Lessons from a Feminist Father

I’m one of those notorious PKs. You know how we are. My teen years were one long stretch of baking apple turnovers, babysitting at Revelation seminars, cross-stitching gifts for grandmas and aunts, and reading James Herriot. What gives? One could argue that I was too dorky to rebel, but this hypothesis only works for so long. Eventually, I grew up. I traveled. I studied. I’m now a vocal feminist who belongs to a church that is about to vote on whether women pastors can be ordained. It’s 2015. And yet, here I am: faithful, committed.

I could give doctrinal reasons for why I’m still an Adventist. I could write about my commitment to pacifism, to social justice, to Sabbath rest. But the squishy truth is that Adventist young adults largely leave or stay based on relationships.

I’m an Adventist today because of my father. He retired this year at 72. Through the years, he’s been a missionary, teacher, minister, and storyteller extraordinaire. He has also raised two daughters who are both still in the church and who both like to hang out with him. I don’t think the two are unconnected.

Now that I’m a parent and raising an Adventist daughter, I’m thankful to have his parenting playbook. Here are seven lessons he’s taught me.

1.) Model Equality When I was growing up, my father kept our kitchen floor mopped, while more often than not, my mother mowed the lawn. He also baked bread, made school lunches, and one ambitious summer, canned 30 jars of peaches.

My parents never used the word feminist to describe themselves, but he and my mother modeled the principle throughout their marriage. Chores weren’t gendered. Neither was leadership or spirituality.

2.) Lean In In 1995, I was a student missionary in Thailand, teaching English as a second language. In a rare call home, I complained to my parents that instead of traveling during break, I had to register new students. “Well,” my father said, “what did you expect? You signed up to be a missionary, not a tourist.”

Throughout my childhood, I’d seen my father lean into his role of pastor. He preached sermons, created puppet shows for VBS, and led board meetings. He also arrived early to prayer meetings so that he could clean the sanctuary bathrooms.

After that phone call, I leaned in. I did what needed doing, some of which was tedious (Sunday mornings tutoring, for example), but having a cheerful heart freed up so much emotional energy. That year, the other student missionaries and I started a sport’s club, created a newsletter, planned overnight field trips for our students, built up the vespers program, and yes, even took a few trips of our own.

3.) Have Fun “Are we having fun yet?” my father asks when we’re plodding up a mountain or paddling into a strong wind. It’s a mischievous question—as he likes to ask it when the going is especially tough—but it’s also how he has lived life: full tilt. He started running in his 50s and has now run in the Boston Marathon twice. He’s climbed Mount Whitney, Mount Rainier, and Mount Kilimanjaro. He’s inspired a love of adventure in both his daughters.

When I attended graduate school in Minnesota, I naturally wanted to canoe the Boundary Waters, and I naturally invited my father to join me. Neither of us had carried a canoe previously, but I wasn’t worried. I knew we’d have fun.

From left: The Author, her father and her sister.

4.) Share Your Children’s (and Grandchildren’s) Interests A few years ago, my nephews fell into a serious dinosaur mania; my father joined them. He read up on the latest scientific discoveries, took them to natural history museums, and bought them dinosaur books. These days, dinosaurs are (mostly) out and softball is in. And my father? Well, if he’s not chaperoning a school field trip, you can find him at the baseball diamond. He’s the tall guy wearing a dinosaur t-shirt.

5.) Be Authentic When I was eleven or twelve, I washed the grill of my grandfather’s car. He gave me $5 and told me I’d done a fantastic job. I pranced about the house, waving the money, and bragging about what a spitfire I was at car detailing. “Oh, now,” my father finally said. “He’d have given you money if you’d spit on the grill and rubbed it around.”

My father keeps it real. In an era where every child is a winner, perhaps one of my father’s best gifts is the truth. As an adult now, I still trust him and value his opinion.

6.) Welcome Questions Growing up, I had opinions about everything, including Christianity and Adventism. I’d bring up theological heresies at breakfast. “Great question,” my father would say. Instead of providing a canned answer, he’d ask me what I thought. I came to see Adventism as a good home for the thinking Christian, as a church that had space for curiosity and uncertainty.

7.) Live Your Faith My father reads books on evolution, and he reads the Bible, theological texts, devotionals. He prays every night. He buys motorcycles for pastors in Uganda. He buys groceries for people who hold signs that say they are hungry. He visits people in prison. My father doesn’t talk much to his daughters about his personal faith, but we know. We see it.

This Father’s Day, I want to give a shout out to all the fantastic fathers, particularly my own. Because of the many lessons my feminist father instilled in me, I’m a better Adventist and a better parent.

Sari Fordham teaches creative writing at La Sierra University. She lives in Riverside, CA with her husband Bryan Bradford and her daughter Kai.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6878

What would a survey of PK’s show if taken today? Are there more who are still in the church? Likely, there are. But more interesting and informative, would be to question those who have left the church a they represent a large group of untapped and valuable information the church should be willing to hear.

In my family there were four PK daughters, all born in the 20s (to give an idea of the Adventist church at that time). But my dad always spent time with us: taking us to the deepest water holes to swim because wherever we went in our many move for summer evangelistic campaigns, he always discovered early where they were and we could be found there each Sunday, along with a picnic lunch and a cold watermelon.

He pushed each of us to be trained in a vocation where we could be independent and self-supporting; this in a time when very few girls went to college and often married soon after high school. Often I discussed Bible texts I could not understand and he carefully explained them as he always had a summer evangelistic campaign and I knew all of the steps needed to become an Adventist sitting through them each summer.

How I wished he had not died so young (only 59) as I would love to have discussed with him my questions about SdA doctrines as I later studied deeply into the history of the Christian church and Adventism. He did not have the advantage of a seminary education,
but had a very inquiring mind and never stopped learning something new each day, making friends wherever he went. A great role model!


I wish my daughters had written this of their preacher father. Like our author, my two daughters are still committed and faithful Adventists, both having been ordained as elders. I aspire to be all that you have discovered is true of your father. Thanks again for this piece.

Yes Adventist parents can pass on the torch of faith, hope and love to their children!


Thank you for a beautiful essay. Well-written, and lots to think about. Wonderful tribute.


What a superb dad. I can tell similar stories of my father and my daughters, I suspect, can tell somewhat similar stories about me.

And yet all my father’s children have walked out the SdA back door, and all my children have done the done the same.

You see, good parenting is neither necessary nor sufficient to keep children within the denomination.

You will leave if you every encounter sufficient stresses to do the math I did. Stress is why people leave, Not doctrine. The doctrines are mostly fine. It is the culture that both attracts some and repeals others.

I was digging the garden one morning, contemplating the stresses in my life caused by
1 - work
2 - family
3 - church
and the sum was more than I could cope with. I would not abandon my family. For their sake and mine, and because the work stresses were sensible challenges and not stupidities, I would not change my job. But the stresses of belonging to an organization that was something else.

In 2001 my SdA congregation conference and denomination was
1 - belittling women, education, LGBTQI, science, planning
2 - lying about the origins of the Bible and the EGW writings, and the teachings of the Bible
3 - doing nothing to help the community
4 - unable to see its mistakes, or admit them, or fix them - that I did not need.
I decided then to consider leaving.

About a month after that Clifford Goldstein wrote an article in the Adventist Review likening evolutionists to satanists, and did not get chastised for it, I bumped into Bill Johnson, AR editor, at Northern New England camp meeting, He was a long time friend of my in-laws, and I discussed the CG situation with him. He told me some at the GC had privately disagreed with CG’s article but none dared publically say so.

I handed in my resignation from treasurer, from deacon, from the denomination, and walked out the door. I have never regretted that decision. It was probably one of the best gifts I eve gave my children.

You have written a great article about your dad, but your dad is not reflecting the SdA denomination and can’t be used to justify its culture. You are in the denomination in spite of its culture, not because of it.


Good suggestions for fathers - and mothers, Sari. Although sometimes the best of parents aren’t sufficient to keep their children in the church. But hopefully, all parents can retain loving and affirming relationships with their kids.


Theological --vs-- Sociological reasons. These are issues that Clash against each other with an untold number of persons in the church. Especially 2nd and 3rd generation SDAs in a family.
It can be easy for a person to develop a personal growth that is one beyond the Denominational Growth, and especially the Local Church growth.
And that is where there can be discontent in their Spiritual relationships with “The Church”. If a person grows in knowledge of the Scripture beyond the “28”, there are “cracks” in the foundations that can be seen in Religiosity of the church. A person has to find “resolution” to what these “cracks” mean, and how to relate to them. When this has been resolved the person will find they can continue to grow IN THE CHURCH, or find that in order to do so they have to so called “Leave Church” to continue to have space to grow.
It is sad when a person feels they have to “leave”, that they cannot stay, but just find a place in their wider Community in their town/city where they can express their Spirituality Wings. To find a place or places in other Spiritual communities where they can express their Spiritual Wings, to employ their “gifts”, to discover and train New “gifts”.
When I arrived in Macon 10 years ago it was a real change for me. From being active in church, to finding an “inactive” church. I went to church on Sabbath and Weds when off from work, but that is ALL I had. But God gave me “gifts”. I went to this local Episcopal Church for Sunday evening “entertainment” of meditation, prayer, singing, reading scripture. I eventually was invited to join their community activities. Joined several of their service groups in the church. This led to an HIV ministry on Fridays. Supporting a mission in Haiti that taught 300 kids to read and write, and one meal a day. I met persons from several other Episc churches in the area and was invited to join in their groups. I now do tutoring for the past 5 years “learning to be an elementary teacher”. This last year I had a 4 yr old I helped with reading. The past 4 years I drive the Christ Church Epis. church bus to pick up our tutoring kids. I have my own key. I met my Jewish friend at St Francis. He has CP and confined to wheelchair. Started out helping with grocery shopping. Almost 5 yrs now, take him to Synagogue. We walk the 5 blocks every Friday evening. Sometime he needs a ride to church, so before I go to SDA I will take him, and push him home after I get out of mine. I have been included as a “Jewish member” there in lots of Spiritual Events. And am missed when not there. I have taken my friend on a beach vacation with me the past 4 years.
I could go on, but all these “gifts” as a result of being willing to step out of a “comfort zone” of just attending the SDA church. Wanting to just be “entertained” on Sunday night.
Now I find new jobs in my “retirement” days from work. I spend a number of hours at a local daytime shelter for homeless. Doing their laundry, cleaning the showers after they bathe, making coffee, tea, cutting up fruit, for Afternoon Snack time, and then washing their dishes, and wiping tables after they leave. When walking downtown, they are no longer faceless persons. I can sit on a bench with them and say “Hello”. Occasionally one might say “I’m hungry” when I see him/her late evening. And know that this is probably true. So will purchase a food gift from a spot open. Thursday nite there was a Dental Fair [they were seeing 1000 on Friday and same on Saturday] in Perry,Ga. That night I drove the church bus, we took 11 down there to be seen. We sat up all night trying to sleep in camp chairs. 5AM the crowd was let in and the clinic began. After being seen I drove them back to the shelter so they could put ice on their mouths, get something to eat, take a nap.
10 years ago, what if I had said to myself. I am a Seventh day Adventist. So IGNORED the advertisement for “entertainment” and stayed home.
I would still be SDA. But my Spiritual Growth would not be what it is today. I would not have such an enjoyable life as I have. I was telling someone recently, [I have a Dodge van 2500] that sometimes I thing my van is a “white elephant” [I bought it for camping when I had NO FRIENDS, it has only 2 seats]. But the other day I helped move my 9th HIV person into an apartment. One called me at 10 PM Saturday night saying she [she is a Trans] had just gotten her food stamps, had nothing to eat. So I took her to get groceries. Did I need to do that? No. But she is someone I met as a “gift” from St Francis, NOT a “gift” from SDA. The Jehovah Witness friend that goes with me to the gym Mon, Wed, Fri is an HIV person I met as a non-SDA “gift”. Another 10 year friend who is HIV and has gone with me to many yearly SDA events at the beach in NC, in Delaware, to VT, to GC in Atlanta has been an exceptional gift, but NOT an SDA gift. A gift from God through St Francis. He was unchurched when I met him. He joined me in St Francis activities. Went to conformation classes with me twice. I had the privilege of being his Sponsor at his Baptism a number of years ago.
I did take him to SDA potluck after church a number of times. A couple of years they had a singing band at 2 nursing homes and I would take him. So he met my SDA friends. But he would NOT be welcome in my church, he would not be allowed to be baptized in my church. The 17th statement on the back of the bulletin every week says, “God condemns homosexuality”. He is gay. So I do what I can for him and God.
Unfortunately, I have had 4 HIV “gifts” die on me. I do miss them. But I cherish their memories.
Sorry this is so long. But I found when one outgrows Religiosity, the Local Church, one can “Spread their Arms” and Embrace a larger world for God without giving up their being an SDA. One just changes into a new and different form of SDA person. One that is much more satisfying, and enriched.


A fantastic and heart-warming tribute, thank-you. If only more fathers and daughters had this kind of relationship the whole world would be a better place.

This “seeing” is what has made the difference. As one of my grandmothers used to say, “Words are cheap”. Actions are what children really notice.


There are usually larger churches in the small towns with only a few SdA members. This makes it difficult to have a group large enough to offer help in their towns. But if they joined up as Steve has done with other churches to help in their community, they would be able to make friends who could realize that Adventists want to make friends and become part of those who help.


Great piece, but I cringe on the word “feminist.” Not that it is a bad word, but it has some hot connotations today. Feminism isn’t a bad thing. It is simply women seeking to be treated like full fledged human beings, equal with men politically, socially, and economically. That is a good thing, but O how it has taken on a bad rap. Anyway, despite the word (I know, my hang up), a wonderful story of a man who treated his daughter’s like bright and capable persons, as they have shown themselves to be. Bravo!


I agree w/ some of what you’re saying, but why can’t we count her dad in “reflecting the SdA denomination”? He is an Adventist minister, after all. He might not reflect the entire culture, but he certainly is an example that the culture includes people like him. You’re dismissing Sari’s family, & counting your experience & response as the only representative ones.

Sari lives & works within the Adventism of La Sierra Uni. It’s a real part of the Adventist culture, even if other parts are different & even if it’s a minority culture. One’s particular Adventist community is largely definitive for one’s fit. For those for whom LSU church is home, whatever Cliff Goldstein writes is an annoyance far away & not a reflection of their local church.

Unfortunately, as it was for you, both the local & denominational identities may not fit. But, let’s not insist that they never can for thoughtful people.


Sari, delightfully written profile of your father and great advice for parents of any denomination.

Thanks for sharing this tribute and your personal experiences. I look forward to more of your writing.

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Some years ago at the GC meeting in Atlanta I suggested to a few PK’s standing around with me that a support group should be started for those of us that grew up in the shadow of our father’s ministries.

I think I was trying to be funny. But with a grain of truth.

Now, I’m more seriously wondering (and to some degree wandering) if such a support group exists somewhere. Online maybe. Not that I view myself as a victim. But at a minimum, I could use some perspective. See how other people have processed dealing with their upbringing a spit away from the pulpit and also how they look at it decades later.

Liked the article above. But can’t help wonder how much this is norm and how much it’s exception. Or more bluntly, how accurately it reflects reality. SDA PK reality, or our cousins across denominational lines.

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Alan, it would be very easy to start one on FB as it seems there is a group for almost everything and everybody :smile:

I love this essay and I have similar memories of my own parents and grandparents. As a parent myself, I strive for the same modeling of equality and openness. I find that my peers who still value a connection to the faith community of their youth were also blessed with parents whose lives expressed those same attitudes. Thanks for sharing.

“The books on your shelf and the sermons in your church are not a fit expression of your belief. How you treat others is your religion.”

In the SID division there is a ministry for children of pastors. It is to keep them engaged in the church and also to provide some socializing. The ministry is headed up by a friend of the family.


Though I am not a PK (I am a MK). I really appreciate your essay. I especially like this description of your father. When I was growing up on the mission, my dad did not do many of these things because he was working from dawn to dusk every day, even on the Sabbath because he managed the mission dairy. When it came guava season, he was involved in the canning process. It was all-hands-on-deck. :smile:

My dad’s mother was a working nurse and my mom was a working teacher. In my family women were strong and independent. I learned as much from their example as I did from my dad’s support for my mom’s work as a vital part of the mission and our family.

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In all of these examples that I have read so far from being in the lime light of being either a PK of MK or perhaps Both, what I see is a Modeling of Love, Modeling of Appreciation of the Human-ness of each member of the family.
Isn’t this the TRUE essence of what Seventh day Adventism is all about? It is not about all the contrived Rules we have made up [and a lot of them are, more than we would like to think about] in thinking that we can EARN God’s love, to have God become In Love with us?
TRUE SDA life does Not center around the "28"
It centers around the Essence of Being a Truly Human Being with all its wonderful, conflicting, annoying manifestations grinding against the various individual personality traits bound in the Family Unit.
It is when there are RULES and PUNISHMENTS to sooth the Grinding instead of the Oil of love and forbearance and tolerance and laughter to prevent wear and tear that the psychological problems of dissatisfaction, hate, and the need to remove, the need to dissociate from the Family Unit, from the Religion of the Family Unit evolves, and completes the process once the person can become independent.

THIS is the message that I see reflected in the anecdotal stories of life as PKs, as MKs that have been alluded to that I have seen over the past year or so on Spectrum and Elsewhere by SDAs.

I read your post.
If you don’t mind, I would like to offer you some Religious Therapy.
As a MUST READ, you MUST obtain the book, The Book of J, by Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg.
Read at least pages 8 through 55.
I found an interesting statement on pg 47 that I think Mirrors 99.9% of us Seventh day Adventists. Here it is.
"In the time of Ezra to the destruction of the Second Temple [70 A.D.] we gradually move from a cultic Yahwism to the Worship of Torah, and so to the birth of Judaism as “a book of religion.” More than 1900 years later, the Jews still Worship the Book, as Ezra perhaps intended them to do."
Is this the transition of Seventh day-ism? From a worship of “Yahweh” to a Worship of the Book?
And IS THIS “worship of the book” what is driving this up-coming SA2015 with the various changes in the wording of the “28s”, the lack of respect for women wanting to serve God in the fullness of their Humanity? The lack of Respect for ALL Humans, Men and Women in ALL their Bodily Forms? The lack of Respect for ALL Humans in whom God created them to be attracted to, and to form Families?

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I don’t see why you call your father “feminist”.

Check the new Facebook page: SDA Preachers’ Kids.

It’s for those who grew up as missionary, conference official and pastors’ kids: