Serious Problems and Serious People

A couple of nights ago, my eyes fell on one of my favorite movies, The American President (1995). I felt it was my duty to watch it, as it is on the short list of movies that will grab my attention whenever and wherever I might come upon them.1 Starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, the movie tells the story of President Andrew Shephard (Douglas) and the political problems he faces when he decides to date a liberal lobbyist (Bening). In the final moments of the movie Douglas interrupts the daily press briefing to finally address the political fallout from both his personal life and how it intersected with his political agenda. In the middle of his soliloquy he says

Everybody knows America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free…” Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

There are certainly things that we can disagree about, but I think we can find consensus around the idea that this message is as needed in our politics today as it was over 20 years ago when we first heard these words. Even more so when we exist in a political reality where the one person ultimately charged with defending the Constitution is the same man who wants to sanction the media, encourages employer retaliation against athletes exercising their right to non-violently protest, and attacks anyone who has the temerity to criticize him. I would argue that this nation was built on the principle of dissent and difference and anyone seeking to undermine those principles should be opposed by all reasonable measures.

While it is easy to see the need for President Shephard’s message in our politics, it seems to me that we fail to see that his message is as applicable in our church as well. Now I will admit that churches are not built on the principles of dissent and difference. Instead, we share a common faith motivated by the same Spirit. The bonds of Christ’s love that we say constrain us should continue to pull us together despite our differences. However, like America, I believe that church membership is advanced citizenship. Keeping a church together is going to be a fight. Amongst our membership we will have differences of belief on Sabbath observance, dress codes, dietary restrictions, the role of women in the church, and the place in our community for the LGBT community, among other things. How do we manage to stay together when we have such disparate theological and ethical beliefs?

Fortunately for us the Bible gives us guidance. Acts 15 recounts the story of a church divided. Some felt that others in the fledgling faith were not living up to the clear standard of the Bible.2 After all, the Gentiles were entering into a Jewish faith, why should they not live under the standard of the Law of Moses? Had Jesus not said that he did not come to abolish the law? After much debate, both Peter and James, two men who were known at one time or another for being very concerned with rules of conduct, advocated for the rules not to apply to a certain group of people within the body. To be clear – The early Christian church created a structure in which different sets of rules applied to different groups of people based on the proclivities of their particular circumstance. And so they showed us how to have corporate unity in a world of theological difference. We would be wise to follow their example. The path to unity despite difference cannot be found in mistaking uniformity for unity, and it cannot be paved with poorly worded motions or reconciliatory ultimatums.

Toward the end of President Shephard’s speech, he laments the fact that our political discourse gets bogged down in the mundane and inconsequential. “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them,” he exclaims. Agreed. In a body tasked with a specific goal, it is a waste of everybody’s time to expend so much energy on infighting that only makes our mission more difficult.

Notes & References:

1. Not that you asked, but that short list includes The Shawshank Redemption, Gladiator, The Matrix, Twelve Angry Men, It’s a Wonderful Life, and El Dorado.2. And the truth of the matter is that they had way more evidence for circumcision than we have for most of the more modern problems we debate today.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines.

Image Credit: www.warnerbros.com/american-president

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8341
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What then is the mission… to bring more people into this dysfunctional situation? If this church, with the “message” it supposedly has, can hatch out this kind of battle royal - “much ado about nothing” - what would we have to give anybody that could be considered a “mission”?

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The author of the article effectively and accurately reflects upon the parallels and their applications, which should not be blunted by the few examples of groups of the “left” (which the “left” would not claim) behaving badly when seen along side of clearly stated and articulated official statements (or statements of officials) that are protected or excused by disturbingly high numbers of people who are ready to dismiss the point of the article for the sake of actually defending or minimizing bad behavior. What is encouraging, is that there do seem to be increasing numbers of conservatives that are (finally) finding their voice in support of what the article actually is saying. What is less encouraging, are the numbers that remain that seem determined to minimize or blunt it. Who we are to fear more, are not the left or the right, but those who are ready to turn a blind eye to the things that used to be assumed and embraced by people leaning in both directions. Failure to take that seriously is what we should fear the most.

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(Movie ) President Shephard laments that we :
“Get bogged down in the mundane and inconsequential “

So true of judgmental Adventism !

When we should be exulting in the “PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS “
some amongst us, would curtail and curb the abilities and aspirations of more than half of the church’s constituency ( in every congregation I have ever visited, there is always a preponderance of females in the pews ).

Trump’s bombastic style regrettably alienates many from what are his admirable policies —controlling our borders —now that we have allowed an abortion for an illegal teenage migrant, every pregnant teenager on the planet will be heading here for abortions at US taxpayers expense!

We also desperately need reform to our super complicated tax system, and a salvage for the fast sinking OBAMACARE . Plus more balanced trade agreements. Good Trump policies which hopefully will be implemented.

In the same way, our esteemed church leader, no doubt has admirable qualities, but allows his misogynistic and homophobic mindset to obsessively derail what should be an unfettered outreach to EVERYONE on this planet.

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Excellent essay and a fine film. I’ve shown that clip to classes in Political Philosophy, Ethics, and Public Speaking through the years. And every time I’ve been moved again by that speech. The parallels you drew to our church are real. I hope we will continue to experience the courage some have shown in confronting the authoritarianism that prevails. Thank you for the essay.

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Exactly. Such language serves only to demonstrate a lack of valid input to the listener or the reader.

this is such a sweet picture of michael douglas…it’s really hard to say who’s better looking: him, or robert redford…too bad people lose their looks as they age…

i think it’s possible to take the diversity lesson in Acts 15 too far, and to in fact misinterpret it…rather than a consideration of the proclivities of anyone’s particular circumstance, it was clear evidence from the holy spirit that guided the apostolic church…that is, circumcision was upended through a clear demonstration by the holy spirit that it no longer applied, rather than a formal determination that circumcision for gentiles was unloving and culturally inconsiderate…similarly, we can see today that paul’s male headship has been upended through a clear demonstration by the holy spirit in the amazing 70-yr ministry of egw, rather than a careful consideration of anything gloria steinem has written or said…

has an upending demonstration by the holy spirit been given for a relaxed or essentially no sabbath observance, jewelry, meat eating and LGBT, given the detailed counsel in the nine volumes of testimonies, which touches on these and many other things so exhaustively, that he inspired egw to leave us…i think our church should continue to take a stand on these things in harmony with a contextual assessment of the testimonies, at least officially, until we have inspired evidence that they no longer apply - which i would find hard to believe could happen, given their proximity and actual connection to fundamental things we believe in…

of course we certainly do need to avoid unloving and exclusive attitudes…but being loving and inclusive doesn’t have to mean throwing all principles and standards out the window - it doesn’t mean being in flagrant violation of counsel we have in the bible and egw…rank disobedience, and making allowances for it, cannot possibly be the lesson to draw from Acts 15…rather, obedience to clear evidence from the holy spirit may be the real lesson in Acts 15…

The lesson to be learned from Acts 15 may be bigger than we think. The position held by James and company–whom we tend to think of as “the church” were WRONG! They continued to practice both Judaism and Christianity. (See Acts 21.)

EGW wrote–or quoted from a truly inspired source–that age does not make error into truth and truth can afford to be fair. Further, that our doctrines should be able to withstand the closest scrutiny. Ted Wilson tries to slip past us a document that takes away the dissenter’s right to be heard. Conradi, Canright, Ford, Rea et al., discovered flaws that required calm, reasoned discussion that could bring us ever closer to ultimate truth, but too many believe that truth need not be fair, that It can best be defended by robbing people of their voice (to say nothing of their earned retirement).

White also stated that we have many doctrinal lessons to be learned and many, many to unlearn, and that there is no excuse for anyone taking the position that all of our expositions of scripture are without error. We need the freedom to discover our errors through consideration of the points and evidence others have the patience to share with us. Coerced belief isn’t the definition of truth.

Our unfortunate creed starts with the words “SDAs believe …”. The words should be something like, “SDAs think that the Bible teaches … but if it doesn’t, we want to know”. I think Michael Douglas’ character would agree that we must want truth to prevail even when we’re the ones in the wrong.

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