Growing the Circle: Herb Montgomery Talks About Going Beyond Tolerance

Herb Montgomery, self-described itinerant teacher and founder of Renewed Heart Ministries, is one of the speakers at the upcoming Adventist Forum Conference. He talks about listening to communities on the margins, the unsustainability of the North American Adventist church in its current path, and why following Jesus means working toward ending human suffering here and now.

Question: You are one of the speakers at the upcoming Adventist Forum conference with the theme of "non-violence and the atonement." What can we expect to hear at your presentation?

Answer: My title is Victims of Violent Atonement and the Hope for Change. It is important that we listen to the experiences of those who are often the most vulnerable within our religious communities with violent atonement theories.

Within human society, violent atonement theories have not been without their victims. The theology we choose to believe is connected with the ethics we choose to live by. Women, people of color, non-Europeans, as well as those who self identify as belonging to the LGBTQ community have been deeply and negatively impacted by, at minimum, actions of which violent atonement theories have been complicit. Those who have subscribed to punitive substitutionary ways of interpreting Jesus’ death must make time to listen to these voices.

The good news is that the work of listening is being done. Alternate ways of understanding the death of Jesus, rooted in the ethics of nonviolence as taught by that same Jesus, have been explored over the last few decades. The impact of these alternatives on the people on the underside and fringes of our human communities looks hopeful. Time will tell. But when we look at these examples we do find hope, I believe, for positive change.

Your organization, Renewed Heart Ministries, describes itself as focusing on the words and teachings of Jesus. Your website says: “We believe these teachings have an intrinsic value in informing the work of nonviolently confronting, liberating and transforming our world into a safe, more just, more compassionate home for us all.” What does that mean in relation to the Old Testament practice of atonement?

Great question! I prefer to call them the interpretations and practices (plural) of atonement in the ancient Hebrew scriptures. There is not just one. And often these practices don’t agree even with each other.

Our meaning and purpose at Renewed Heart Ministries grows out of and is informed by the Jesus story. We feel this places us in good company with those in the past and present who have embarked on a critique of the more violent practices of atonement in the Bible as a result of what they have encountered in Jesus. I want to be careful here. We do not mean by this critique that in Jesus we find something that is anti-Jewish. In all the world’s major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) we see a transition at certain points in their histories from violent forms of worship and practice, to those much more nonviolent, as each matures. We believe Jesus was part of just such an opportunity for first-century Judea. We also believe that, when understood within his own first century context, Jesus can also help Christians move from violent forms of worship and practice to much more nonviolent forms and practices, as well.

Has your understanding of the atonement changed over time?

Dramatically. The sector of Christianity I grew up in was fundamentalist Christianity. I can attest that having had to grapple with what the Jesus of Matthew and Luke taught — specifically the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain — my older understandings and interpretations of what Christians call the “atonement" have been dramatically challenged.

Has your understanding of the character of God changed over time?

Yes. This has been dramatically impacted by the teachings we attribute to Jesus, as well. It has also been impacted by listening to the experiences of marginalized and excluded communities that the Jesus story calls us to begin valuing and listening to.

So listening to the experiences of marginalized communities is important, you believe. It seems that Renewed Heart Ministries has allied itself with various "progressive" issues, speaking out on behalf of these minorities, including people of color and LGBTQ Adventists, as you mentioned. You wrote about your experience at Kinship Kampmeeting as one of the most authentic and loving places you had ever been. Why are these social issues important?

Renewed Heart Ministries is not allied with liberal, progressive theology. We see ourselves as resonating more with what is referred to as liberation theology. Both are non-traditional, but there are significant differences between liberal theology and liberation theology, as well as the communities from which those theologies are derived.

Thanks for clarifying. So why are the social issues so important?

Because behind those social issues are real people. I would not say we speak on their behalf, but we do work alongside many of those on the underside or margins of our society. And in doing so we have encountered stories and experiences that ushered us into a deeper experience of compassion for people and a passion for those matters that affect them most.

Also, much of what we have found has contradicted the stereotypes we were socialized to believe. Even among the most marginalized, we have found rich traditions practiced by Jesus’ followers.

We see Jesus emerging within the first century as a healer. It is in this that he called us to follow him. There is sickness in our world. In addition to physical sickness there is societal sickness. Some of these are the sicknesses of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and economic sickness. At the heart of each of these is myriad of phobias toward anything different from us. If we are followers of the Jesus we find in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, our first priority is not post-mortem bliss, but being actively engaged in bringing an end to the things that cause human suffering today, here, now, even when doing so calls us to engage in “cleansing” a few “temples,” as Jesus did.

Do you feel the Adventist church does a good job of speaking out on issues of injustices in society? What does it do well and what could it do better?

There are many sectors within the Adventist church. Adventism itself is home to a whole spectrum of what it means to be “Adventist.” I do not feel, however, that the sectors of the official church that I have been exposed to do an adequate job of addressing our contemporary issues of injustice.

Granted, I live in the very northern end of what is referred to as the “Bible Belt.” My straight, white, male Appalachian culture, both inside of Adventism as well as without, is still struggling with sexism and racism, even within the church.

There are individual exceptions, but on the whole, we aren’t even prepared to adequately address the injustice of economic poverty here, much less more national debates of social justice. All the other social issues can be derived from the Jesus story, but the economic ones? These are our springboard in the Jesus story. This is the Jesus that said, “Blessed are you who are poor and woe to those of you who are rich.”

I would love to be introduced to sectors of the official church that are doing this well; not engaged in charity but addressing actual systemic injustice.

One of the things we could do better is to begin listening to our own Jesus story through the experiences of those who are not like us. An example, since you brought it up, would be to listen to our LGBTQ Adventist siblings and their experiences. In our discussions, especially about them, we need to actually include them. Otherwise, it would be like holding a convention on race here in North American Adventism and only having white speakers. Or an event addressing women’s equality and only having male voices present. Or a discussion on the residual effects of colonialism and only having our European and North American Divisions present at the table. In my opinion, what we could do better is embrace a posture and practice of listening to the voices of those who have not been adequately included in these types of conversations so far.

You speak to groups all around the US. Do you find a general consensus among your audiences that more must be done to increase tolerance and respect for different groups of people? What issues do you find people are most concerned about or interested in?

It all depends on age, gender and race, really. I find among most people under 30 (who will comprise the body of the next 20 years of Adventism) there is a very strong concern and interest regarding compassion (not simply tolerance) and respect for different groups of people. Once you pass that age 30 threshold (and I’m 40, by the way) it really depends. I find that among most white, straight males like myself, we don’t seem to think anything needs much change. The women I listen to tell me a different story. The people of color I listen to tell me a different story. And so on. So it really depends on which sector or audience you’re seeking to gain a general consensus from.

Within Adventism, I find an overwhelming number of folks who are very concerned and quite disillusioned with the events of last summer. I hear a lot of feedback over the changes made relating to education, women and the LGBTQ community. It’s mostly covert, but it’s very much there.

Why did you start Renewed Heart Ministries? Why not work for the church?

I started Renewed Heart Ministries when I left Light Bearers, who are now based out of Oregon. Before that I taught for the Southern Union out of Florida.

I continued to receive phone calls from the parents of students I was teaching, asking for me to visit various churches and share with their congregations. Those invitations led to me leaving the Southern Union to work for Light Bearers Ministry as an itinerant speaker for about seven years.

In 2005 my mother became very sick and we moved back to West Virginia to be more present in her life. (She passed away two years ago.) In 2007, we branched out on our own with Renewed Heart Ministries. Why not work for the church? Well, I’ve never been asked by the church to work in a capacity like what I am doing for Renewed Heart Ministries. It’s that simple. I don’t think the church offers salaried positions for itinerant teachers like myself to travel all over the globe and teach in various local congregations. These types of roles are usually filled by administrators traveling among institutions, not teachers traveling among churches. I’ve never been offered employment in a role that is a good match for what I have a passion to do.

Does Renewed Heart Ministries have any full time employees other than yourself? Or part-time? And where does its funding come from?

There are a total of thirteen of us that are part of the Renewed Heart Ministries team. Two of those are full-time with the rest falling somewhere on a scale between part-time, contracted or volunteer work. It takes a small community to do what we do. For RHM to provide its ever-changing online content alone takes hundreds of hours each month.

Our funding is from our monthly supporters. Everything we do at Renewed Heart Ministries is for free. We do not even derive income from the many educational events that we do in various venues. We never charge seminar fees. Also, anything we receive over and above our annual budget we happily give away to other not-for-profits who are making both systemic and personal differences — significant differences — in the lives of those less privileged.

When did you become an Adventist? Why do you remain an Adventist?

I became an Adventist at the very impressionable, young age of 14.

I remain an Adventist for quite a few reasons. Adventism has always been defined from bottom up, not the top down. There are attempts from time to time to change that, but we are a group defined by the discoveries and search for what is true among our people. We began as a movement away from traditional Christian theology in search of what we believed was more true. We, as the people, decide what Adventism is and what Adventism isn’t. I stay, for one reason, because I want to be part of that deciding process, even if at times I’m among a minority of voices. Also, Adventism is where my roots are. I owe a lot to Adventism, both good and bad. I don’t look at it linearly like “remaining an Adventist.” I don’t think of it as leaving this and go on to something else. I look at it more like concentric, ever-enlarging circles. I’m still an Adventist, but my circle has simply gotten bigger. My people now include a much larger circle of people in addition to Adventists. And I hope it keeps growing.

At the end of the day, I’m a human being, part of the human family. We are all siblings, children of God, part of the same divine-human family. And we must learn how to sit at the same family table beside one another. And lastly, there are people I still care about deeply within Adventism. I want to be a part of their journey, too.

How do you see the Adventist church changing over the next few decades?

It all depends on the choices we make. I only know my own version of Adventism here in North America. I think we have quite a lot of security outside of North America and Europe when it comes to longevity.

Here in America? If we prioritize the voices of those under 30, I think we have a good shot of growing into something beautiful. If we remain on our present path, though, I don’t see us lasting here. Financially alone, the institution is too expensive to run without the demographic that will not be here 20 years from now. In America, those pains are being felt now, but they will only get worse. I think (and again this is if we continue to cater to the voices we are presently catering to) we will begin to see properties being sold, slowly at first, and then more and more. Our numbers here will continue to dwindle to a state of institutional “life-support.”

Similar to other denominations who have placed a high emphasis on educating their youth, if we don’t keep up with the discoveries our educated young people are making, they will move on to find groups that are more relevant to what they have discovered. We live in the information age. There no longer remains a monopoly of control over the information people have access to.

What is it like living in West Virginia?

Our state motto is Almost Heaven.

We have a lot of work to do still. There are quite a few people here involved in the work of survival, resistance, liberation and restoration, who are very active in helping West Virginia grow in inclusivity, in equality, and economically. At times we at RHM partner with some of those here locally for special projects and efforts.

In West Virginia, we have the same struggles and challenges as everywhere else, I suppose, except that those struggles are compounded by the poverty created by our long dependence on the coal industry. In this regard we have our own set of challenges. But I wouldn't trade the people I share life with here in West Virginia. They are beautiful, smart, inventive, and determined. They’d give you the shirt off their backs, if you were in need — even if it were their last one. I think the future is bright for the people of this state.

Also, harvest season is upon us. There is nothing in the world quite like witnessing the rich fall colors spread along the rolling hills of Greenbrier county. I was born and raised here. For me, this is home.

The 2016 Adventist Forum Annual Conference, Non-violence and the Atonement, will be held in Silver Spring, Maryland from September 16-18. The keynote speaker is Gregory Boyd (read his Spectrum exclusive interview with Carmen Lau here). Other participants include William Johnsson, Keisha McKenzie, Ronald Osborn, Richard Rice, Charles Scriven and Jean Sheldon. Registration for the event is open now. See the registration page for event details and to register.

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Soooo true. And a propensity towards judgement instead of trying to understand, shunning instead of relationship formation.


first offf, the 28 do not define Christainity, they define a brand. Christainity is based upon at least 13 Biblical propositions–

  1. God created the universe at some distant time.
    2.God chose the plant earth, with out form and void of life forms
    3.God created man in the image of God–with intellectual and moral powers with the power of choice as to allegiance.–
  2. man chose unwisely and brought death upon himself and all life forms–Life without God is death.
  3. The Godhead, in anticipation of such a possibility, formed the Covenant of Redemption, also known as the Everlasting Covenant.
  4. Christ. Elected to be the assurance to fallen man.
    7.Thus Christ accepted human flesh, without the taint of sin. he lived a perfect life of service to demonstrate the true character of God and to form a template for those who place their trust in Him.
  5. He accepted a substurionary death In order to redeem man. (S o that God could be just and the justifier of those who trusted in the atonement ).
  6. Those who accept Christ’ s sacrifice are accounted. Just by faith or trust in the gift of the Everlasting Good News or Gospel.
  7. Having accepted Chtist,s gift of love, the Holy Spirit guides the believer into a new life of gratitude and generosity.
  8. The culmination of this rescue mission will be that man will once again walk in the garden with Christ-- As Christ returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
  9. Those who reject the gift with return to dust–There can be no life without the sustaining power of God. Hell is knowing what was lost. death is the removal of life giving power. The burning is to return the rejectors to the original dust.
  10. Upon that dust the Lord will create a new earth which will become. The home of the redeemed and the Throne of God. (TZ)

Instead of trying to change the truths of the Bible, we need to conform our hearts to it. It is WE who need to change, not the truth of the Bible. If we don’t like the Biblical truths God has given us, then we truly are in danger of being lost.

1 Like

Herb Montgomery,
Blessings on you!
You have been a beacon of light in a parched and pitch black land.

Our young people under thirty, as you say, are our future hope.
However in visiting many congregations both in North America and Europe, I find predominantly geriatric congregations where white haired parishioners prevail in the pews.

It is clear that our discriminatory policies both to our female members and to our LGBT offspring are distasteful to the younger demographic who have been raised egalitarian. The mass exodus of millenials makes for a diminished denomination.

While the Gospels are filled with a loving compassionate Savior, with nary a mention of homosexual,issues, Paul in his homophobic pronouncements will continue ro be a “.thorn in the flesh” for advancing tolerance to our LGBT offspring.

Likewise Paul’s misogyny in our fight for women’s equality in Adventism. His edict: Wives submit yourselves to your husbands has resulted in generations of wife beatings and marital rape.

Paul’s forthright endorsement of slavery resulted in centuries of slave owners and slave traders alike, conveniently quoting Paul’s injunction SLAVES,OBEY YOUR MASTERS, this contributing cover and condoning their criminal commerce…

So we contend with Paul’s unfortunate remarks, which in their totality have resulted in misery for millions.over two millennia, and continue to make tolerance difficult to implement. Gay bashings, gay murders and the general mistreatment of gays, can be laid at Paul’s doorstep.

In heaven, millions of slaves, abused women and mistreated gays can rightfully accost Paul demanding: What were you thinking Paul?

IMHO Paul,has caused more misery on this planet than Hitler and Stalin combined. At least those despots only impacted their own generations.

So Herb, Paul’s pronouncements promote a great impediment in your wish to further tolerance both to women and to our LGBT cummunity.


While I have to agree with you, ezbord, I must also note that there is an often ignored concept in the church, one of context. And that context can be very misleading with distant removal from culture and society. Take for example the teachings of EGW about the bicycle, etc… :slight_smile:
Let’s not be too hard on Paul. There, but for the grace of God, go I. He preaches from his understanding, and is still human. Is there context for his teachings? Yes. Are some of them antiquated and discriminatory? Yes. And if taken out of context, most teachings in the Bible can be hurtful. Just ask Jephthah, who sacrificed his own daughter because of a teaching taken out of context.
I still learn from Paul all the time.

Robin Vandermolen, I could not agree more. Paul is definitely in need of reclaiming, and I still hold out hope that one day that might be able to happen. Yet the challenges you raise with Paul are correct, IMO. I, contrary to what Paul wrote, am of Jesus. Not of Paul. I’d love to dialogue with you sometime. I, too, am deeply concerned with the shaping of Christianity in the image of Paul.


Paul could also have been asexual: when he wrote “it’s better to marry than burn” it was not praising marriage, but excusing it for those great majority who were normal sexual humans. Evidently, he had no use for a wife or romantic love but only allowed it for others.

But, I can’t dismiss Paul; were it not for him, I would still be checking the Ten and for sundown on Sabbaths There are still many Adventists stuck in the OT, who do not even understand the relationship between the Law and Grace which he so often repeated in his Epistles.


Seems to me that your argument is with the Holy Spirit, who inspired Paul to write the things he did. His teachings are “unfortunate” only for those who find themselves out of harmony with Biblical principles.

“Seems to me that your argument is with the Holy Spirit, who inspired Paul to write the things he did. His teachings are “unfortunate” only for those who find themselves out of harmony with Biblical principles.”

Which typifies why Herb needs to talk about “Going Beyond Tolerance”…it doesn’t seem to be well understood by all (or practiced) as a Christian virtue.


I have not met you, Herb, and look forward to doing so at the AF conference. Your perspective is very encouraging.

You challenge us to move beyond engaging in “charity” to “addressing actual systemic injustice.” When I glanced at the current Adventist World, a week of prayer issue, and read the first piece, by our church president, I said to myself: “I bet there will be, through all eight or more week-of-prayer essays, NOT ONE reference to the Hebrew prophets.”

There wasn’t. In an issue on mission, not one reference to any of the Hebrew prophets. The official church still defines mission as TALK, and sees all charity, indeed, as a means to the end of winning converts through talk. One sermon did refer to Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, but without offering clarification as to its real meaning or even the OT context (Isaiah!) from which Jesus spoke.

Official Adventism simply doesn’t read the Bible, not all of it. We in the wider body of the church must do so, and you, Herb, underscore the importance of doing so.

To commenters regarding Paul and homosexuality:

The pertinent thing here, I think, is that the CONCEPT of homosexuality was unfamiliar to Paul. It had not yet been invented; he did not, so far as we know, even consider the question of how persons dealing with same-sex desire as a fact of their biology should live a responsible and loving Christian life. In his negative comments, he was likely referring to same-sex intimacy on the side, by persons thought to be heterosexual. Such a thing was somewhat common, I gather, at a time when males could not typically have females (all of them doomed to illiteracy) as equal conversation partners, and so could not be married to someone who, in our sense of the word, was a well-matched friend.

The Bible nowhere says that “inspiration” entails perfection of outlook. But I think we can rescue Paul from the charge of sheer bigotry by attending to the history of human understanding regarding same-sex intimacy.



We abuse the Bible’s message by reading and interpreting it through our eyes and the culture of this century. This is how each generation has read it. But if we could learn more about the world in which the NT was written: the cultural norms, their beliefs, and their limited knowledge of human anatomy, physiology and more, we would be better able to grasp the message as those who heard it preached at that time.

They were ignorant of the rudimentary principles of conception: males planted the “seed” of a future child, the woman was merely the receptacle. Only paternal biological inheritance was known. This was why male-to-male sex was condemned: it was wasting the man’s seed that should have been “planted” to grow and multiply–frustrating the God-given responsibility of its use. How could they have understood what we know today–and read our knowledge into 2,000 year-old writing?


I was really blessed by this interview and it seemed very timely. Recently I spoke to a friend who said he’s, “finding it harder and harder to conscientiously remain an Adventist due to so many issues ignored by the church today.” In other conversations, church members who take a very hardliner legal approach lament because their children have left the church. I took a look at these young people’s FB accounts and it’s obvious by their posts they see no options for God’s church to demean or discount anyone on basis of gender or color. One even asked, “Where is the love in the church when we treat women and gays and blacks as less?” This person was a white male in his twenties.

My guess is this younger generation is experiencing cognitive dissonance between the loving Jesus they were taught about in Sabbath School and the church who won’t treat women, people of color and LGBTQ as equals and children of God just as much as white males. I once felt this myself until I began to listen to Herb and studied these issues out for myself.

As someone who has had the privilege of sitting through at least three weekends where Herb spoke, I have heard the counter-arguments and felt the backlash. Change is hard and changing our minds is even harder, but what struck me is the lack of ability to listen from those who argue for the status quo.
In a church where we take such pride in saying we have the truth, many seem to have forgotten that Jesus says He is the TRUTH. Many of us have been faced with the question, will you follow the church or Jesus? This should never be! .


The status quo in the church is too focused in on the Investigative Judgement, the latest dope on the Pope, searching for anything they can use to keep Sunday law hysteria alive. They chafe at the social gospel that Jesus proclaimed and that Herb so wonderfully pursues here in his ministry. Bless you Herb.


Elaine, you speak as though those who wrote the Bible were nothing more than men making things up as they went along. It is not their own personal beliefs that are being written down. Either God led/inspired them to write down what they did, or they’re liars, you cant have some parts being inspired and some parts not - usually the bits people don’t like, oddly enough, become the non-inspired sources. Sure, those living in the first century were products of their time, as we are products of our time… but God is not.


I don’t know exactly what you mean by that; but I have a feeling it’s nothing more than pick and chose what I like theology.

I don’t know why you added this, but you use the word faith here in the modern, Western understanding of it - a type of blind faith. Allow me to share something with you: (I would love to post the whole thing, but it would be way too long)

In favor of the more “objective” (less psychological) reading—as in my translation—is that the author clearly wants to say something about faith that is in addition to the exhortation concerning boldness, and the fact that objective senses are better supported by ancient evidence. What does the author appear to be saying, then, when he speaks of faith as a “substance” of things hoped for? I would argue that he thinks in terms of a pledge, down payment, and even a participation in those realities. Faith, in this understanding, makes actual, or makes “real,” for the believers the things that are hoped for, as though they were present. Similarly, faith is an “argument” or “proof” for things unseen, for it is the case that faith acts on unseen things as though they were capable of being seen, because they are understood to be as real, or even more real, than things that can be “seen,” that is, verified by the senses.

The conviction is thoroughly biblical in character. The author clearly alludes to the creation account in Genesis 1, where God creates by a word alone (see also Ps 32:6; Wis 9:1; Sir 42:15; 2 Pet 3:5; Philo, God’s Immutability 57). It is by the authority of “the word of God” that faith gains the understanding that the world comes to be “by the word of God.” And if the things that are seen always arise out of what is not seen, then the world perceptible to the senses is always not only dependent on, but also inferior to, the power that brings it into being, even while it is through the sensible that the insensible finds expression. Since faith defines a life based on what is not seen rather than what is seen, it thereby also becomes a “proof”—in the very lives of the humans who live by it—of the reality of the unseen. (Hebrews: A Commentary | Johnson, Luke Timothy)

And one more:

Substance. Gr. hupostasis, “substantial nature,” “essence,” “actual being,” “reality,” and in an extended sense, as here, “confident assurance.” Compare the word arrabōn, “earnest” (see on 2 Cor. 1:22). There is no such thing as blind faith. Genuine faith always rests upon the firm, underlying “substance” of sufficient evidence to warrant confidence in what is not yet seen. Hupostasis is used in the ancient papyri of the legal documents by which a person proved his ownership of property. The documents were not the property, but they provided evidence of its existence and of his right to it. Accordingly, hupostasis might here be rendered “title-deed”—“Faith is the title-deed …” (SDABC)

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Pet. 3:15)

I couldn’t do that (make a defence) if it’s blind faith - no evidence.

1 Like

Agreed. We are all limited to our own place and time. God is not limited to what we believe or disbelieve. There are many forms of inspiration and may not always have universal acceptance; but that does not change one’s belief which is always based on faith, not factual evidence (Heb. 11).