One Big Tent or Many Little Camps?

Our church has had some major disagreements. We've disagreed on the bounds of academic freedom, had vigorous debates on the role of women, had protracted discourses about race relations, and fervent volleys regarding homosexuality. There have been heated and passionate pleas among all those involved in these conversations. People quote texts and cite personal experience. People get upset, some cry, or even leave. Some become persuaded, some have changes of heart, some become champions for positions they previously disdained. Yet through all the back and forth, it was clear that we all were representatives of different perspectives within one faith. Yes, there were those who screamed, "If you don't agree with me, then get out!" True, there are the diehards convinced that there's only one way to be Christian (much less Adventist). But, for the most part, except for the most extreme on the fringes, the majority of people actually do understand that you can have different opinions and not be mortal enemies. Our faith is a Big Tent covering a multitude of viewpoints. We share a foundation in belief of the most basic things. Right?

Lately, I'm not so sure. Are we really one church with multiple perspectives or are we really separate churches? Because the presupposition that we all share the same bedrock beliefs seems not to be as certain anymore. Not the ever increasing list of fundamental beliefs on the church website. I mean even more basic. Like the understanding of good and evil. While it's true that we have different outlooks, wouldn't you think we'd all be able to agree about whether certain basic things fall within or outside the bounds of Christian behavior? I'm not talking about the actions of those conflicted about their decisions. I don't mean someone who is cyclically messing up and repenting. I'm talking about brazen actions such as displaying unabashed contempt for other human beings; unapologetic discrimination; unashamed pettiness; and unrepentant instigation of violence.

For those of you outside of the US, you may or may not have heard about a little election happening here soon. And unfortunately, actions such as those described here have been regular occurrences in the discourse of some involved. But aren't these things we should all be able to agree are not Christian ideals?

No one is perfect. That is why we also ask forgiveness for sins. It’s another core Christian belief. So as 1 John 1 plainly states, when someone says they are without sin, they are lying—they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them. I want us to think about that. The very heart of Christianity is admitting that we have all fallen short. To claim you don’t need forgiveness is diametrically opposed to the most fundamental of all Christian doctrines. And yet I hear and see fellow Christians (pastors included!) performing mental contortions to excuse away behavior that—by any measure—is antithetical to Christianity.

I have a problem with people using our Lord's Name in vain. That no-no is right up there in the top 10—even before our beloved #4! And when you call yourself a Christian solely to score points with others, and meanwhile espouse absolutely no teachings of Christ—when you instead, repeatedly, unremorsefully, and purposefully engage in behavior that is the polar opposite of Christ's teachings—then that's taking the Lord's Name in vain! But even more upsetting is when I witness ministers making up all manner of excuses to ameliorate the cognitive dissonance they are faced with when they not only support those who commit this sort of affront, but moreover, they claim it is indeed reflective of Christian behavior!

Again, I cannot reiterate enough that God gives restoration when we fall. God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And we repeatedly fall. And we get back up. We also don't judge hearts which we cannot see. But we do examine fruit—the actions that reveal the heart. And we are discerning about words, because out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). We never dare claim to know if someone is headed for salvation or damnation: we can't label if a person is a wheat or a tare. But we do call out inappropriate actions and speech to label them what they are. If they are hateful, if they are scornful, if they are of ill-report, these things are not born from the spirit of God.

Listen, if you're going to say that others' religious preferences are not important in your consideration of who you support, that's fine. That's honest. But don't try to shoehorn anti-Christian behavior into a faithful box. That attempt causes you to lose your credibility to speak to the importance of accountability. Yes, God says not to judge. But it is an unfaithful interpretation to insinuate that this suggests we should turn a blind eye to evil and/or call it good. Of course, that presupposes we all have the same understanding of what good and evil look like. And we can all agree on that…Can't we?

Courtney Ray is a native New Yorker who ministers in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is a PhD clinical psychologist and ordained pastor serving in Southern California Conference.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Amen to that! But, as you hinted at, we can no longer even agree on what is evil and what is good, or even on how to define inappropriate actions or speech.

One would think so, but unless one has been sipping lemonade on a desert island somewhere over the past few decades, it’s clear that many thing which were once considered “outside the bounds” are now being normalized, and woe unto anyone who objects.

You said a mouthful there. I would have stated it more strongly. If someone had told me 40 years ago that in 2016 there would be church members who openly rejected some of the key pillars of our faith (such as creation or the sanctuary doctrine), I would have suspected that they had been ingesting some sort of mind altering substance.


Mistaking the “key pillars” of a particular religious system is not synonymous with "Christian behavior.’

Jesus gave us the foundation of Christian behavior: Love one another as yourself and respect them and treat them as you wish to be treated. Why should there be a need to “call out inappropriate actions” and label them "what they are? Is that a gift of the Spirit that some feel they have been given?

Believing in any set of doctrines of a church, whether Roman Catholic or various Protestant ones, are not the behaviors that all Christians should practice. One can believe very strongly, even wish to see rules enforced but that is not living the Golden Rule–the finest principle for all Christianity. One of the basic “pillars” of Adventism is the observance of the 7th day. But surely, that is not Christian “behavior” but limited to only one specific denomination. The Christian world is much bigger than any one institution. Never assume that we all “share the same beliefs” until you can be certain that everyone also holds your same beliefs. An astute reader of this site would surely know that.

If someone wishes to commend appropriate behavior or speech, that is far better than seeing other’s faults.


As an itinerant retiree, I visit Adventist churches, and other denominational churches, both in North America and Europe.

The big institutional churches with their senior women pastors, equal numbers of female/male elders/deacons/deconesses are diametrically different from the smaller “blue collar” churches where misogyny prevails, despite the fact that the majority occupying the pews are of the female sex!

In some churches one never hears a quote or mention of EGW. In others,
EGW quotes are prolific, both in the sermons and in the Sabbath School classes.

In some, the worship hour is an ecstatic and exhilarating experience: awesome a capella choirs, superb soloists, both vocal and instrumental, bell choirs beyond belief, and pipe organ professionals par excellence. All topped off with the cherry on the top: a succinct, snappy, spiritual and memorable sermon.

In others a soporific, sleep inducing rambling, repetitive sermon sometimes lasts sixty minutes, all encapsulated with “praise music” banjos ukes and guitars strummed to SEVEN ELEVEN lyrics-- seven words repeated eleven times, ad nauseum. A mind numbing endurance excercise!

In some churches tasteful jewelry and make up is pervasive, in others, every female is a "plain Jane ".

In some, judgementalism and negative body language greets every minor infraction, in others, welcome inclusiveness and love prevails.

These congregations and liturgies are so variant, it is often hard to believe all belong to the same denomination!

Fortunate are those, who live in large metropolitan districts, where multiple choices of SDA church affiliation abound.

If I were mired in some miserable “one horse”, "one choice " town, I might make a migration to Methodism!


I have to say this is a very impassioned plea about civil discourse gone completely off track. In this polarized election cycle, we need to hear this message. We are seeing the unfolding of an election campaign that is as ugly as the worst of a scripted televised wrestling match (which by the way informs the GOP campaign strategy see this NPR Story.)

But I dare say, the astounding discourse and the public hatred being displayed at rallies, protests, and counter protests are simply the canary in the coal mine. Our church, with a conservative bent in politics, likely means that many SDA’s are willing to support Trump. Something that I cannot wrap my head around and leads me to believe that this campaign reveals a fundamental split in our church. I personally believe that we are rapidly moving towards an organizational split between SDA Evangelicals and SDA progressives.

It looks much like the story of the gospel times when the Jewish faith that had become little more than calcified thinking, was disconnected and irrelevant to the people. So far astray were the people that God Himself had to overthrow the religious order by reminding the people that the gospel is a social justice message of restoration (which occurred at the foundation of the world before we sinned)

For that I am truly sad, I spent a good number of my adult years outside of the church and hoped to come back to find community. Instead I find a church in a coma simply trying to hang on until the Lord comes.

Addendum to skirt the 1 post Rule since @mtskeels9496 & @jay0143 have responded

As I read Dr. Ray’s original article I walked away with two points. One was that this external political season coupled with the internal political strife internal to the church are revealing that perhaps the SDA church is not inclusive. A secondary message I took away from this article is that we cannot uncouple of religious faith from our political experience.

Comments on my post mention Laodicea, wheat and tares, and a disregard for the truth. My point is that the SDA church organization has become irrelevant in our world today.

When Loma Linda, of all places, has a camp meeting with the title, “EverReady: A Survival Guide for End-Time Living,” it shows we are completely out of touch with our community today. Even if this sermon series is a rehash of Randy Robert’s book “Waiting and Longing” for the church go focus on the fact that we are near the end times takes us out of mainstream society and hides us behind the walls of our city of refuge. There are many SDA’s who have walked away from the church because SDAs are so certain that 1.We are right and 2. Christ is coming soon

Many of those who walked away or struggle to hang on believe that: 1) the SDA pioneers never embraced certainty, and 2) TODAY the world needs a revelation of Jesus Christ.

PS. Democracy demands we integrate our faith, and vales with our politics. In the early days of the SDA church we were opposed to slavery, we politically fought against Sunday laws, and Ellen which suggest that we be political in our fight for prohibition, to the point of voting on sabbath if we needed to. Don’t tell me the early founders were opposed to political engagement. This election is about choice, which platform the DNC or the GOP is more aligned with the gospel commission of Luke 4:18-19

Addendum #2

Unfortunately such statements prove the point that many contemporary SDA’s are ignorant of how democracy works and what is the responsibility of citizenship in the United States. We are not helpless victims in democracy but are the architects of democracy. Your participation in the political process or non-participation in the political process makes you personally responsible for the outcome. Staying out of politics does not mean you are not part of the political system but simply that you acquiesce the outcome to someone else.

My second point is that without actively participating in the political process by voting in support of the public policies that best embody the Biblical values (Luke 4:18-19), you are fully responsible for the outcomes of evil. Hitler was able to rise out of the ashes because of Christian passivity and silence, SDAs included.


In my 40 years as an Adventist, I can truly say that I have never once heard a pastor/minister mention a particular political candidate or party platform in professional discourse, and I hope that I never do. (I have read about this happening recently, but it was in a small Caribbean country and action against this person was swiftly taken by conference officials). If the author is speaking here of pastors/ministers who are using the pulpit or speaking in professional capacity for this purpose, she should definitely report those offenders to her local conference.

As for agreement on what good and evil look like, I don’t think I have ever experienced a fellowship of Christians where there were no disagreements regarding this topic. Mercy toward an offender is oftentimes experienced as injustice by the victim – the same act seen as good by some and evil by others.


“There is an image of God that goes with the world of conventional wisdom. When conventional wisdom appears in religious form, God is imaged primarily as a lawgiver and judge. God may be spoken of in other ways as well [for example, as forgiving and gracious], but the bottom line is that God is seen as both the source and the enforcer, and therefore the legitimator, of the religious forms of conventional wisdom. God becomes the one we must satisfy, the one whose requirements must be met.
When this happens in the Christian tradition, it leads to an image of the Christian life as a life of requirements. Indeed, this happens so frequently that it is the most common form of Christianity.”-- Marcus Borg. Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time, pg 78.
"Saved by grace through faith’. This strong emphasis on grace transformed into new conventional wisdom system with the emphasis placed upon FAITH rather than grace, and FAITH insidiously became the new requirement. FAITH [most often understood as BELIEF] is what God required, and by a lack of faith/belief one risked the peril of eternal punishment. The requirement of FAITH brought all anxiety and self-preoccupation that mark life in the world of conventional wisdom. Was one’s faith/belief real enuf, strong enuf?The content of the requirement had changed – from Good Works to Faith.
“Faith divides up the world into those who have faith and those who dont. “Christians arent perfect – just forgiven” Implies that other people are NOT forgiven. Christians have done something that merits forgiveness. There is a smugness and divisiveness that comes out of this statement”. Borg, pg 79.
“Grace can so easily become a system or requirements and rewards, and can happen in Christian religious group. A Christian message of requirements – belief, behavior – and rewards in the “next world”.
Jesus subversion of Conventional Wisdom is a subversion not only of the Central Convictions of the social world, but of many common forms of Christianity as well.” – Borg, pg 80.

QUESTION-- Does Courtney allow EVERYONE to come sit down at the Table with Jesus, and eat, drink, and enjoy great company.
Jesus was a Table Person. He liked to eat with Pharisees, with rich Rulers, accepted the company of women in the same grouping with men, ate with the outcast, the marginalized, “the sinners”, touched the untouchables and invited them to eat. Went to the tombs and invited those hanging out in them to Come!
We sing the song — I would be like Jesus,… be like Jesus ALL DAY LONG.
Are we willing to sit down at Table and eat, drink, and enjoy great company with the VERY SAME people as Jesus???
I Dont Think So. Not as Seventh-day Adventists!! Not in the Seventh day Adventist Church Building.
This is very evident as to whom we allow to come, learn about the God of Jesus, and be part of the church family, as a family member, not just a “visitor”. To participate as a Family Member.

Robin – Methodist Church [john and charles wesley]. That is going BACK to our SDA ROOTS!!! Actually, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, SDAs are ALL Cousins on the same tree. But SDAs do the Baptist-style of worship programming.
On Wednesday nite I go to a large nearby Methodist church for Taize [quiet meditation on 2 selected Bible verses, prayer, prayers of the people, 3 Taize songs, communion]. 30 minute service. The communion section is almost word for word of the Episcopal communion words.
{I began going there last year. My Episcopalian choir practice is same time as SDA prayer meeting. Taize is 5:30 to 6PM. So I use it as my Mid-week meet with God.}

LITTLE TENT — YES!! We desire a little tent. A small tent. This is because we ARE NOT a Teaching-- style Church group. We DO NOT want the Rabble to come in, find a place, and teach about God in a learning setting. We want Rules, Regulations, defined Behavior, defined Dress code, Regulation food. The Invisible Sign says – If you cannot meet our standards, PLEASE Do Not Apply.

MANY LITTLE TENTS-- It is the Church Headquarters in Silver Springs which has forced the NEED for many Tents, or at least MANY ROOMS in the Big SDA Tent. They have made a number of issues where Seventh day Adventists are NOT allowed to socialize with the Big Group, Nor have full inclusion to participate as a Family Member. So in order to worship God as an SDA they have to go off to the smaller rooms so they can still feel somewhat like an SDA.

Andreas — Only Two correct Answers. 1. YES! 2. No Either/Or, No Yes/No. ONLY BOTH.
Too many Adventits are afraid to say we can have BOTH.
We can have BOTH Snowflakes. We can play great music on more than one String. Takes more than one weird looking instrument to make an Orchestra.


Ask Elijah (referring to the Mt Carmel experience) what sort of a big tent God has. If I remember correctly Jesus said we should take the narrow path. To me, that is synonymous with a little tent.


Revelation 3:15-17

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Perhaps the unified Nirvana state is a Unicorn and as such an unattainable goal especially since Christ said the wheat and the tares would remain together till the end. Where is this happening? In the parable the “field” was sown with good grain. Where did the weeds come from? Outside the field.
So, you have a field, and outside the field where the weeds come from.
The principal is the field is the church, therefore the “Evangelicals and progressives” as you call them are either grain or wheat. They aren’t equally valid paths attaining the same desired outcomes. The question then becomes which is which?
…[quote=“mark, post:5, topic:11412”]
This election is about choice, which platform the DNC or the GOP is more aligned with the gospel commission of Luke 4:18-19

Luke 4 18-19 has nearly nothing to do with elections. This country isnt a theocracy and we dont want it to be. Luke 4 18-19 is a personal charge that comes from being a disciple not a citizen.

The election is about governance and the stem of corruption, pandering and vote buying of different constituencies with pork programs and the debt of our grandchildren all for the betterment of the political class.


The site that she references if a NYT article listing the folk that Trump has insulted, something like 250 groups according to those paragons of unbiased opinoin: NYT editors!

And the assumption, I sense, is that Hillary is indeed a paragon of Christian virtue. Now my understanding is that she has risked the safefy of the US to keep others from knowing about her personal dealings. And as I recall, has erased 30,000 e-mails which does seem to be some sort of admission of guilt.

Now the present author seems to take a oneseided view to such an extent that Trump supporters are downright non-Christian while she says not a word about those that might support “Crooked Hillary.”

I would be much more inclined to listen to her diatribe if she had been more balanced in her presentatoin. Both candidates display wildly un-Christian behavior. Both. To not understand, and atribure evil to those who support Trump is to not understand half the nations voters.

The opinoin expressed in the article is condesceding and non-Christian itself, because it does not take into account the feelings of those that have been hurt by the present adminsitration. And then to imply they are not Christians becuase of their support of Trump, is, well, pretty judgmental. And here I thought that it was only conservatives that did that!


salvation is not tent based. tZ


You have described exactly the SDA church that I have seen. Unfortunately in most congregations, even the larger ones, the members are not that aware of the regional differences. Or if they are they simply don’t care too much.

I live in one of those one horse towns. Thanks for the recommendation! :wink:


The Bible has plenty of specific examples in order to explain and express itself. Pastors shouldn’t engage in political skirmishes in order to express Christian virtue. It appears like Courtney took the opportunity to take a few swipes at Trump.

But you are absolutely right, Allen. It is not as if her candidate is squeaky clean by any stretch.

Just consider how intense the focus has been lately on fighting the ZIKA virus. Obama is calling for almost 2 BILLION $$ to combat the disease. Why? To protect pregnant women and especially to protect vulnerable unborn children. Because these developing boys and girls have immense value and every available resource will be tapped to save them.

While this rally to protect the pregnant and the unborn is in full swing, Courtney’s candidate just might be at some town hall meeting somewhere defending the “right” to terminate life in the womb. So the cries continue. “We have to save the babies unless we don’t want to be “punished” by keeping them.”

How do you explain that???

I wouldn’t be comfortable if my pastor leaned far enough to the left to support a Clinton. You just don’t get to the top of the American political food chain without “doing stuff” that would qualify as being shady at best.


There is only one way of understanding God and that is through the mind, a product of the brain.

There are two major factors that influence our representation of God. The first being our chronological/mental age and the second being the choice of what region of the brain we formulate God. The first one is a developmental process dictated by our DNA and the second being a voluntary choice. Brain studies done at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have shown several “God regions/circuits” and their respective neurotransmitters available in our brain such as the amygdala where an authoritative and punitive God is formulated, the anterior cingulate where a loving and compassionate God is formulated, the thalamus where God is felt objectively, the parietal lobes where barriers separating God from us are eliminated and we experience God in unity, and on and on and on.

Although by faith we believe there is only one God, our perspective of Him differs depending on what region of our brain we choose to understand and formulated Him. The point being the representation of God is a choice under our control and not as we are told by our secular or church leaders. Herein lies the source of the cognitive dissonance we see among ourselves.


“Of course, that presupposes we all have the same understanding of what good and evil look like. And we can all agree on that…Can’t we?”

Oh, Courtney…you did have to go ahead and ask the “Million Dollar Question” and I know that you already have the answer to this one.

No, whether it is referring to religious beliefs or politics…or nearly anything else.

I do wish that the answer could be different but it reveals what the individual truly values and it ain’t usually honesty.


Hi elmer,

I have a question.

Do you believe in other spiritual dimensions? Dimensions outside of our material world, outside of our brain?

Your thoughts are always interesting…but very clinically based. Just curious how you viewed, or believed about things possibly outside of ourselves/mind?


The essay makes so very clear that T vs C is not the issue. The issue is so much deeper. The blindness is so much more pervassive.

As to the original question - big tent or little camps… My mind turned to snowflakes - each one different. What do we expect? Khalil Gibran wrote about marriage: “Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.” Perhaps there is something in that poem applicable beyond marriage - even to the church.

The question raised does not necessarily need to be answered with an either / or.


Paul counseled Christians to kindly rebuke one another to correct their behaviors or mentalities. It was assumed that as Christians looking to Paul for guidance, that they wanted those things to change. I’m sure you understand possible motivations, Elaine, as you often helpfully correct the thoughts of people here on Spectrum.
Paul did, however, mention that we should be more diligent in correcting faults within the church than outside the church. Usually, we do the latter. I suppose that we consider the candidate alluded to in this article (even though he’s been named as one of us; just a “Baby,” and those in need of correction on Spectrum as not being our brothers and sisters but as those outside our belief system.

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Wow I honestly don’t think I’ve encountered another Adventist who encapsulated how I’ve felt since coming back to the church a year ago, after being out of it for the past 25 years. The metaphor of Laodicea isn’t funny when you look around and realize it’s not a metaphor, its the church of today. I’ve also said It feels like i’ve come back to a church of generic right wing evangelicals instead of Seventh Day Adventist. Where did our church go? And there are dangers on every side. On the right side there is hatred and bigotry. On the left a complete lack of regard for biblical truth. I think this time is why Ellen White was so wary of the church involving itself in politics. I think she saw this political polarization that has occurred. That it can only be divisive when we should be pressing together here at the end. I feel strongly that we must pull politics out of the church. Left, right. It doesn’t matter. We need to keep our eye’s on Jesus and our minds on the Bible.


I read an interesting explanation of the difference between a conservative and a liberal brain. The amygdala, where fear is processed, is larger in a conservative brain than in a liberal one, showing that conservatives have many more, and more deeper-seated, fears. Does that sound credible, Elmer Cupino? And one of the things conservatives are so afraid of is any kind of change to the way they’ve always thought and done things. While liberals’ minds are always open to new ways of understanding and thinking - perhaps to excess at times. Yes, perhaps liberals need to be more deliberate and studied in accepting new ideas. And fearful conservatives need to pray for grace to be just a tiny bit more open-minded.

As for the question raised by Courtenay, I HOPE we are a big tent! Each one of us is a unique individual, who relates to God in our own way, and to whom God speaks in a particular way that meets our needs. We can either learn from others’ individual views, or we can squeeze our eyes shut tight and refuse to see any way but our own. For a God who created every snowflake different, I think it’s fairly obvious which way He would have us choose.