I was interested to learn, a few months ago, that some folks in Silver Spring had discovered how many were "slipping out the back door" of the church. It made me think of those European explorers a few centuries back who came back from sea voyages saying they’d discovered a new land, even though that land was occupied with people who had apparently discovered it long before. We out in the congregations have been experiencing the hemorrhaging for a long time. Especially small congregations.
I needn't tell you that it's difficult for a pastor nowadays to find a place to plant his or her feet on the moral questions of the day. I'm constantly struggling with it. I know what my heart tells me to do, what I think Jesus would do. But then there's this institution to which I've devoted my life, an institution in some ways still firmly rooted in the 19th century, that has its own expectations. Most of those expectations are excellent and praiseworthy. Others are difficult to navigate.
I'm going to claim (for I get to write my own history) that my questions on this topic originated at Sheyenne River Academy when, in order to get more compliance, they suggested that the rules they gave us were not just rules but something more, something holy and right and true. Yet we knew from looking at pictures of Jesus and church pioneers that clean shaves and short haircuts weren't a moral universal. But of course, we were teenagers, and for teenagers being contrary is as natural as having spots on your face.
Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church I was taught that Scripture demanded perfect sexual purity before marriage. As I think back on it, the way the subject was framed made it seem almost a virtue to be ignorant about sex, naive and vulnerable. Implied (and sometimes said) was that sexual interest wasn’t compatible with faith. And believe me, we were interested! All of us, even the most pious. Some managed to keep the urge under control, or at least secret.
When I was about 12 years old I accompanied my mother one evening to midweek prayer meeting—a rarity in our church, since farm people don’t generally come out to evening meetings because of chores—but our pastor was conscientious and determined to try. There were only six of us there, all women, and me. We each received a copy of a newly-released book called Preparation for the Final Crisis, with Pacific Press book editor Fernando Chaij’s name on the cover.
You have heard by now that the committee set up to merge Pacific Press and Review & Herald has decided not to. In the short term this is good news for employees of both organizations. Undoubtedly such a combination would have meant lost jobs, moves, and (the committee must have thought) difficulties that outweighed efficiencies.
I hope it is also good news for the work of God, although I’m unqualified to evaluate that. I know as little as the rest of you about the economics of publishing, although I can make some observations.
It still surprises me when reading history to be reminded that communist theory permeated the intellectual and literary world in the first half of the 20th century. It’s difficult at this distance to understand why a system that was known even then to be failing spectacularly in practice continued to find adherents to its theory among the intellectual elite of Europe and America well into the 1960’s—among people who lived in anything but egalitarian solidarity with the workers. A quartet of writers—Stephen Spender, W.H.