationally.

Although Adventism is a peculiar 19th century product and our missionaries spread middle-class American values predominantly, those old “China and Japan Hands,” for example, adapted to their local environments and did not see challenges along the Yangtze or at the foot of Mt. Fuji as a need for global policies. In short, in spite of our Anglo-American roots and preferences, we have historically recognized the multi-cultural nature of our Denomination, and that includes the culture of academe. We have worked with those differences with argument, but also with respect and deference to the theologians we have educated and trained to help us think the issues through. Not so much now.

These arguments are not about the Bible and an unchanging text and its meaning: they are about power and authority and other very human needs and fears in a rapidly changing human environment. To write them off as disagreements about how a Protestant reads the Bible is off the mark.

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It is not only the Adventist Church in Third World countries that is growing. It is nearly all conservative religious bodies in all parts of the world, including North America. Adventist churches in the United States which uphold our distinctive teachings and standards are also growing. When you stand for a coherent and Bible-based message which gives meaning to the surrounding chaos and requires self-discipline and sacrifice, people will be attracted to the fellowship such a message offers.

This is why so-called “progressive,” mainline Christian groups have been in free-fall decline for decades in America. Alan Wolfe’s book some years ago titled The Transformation of American Religion explains why. (At the time Wolfe wrote this book, he was religion editor of The New Republic and a teacher of religion at Boston College. Though not himself a man of faith, his critique of contemporary American Christianity sounds suspiciously like one a conservative Adventist might offer.)

I am somewhat amused by Loren’s comment about Doug Batchelor’s ministry and similar groups taking tens of thousands of dollars from our people. Perhaps we should consider how many thousands of dollars are generated for the church by these ministries through the souls that are won by their witness. Despite the cynicism of certain ones, public evangelism still works, and most of those brought into the church through ministries with a robust and coherent doctrinal message become regular, proportionate, and sacrificial givers.

I pray the actions in San Antonio and the actions likely to follow will constrain a good many of the folks with “progressive” leanings to re-evaluate their relationship with the church, and to understand that Seventh-day Adventism is neither a social club nor a mutual benefit association, but rather, a movement with a message both transcendent and eternal. What should be clear to all who peruse the threads here at Spectrum and elsewhere is that two irreconcilable worldviews are presently in contention among us. This was painfully evident in San Antonio, as certain delegates urged the church to make room in its fellowship for couples living together out of wedlock, homosexual practice, and the teaching of evolution. Loren may protest comparisons with such Biblical examples as Nadab and Abihu and the rebellion of Korah, but only a few in our ranks who witness appeals for the acceptance of such practices and teachings are likely to find such comparisons inappropriate.

Love and grace must ever season our words. All of us can do better there. But that cannot change the reality that two cannot walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3).

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I wish we didn’t have to continue to got through this argument time and time again. Those who have studied the few “clobber texts” in the Bible realize that this verse is referring to idolatrous fertility rites. If only our church could be open-minded enough to thoroughly study this issue in context, we would understand that the Bible does not speak to homosexuality as we understand it today. (Please read James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality.)

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I expect the current church leadership is trying to “shake out” those who believe differently than they do. But we don’t have to be shaken out. I hope you are taking a good anti-depressant, Loren!

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Kevin, have you ever been booed?
Just curious…

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I hope he is close to retirement. …

I know you interpret it differently and I respect that.

The Bible is suppose to be our guide in everything in life. The fact that people keep saying the bible doesn’t cover this or that specifically by name doesn’t mean it’s not in there.

In my interpretation the bible is clear and calls this practice an abomination. I’m not saying it is, God said it is.

If homosexuality was part of idolatrous fertility rite. Then I understand why God calls it an abomination.

What is the basic definition of homosexuality? It is not being attracted to someone of the same sex, therefore laying with a man as you would a woman?