There is something frightfully wrong with the Seventh-day Adventist church today — a problem that has pervaded most religious organizations around the world. If not dealt with, it can take away all of the good that the SDA church has done in the world. The problem is this: My church doesn’t care about me.
It is a bold statement to say, surely. Perhaps when I get older I’ll see the complexities of the church's organization and I’ll laugh that I ever said such blasphemies. I’m just afraid that I won’t last until then. The fact of the matter is that our church is ignoring youth. In churches, programs like Vacation Bible School and Pathfinders cater to children, while their parents are occupied with Revelation seminars and maybe some marriage counseling. All the while kids from as early as middle school to as late as adults in their mid-thirties have to join a conversation made for and by a generation out of touch with our issues or concerns.
This neglect of Generation X and Y is reflected in Adventist entertainment as well. Adventist media such as Adventist World Radio, 3ABN, or The Hope Channel continue to crank out live sermons and entertainment for young children, and we in the middle are forgotten. If there is any program or media that begins to appeal to us, it is either underfunded or cancelled due to obsessions over certain interpretations of theology or something or other. What we see on this end is a fear of new media and a dismissal of a generation.
Those who do talk to us tend to speak about things that we’ve honestly found irrelevant. Adventists have been obsessed with times and dates and my generation simply does not care anymore. Church history is interesting and eschatological guesswork is entertaining but it is no world to live within.
What’s more, because of these twisted doctrines, a steady message is beaten out. Catholics are evil, the pope is evil, and Satan has used all fictional writers (J.K Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien for starters), all actors and directors of Hollywood, and all musicians (insert any voice that parents fear that their children would listen to before their own) to carry out his sinister plot. And what is this sinister plot? To bring about a National Sunday Law in the United States — this is the end of time. Never mind the fact that as I write, there are Christians being fired, ostracized, tortured, or even killed because they confess the name of Christ, despite what day they worship on. The end of time only counts when it affects Americans. This frivolity is something that my generation finds ridiculous and a horrid waste of time.
I know at this point I will be rebuked by well-meaning Adventists insisting that I am wrong. They say that not all church members are like that. That the church actually cares about me. That I should listen to the message and not the messenger. To them, I would say that enough church members are like this. That as long as the church talks about caring about me instead of doing something, I will still feel neglected. That it is almost impossible to distinguish the message from the messenger’s own words.
As I see it, this is how the church can show me that it cares about me:
- Include us in something serious. I’m not talking about collecting offering or dismissing church members. For us to know that we are valued, we need to see pieces of our vision actually be realized in church.
- Invest in us. Prove to us that you care and invest in us. When the church invests its time, money, and energy into its youth, it will see returns of 30, 50, or even 100 fold.
- Destroy fear tactics. Fear tactics are unsustainable and always turn out to be ineffective. Perfect love casts out fear and Jesus’ message sets us free. If church leaders want their (ugh, I hate this term) “young people” to know that they are cared for and to then care for the church, they need to — without using fear — give us convincing reasons to live by the 28 fundamental beliefs. If they can’t, then either change the belief or don’t ask us to believe something that you can’t articulate.
What if the Adventist church continues to neglect its most creative and powerful age demographic? What if nothing arises for us to do in the church and nothing to entertain us in church media? What if the church continues to preach an irrelevant message? What will become of us? I see three plausible futures:
- A dead church. The church will die. Sometime in the next 20 years, the last of us will turn off the lights and curse the devil that our inaction has brought the end of such a beautiful movement. This is not the worst of all outcomes.
- A wicked church. In an effort to control people, while being relevant to no one, the church will mirror the arch-enemy that it has been unfairly preaching against all these years. The Seventh-day Adventist church will end up behaving just like the Catholic Church at the end of the medieval period. What an unhappy, ironic thought!
- A broken church. The church will split. Those of us, young and old, who love the church and continue to seek God’s truth will be cast out of the synagogue by those frowning faces insisting that they are the only pure ones in a polluted world. We will hold onto the church that we love, but we’ll most likely lose our names as Seventh-day Adventists. They’ll keep the name but lose the church.
And yet there is a fourth option. I see a church wrestling with theology, diverse in membership and inclusive in love. The young and old, black and white, gay and straight all have a place, and no one will have the time or reason to believe that their church does not care about them.
Carl-Eric "Carlo" Péan is a 22-year-old senior at Pacific Union College. He double majors in English (emphasis in writing) and Communication (emphasis in journalism). He was born in Canada to Haitian immigrants, reared and raised between New York State and Memphis, Tennessee.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6021