"Jesus and Politics" Conference Calls for Reflection and Involvement

The Andrews University Theological Seminary and the Lake Union Conference partnered to produce a scholarly conference entitled “Jesus and Politics: Christians, Liberty and Justice Today” on the campus of Andrews University.

Over 100 people registered to attend the Oct. 17-19, 2019 event (some from as far away as California, Canada and Africa) and a few hundred Andrews University students also attended. The focus of the conference was how Jesus in his time on earth served the less fortunate, and how Adventists tend to avoid an involvement in politics, yet we have a duty to help others. Plenary speakers talked about our need for speaking out on issues, and panelists taught how to help in different key issues.

On Thursday, attorney James Standish spoke for the University Undergraduate Chapel, about how he takes the principles of Jesus with him into his work in law, as a church representative to government and as a government official in protecting religious freedom.

The first plenary session was open to the public and held in Pioneer Memorial Church with a good turnout. Jim Wallis, founder, president and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, spoke about topics in his new book, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, specifically chapter seven on the topic of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, Romans 13, and Christ before Pilate.

Wallis told his own faith story, of growing up in Detroit and the differences between white and black in Detroit. He was told when he raised questions of race, that race was not a religious issue but a political issue and shouldn’t be discussed, so he left the church and worked on these issues (later returning). He emphasized that our religion should shape our politics, but our politics shouldn’t shape our religion. He said that the Bible has 2,000 references of the poor, and if we cut them out, the Bible is full of holes. Wallis also touched on the issues of mass incarceration, migrants and refugees, voter suppression based on race, and the need for the truth.

Friday the plenary sessions continued in the Andrews University Theological Seminary Chapel starting with a presentation by David Trim, director of Archives, Statistics and Research at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who spoke of early Adventist missionaries and their heritage of social and human rights involvement. They would not only bring the Word of God but would also teach the people trades and how to stand up to oppression.

Timothy Golden, professor of Political Science at Walla Walla University, talked about the failings of the United States on behalf of the slave/African-American through history, the Adventist heritage of engaging social issues in the name of Christ and His teachings, and that we still have more to do.

Claudia Allen, PhD Student at the University of Maryland/Content Manager for Message magazine, spoke on the history of the United States in raising up some people at the expense of people of color (including Native Americans, slaves and African-Americans).

Ronald Sider, professor emeritus at Palmer Theological Seminary, spoke twice, once in a plenary session and once for the University Vespers. He discussed that Christians should think about political issues from a biblical framework, and Jesus’ teaching on peace and violence.

The conference also partnered with Pioneer Memorial Church and One Place, both on the campus of Andrews University, to supply speakers during their services on Saturday. Edward Woods III (reading a sermon by Dr. Calvin Rock), Dr. Alvin Kibble, Dr. Ganoune Diop and Claudia Allen preaching for them.

The afternoon presenters included Michael Nixon, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion at Andrews University, who communicated that we are replaceable. We as Adventists tend to believe that it has to be us and that we can’t collaborate, but we need Christians from the outside, who are truly doing the work of anti-racism to come in and show us the way, because we are not doing it. He encouraged us to wake up, let the façade die, and be born again.

Nicholas Miller, professor of Church History at the Theological Seminary on Andrews University campus and Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director at the Lake Union Conference, talked about the lamb-like beast, having two horns — Religious Freedom & Republicanism (equality, checks and balances, etc.). Adventism can be quick to defend religious freedom but is slow to respond about the other horn.

Our Adventist founders were not silent on social issues, yet the Adventist church in Germany supported Hitler because he didn’t raise red flags about religious freedom for us, and the white members of the Adventist Church didn’t get involved in the Civil Rights Movement because it was viewed as a political movement. Miller suggested how much better it would have been to see these issues for what they were in the present time, than for the Adventist Church to have had to issue apologies years later (as they have).

There were three breakout times with panels on the topics of: 1) Jesus and the #MeToo Movement; 2) Jesus Among the Theologians & Political Scientists; 3) Jesus Among the Social Issue Activists; 4) Jesus Among the Migrant and Refugees; 5) Jesus Among the Religious Liberty Advocates; 6) Jesus Amidst the LGBT/Religious Freedom Conflict; 7) Jesus Among the Faith Activists; 8) Jesus Among the Constitutional Lawyers; 9) Jesus Among the Leaders. These panels consisted of university professors, counselors, lawyers, leaders in other denominations, workers with refugees, and leadership from the Seventh-day Adventist Church at various levels. The point of the panels was to supply more practical information, including actions that attendees could take to make a difference in their topics. We heard from a few people who said they planned to make changes right away based on what they had heard in the panels.

The weekend concluded in a moving concert “With Liberty & Justice For All,” featuring music by the Andrews University Wind Symphony, directed by Byron Graves, and readings both on the topic of the major events in the history of the United States where liberty and justice were fought and forgotten. These included historical events such as the trail of tears, the Civil War, and September 11, 2001, as well as celebrations of religious freedom, and civil rights, to name a few.

The conference was recorded and is viewable at www.jesusandpoliticstoday.org. (Plenary videos are available and breakout videos will be added as they become available.)

Janna Quetz is the Lake Union Public Affairs and Religious Liberty administrative assistant. This article was originally published by Lake Union Herald and is reprinted here with permission.

Image: Nicholas Miller (far left), professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and co-chair of the Jesus & Politics conference organizing committee, moderated a panel discussion with several conference speakers on Thursday evening, Oct. 17, in the Pioneer Memorial Church sanctuary.Photo by Lloyd Martinez, University Communication student photographer, courtesy of Lake Union Herald.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9990

Thank you for reprinting the article! Making a difference in the world because of our connection to Jesus, this is the influence of the kingdom. I like the variety of the panels with different perspectives.

There may be some posters that are gasping breathing because of this topic :grin: So, remember we love you. Spectrumites stick together. Breathe.

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Not easy to talk about “social justice” when there is such a significant political divide in the Church - and even here on Spectrum. Two very polarized groups, with opposite emphasis on “social justice.” I am glad this articles was published here, to stimulate thinking and interaction.

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I would like to see these various areas broken down and hear the practical information that was given to each group.

None of us can attempt to tackle all the issues, but there is probably at least one in which we are interested and would like more information. We can do our part if we do research in our area of interest.

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What an important conference. Such ideas help to complete the arc of impact to show how belief will affect abundant living. The ultimate is to serve God’s creation; the penultimate is to deal with politics and imperfection daily. Politics is about promoting justice and peace and protecting the vulnerable. Politics can enhance human flourishing and mediate conflict; politics can help confront negatives such as injustice and worsening violence.

I wonder if part of the conference included ideas related to partnership and domination? Walter Wink’s work on “the powers” is a nice complement to Adventistism. Jesus’ infused politics, in my view, will avoid domination and coercion and focus on enhanced partnership.

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In yesterday’s [Sunday] Lectionary readings for churches,
Isaiah 1:10-19 was the Old Testament reading. God called the
Leaders men of Sodom, and the people, peoples of Gomorrah.
He hated their devotion to RITUAL in worship and were NOT
worshiping Him.
He said He wanted them to repent. To seek for Justice. Help the
oppressed. Defend the orphans. Look after the defenseless like the
widows.
Through out Isaiah’s calling the people, he repeatedly said the cause
of their wars with Syria and Assyria was their lack of Social Injustice.
Perhaps in the History of the SDA church we MISSED the Weightier
Matters of The Law. And are STILL staying on that path in the 21st
Century.
And so neither the 3rd World, NOR the 1st World Adventists learned this.
2 Thessalonians 1:2-4, 11,12 was another. vs 11 “May He give you the
POWER to accomplish all the Good Things your faith Prompts you to
do.” 12." Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of
the way you live, and you will be honored along with Him."

Years ago there was a PBS series called “Eye On The Prize”. In one
episode it featured the history of the black students attending the High
School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It featured interviews with some of them
prior to the National Guard escorting them in. One student was interviewed
at home. He said he was a Seventh day Adventist. And appeared to be
proud to be one, and participating in this historic event even though it was
very dangerous to do so.

We ought to live just lives in a social world badly broken by sin. The degree to which we engage in the political/legal aspect of it is the unnerving struggle to find our proper place. Jesus’ social reform came through changing hearts. He was not afraid to speak out on injustices, but He put the main bulk of His energy into touching lives with His love and what He could do for the person. Our church has had a difficult time with “social reforms” from prohibition to working with freed slaves. It is no less a difficult task today.

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I wonder if the example of Jimmy Carter is ever considered by any Adventist other than myself? I believe he was a great president, and the failure of Americans in general, and Christians in particular, to recognize his pure faith in action simply reflects the fallen state of our country and it’s so called Christian citizens. He engaged in politics in a way that was truly statesmanlike, and with climate change looming increasingly as a Christian concern (I’m ignoring the misguided reactionaries of the evangelical/Republican group), I see him as almost prophetic in his 55 mph speed limit. His Christian kindness to Iran if continued might have saved us 40 years of senseless animosity and dysfunction. But alas, who even considers such things? It is well worth thinking about.

PS The paucity of comments on this article is a great example in and of itself of Adventists continued reluctance to engage in civic life.

Carmen wrote:
What an important conference. Such ideas help to complete the arc of impact to show how belief will affect abundant living. The ultimate is to serve God’s creation; the penultimate is to deal with politics and imperfection daily. Politics is about promoting justice and peace and protecting the vulnerable. Politics can enhance human flourishing and mediate conflict; politics can help confront negatives such as injustice and worsening violence.

I wonder if part of the conference included ideas related to partnership and domination? Walter Wink’s work on “the powers” is a nice complement to Adventistism. Jesus’ infused politics, in my view, will avoid domination and coercion and focus on enhanced partnership.

Hi Carmen,
I totally agree - such an important conference, and yet, at least judging by these Spectrum responses - such a thoroughly overlooked one! Strange to me, since the readership of this site usually appreciates political thought, and as you say, related psychological and relationship issues.

Politics is by definition the application of power, but as you pointed out, always with a view to protecting the vulnerable in society, since that is what makes us both human and Christian. Jesus set that example so clearly, it is a wonder to me that so many of His followers within the Republican party fail to see the application to their political beliefs. But this is because Jesus also set a very high moral standard, and Democrats have fallen into the habit of discounting the value of morality in their own lives and in their policies. So it seems we Adventist Christians have no political party to call home. We stay engaged and civic minded, but have to cling to what is right - pure living, caring for God’s amazing Creation, kindness to the poor and vulnerable, liberating people to fulfill their full potential (‘abundant living’ as you put it). We look to accomplish these goals through what ever government policies will bear that precious fruit.

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I have been to the Baptist church in Plains, GA and heard Jimmy Carter teach a lesson on the book of Jude. I felt he was prophetic too.

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