In case, Dear Reader, you are either not at all related to Adventism (in which case one wonders how you arrived at this article), or have been in a coma (real or ideological) for the last year or so: Adventism stands at the brink of several awkward ideological conflicts.
From within the sundry debates (women’s ordination, homosexuality, creation/evolution) have sprung myriad factions, and particularly factional websites. These websites, I argue at the risk of sounding singular, are indicative of a problematic narrative pattern that comes as a result of circumstances—particularly the introduction of the internet as a medium of ideological conflict—that must either continue these tensions on their merry way, or necessitate a violent (albeit, one hopes, mediated) eruption.
I am no geologist, but I invite you, Reader, to suspend your scientific disbelief for but a moment and accept this metaphor, however flawed it may be: Adventism sits on a fault line. Plates of pressure from groups pro- and anti- and counter- ad nauseam press against one another from differing directions and differing motivations, but they all ultimately end up colliding somewhere around the very structure of the church as a political (meaning theological, ideological, cultural) body. Normally, it seems, these sorts of pressures build until there is a break, an explosion of tensions, an earthquake that either shatters foundations or proves them strong enough to stand—perhaps with some modifications.
Enter the internet.
Websites publish arguments of varying levels of quality, to varying audiences, with varied quantities of commentary and discussion to follow. What is so problematic about any and all of these is that writers (reflexively, this essayist as well, in some senses) and posters assume the narratological fallacy that people are going to read their articles, change their minds, and immediately put into effect whatever reforms the author asserts should be made.
For me to assume that Dr. Ted Wilson will pop open his laptop, go to the Spectrum website, read my article on global Adventism, and say to himself, “Well, what do you know? He’s right! I’ll get to changing church structure right away,” is, of course, ludicrous. But because I am writing in my New York apartment, to a nebulous, faceless audience of my own conceiving, I somehow feel as though my words will have that impact, that my contribution to the conversation will begin to redirect change in favor of my own ideology.
Now, Dear Reader, before you begin to accuse me of being cynical, I would appreciate if you could hold onto that thought for a few more paragraphs, if you would. Let me be the last to say that discussion is not a valid mode of growth, that it is unimportant, or even ineffectual. It is—on an individual level.
The problem arises when we fail to recognize the scope of our contributions. The un-plutocratic structure of the General Conference and its branches means that my individual opinion matters rather little, at least, when it comes to enforcing policy changes. But these websites act as geysers, or small earthquakes, blowing off little bits of tension between Elaine and Bonnie and Bob and Alex, and ultimately making all of us who contribute to the fractal of internet composition feel as though we have made our mark in Adventist history.
We (myself included) do not want to admit this to ourselves because the alternative is frightening. If, in fact, we believe in our change (and I speak to Spectrum readers and contributors now), then we have got to lose our sense of moral and intellectual high ground. Revolutions perhaps begin in the study, but they end in the street. I firmly believe in pacifism, but when spiritual, emotional, academic, and economic (as in, biology teachers) lives are at stake, I turn to that bastion of pacifism, Ghandi (and not the A-Team movie, in case anyone was going to accuse me of that) and say “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”
One final caveat, Dear Reader, before you loose the blood-dimmed tide in the comment section below: I do not advocate as a singular option a violent split in the church. I advocate adamant defense, not just online, but at every level that you as an individual are effective, of our beliefs in ways that actually matter. It is all well and good to have let off steam in our own little ideological bubbles, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we would not want to admit to ourselves that we do not believe what we believe enough to take a stand. After all, if we have maintained any shred of our nineteenth century heritage, should not we also be against (ideological) masturbation? Or, perhaps we just continue to talk in our little circles until the heat dies down, and the official church stance continues to cut out individuals for transgressing against the majority of Conference Presidents. **** Peter Katz is a recent graduate of Pacific Union College with degrees in Literature and History. He is currently studying for his Ph. D. in Cultural and Critical Theory at Syracuse University in New York
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2527