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The North Pacific Union’s Regional Affairs Department is advertizing a conference called “Gays in the Family,” to be held April 5-6 at the Holden Convention Center in Gladstone, Oregon. As the wife of a retired pastor, the mother of a gay son, the founder of a ministry for other parents and family members of gays and lesbians, and a 20-year resident of Washington State, I am happy to see our union take this first step in starting a conversation about a topic that many people find uncomfortable. My husband and I first learned that our youngest son is gay some 23-years ago when we were at the General Conference. That was a time when homosexuality was something no one talked about. I am glad that today we can begin to talk about something that affects so many of us.
My husband and I are planning to attend this conference, and I do hope that it will initiate a real dialog about this difficult topic. It appears to be set up to look at the issue from only one viewpoint—that of gays and lesbians who have walked away from a life of promiscuity and drugs and have come back to God—praise the Lord! But there are other voices that also deserve to be heard, and I hope that at this or a future conference their stories can also be embraced.
There are many gays and lesbians who have never left the church. After praying for years that God will change them, they are still left to seek a way to reconcile their spirituality with their sexuality. There is almost never any support for them in this process from the church. How should the church respond to people like this?
What, for example, is the church’s responsibility in ministering to a lesbian couple who want to bring their children to Sabbath School and raise them in the church? Would we expect a divorced/remarried heterosexual couple to stop living together before allowing them to bring their children to Sabbath School? Or what should a church do if a gay couple offers to provide beautiful floral arrangements for services each week? Would we object to inviting a musician from another denomination to provide music at our church?
Nearly every gay or lesbian person who comes to one of our churches has parents who are praying that their son or daughter will find love and welcome there. Yet, nearly all gay and lesbian members say they feel rejected and ostracized in our churches. Shouldn’t we, as their Adventist brothers and sisters, be trying to make them feel like loved members of the family? If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you long for someone who would make an effort to understand you and listen to your struggles?
These are just some of the questions that I think need to be considered in the church’s discussion of this topic. After all, presenting only this one perspective would be equivalent to having a conference to discuss women’s ordination, but only allowing those who oppose it to speak. There are many people qualified to help us look at this issue in a pastoral way and bring us new information that would help us understand it better.
As a link to further discussion, a screening of the documentary movie, Seventh-Gay Adventists has been scheduled for 8:00 pm, Saturday night, April 6, at the nearby Clackamas Mall Century Theater for those who are interested in hearing other voices that will not be represented in this conference. Free seats can be reserved at http://sgaportland46.eventbrite.com.
This is what happens when you try to mail The Great Controversy to people in New York City.
A reader writes, "twelve discarded Great Controversy books in my building. This is what we do with junk mail." It eventually gets tossed into the trash.
As we said during my time colporteuring: a give away is a throw away.
This effort is part of the NY13 evangelistic series that General Conference President Ted Wilson will be headlining this summer in lower Manhattan.
It's kind of sad to see Adventists treating Ellen White's work so poorly in that they find the cheapest paper and dump them on people. Having the books sit out like this communicates a lack of respect by the senders to someone who comes across this scene. Also, a note on presentation—whoever designed this is doing a terrible job. It looks like a Jehovah's Witness magazine met a pulp science fiction novel about chess pieces taking over the world.
1. The head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has called on the Government and the church to look out for the poor and most vulnerable, as the country braces for new taxes which come into effect today.
2. Seven-year-old Seventh-day Adventist preacher makes the news.
3. Southern Adventist University's SonRise resurrection pageant involves hundreds and draws thousands.
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.
"Less is changing than you think," explained Ryan Bell in his last sermon as pastor of the Hollywood Adventist Church. The church was close to full and it was clear that many had come because of this change—to try to understand. But the tone of the service itself, the liturgy, the multiple prayer times, the music by the band and the cellist was about much greater change than just personnel. In his remarks framing the Holy Saturday service commemorating the disciples' sadness and questions about their dead God, Pastor Ryan remarked that he prefers the Eastern Orthodox phrase: The Great Sabbath.
I sat with my tearful wife and friends and tried to understand the greatness of my tradition through this change.
There is no single reason. Each time I talk with Ryan or a board member or a conference leader it's about returning more tithe, publicly critiquing the church, discomfort with remnant theology, social justice advocacy, different generations misunderstanding each other, personal issues, tiredness, changing Adventist identity, and new opportunities.
Ryan Bell is not just leaving Hollywood Adventist Church or the employ of the Southern California Conference. He is taking a break from working as a pastor. (He's not the only pastor named Bell to do this recently.)
Less is changing than you think.
The purple church, as Hollywood Adventist is affectionately called by its members, exists as a far-reaching symbol as much as it is a small community. (It looks purple thanks to a clear glaze that has slowly changed to purple from the sun.) Ryan has ministered very locally in Los Angeles while modeling a prophetic vision in Adventism and beyond that combines social ethics, public advocacy, creative arts in worship, and community organizing.
Like a good symbol, what has happened there has often had multiple meanings elsewhere. That's why Ryan Bell's departure seems to mean more than just another burned out pastor taking a break. Does this mean that the Church is changing less than we want or that Adventists cannot bring their brains to church, much less their friends and family?
While I wrote that phrase down during the sermon, the more I think about it the more I have to disagree with my friend and pastor (we can do that constructively in our version of Adventism).
More is changing than you think.
Both at Hollywood and in the wider Adventist community—our interconnection means it's hard to predict what this change really means. But our Great Sabbath pause gives us a spiritual threshold as we look at the past and future. This idea of the liminal guided the sermon titled Sacred Imagination. According to Pastor Ryan:
Liminality describes a state of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of social rituals such as coming of age rituals in traditional societies. A young person might be sent out into the wilderness alone, for example, to accomplish a feat of manhood. In this space he is neither the child he once was, in the protection of his parents, nor the adult that he will be when he returns from this journey. During this liminal phase there are no promises, no certainties. The person stands on the threshold of something new, facing the abyss.
Holy Saturday is liminal space with a capital “L”—the terrifying pause between heartbeats, the darkest part of the night before a new day dawns.
That subversive paradox gives me hope. Ryan Bell graduated from Weimar College, a place that Ted Wilson has called the blueprint for Adventist education. I can think of hundreds of now forward-thinking Adventists who were first theologically formed by a similar fundamentalism. And the demographics show it: more change than remain the same.
Church at Hollywood came after a week of touring great cathedrals and museums in Rome, Florence, and Paris with Pacific Union College students. Much of the beauty we saw was created by one of the most morally bankrupt institutions in human history. But within its own patriarchy, sexism, racism, classism and ignorance, people subverted elements and reformed parts. And the world changed.
Those who try to vindicate Adventism through bizarre conspiracies and the politics of personal destruction or use their institutional power to shut down creativity and debate only create more of what they fear. They cannot appeal to wisdom or the fruit of the spirit so they push others out. Their certainty lies through exclusivity. Paradoxically, that's what separates and defines the human condition. Those who recognize the fundamental equality of all cannot but represent a threat to those who don't.
I watched the film Lincoln (2012) while flying back from Zurich. In it Abraham Lincoln quotes common notion number one from Euclid's Elements: "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another." It is a powerfully subversive axiom drawn from the structure of the universe. And for those of us who believe in God, this calls us to a radical understanding of our relationships. If we are all equal in God's sight then what exactly is the problem again?
Equality wins. That's why I have hope. Love wins because equality always opens its arms wider, welcoming and affirming as Christ taught over and over.
The film did not note Euclid's fifth common notion which is that the whole is greater than the parts even though this clearly guided the preservation of the Union. And it guides Christianity. And it guides my imagination of the sacred.
The exclusivists cannot handle their truth because within the truths of the past lie the seeds of all transformation. As the head elder of the Hollywood Adventist Church said on that Great Sabbath, we're going to continue being as purple as ever.
Over time social change comes more or less to all. However, that change becomes more personally and globally transformational the more we do it together.
On March 16, Ched Meyers spoke at the Hollywood Adventist Church about Sabbath economics and repenting of consumerism and ecological exploitation. The scripture passages are Exodus 16:1–4; 13–19; 22–23; and Numbers 11:31–34.
If one makes matzo for Passover, an 18-minute window opens. The person (or machine) that prepares it has only 1,080 seconds from the time that the flour and water are mixed together until the time that the matzo is removed from the oven, before the entire batch must be thrown away—symbolic sin, in the form of fermentation, has crept into the dough.
The amount of “sin” only increases as the hours tick by. “Within 24 hours, I can have a sourdough starter,” says Joan Rusche, a California-based assistant in a health care system. At most other times, the yeast-containing mixture would be welcome; Rusche is a baker of six-strand challah (three strands is considered standard), and enjoys putting her skills to the test. But strictly adhering to Passover preparation requires that one remove any leavening-containing substance in the house—from baking soda to meat analogs—representing the cleansing of sin from one’s life.
“It’s incredibly revealing about how much [leavening] we actually use,” muses Rusche.
Rusche and her husband Robert (Bob) are Adventists who celebrated their first Passover in a Jewish community, which they discovered after attending a Yom Kippur service. Discreetly sitting in the back pew of the synagogue, the couple listened to song after song, and Rusche wept. “I felt like I was coming home. The feeling was more than just tying Christ’s experience to Adventism. It was more like all of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were linked to us. … It gave me a new appreciation for the Sabbath." From that moment, the Rusches looked forward to Friday evenings at the synagogue—afterwards they attend a Sabbath service on Friday evening—and Sabbath worship at their church. Rusche ticks off the services they attended. “Hanukah, Purim, Passover … we celebrated every Jewish event.”
But as Christians, Passover holds a unique significance for them. In many of the rituals and foods, Rusche finds Christianity—and Jesus—represented.* Rusche sees Jesus particularly present in the matzo. “If you look at a piece of matzo, it’s scored and pierced. When we read about Jesus in Isaiah, he was wounded for our transgressions; the piercings in the matzo are symbolic of the his pierced hands and feet” The stripes running down matzo are also symbolic, representing the beatings (stripes) that Christ received.
The matzo used in the service consists of three pieces which are placed in a special bag, and to Rusche represent the Godhead. The middle piece of matzo—the Son—is taken out, broken in half, and half is hidden for the children to find later. But the hidden half is not “resurrected,” says Rusche, until after the third glass of wine in the ceremony, the Kos Shlishi.
“It’s interesting as a Christian to be part of the Passover service and feel the symbols popping out,” reflects Rusche.
This Sabbath, the couple are leading out in their church’s first-ever Passover demonstration. “When Adventists can get together to celebrate a Passover Seder, it teaches them about what Christ did for us, and gives us a greater appreciation for it,” says Rusche.
Sabbath lunch, relative to the three- to four-hour-long Passover Seder, is short. But Rusche notes that food brings people together no matter what the event, and replies that Passover’s emphasis on family is more similar to a Sabbath potluck. “[Potlucks] bring the church together. It’s easy to sit beside each other on the same pew, and yet not talk. At potluck, we share a meal and we share conversation; we get to learn about each other … we become friends,” reflects Rusche. “We often say that our church is our family. Being able to sit down with our church family helps us get to know that family, so we treat each other like family.”
The foods of Passover, then, are a potluck in several ways—enabling bonding within a community as well as among communities. “The most important thing is … to build a bridge between us and our Jewish friends,” says Rusche. “Any time we can step into their world, they are more apt to listen to us,” she adds. Jewish traditions, such as Passover, “are something we can share with them.”
*For a brief outline of the Passover Seder ceremony, read here.
Eggplant Matzo Lasagna
Active prep time: 1 h
Cooking time (includes prep): 2 h
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can marinara sauce (Rusche uses Classico Tomato-Basil Marinara Spaghetti Sauce)
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1 1/4 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil cooking spray
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3 slices American matzo
1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in parsley, basil, oregano, peppers, and marinara sauce. Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, turning the slices over after 15 minutes. Remove from baking sheet, and let cool. Cut the eggplant slices into 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside.
3. Combine ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ricotta cheese; stir well, and set aside.
4. Spread ½ cup marinara mixture in the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 1 ½ slices matzo over tomato mixture, and top matzo with half of ricotta cheese mixture, half of eggplant, and half of tomato mixture. Repeat the layers, ending with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
5. Cover and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Tonight, March 28, the Southern California Conference Personnel Committee meets, and one of the items on their agenda is a consideration of the future of Hollywood Church Senior Pastor Ryan Bell.
Earlier this week, Bell posted on his Facebook account that he would be leaving the Hollywood Church as of April 1, making this week his last Sabbath at the church. His comments gave the impression that he was being forced out of his position, prompting surprise and disappointment among his friends around the country.
Members of the Hollywood Church were also impacted by the announcement. Letters and conversations to and with SCC President Larry Caviness ensued.
When asked for background on the action, SCC Communication Director Betty Cooney said that all the conference could say at this time is that the Personnel Committee is meeting tonight.
Under Bell’s leadership, the Hollywood congregation has attracted a young and diverse membership, thriving in its urban setting. Thus, the pastor, the church and the conference all have a lot riding on this meeting.
Read Bell’s open letter on his blog here.