Ray Tetz Has Hopes and Concerns About Adventism's Future

(Spectrumbot) #1

Ray Tetz, president of Mind Over Media, the communications firm he founded in 1995, has thrown himself into work that reflects the church’s mission—whether he’s on the larger institution’s payroll or on his own. Mind Over Media works with non-profit organizations—primarily from the healthcare, social action, and international development sectors—to design “mission-rich communication, marketing, and social engagement strategies.” He studies the “information and data landscape” with a view, he says, to “bringing the emergent cognitive computing and social media toolset into the non-profit sector.” Tetz has also served the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a pastor, teacher, media producer, fundraiser, and administrator. His work has taken him to more than 90 countries, and includes service as Vice President for Communications and Corporate Development for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). He remains deeply engaged in church life, and for many years has taught an adventurous Sabbath School class at the Spencerville Adventist Church. With his wife Rosy, who is a writer, he lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. They have two children. Andrew is a Graphic Designer and “world-class yo-yoer--seriously!” Catherine is working on her doctorate in English Literature and Gender Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Ray enjoys music, theater, travel, reading and collecting books, and the special joys of living with two energetic cocker spaniels. Below he shares thoughts about why the church matters and what it must do to remain convincing today in an interview with Spectrum Board Chair Chuck Scriven. -Ed.

Charles Scriven: You’re in private business now, but you still care deeply about the church you once worked for, at ADRA and in other domains. Why do you put such energy into the Adventist community?

Ray Tetz: My communications firm has always been primarily about supporting ministry organizations, and even though our portfolio encompasses work for organizations that are not religious, our entire endeavor continues to be in support of social action, healthcare, education, and international development. So while my work has changed, the ministry focus hasn’t.

Years ago I saw a play by Bill C. Davis called “Mass Appeal.” At the end of that play the main character, a priest, realizes too late that through fear of challenging the status quo in his church he has compromised his own values, betrayed those who loved and depended on him, and all but lost his faith. In a moment of mad passion he finally speaks truthfully—instead of comfortably—to his congregation and tells them, “This our church. Fight for it. You and I…must be allowed to help shape the thing that has shaped us.” That scene is a powerful preachment that I’ve never forgotten.

When I think of the number of people who have fought to shape the church that has shaped me— who were fighting for me—I really don’t see a choice for myself. I am convicted to do the same.

I’m not so cynical as to state that “you get the church you deserve.” But unless we are willing to fight to shape the church that shapes us, we cannot honestly expect it to challenge, support and invigorate us—or those we love. And it will certainly not be the body of the living Christ that can call the world to justice and righteousness.

But do you know anyone who is really happy with the state of the church right now? I don’t. Maybe it has always been that way; maybe the nature of church is to challenge the status quo. I am personally persuaded that there has never been a more critical moment (at least within the arc of the Adventist tradition) to be engaged in trying to shape the church’s future. What is the key, do you think, to a really good—a really memorable—Sabbath School? And how do you turn the key? What do you have to do to open the door to something that may be life-changing for those who participate? I believe that the quality that has been bringing our little Sabbath School class together for a dozen-plus years is complete and unquestioned acceptance. We are diverse in every way except for this: we all share a commitment to accept without reservation anyone who chooses to join us.

But to sustain acceptance as the standard sets the bar high for other qualities as well. Authenticity, for example. Loving each other even when we don’t always like each other. Coming to class fully expecting to learn, not just to debate or complain.

In a place where they had lost the battle twice, the Israelite people established a monument to God’s power when they finally won—and called the rock they set there “Ebenezer.” A few years ago our class members spent several months telling our “Ebenezer Stories,” our individual witness to the things that nearly killed us but that through grace we have somehow survived. There were stories of disappointment, abandonment, death, job losses, tragedy, heart attacks, cancer scares, rebellious children, faithless spouses, failing aged parents, economic downturns, wars and disasters, and countless unexpected turns in our pock-marked roads.

And yet, there we were, gathered together in a very small room, chairs pulled up close as if around a common fire, raising our own Ebenezer stones. It was a remarkable experience that galvanized our community; receiving those stories from one another was akin to a sacrament.

We have one other tradition that I think has much to do with the success of our class. There are four or five teachers who share the teaching of the class with me, and we are all afforded the same opportunity to present a complete lesson before the discussion of it begins. The lessons are generally 20-30 minutes in length, and the follow up discussion is about the same length of time. This has allowed us to develop a rigorous tradition of discussion, but always in response to carefully crafted lessons containing solid scholarship and content. I suspect that most of our class members would point to this as the greatest value of our weekly study together.

We all fret about our children, for whom the church is no longer a near-automatic option. I often hear you mention your own two children, and express the hope the church will not let them down. What are the most important things we Adventists can do for our kids?

It seems to me that the young people I talk to—whether they are my own young adult children and their friends, the young producers, designers, and content creators we work with, or our clients in various organizations and institutions—all seem to be asking the same basic questions. Whether they are believers deciding whether to carry their faith into their adult lives, or people encountering faith and spirituality for the first time, they focus on three constellations of concern.

The first question they ask is, “Does your faith affirm that everyone is equal and is treated equally?” There is only one acceptable answer to this question, and it isn’t “Yes—except…” No qualifications here. Either we do or we don’t. And if we say we do, but we don’t, that’s the same as a no. Failing to answer yes to this question —in language and practice—effectively signals where the relationship is going to go. Galatians 3:28 has never been a more significant rubric than it is for our relationships with the ascendant generations.

The second question is, “Are you willing to have an intelligent and honest conversation with us that gives us room for differences and doubts?” We must respect their intelligence, the way they view the world and how it differs from our own perspectives, and their amazing agility to navigate the fluid cultural environments they constantly traverse. While we may immediately think about the faith-science discussion (and that one is very high on the list for some of them), they bring a much broader agenda to the table.

They want to talk about all the same things we want to talk about—but as full participants in a conversation, not as the church in waiting: values, modern culture, economics, politics, theology, history, the environment, poverty, racism, class warfare, gender roles, spiritual practices, family relationships, international development, entertainment, leisure time, sociology—and that’s just the beginning.

We must admit that we’ve given them plenty of reasons to leave us. Honest dialogue may give them a reason to stay, and that’s all they are really asking for—a real reason to stay. There seems to be a genuine need among them for relationships with adults who are willing to forge relationships that are non-judgmental and not defensive. This seems to be the portal that drives a lot of other things—such as engagement with the local church in a class or activity. But I don’t see those other things succeeding or being sustained when there are no real, authentic, open-handed opportunities for a conversation and dialogue.

The third core question is this: “Are you accountable for what you’ve been given?” Given the way we’ve spoken to them about the importance of recognizing their bodies as temples, and their very life as a gift from God, this should not really surprise us. When we told them that the Lord didn’t discount even the smallest aspects of their lives as insignificant or unimportant, they took us at our word.

Now they’ve turned that question back to us with serious questions about how we are taking care of things. The global conversations they hear around them—about the environment, climate change, and global economics, as well as questions about justice, poverty, and inequity—sadly are topics in which the church seems only mildly interested.

And they extend this query into questions about our life as a church, too. “Why does so much money go to support the infrastructure and the hierarchy?” might be heard from a young adult who has been paying attention to denominational conversations (a fairly small group, I grant you). But their bigger questions are about ministry: “How much more money and time will be spent debating equality in ministry? Why isn’t more money helping the poor? If an Adventist education is so important, why does it cost so much? Why doesn’t more money stay here in our local community where we can truly be the face and hands of Jesus?” This generation doesn’t seem to be asking any easy questions.

These three questions form the foundation of a “perfect storm” that has arisen relative to the current conversation about equality in ministry and women’s ordination. Their point of view sounds something like this: “If women—half the human race—aren’t given full and equal opportunity, how can you say that our faith affirms that everyone is equal and is treated equally? Are you really willing to have an intelligent and honest conversation that provides room for differences and doubts—or are you asking us to set our own questions aside and just accept your answers? How long can you seriously ignore the calling, character, and convictions of women and expect that it will not be noticed? What kind of stewardship is this? Can you in good conscience continue to spend so much time and resources on debating this question and still claim that you are accountable for what you’ve been given?”

The coming San Antonio General Conference session looms large in this regard. Our community includes all kinds and colors of God’s children, yet we still do not have a consensus on this issue. Is there any way that we can, at that meeting, take steps toward the equality ideal?

I find it remarkable that the Lord left no instructions about what to do when the Jewish culture out of which Christianity arose no longer made sense to non-Jewish converts. He was forcing the church to depend on—and here we see His abundant grace and foresight—the leading of the Holy Spirit, which was what He promised we would receive.

And so, the early church, faced with a divisive issue, sought out the Spirit's leading—causing Paul to go one way and Silas to go another. The unity of the church was preserved by affirming those things that define our faith (the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the call to discipleship) and putting aside other things (circumcision in that case). When faced with the cultural issues surrounding circumcision, the early church preserved unity for mission by endorsing different practices for different peoples. Their decision then is our example now (Acts 15).

My lifelong conviction is that equality for all in Christ Jesus, in all things, including ministry, was modeled by Christ and the early church, and is the teaching of the New Testament. It is the wellspring of our common life, and I pray for the day in which all Christians understand and accept this.

There is evidence that our early pioneers (including Ellen White) sensed that equality in ministry was, in fact, God’s design, although culture and conventions inhibited their responses. In the last 40 years or so the rationale for not fully embracing it has often been that we weren’t quite ready for it, not at least in some parts of the world. Disagreement has persisted—think of the late run from the proponents of “headship theology”)—and now the rationale has narrowed to, “Well, until we all agree, we won’t ordain women.” Clearly, no such global agreement is going to happen very soon.

Which means that the action coming to the delegates in San Antonio, to remove the necessity of a global agreement, is a very important moment for the church. Do we or don’t we support a proposal from General Conference leaders to defer the GC role in this discussion to the world divisions, where the outcome of the discussions are most relevant?

I believe some who either oppose or are ambivalent about women’s ordination agree that it makes sense to push issues of practice—issues that are not theological—out to the places where those decisions have impact. Voting Yes for regional decision-making about equality in ministry would affirm our faith and fellowship, while recognizing the importance of our cultural differences

The urgency of the Advent message demands our commitment to the effective use of all of our gifts, all of our resources, and the discipleship and faithful service of every believer. To respond to the complex issues of our changing times through affirmation rather than prohibition is to be faithful to our roots in the New Testament. And perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that we have complete and total confidence in the leading of God through every challenge and difficulty.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6733

(Elaine Nelson) #2

Those are all very thoughtful questions young people are asking. But what are the answers, and how long will they wait?

Since you’ve mentioned your adult children, this question: How important is it to you that they choose Adventism? Will you be as happy if they live a life of the highest ethics guided by the Golden Rule? Should we expect them to choose differently as we, as other parents and friends have?

Those are excellent questions; but if the church cannot answer positively, why should they choose to stay by a ship that is headed in the opposite direction of their ideals?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

the conundrum of Adventism, brought back to life big time By Pastor Ted, is mistaking “conpelling” to “witnessing”. When John the Baptist questioned, Jesus replied, just spend the day with Me and then tell John what you saw and heard. That goes along with Elaine’s’-- I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day". Tom Z

(Carolyn Parsons) #4

Honest dialogue is hard to come by. Dialog that treats each participant with respect is too. We just have to look at conversations here on this discussion site.

When it comes to something meaningful to young people in North America and Europe in the church, quite frankly, it does not really have much. If the early church depended on the guidance of the spirit to grow and find it’s purpose, it seems that has ended when SDA theology became codified. There are some in the system who want to have that conversation, but many others fear opening the can and find it contains complicated issues that society has grappled with and have gelled into a shared understanding of civil rights, gender rights, human dignity, eradication of disease and ending poverty. The church is not focused on these issues. ADRA is the only branch of the church that seems to be engaged. It seems to me that no matter how engaged they are around the world on fighting these issues, their reach within the church is limited.

The most telling answer to the question about whether the church recognizes equal treatment of all is their involvement in fighting against civil rights for LGBT people. They have go on record with dozens of Amicus briefs in legal fights that involve LGBT rights. The latest are testimonies supporting religious rights bills in states when the label “religious rights” is a front to codifying discrimination. Overseas church leaders have supported the heinous anti LGBT laws in Uganda. These speak loud and clear to young people that the values they hold dear are not shared by the church.

Actions speak much louder than words.


The church has answered these questions for me and have failed on all three. I am not called to wait and there is no virtue in persevering. My life and accountability to God and my charter is now. So for me, the church is irrelevant and inconsequential to my spiritual journey in life. At best it is a boring social club for me. I see the same for the vast majority of youth and young adults that I run into.

(Kim Green) #6

I think that we do “get the church that you deserve”…and what we see now in Adventism is the result- more rules than mission, more concern for the organization than for people.

(@mackenzian) #7

This was a fantastic conversation: thanks to both Chuck and Ray.

I’d love to see a coda that includes feedback from Ray’s adult children and/or their peers. Clearly Ray’s had conversations with them (and he sums up some of the big issues well): so I wonder what these adults might add if they were asked directly?

There was a panel of young adults that raised several of these questions in Loma Linda last year. After we presented, a faculty member closed the session with a pre-prepared response. That response managed to diminish and side-step several of the points presenters had made, and also framed us as outsiders to the community we’d spent the previous hour/more discussing as members, not as strangers.

One of my co-panelists said to me it was a perfect object lesson of how the church tends to interact with my generation. We weren’t sure if the audience noticed.

Yet dismissal and marginalization don’t promote the quality of enagement we’re looking for. And the response was even more interesting because some of us had had a spectular experience that very morning with a Sabbath School class where listening and co-learning was a priority. So obviously there isn’t only one course that the church can take: we (the church) know how to do other things.

Alethia wrote a great line a few comments up: “I’m not called to wait.” I want to co-sign that because I don’t feel called to wait either. Where she and I may differ at this time is that I do feel called to participate. How I participate (locally and online) has changed a lot in the last decade. I actually didn’t expect to still be involved in 2015; I expected to be totally exhausted and fed up. Somehow, I’m not, so I’m still contributing in the ways that make sense for me.

I think the church as institution and as community loses greatly as it wears out members from all ages and demographics. I appreciate Ray for demonstrating what else is possible for us.

(Carrol Grady`) #8

I do miss the Spencerville Church of 20+ years ago and the Sabbath School class that met in the pastor’s study. Sadly, it seems the church has, in many ways, regressed since then.


Thanks for sharing your very open and honest thoughts on the church. The concerns of the young adults is poignant, after all they are ’ supposed to be’ the future, yet their thoughts, ideas are not being heard, or at worst validated. “But unless we are willing to fight to shape the church that shapes us, we cannot honestly expect it to challenge, support and invigorate us — or those we love. And it will certainly not be the body of the living Christ that can call the world to justice and righteousness.”

The church that shaped me, is what has been difficult to 'unshape" myself from the organisation, so whilst I nagivate through my own thought processes, I still have the desire ‘to be the change’- but it is exhausting!!

Equality issue remains a battle ground, and one which need to be diminished as a matter of urgency.

(Marianne Faust) #10

Thank you for this excellent article! Yes this church has shaped me and I want to have my part in shaping the church. The situation with young people in my particular region in Germany is a little different. Many, if not most of those who are still in church, don’t want to shape. No kidding: one girl (about 20 years old) answered Jan Paulsen’s question about what the young people would change if they could:
"I wouldn’t change a thing…everything must stay the way it is…!"
Many of those who would change and shape the church have already left it. Of course not all of them are like this, but way too many of them don’t care too much about the others who leave…“just call it the “shaking” or “cleansing” and be happy that this has all been predicted…”

(le vieux) #11

The One who gave us the Golden Rule also gave us details on what it means to follow that rule. The Golden Rule was imbedded in the Sermon on the Mount, which articulates the qualifications for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. But living by the “highest ethical standards” will be not gain anyone entrance into the kingdom if they have rejected the Author of those standards, or ignored the Owner’s Manual He has given us.

There’s a lot more to living the Christian life than the Golden Rule. And the only way to understand and interpret that rule is to study the Scriptures. Otherwise it could mean different things to different people and cultures, as we’ve seen in our current relativistic society.

(Robert Sonter) #12

Birder, would you please quote chapter and verse, as to where the Bible is called an owner’s manual. I’ll give you a slight concession here: you may also mention verses that say God owns us.

@GeorgeTichy, @Andrew, @andreas, @ludders, @kennlutz, @tjzwemer, @TonyR, @cincerity, @cfowler, @Bille, apologies to any contemporary thinking individual I’ve missed :smile:

(Kevin Paulson) #13

The Bible never presents equality as an absolute. This is a postmodern value, not a Biblical one. This notion of “no buts” so far as equality is concerned helps illustrate as well as anything the irreconcilable worldviews in contention just now within Adventism.

I count Ray as a friend, though it has been many years since we encountered one another. But his perspective on the “ascendant generations” is breathtakingly narrow, is any visitor to a GYC convocation will attest.

Ray also seems to dangerously misunderstand the motion before the delegates this summer in San Antonio. In no way is the motion a “proposal from General Conference leaders to defer the GC role in this discussion to the world divisions,” Rather, it is a QUESTION as to whether this deferral should happen. To imply that the leadership of the world church is PROPOSING such a sundering of our collective witness and cohesion is patently wrong.

Ray’s observations make it even clearer that women’s ordination must be defeated with an overwhelming decisiveness at the pending session, as it is clear the ideology he represents—with its unqualified adherence to postmodern “equality”—is in fact the agenda of those who think as he does. That is why the line must be held so far as the gender issue is concerned.

I concur fully with Ray in his passion for the poor and so many other issues of justice. But what the so-called “progressives” among us keep forgetting is that social justice loses all meaning without the transcendent absolutist undergirding of God’s Word. And if that Word is disregarded regarding gender roles, origins, sexuality, or a host of other issues, social justice will be little more than a passing fad once we weary of it and prefer simply to savor the here-and-now. It’s happened before, as the transition so long ago from the “Now” to the “Me” generation bears witness. My hunch is that Ray knows whereof I speak.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #14

Bic has a very narrow concept of Christianity seen the the lens of Adventism. however, 'We Are Bought with a proce. Paul refers to himself as a servant of God, the context is bond servant. Neverthe less Bic always places a legal twist to Scripture, as he seems to imply salvation is in the writing rather than in to Whom the Writings introduce. Rightly understood, the Golden Rule encompasses the Sermon on the Mount. Would that the legal minds among us would understand the meaning of Justification by Faith. Tom Z

(George Tichy) #15

I can relate to these feelings in full. Though I was able do separate emotionally from the denomination pretty significantly, I still would like to see is change. But it’s frustrating to see the ship going backwards in the past five years.

My conclusion is always the same over and over again: Everyone has to find a church where they can feel as fitting in. Otherwise the experience becomes “exhausting.” After all, it’s the local church that matters the most, since it’s the place where we actually go every week. Nobody goes to the GC or To the Union every week. Nothing but the local church is actually relevant.

In the specific case of women’s position in the church, it will be diminished but not with a sense of urgency. This will be a long, arduous, and difficult battle against discrimination. When the NO vote happens in SA, we should be reminded that that is the best those elderly males* in black suits can do.

That’s why they have to be replaced by younger people who can handle contemporary issues with an open mind and who are not prejudiced against women.

*I know there will be some women among the delegates voting in SA. But how many? Will the percentage represent the percentage of women in church? Of course not! Those women will be a nice decoration in the audience, but the votes will be controlled and decided by the majority, i. e., the males!

(George Tichy) #16

There are some expressions that are just Adventist slangs. They have been used for ages as jargons, often without noticing that their meaning is not actually relevant.

By the way, thanks for including me on your list of “contemporary thinking individuals.” I was not sure if I was seen as such… :wink:

(George Tichy) #17

Are you saying that the Golden Rule has to be “interpreted?” Well, that’s what you actually said. So, if I tell the rule to a teenager that had never heard it before, how much study of the Scriptures must I add to it so that they will understand it? At what point of the “Bible study” is the “AHA” moment supposed to occur ?

Now I am wondering, will the Bible be enough or do you think that in order to understand the Golden Rule one needs to read some “boox” as well? Which ones would be more indicated?

Oh Pici…

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #18

Well, officially it is now all the way you want it on gender roles, origins, sexuality, etc. So why are we failing at social justice?

(Elaine Nelson) #19

Simply “Google” the “Golden Rule” and you will see that it is in at least a dozen cultures, some which predate the Bible, because it has been found to be the best motto by which to live with others.

Nor does one need to be a Christian, Buddhist, or any religion to live by respecting others, whatever their religious beliefs, or none. While you have found that Christianity is your preference, remember that there are millions who have tried and found it wanting or were raised in cultures where Christianity is almost unrecognized; think of China, India, and all the Middle Eastern countries where Islam is almost the only religion.

Yet people of other belief systems have found that by respecting others it is representative of their highest religious beliefs which needs no detailed list of how it should be lived. It covers all humans. Had there been a need to have a book listing in great detail how one should live (think the 613 commands in the Torah), history has shown it has been no more effective than the simple rule of respect for others, only a method of having lengthy lists of “sins.”

(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

Bic Recall the lawyer asking Jesus which was the greatest commandment and Jesus turned the question back on him. the result was ToLove God with all of ones heady and your neighbor as yourself. seems like a well stated Goldern Rule. the problem is some would deny God and still claim to love their neighbor. It seems odd to me to love the creature without also loving the Creator. I am a handicapped old man, people are very gracious to me, I thank them sincerely for their thoughtfully kindness. Tom Z