The Eleventh –ism Begins with the Letter T

Before I describe the eleventh –ism, I need to tell a story.

The year was 1978, perhaps early 1979. I was a senior medical student at Loma Linda University doing a surgery rotation at the main hospital. My exposure to urology was limited, but that day stands out in my memory – the urology day. I can’t remember whether I had been assigned to be where I was or whether I just got permission along with some others to enter the operating room. As I recall, this was the first surgery of its kind at LLUMC. I remember that it was quite a sensation but also that there would be no publicity outside the operating room. This was not the stuff of Baby Fae.

According to my memory, the surgeons on the case included Loma Linda University brand names, past and future. I remember the surgeons, but my picture of them is less clear than my picture of the patient. Concern regarding the identity of the surgeons is therefore a moot point. The patient was a woman undergoing sex-change surgery. The main challenge, clearly, and one that exercised the surgeons visibly and verbally, was how to construct a penis from the limited material available. A piece of muscle had been prepared for that part and was being fashioned into what in the days and years ahead was meant to become a male person with a penis.

Almost forty years have passed, but the image is still vivid. I have thought about it from time to time, but I have never talked or written about it. I do now because this genotypic woman, about to become a phenotypic male, would today be placed within the category of a new –ism that begins with the letter T. She would be the subject of the recent document voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, entitled, “Statement on Transgenderism.”

In a Spectrum report, Alisa Williams explains that the statement was crafted by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), has been years in preparation, and was preceded by less complete statements in 2008 and 2014. The statement approaches the subject broadly, but the take-home message is this: “However, the desire to change or live as a person of another gender may result in biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices. Gender dysphoria may, for instance, result in cross-dressing, sex reassignment surgery, and the desire to have a marital relationship with a person of the same biological sex.”

This statement made my mind race back to my training days at LLU and to the urologists in the Seventh-day Adventist community who may have thought it an act of mercy to relieve a person of “gender dysphoria” even at the risk of enabling them to make “biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices.”

No one said anything in public then, in 1978. No one from the Adventist urological community has said anything now, in response to the General Conference statement. If Seventh-day Adventist surgeons and institutions are still in the business of treating “gender dysphoria” surgically, now may be the time to explain how they see the matter.

Ten Other –isms

I call this the eleventh –ism, and I will explain why. In my professional life, I have done double duty in the field of medicine (internal medicine) and biblical studies (New Testament). In the latter discipline, I have completed a PhD in New Testament studies. My dissertation topic was the Book of Revelation; the title of my dissertation, Saving God’s Reputation. I have read widely on the subject, and I am in the process of completing a verse-by-verse commentary on this wonderful book. I have also read many Seventh-day Adventist works, the most ambitious of which is The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Ranko Stefanovic. This book gathers up much of what Adventist scholars have come to teach at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University during the past forty years. I found the ten –isms in this book, in a section explaining the meaning of the seven trumpets.

Thus the fifth trumpet refers to the spiritual condition in the secular world and the consequences of such conditions from the eighteenth century to our time. As Hans LaRondelle explains, “traditional God-centered theology was replaced by a man-centered philosophy, in which man is accountable only to himself.” The oppressive rule of the church was replaced by the atheistic philosophy expressed in various forms, such as deism, relativism, nihilism, nationalism, and communism.[1]

That is five –isms right there. They are all deplorable. Can we find five more? We will if we read on.

The darkening of the sources of light of the fourth trumpet describes the subsequent Age of Enlightenment in Europe from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. This period was characterized by the rise of rationalism, skepticism, humanism, and liberalism, with its final product of secularism and its negative effects on Christianity. The fifth trumpet plague is evidently the result of the spiritual decline and apostasy portrayed in the third and fourth trumpets.[2]

We now have five more –isms, all of them concentrated in the same part of the commentary. The last five of these –isms are also deplorable. In all, the fourth and fifth trumpets in Revelation are said to describe ten –isms that darken the world between the sixteenth century and our time:

1. Deism

2. Relativism

3. Nihilism

4. Nationalism

5. Communism

6. Rationalism

7. Skepticism

8. Humanism

9. Liberalism

10. Secularism

Ten is a sizeable number, a genuine deluge of -isms. I shall soon add an eleventh to the list — but not before noting that a longer list is possible on the basis of this exposition of Revelation:

The smoke from the demonic abyss may be observed [Rev 9:1-11], for instance, in the various movements within Christianity that are promoting religion based largely on emotions, which has taken the place of the religion of mind and conduct. [3]

Yet this demonic smoke can equally be observed in the widespread New Age movement and the growing activities of Islam.[4]

If we add these two items to the list — emotionalism and ‘Mohammedanism’ — the list grows to twelve. It is legitimate to ask whether these ten or twelve –isms capture the most important issues or events between the sixteenth century and our time, as the book suggests. It is also fair — and necessary — to ask whether the author of Revelation had these centuries and this representation of history in mind when he wrote about the seven trumpets. Lastly, it is fair to ask whether –isms that are more deserving have been left out. Capitalism, colonialism, and racism are significant issues and movements during the past three centuries. Why were they left out? Fascism and Nazism are darker –isms than liberalism and humanism. Why did they not make the list? And why do they still not appear on any list among expositions claiming to interpret Revelation faithfully in the Seventh-day Adventist community? Is a more stringent quality check due for the way we designate matters of importance and for the way we read biblical texts?

The Eleventh -ism

I see the foregoing as proof that the choice of –isms thought to be important has been factually and intellectually questionable selections of what is historically important. As a more serious deficit, our list of ten or twelve –isms are not self-evident by the tools of biblical exegesis. It is not hard to image that scholars who do not subscribe to our paradigm will raise objections. At the very least, they are likely to demand an accounting for the -isms that are left out. This sets the stage for the eleventh –ism. And I quote:

STATEMENT ON TRANSGENDERISM

VOTED (April 4, 2017), To approve the Statement on Transgenderism, which reads as follows:

The increasing awareness of the needs and challenges that transgender men and women experience and the rise of transgender issues to social prominence worldwide raise important questions not only for those affected by the transgender phenomenon but also for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While the struggles and challenges of those identifying as transgender people have some elements in common with the struggles of all human beings, we recognize the uniqueness of their situation and the limitation of our knowledge in specific instances. Yet, we believe that Scripture provides principles for guidance and counsel to transgender people and the Church, transcending human conventions and culture.

The first ten –isms owe their selection to a widely read interpretation of Revelation. The eleventh –ism joins them from a separate corner, voted into prominence at the highest level of scholarship and administration in the church. The list now looks like this:

1. Deism

2. Relativism

3. Nihilism

4. Nationalism

5. Communism

6. Rationalism

7. Skepticism

8. Humanism

9. Liberalism

10. Secularism

11. Transgenderism

For the last item on the list, the Committee states, “As long as transgender people are committed to ordering their lives according to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage, they can be members of the Seventh-day Adventist church.”

Another –ism that Begins with the Letter T

Perhaps the –isms on the list above have little more in common than the suffix. Many of them are genuine –isms, ideologies or movements that have impacted modern life profoundly. I question their inclusion in a historicist interpretation of Revelation, however, and concern is rooted in historical perception as much as exegetical precision. If John aspired to identify and warn against significant –isms spanning the last three centuries, perhaps we must do better.

For the last item on the list, is it even an –ism? I am quite sure that the woman who lay exposed in the operating room at the Loma Linda University Medical Center forty years ago did not subscribe to an –ism or see herself as part of one. Her vantage point was human experience and the desire to find relief even at the high cost of subjecting herself to an excruciating surgery. An experience? Yes. An –ism? I doubt it. It has not occurred to me to think of it in such terms until the Statement on Transgenderism appeared. I wonder whether the spiritual sensibilities that define and express such priorities are on the right track. I can see the priest and the Levite doing it as they hurry past the man beaten and moribund between Jerusalem and Jericho back then. I can see priest and Levites passing by operating rooms within which there is a body broken and exposed in order to deposit a theological commentary. I cannot see the Good Samaritan joining them in the effort — or the prophet.

Let me try to add things up and to put them into perspective. At the center of my account is a woman undergoing surgery during my training days. At some distance from here is a young medical student learning about human experience and ways to minister compassionately to hurting human beings. At the periphery, the theological commentary comes into the picture. I am a participant in that enterprise, too.

I will now close by getting more specific, and by proposing an –ism that is more deserving of attention in the Remnant Church than Transgenderism. Indeed, I believe it is more urgent as much as Nazism and racism tower above ‘liberalism’ and ‘humanism’ on the Top Ten list of deplorable –isms between the sixteenth century and our time. I earnestly and seriously wonder why it was decided to make a solemn statement on Transgenderism in 2017 but have nothing to say about Trumpism.

Transgenderism — it may not qualify as an –ism, and the numbers are few. We shall be hard pressed to find a transgender person in most of our churches. For the most part, they threaten no one, and the few that exist are likely to stay away. I don’t think they will trust us to do right by them — not by a long shot. Trumpism, on the other hand, is a genuine –ism. It has huge numbers on its side; it is going global; it is found in the front row in the church and sometimes in the pulpit. I will not be surprised if many of those who voted the Statement on Transgenderism are closet adherents of Trumpism.

Trumpism won eighty-two percent of the evangelical vote in the latest election in the United States. It took a huge chunk of the Seventh-day Adventist vote, too, though we do not have precise numbers. At a panel discussion in Loma Linda at which I took part, the audience divided roughly two thirds in favor of Trumpism. The ingredients in Transgenderism are not easily named, but one of them is pain. The ingredients in Trumpism are of a different order: narcissism, birtherism, nativism, sexism, egotism, consumerism, exhibitionism, alternative truth-ism, cynicism, and vulture capitalism. That is ten more –isms tightly packed into Trumpism. This –ism threatens the integrity of the Seventh-day Adventist church and the stability of the world more than ‘Transgenderism.’

My list of deplorable –isms does not claim to represent an interpretation of Revelation, but if it were, it would be no worse than the one reviewed above. I commend it as a list of significant issues that might touch the heart of some Good Samaritan traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho, or between Washington and Wall Street, and some prophet getting ready to speak.

1. Capitalism

2. Colonialism

3. Racism

4. Sexism

5. Nazism

6. Fascism

7. Nativism

8. Consumerism

9. Triumphalism

10. Militarism

11. Trumpism

Eleven –isms in all, and the last one begins with the letter T.

Sigve Tonstad is Assistant Professor of Theology at Loma Linda University's School of Religion.

[1]Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009), 312.

[2]Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ, 312.

[3]Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ, 313.

[4]Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ, 313.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8047
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Professor Tonstad,

The 22 chapters of Revelation have been spun, interpreted & speculated on at least 22,000 different ways.
How is one supposed to be a Berean, like in Acts 17:11, and confirm what anyone presents on it?

My counsel is to flee institutional Adventism, avoid following the crowd, clichés, church and follow Christ.
90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible and near % that have probably never read the whole new testament. It is like pulling teeth to get Sabbath school superintendents or teachers to even read the 1 & 2 Peter bible verse before or in class.

To any other reader…do a survey at the end of the quarter and see what % of SS members even read all of 1 & 2 Peter.

I wonder what % of SDA members are so Revelation minded that they are no earthly good.

EDIT; Brian thanks for reading , replying & your interest. My counsel on fleeing is related to theological/doctrinal mindset approaches. Since you are on this site, you can read how Todd, (Dropping the MIC) an SDA clergy is making suggestions on different approaches to how the denomination /members approach their activities.

Institutional Adventism is stuck in a similar mess as JEWS of 2000 years ago and Catholics and Protestants of contemporary times–lack of scripture exposure, lack of scripture understanding, fixation on pet superficial doctrines, tossing around of ambiguous, obscure irrelevant clichés & platitudes. They void law through tradition, make of none effect the word of God. The terms gospel, grace & salvation have been corrupted. Members usually are preacher parrots and/or puppets.
There has been so much attention on… who what where… but so little how & why regarding bible studies.

A major sore point is the member bashing, calling them Laodicean ,and yet a follow up of Jesus is coming soon. This is verbal abuse.

By the way…the church is the followers of JESUS who are meek & born again…not some denominational group of secular minded, lip service, Sabbath church attenders.

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An interesting perspective on the transgender issue… until the train went off the rails and suddenly went into presidential politics with no explanation. Was the point of the article that we shouldn’t worry about transgender issues but we should be very concerned about “Trumpism” - whatever that really is?

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What do you describe as Institutional Adventism & where does one flee considering how Mrs White says that the church will last to the end?

I would add another–McArtheyism just a first generation of Trumpism

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Am I correct in assuming the first sex reassignment procedure in Loma Linda, back in 1978, was not the last? If so, won’t it be of interest to learn what our medical ethicists had to say or if they cared to make their opinions heard?

I’m with Mel.
I was with you through most of the Article.
I do know a number of Transgender individuals. Most who went from Male to Female. One recently obtained her renewed driver’s license and it NOW declares her FEMALE.
I do NOT know any who have undergone the Sex surgeries. So cannot relate to them as I have not heard 1st hand stories.
I am with you on the --Isms, Numbers 1-10. Revelation is discussing EMPIRE. Secular EMPIRE from John’s day to our present day. And can include Empire-style capitalism, and Empire includes colonialism and its use of Racism as part of its subjection plan [one group against another as in Africa, as in India]. That makes about 13.
John ALSO included RELIGIOUS EMPIRE behavior in the Beast of the Sea, and the Beast of the Land. Both have secular empire behaviors.
John tells believers NOT to become part of EITHER Empire. To Live in the Empires, but not partake of their Spirit, nor of their Behaviors. Their allegiance is to the Kingdom [Empire] of Heaven and its Spirit and its Behaviors.
AND our SDA church has COINED another word NOT in Webster’s.— transgender-ISM.
Which is VERY demeaning to those persons. to the point of saying – God made a MISTAKE when God allowed YOU to be made, to be birthed alive, and to become an Adult Human [whatever you are]. And since you are NOT natural human, WE will be WATCHING you as long as you want to be part of OUR Community. [WE Do Not care to know what your relationship with Father, Son, Holy Spirit is].

Trumpism — I take it from what you say, your are prone to have Democrat [Ms Hillary] leanings. And do not care what the President is attempting to do, as he outlined in his campaign platform.
WHY you interjected THIS particular President [when you had 40-odd ones to choose from, including Obama-ism] REALLY detracts from your article, and casts a cloud over the whole thing.
Donald Trump IS NOT the only nation leader in the world of Nations. So WHY pick JUST HIM of ALL the nations on the Globe???
Religious persons, non-Religious persons should be allowed to CHOOSE who they want for their leadership when given a choice of at least 2 names at the voting booth. Second-guessing as to WHY persons vote for someone is Crystal Ball gazing anyway. Making assumptions that may not be TRUE and then passing them off as Reality, as Truth in hopes people will believe what is read in papers, magazines, Facebook, Internet, or heard on radio/TV.

You had a great article. Very thoughtful, very real, and certainly more insightful than the bunch of men sitting in their Ivory Tower, cloistered away from REAL PEOPLE, and making the DUMB statements they did about Transgenders. Makes one SICK just reading it, and especially if comes from MY CHURCH, theSeventh day Adventist world wide denomination, for ALL the World to see. And when I am known as an SDA, they say you’re a member of the church that Hates Gays, Lesbians, Transgender Persons, aren’t you???
AWFUL!!!

EDIT – I believe that the RAPTURE came on the Lounge side and we were NOT taken. But left.

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Thank you Pastor/Doctor Tonstad for an illuminating insight into isms.

I would add two more words beginning with T-- TRAVESTY and TEMERITY

The BRI statement on Transgenderism was a travesty because medically illiterate individuals,had the temerity to pontificate on a subject where they had no medical expertise, and as you rightly point out, Loma Linda medical school would have been the optimal organization to craft any such statement…

But then nothing surprises me about our current Adventist hierarchy.

Mohomedism and Trumpism are interesting isms.

More particularly since I am fresh from visiting my daughter who lives in London, which last weekend had a terrorist attack while I was there.

Mohommed is now the commonest baby boys name in England, ( if one accepts all the spelling variations of the name )and head scarfed women are ubiquitous in the streets and on the tube trains. And more than thirty SHARIA courts operate in the country, superceding British law.

With one billion ( 1,000,000,000 ) Muslims on the planet, if only one per cent are radical, that means ten million are potential suicide bombers. For every one who acts, there are millions in sympathy.

As the sister of one of the London killers posted on her Facebook: Congratulations, brother on having entered PARADISE, Really? Killers /murderers go instantly to paradise?

The latest terrorists were admitted to England after travelling to Syria/Libya even though their radicalism was well known. One even openly stated to the police that he wanted to be a terrorist, and was admitted anyway.

Where was Trump’s "travel ban " and vigorous " vetting "?

Seems that the British need a large dose of TRUMPISM to keep their country safe!

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This statement is so broad it lacks depth, so simplistic, it lacks sophistication. Has rationalism been entirely a “darkening” development? What was its absence? Ignorance, superstition, romanticism, absence of any logic and nuance? Not perfect, to be sure, but not all bad.

Skepticism? Have all skeptical challenges to the faith of simpletons been destructive?
Does doubt have no place in a robust faith?

Has not humanism forced us to reexamine issues of fairness and equality between classes, genders and races?

Liberalism? Meaning what? Children no longer forced to work well below an appropriate age?

Not all the effects were negative.

Lumping these “isms” together as evidence that evil has swept “God” and “goodness” away strikes me as too sweeping and superficial. And to add the "T to all that only exacerbates the confusion already articulated. Thanks Sigve.

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This article could have had a greater impact , had you left out Mr. Trump . What’s up with that ? Now you hold a Ph.D , and their are some rules of interpretation that you should know , " What the old Babylon had done to literal Israel, spiritual Babylon will do to spiritual Israel ." The whole Book of Revelation revolves around this pattern. Additionally, " The number 10 should no more be pressed in this context than in Dan 1:20 It is a round number frequently used in Scripture … What is represented may indeed rise to a dozen or fifteen and not transcend the symbolism ." The church is just as much challenged with transgender issues as it is with many other troubles of our times. Let’s pray for our church.

The prophet has already spoken. “Big Brother” is watching and listening - and our country has been under siege to “fundamentally change” it. Orwell’s world has arrived, where good is called evil; and evil is called good. The nation that’s under siege has been the world’s best hope for freedom and opportunity. All the “tired and the poor” came to this land BECAUSE of its fundamental rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - and they are still coming; but now they are encouraged to come, not to embrace those fundamentals, but to fundamentally change the country they just embraced.

The list, beginning with capitalism and ending with trumpism, is filled with hypocrisy. We rile against the country where others seek sanctuary - sanctuary from totalitarianism, including communism, the opposite of capitalism - which is, by the way, the basis of the freedom to take responsibility of our own success or failure; and upon which our own freedoms rely.

The constitution that has been relied upon for our freedoms has become an object of ridicule; and the flag that represents our freedom and the history that made that freedom possible, is trampled in the dust with an accompaniment of applause.

“Freedom” has come to mean freedom to destroy private property when someone disagrees with us; and we shout down any ideas and opinions that differ from ours. Our institutions of learning have become enclaves of insecure, immature, and spoiled rich kids, that finally can demand attention they were denied when growing up. They have no sense of history which permits them to take the freedoms that were gained through “blood, sweat, and tears” and kick them to the curb, demanding segregation as a sign of “freedom”.

I’m going to trump your eleventh -ism of Trumpism (undefined) with “TRIBALISM” - tribalism that treats its citizens according to what group they belong to, rather than as individuals. Tribalism places individuals into camps like “liberals” and “conservatives”; “blacks” and “whites”; and are treated accordingly. The prophets are still prophesying, but no one is listening.

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Amen, Dr. Tonstad. Thank you for having the courage to confront the evils of Trumpism.

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This statement on “transgenderism” has been a bit of a turning point for me. I realized as I watched this statement put together–sometimes from afar and sometimes from closer up–that pronouncements like this do not represent the voice of God or the church. Hardly. They are simply the work of a small group of men who purport to speak for God and the church by virtue of their positions and influence.

This statement represented neither good theology nor good science. Rather, it was a thinly documented and poorly argued statement that rested on a mishmash of cherry-picked notions and misguided assumptions. This is not an “Adventist position.” It is merely the voted opinion of a handful of Adventist leaders who deemed it their right to give the “Nero thumb” to a group of people whose experience they did not even remotely understand.

Let’s never forget who “the church” is and where real theology and practice is worked out. It’s not in an annual meeting in Silver Spring. We establish it every day as we decide how to treat people in our daily lives and in our local congregations. Why not just ignore such hollow statements and take up the role and responsibility that is ours and ours alone?

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An interesting, almost curious list of isms Sigve​. Might I add elitism as the twelfth?

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Our modern commentaries on Revelation, like Uriah Smith’s of early Adventist days, contain countless political, cultural and religious prejudices such as eurocentrism and self-serving interpretations.

I found “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” by Ranko Stefanovic to be a compote of various SDA ideas liberally salted with fascist ideas. Whenever possible, he takes the opportunity to flail western Europe for such evils as “liberalism” which is an outrageously ironic statement, considering he comes from a country which was finally liberated in the 1980s by such an evil ideology.

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So, liberalism “darkens the world,” but not conservatism. Interesting perspective, considering the venue in which this article appears.

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The BRI’s “Statement on Transgenderism" wasn’t about understanding gender dysphoria. Instead, the preoccupation was and remains the prohibition of same-sex relationships.

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What about “leftism”? And “world conformism”? If people like you teach at Loma Linda University… it is as it is written in the Bible.

FWhat a sensible thoughtful and considered discussion of the unbearable situations which life can throw at us.
It is a sadness that in responding to the unbearable the pain of the one who suffers the compassion of our Lord
is displaced because we feel as a church there is a need to make our views known concerning these problems.
I appreciate that Dr Tonsted has taken the time to express his views so cogently and christianly.
One can look forward to,his commentary on Revelation with no small degree of interest.

Patrick Boyle.

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Although I love and agree with your article, I have to ask who is your intended audience? If it is to Adventist like myself who hold your same world views, then it was spot on. But the first half tells me you were trying to reach out to Adventist who don’t hold this world view. Perhaps you were hoping to reach the Adventist who thinks they do not know someone who is transgender. I use the word “think” because they probably do know at least one, it’s just that person no longer atteneds church. I know six people who are, and five of them were raised in our faith. They of course no longer attend due to fears of how they will be treated by church members. This article could have been a bridge, but the second half has created a boomerang effect. In argumentation the goal of a dialogue is to open channels of communication, but if the speaker uses examples that harm the identity of the listener, they stop listening. They then dig in deeper to their prior stance or ideology. I didn’t vote for Trump or Clinton, so the last part of your argument had little effect on me. But, the person who did vote for Trump not only stopped listening, they probably disregarded the first half. I respect you for standing up for trangenders. I am daily saddened to see and hear how fellow Adventists have little regard for those who are different and hurting. Not that Adventists feel this way, but there are too many. This will make me sound like a leftist liberal, but we need to learn how to love Jesus loves. I’m praying each day that I will embody Jesus’ love and characteristics. I am so far away from who He longs for me to be.

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