On April 1st, with all appropriate documents signed, the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists released a statement regarding Pastor Ryan Bell and the Hollywood Adventist Church. It said their Personnel Committee had “voted to accept the (his) resignation, under counsel.”
The Committee expressed “recognition of and gratitude for the many creative and effective ministries the Hollywood Adventist Church has extended to the interfaith community and to persons in need.” However, it also noted, “there are multiple areas of belief and practice outside the parameters of Adventist church positions that have been compromised. Therefore, the Committee voted to accept the counseled resignation of Pastor Bell.
“We sincerely extend our prayers for God’s continued presence and guidance to Pastor Bell, his family, and to the Hollywood Adventist Church.”
Previously, at the meeting of the Personnel Committee on Thursday, March 28, several members of the Hollywood Church were invited, at the last minute, to speak to the committee about Bell’s ministry to their church.
Bell was also invited to speak. He told the committee the story of his baptism and his journey in Adventism. After the committee released its statement, he shared his final statement to them, too:
Adventism was taught to me by my grandparents, but I also caught it from them. It was an ethos that pervaded our home, our church, our cars…every inch of our lives. From the food we ate, to the rhythm of our days, to the questions we were taught to ask about the Christianity that everyone else believed. I learned that we were a minority. Our views of about the Sabbath, state of the dead, and the immanent return of Jesus, made us different. Special, we said. Or weird, to my peers. Going to public high school I missed out on playing football because all the games were on Friday nights. In my Junior year I was cast in the lead role in the school play, but I turned it down because it meant performing on the Sabbath.
What really stayed with me from all those experiences was the deep commitment that my faith required of me—to stand for what I understood to be right, regardless of pressure from my peers. I also learned in those days about the foundations of the Adventist Church…the pioneers who courageously risked the ire of their pastors and church leaders to share what they passionately believed was “present truth.” They risked economic disaster—letting their crops spoil and their businesses fail—because they believed that Jesus was coming on Oct 22, 1844. They were wrong. But they stood for their convictions and then found the strength to “do theology” again to comprehend their devastating disappointment. The history of failure and doing theology as we go is central to the Adventist ethos. . . .
As I have gotten older the notion of present truth and progressive revelation also suggested to me that some truths that were “present” in the past might not always be “present” in the future, the way circumcision ceased to be “present truth” for Paul even though Genesis clearly says it is an “eternal covenant.”
Through the years my understanding of theology, ecclesiology and mission have evolved. At each step I have worked hard to connect my new learning to my Adventist roots. I believe that the heart and soul of Adventism is the passionate spark, driving our pioneers to know the truth and follow it, whatever the cost. That is Adventism. It remains to each successful generation to work out those commitments in the very different socio-political contexts in which we find ourselves. This “working out,” or “doing theology” will not look the same in every time or every place. It is up to each local community to weave together the story of their context, the story of scripture and the story of our tradition.
I am committed to the truth wherever it leads me. I have been committed to that pursuit of truth within the communal framework and accountably of the Seventh-day Adventist Church…its denominational structures, its universities and seminaries, and the network of other pastors and scholars that I have come to know through the years. This has not been a solitary journey. And while it may appear that I am alone in some of my beliefs and practices, it is simply that I am more vocal about sharing what we do with the world and that I have been a pioneer in some areas.
Both the conclusions I have come to on my journey and the spirit of pursuing new truth has put me increasingly at odds with the SDA corporation. I have over the past six weeks spoken with Elder Caviness about where I think I can fit better within the framework of the Southern California Conference and where I think it would be a violation of my conscience to change. The conclusion is that I should part ways with employment in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
He concluded by noting that he was at peace with the decision that had been made by Southern California Conference President Larry Caviness.
Image: Ryan Bell receiving the North American Division's Innovative Church of the Year Award in 2010.