A series of developments in my church have made me wonder whether the church, which I have known my whole life, is not being kidnapped in broad daylight for purposes one has a hard time fathoming. Among the features of this development is a tone and a style of expressing views and disagreements that I believe need to be addressed.
Months before the General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, an avalanche of speculations, rumors and personal agenda items flooded conversations, publications, and social media. A friend asked me, “Ray, why aren’t you saying anything? You’ve been around and could possibly tone down the rhetoric.”
“I do not see this as a noble task,” I responded. “There is more to life than adding to the noise and chatter about the obvious church politics culminating in San Antonio. Besides, being a target for the lunatics that have suddenly come out of the church’s stale woodwork does not come close to my view of religious entertainment.”
Frankly, I care more about “pure and simple religion” than about positioning myself among the purveyors of personal agendas for the church, who often react with hateful and vicious talk laced with a sprinkle of outright lies. Call me old-fashioned, but I care about the language we use, especially when describing matters that are associated with spiritual aesthetics. Call it spiritual formation that has a value for my life, a way of life I inherited from my upbringing and personal contact with Scripture and its Author.
Observing the Adventist blog conversations in particular, one could not miss the negative strategies at play, especially when the topic of women in ministry surfaced as the church’s primary 2015 concern (again). The interlocutors, who in the recent past had exercised notable influence in church mission, suddenly claimed expertise in areas they had not been known for. The cyber talk moved off center, and motives to “rule the church and rule the world” replaced unity with uniformity. All in the name of true religion.
In her commentary on “What It’s Really Like to Be a Woman Pastor,” Alicia Johnston, a church planter from the Carolina Conference, wrote: “There are independent organizations and individuals that used to be dedicated to evangelism who have made it their mission to discredit the ministry of female pastors. It saddens me deeply.” Myself, I wondered about the effect of that evolution on the church.
When comments on the blogs were laced with name calling, which included expressions of hatred toward those with contrary opinions, I could not help but see the image of a church that has perhaps lost its balance. Some noble and notable church leaders, through a few strokes of the keyboard, became “Jesuits,” “servants of Satan,” and “antichrists,” to list a few. When I read the Pauline admonition to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV), a thought crossed my mind and a smirk appeared on my face: Judging by the group the apostle is addressing, one can assume that this advice is for the young people. Some of the interlocutors are already “seasoned,” so perhaps this does not apply to them anymore!
Have some of our fellow church members (often hiding their names behind pseudonyms) forgotten another classic comment by Peter (2 Peter 3: 5-7) about brotherly kindness?
What about this text? “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
After posting an article on the Rocky Mountain Conference’s Facebook page about the vote dealing with women’s ordination, the flood of reactions—thousands of comments—was taken over by hateful language. We had thought that our community was quite tame until this happened! It would appear that we have a contingent of “Hateventists” among us.
What do we do with them? They should be loved, but would many of us want to walk hand in hand with them?
A communication colleague of mine suggested posting the following statement: “Reminder on Christian Dialogue: The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes in respectful, Christ-like dialogue between Christians, and indeed, all people. There is no place for disrespectful statements, unfounded accusations, and hatred to exist on our social media pages. Thank you for understanding and demonstrating respect to all.” Responses indicated approval; we could definitely hear people applauding.
Most reading these words are not hate-talkers, but if you should recognize yourself as a Hateventist, perhaps you might consider a simple request: Please, watch your language!
Rajmund Dabrowski is communication director for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. A version of this article first appeared in Vol. 2. No. 2, Fall 2015 of Mountain View News, and is reprinted here by permission.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7109