For close watchers of the General Conference, it's becoming increasingly clear that Jan Paulsen is working hard to leave a legacy of opening up Seventh-day Adventism to diverse expressions of Christian commitment. From publicly talking with Adventist youth around the globe, bringing on the first female world vice-president, to his recent reaffirmation of noncombatancy as the Adventist ideal, he's on a roll.
This last week, Paulsen expanded this vision by encouraging Adventists to move beyond pietistic tendencies and translate spirituality into local community action. In a conversation reported by Adventist News Network, Paulsen told a small group of leaders:
"There are moments when you must step back and consider how your life looks through the eyes of somebody who does not share your faith," Paulsen said. "What do you want them to see?" he asked, suggesting several traits he said Adventists would do well to embrace -- among them compassion, tolerance, respect and generosity.
"Am I talking about things that are at the core of Adventism?" he asked. "I hope they are." When community members meet Adventists, the attitudes and behavior of church members should illustrate those qualities, Paulsen said.
"Probably more than 99 percent" of the people Adventists meet have either never been invited to attend church meetings or consider such meetings a "waste of time. ... These people do not study Daniel and Revelation. They may even be strangers to basic Christian values. You have to ask yourself, 'What do I want them to know about my church?'"
I couldn't agree more. Those days are over.
Apparently this exchange was promoted by his recent Bloomberg TV interview. Truly, it is always good to get leadership thinking on the record about Adventism's real public witness. (What would happen if division, union and conference leaders did more media interviews?)
But this is the part this I appreciated the most, as it provides a call for us to join in the great human work of increasing human opportunity.
Adventists should be know as "freedom fighters," Paulsen said -- "not the violent brand, but those who work not only for people who share our point of view, but for everyone, regardless of their beliefs." He cited the church's efforts to promote religious liberty around the world and added, "I want the public to think of Adventists as the strongest supporters of freedom -- freedom to think, freedom to hold convictions and freedom to communicate them."
Of the convictions held by Adventists, Paulsen said the church's commitment to education and healthy living are two ways Adventists can influence the public sphere by offering something relevant rather than something divisive.
During discussion that followed Paulsen's comments, other church leaders made similar observations. "There have been times in the past when the only time the public saw us was when we were either asking for money or trying to convert them," said Gary Krause, director for the church's Office of Adventist Mission. "I think we should always have that ambition to lead people to Jesus, but unless people see that we care for them even if they never decide to become Seventh-day Adventists, we will never be seen as the caring church."
Allan Handysides, director of the church's department of Health Ministries, said church members must steer clear of a "culture of negativity" that leads to "killjoy religion" instead of a "ministry of healing."
"People are more concerned with who we are than with who we say we are," Handysides added during his comments on the role of health in church outreach. "Evangelism only lets them see what we want them to see. But witness, whether we like it or not, allows them to see who we truly are."
People should see Adventists as peacemakers, but not people who dodge defending the rights of others, Paulsen said, noting the church's failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide. "Silence in the face of evil is complicity in what is wrong," he said. "Let us speak from the pulpit and show from our actions that we oppose anything that instills hatred or inflames violence."
Paulsen then urged church leaders in particular to "avoid tainting the church" with so much as the "aroma of partisan politics." Adventists must be "people of integrity" in a time when "corruption of all kinds dominates headlines."
"I want Adventists to be known as honest people who teach and practice morality, people with the highest ethical standards, people who speak out against greed and against the self-serving attitudes that do so much damage to society," he said.
What do you think? In what ways can Adventists promote more freedom, healing, and peace?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/482