On a sunny Sabbath morning a crowd of open-minded academics, and a small handful of eager students such as me, with varying political, religious and liturgical identifications, gathered for the second day of the Adventist Forum “A Third Way” conference. Close to 200 attendees prepared to start a dialogue on “The Liturgical Challenge” faced by interfaith dialogue. Brian McLaren kept the audience’s attention by engaging early on with a group prayer and later with an impromptu chorus of “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” He shattered my childhood enjoyment of that hymn by pointing out how much the last verse totally supported the class divisions of Victorian England.
McLaren went on to break down the rituals religions hold dear and explained how such practices can be utilized in a hostile and exclusive way. The practices of baptism, song and sermon were discussed and compared to the Biblically intended use of such rituals. McLaren raised numerous thought-provoking points that had me furiously writing notes, and pondering personal beliefs. Do we use rituals, even as Adventists, to draw a line that designates those who do not participate as “the other”? Is this another way we bond over a shared dislike of outside religions?
McLaren notes that liturgical practices should be used to bring faiths together, as opposed to furthering the “us v them” mentality. He identified a central theme that seemed to resonate with the attendees; he pointed out that we should look at Christ’s death for our sins as a consequence, not an exchange. McLaren wrapped up his third presentation with a projected quote that every subsequent commentator would reference: he quoted Catherine Maresca’s argument that we cannot be religious without knowing a religion, because this would be like being linguistic without knowing a language.
After the presentation, three respondents spoke.
Vikki Leon-Salas, a recent convert to Adventism, stressed similarity between faiths in her response and encouraged Adventists to take solace in the comfort and routine of our Sabbath ritual. Dr. Gordon Bietz, president of my own Southern Adventist University, expressed his belief that the love he finds in Adventism outweighs the hostile tendencies that can arise from liturgical practices. Finally, Amin Issa graciously thanked the conference for allowing him, as a Muslim, to participate in the conference and encouraged the audience to be good and do good.
As an undergraduate student attending “A Third Way,” my worldview has been drastically expanded. Having the privilege to hear such renowned thinkers share their thoughts was enlightening to say the least. I am fortunate enough to attend a university, and be part of a department, that values expanding knowledge and understanding in its students. As an Adventist in an area densely populated by other Adventists, the ability to meet scholars from other backgrounds has given me food for thought I will be mulling over until I am lucky enough to attend another outstanding conference.
Rebecca Theus is a senior History major, Political Economy minor at Southern Adventist University. She is from a small town town in Georgia and has been culminating a love of history for most of her life. Rebecca was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, the History honors society, last year and hopes to peruse her love of history and academia professionally.