•A young academic moves to another city for a position in a major state university. “Do you attend a church there?” I ask. “There’s a church not far from me, but it reminded me too much of the small depressing churches I've previously survived,” he replies. “I’ve never gone back.”
•A retired pastor and wife live in Loma Linda, where there are dozens of congregations. “We go to church twice every Sabbath,” they tell me. “We watch two church services on TV, and we don’t even have to get dressed.”
As I’m teaching a Sabbath School class one day, I refer in passing to the Three Angels Message. A young woman raises her hand. “I’m embarrassed to admit this,” she says. “All my life I’ve seen three angels associated with our church. I know they have something to do with the time of the end. But I don’t know what makes them important.” Some of the oldsters in the class claimed they had at least a basic grasp of the Three Angels’ Message. Most of the younger ones admitted they were in the same boat as the questioner: they knew it was eschatological, but not what the significance was.
We got everything ready. Cleaned up the church. Had all our leaders and presenters lined up. The big expense was sending out handbills to the community. Pretty, full-color brochures that announced a series of Bible lessons filled with hope and reassurance. We backed up our efforts with prayer.
The big night came. But no visitors showed up. Not one.
Not long ago, a friend gave me a book written by veteran Adventist critic Vance Ferrell. I do not know Mr. Ferrell, but I admire both his persistence and his output—76 book listings on Amazon.com. Our Evangelical Earthquake takes on a story with which at least some readers of Spectrum will be familiar: the origin of the book Questions on Doctrine.
This happened to a dear friend of mine. He’s been gone for many years, so I think it’s safe to tell the story.
He had, for almost as long as he could remember, suffered spells of intense depression. He wasn’t an educated man. I’m not sure he even knew what to call his bad feelings. In the community where he lived, among the people he knew, there were two states of mental functioning: normal or crazy. For the latter you went to the state mental hospital. He analyzed his feelings in the only way he knew: it was a spiritual problem.
I recently came across a disturbing story in the New York Times. It’s about the discovery that conservative Hasidic Jews (the group written about by Chaim Potok) have a stubborn subculture of child sexual abuse, often involving highly-placed men in the community.
Years ago, at North Dakota camp meeting near the village of Harvey, a visiting speaker invited himself to my grandparents’ cabin. My grandmother received this as a tremendous compliment: pastors were always held in high esteem in my family, and this was one of her favorite speakers. As I remember the story, after Grandma served him homemade date bars, he offered to be the broker to sell them a building lot in an isolated housing development somewhere in the mountains of the American southeast.
This happened about 25 years ago, when I was still a young pastor. We’d just placed a new member, a Certified Public Accountant, on the congregation’s finance committee. One of the items on the agenda was how we could build up the lagging local church budget. I remember the new committee member said, after his first quick glance at the financial statement, “I don’t know what the problem is. This shows we received a lot of tithe.” The rest of us quickly explained his misunderstanding. “Wait a minute,” he said.
I didn’t choose to be heterosexual. I was born this way. From the time I was old enough to notice (and taking into account that at the time I was far more interested in Lego blocks and model cars) I remember thinking little girls were incredibly charming creatures. My first real exposure to homosexuality came in college, when I had friends who I learned (probably as they were learning it themselves) had attachments to people of their own gender. This was a time when homosexuality was at last being spoken of aloud among ordinary people. It even got a friendlier, non-clinical name: gay.