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Imagine young Adventist college students in concert with professionals, pastors, professors, and interested laypersons setting out on the task of tackling the mammoth question, "What is an Adventist?"
For those who ask, this question has prompted many to search for the core of Adventist identity, indeed it was the impetus behind forming the Association of Adventist Forums, organizing publications like ‘Adventist Today’ and ‘Spectrum Magazine.’ Sometimes the answers that we find to these questions are not what we had originally expected and we are directed to even more perplexing questions along a journey of searching for so many answers. This can, unfortunately, lead some away from Adventism while at other times the answers discovered allow us to better understand, appreciate, and express our Adventist heritage and experience our Adventist faith as members of the larger community of Christ’s believers.
It is in the often humbling task of asking, “What Adventism is?” that Southern Adventist University has chosen to form a chapter of Adventist Forum at our institution; although it must be stated that the Form is no stranger to Southern. Our university has a vibrant history of students, professors, scholars, pastors, laypeople, and administrators asking the unsettling questions that often nag at our very existence. There is consequently an equally rich history of opposition to asking such questions that has been directed at the Forum.
One concerned woman attending a Forum meeting produced a letter by a Ms. Florence Woolcock, published under the title, “Write On Behalf Of Concerned Parents.” The letter was written when Southern Adventist University was Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists in the 1985-1986 school year (the precise year members of my family attended college and were members of the Forum). A full reproduced transcript will be available in the future on our website; the letter it is quite an interesting read, stating a dire warning of, “the growing doctrinal apostasy at SCSDA [Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists].” (I sometimes wonder if my family members were part of this apostasy, no doubt that some who know me might think they were the ones leading it!)
Yet in the twenty-two years since Ms. Woolcock’s letter and petition, interestingly purported to have been signed by former G.C. President Robert Pierson (of whom there is a lectureship named at Southern), Joe Crews, Colin Standish, and Russell Standish, the opposition seems to have given way to supporting genuine dialogue about the important contemporary issues in Adventism that chapters of Adventist Forum have been meeting and discussing for over four decades.
Under the leadership of Advisor Dr. Lisa C. Diller (history professor) and President Ms. Allison Gerard (sophomore student) the Forum has already held two meetings that have been representative of the traditional liberal and conservative Adventist divide, but have furthermore yielded new questions, ideas, and progressive Adventist perspectives. Students, members of the community, pastors, professors, and interested Adventists laypersons have all attended our meetings to discuss various issues.
Adventist Forum of Southern Adventist University selected the book "Seeking A Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream" written by Mr. Malcolm Bull and Mr. Keith Lockhart. Since the formation in January, the Forum has held two meetings and four meetings are planned for the remainder of the semester. These meetings cover a significant portion of the book and an array of topics from ‘Culture: Living Adventist,’ current controversies in the church, church history & sources of authority, ‘Identity: Who is an Adventist?’ and much more.
Each “General Forum Meeting," as the gatherings are called, has a discussion leader that outlines the chapters to be discussed and leads out in the discussion while keeping the conversation flowing from one topic to the next. The outlines can be downloaded from the Forum's website at www.adventist-forum.blogspot.com.
Additionally, Forum meetings are videotaped for online reference by Forum members and those not able to attend meetings. Those videos may be viewed at www.adventist-forum.blogspot.com. I would highly suggest that those interested watch these videos and contribute to our discussions.
The most important goal of Adventist Forum of Southern Adventist University is best summed up in its mission statement. The Forum, “seeks to foster a better understanding of our collective Adventist heritage through our reading and discussion of "Seeking a Sanctuary." We invite everyone – students, faculty, staff, and members of the community – who wishes to become greater informed about Adventism to join our meetings.” There has been a great response from the university community and our discussions have been helpful to leading to a greater understanding of how our collective Adventist heritage affects our Adventism in the twenty-first century.
I personally am looking forward to continuing to read this book within a group, share my thoughts, and discuss and listen to the ideas and opinions of those at the Forum meetings as we dialogue together to understand and celebrate our common heritage. Come and join us on our journey!