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Following the American Academy of Religion meetings in Chicago I flew to Toronto & then traveled to Oshawa to present a paper at a symposium organized by Barry Bussey called Should I Fight? Conscientious Objection and the SDA Church.
I am very grateful for the financial assistance from both Helderberg College and the Canadian Union Conference that enabled me to attend the symposium. The Symposium was held at Kingsway College who were very gracious hosts providing us with good food & the use of their chapel.
While the number of attendees was somewhat disappointing–very few local SDA pastors even took advantage of the Symposium–the Symposium was videoed and a DVD is to be produced. I hope that this will enable this symposium–on this very important topic–to have a greater impact than just that weekend.
The Symposium began on Thursday evening with presentations from Barry Bussey and Lincoln Steed (Editor – Liberty Magazine). On Friday, presenters included Ronald Lawson (Queens College - The City University of New York) who reviewed the history of Adventism and Military Service from both a sociological & historical perspective. Ron utilized Church/Sect theory to explain the reasons behind the changing of SDA attitudes toward military service, noting that we began as a sect–in high tension with society–but have moved towards a denomination & as such have sought to minimize tensions with society. Thus the SDA Church’s changing attitudes toward military service are essentially one result arising from this desire for acceptance & “mainstreamization”. Ron pointed out that current estimates of soldiers with a SDA background who serve in the US armed forces (as combatants carrying arms) are around 15,000–a far cry from our pacifist stance during the American Civil war! It was great to finally meet Ron, a fellow Australian, Queenslander, & alumnus of the University of Queensland; I have read his articles and utilized them in my research & teaching.
Ron’s presentation was followed by that of Doug Morgan (Columbia Union College) a historian & founder of the Adventist Peace Fellowship. Doug focused on the early history of the SDA Church, pointing out that contrary to what has been believed in the past, SDAs initially took a pacifist position rather than one of conscientious objection. This is particularly evident during the American Civil War. His evidence included the following quotes: the third GC Session in 1865 stated that the SDA Church would “decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed”; the fifth GC Session in 1867 similarly stated that “the bearing of arms, or engaging in war is a direct violation of the teachings of our savior”; while in 1868 the church noted “that war was never justifiable except under the immediate direction of God”. As Doug pointed out, “Historical accounts since World War II, misconstruing the early Adventist debates over how and when to express their commitment to the government, have tended to obscure the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a peace church. Thus, a distorted understanding of the past has contributed to the relatively easy acceptance of voluntary enlistment for armed military service that has become apparent in American Adventism during the past two decades.”
Doug was followed by Jose Mclaughlin a chaplain for Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries. Jose was a bit like Daniel in the Lion’s Den in that environment and it was great that he attended and presented. It was important that the SDA Church’s position on military chaplaincy be heard, despite the very real objections and questions that many Symposium presenters had regarding the theology and ethics of military chaplaincy. Importantly Jose pointed out that the SDA Church regards military service as an issue of individual conscience & not as a test of fellowship. I do feel however that the church needs to take a very close look at military chaplaincy and ask whether our prophetic voice as Christians is in fact silenced or distorted by our participation in the military. As I pointed out in my own presentation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa pointed out that: “The military chaplaincy gave moral legitimacy to a culture characterised by the perpetration of gross human rights abuses. It served to filter out dissenting voices, to strengthen the resolve to kill and to reassure the doubting soldier that he or she was serving the purposes of God. In spite of professions of a loyalty higher than that of the state, chaplains found themselves lending succour to persons trying to kill ‘enemy’ soldiers who were sometimes members of their own denomination.” One has to ask if–in any context–a Christian should be “strengthen[ing] the resolve to kill” of anyone ever.
Jose McLaughlin, Ron Lawson, & Doug Morgan during question time.
After Lunch Alison Bryan, a graduate student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, spoke on Just War theory. Alison’s best moment came when she pointed out that “Christ said ‘Go make disciples’ not ‘go wage war in my name’”. She was followed by Ronald Osborn’s presentation on “The Christ of the Fifth way: Recovering the Politics of Jesus”. Ron is a graduate student at the University of Southern California and gave an excellent presentation influenced by the thought of John Howard Yoder. Ron pointed out that Jesus’ Palestine was a place of “the rich few and the poor many”, and noting that Christians are called to incarnate the Kingdom of God in all areas–including that of economic justice and peace.
Friday evening’s presentation was taken by Olaf Clausen, pastor of the Lethbridge SDA Church in Canada, who served in the Canadian Navy for 12 years–including time spent as a military recruiter. Olaf’s intensely personal & passionate presentation pointed out the various costs associated with joining the military.
Saturday’s presentations began with Karen R. Scott, who asked the question “Where is Your Citizenship?”, pointing out that Jesus simply said to pray for our enemies, and that this wasn’t metaphorical nor a text to be be ignored or explained away. She also noted, referring to the SDA Church, that “Because we are the remnant, we think that God thinks just like we do.” We joined with the College Park SDA Church for the Divine Service, taken by Barry Bussey who shared his grandfather’s experience in WWII in a sermon titled “The War to End All Wars”. You can download the sermon in .mp3 format here. That the Symposium took took place over this weekend was particularly appropriate as November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada (and other Commonwealth nations). Saturday’s program continued after lunch with presentations by Ginger Hanks Harwood (La Sierra University) whose presentation “Did Christ Give You Permission to Beat Your Ploughshares Into Swords?” definitely had the best title; but was also an excellent survey of changing SDA attitudes toward military service, rich in historical detail.
Ginger Hanks Harwood
The afternoon & evening sessions were taken by Barry Bussey who focused on the experiences of SDA conscientious objectors in Canada. Barry also introduced us to clips of his not-quite finished documentary called “For Conscience Sake”. Barry & producer Douglas Bruce traveled extensively throughout Canada & the US interviewing Canadian SDA Conscientious Objectors from WWII. Watching these interviews was fascinating & I hope that the documentary challenges SDAs all over the world to consider their position on military service. A very short trailer is viewable here. “This is a trailer of the documentary “For Conscience Sake” currently under production. It tells the story of Canadian Adventist conscientious objectors in WWII who refused to take the rifle when conscripted. They worked in the “Alternative Service Camps” throughout Canada and some eventually joined the Canadian military as Medics. This is a story about conviction of religious conscience during a time of national crisis. Expected release is March 2009. Copies of the 60min final production can be preordered by contacting Tina Keys - cost is $25.00 including taxes and shipping.”
Joel Willet is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky and served as a military police officer for nearly four years. His presentation was very personal and as a student of Diplomacy & National Security he raised a number of interesting points concerning the use of force. Joel took a very realist position and asked important questions that must be answered by modern pacifists.
My own presentation titled, “The Spirit of War is the Spirit of Satan” followed Joel’s. “Military conscription in apartheid South Africa was an issue that dominated the lives of generations of white South African young men—including Seventh-day Adventists. From 1952 a system of compulsory military service existed in South Africa, first through a selective service system where men were chosen by ballot, and then from 1967 onwards all medically fit white males were legally required to perform military service for the state upon leaving school. This remained the reality until the last intake for compulsory military service in South Africa took place in July 1992. As early as 1924, Seventh-day Adventists could be exempted from peace-time service in the South African Defence Rifle Association, and in wartime would be exempted from service in a combat capacity. This exemption was reiterated in 1979, when Seventh-day Adventist conscripts were granted particular privileges including being excused from handling a weapon, and were where possible, excused from Sabbath duty. The issue of Seventh-day Adventists and military service in South Africa becomes more complex—as does the issue of military service generally in South Africa—during the 1980s when the South African Defence Force (SADF) was deployed in cross-border conflicts in Angola and South-west Africa (now Namibia); and in the Black township areas to quell Black anti-Apartheid resistance. My paper examined the South African Seventh-day Adventist Church’s attitude towards military service within the context of Apartheid; and will discussed the ethical implications of the Church’s stance of non-combatancy within such a political context.” My paper is available in .pdf format here. Comments are welcome. The paper is a work in progress and a number of significant issues must still be dealt with. I would also like to one day conduct interviews with South African SDAs who were impacted by compulsory military service under the Apartheid Government.
The final presentations were taken by Keith Phillips and Karl Tsatalbasidis, co-authors of a new book I Pledge Allegiance: The Role of Seventh-day Adventists in the Military. [Forward by Samuel Koranteng-Pipim]
The book is available from a number of sites including here, here, and here. The book is well-written and accessible. Their presentation dealt with a number of important issues including popular misconceptions about the correct translation of the 6th commandment. Karl noted that: Regarding the 6th Commandment. The Hebrew word rasah is the word that is found in the 10 Commandments yet the decalogue does not provide the context to suggest if the word should be translates as murder or kill. This means that the best way to find out the meaning of the word is to investigate its usage in the Bible. It’s mentioned 47 times in the OT. This verb rāsah is used a total of 11 times to identify definitively the intentional slaying of another human being, i.e., “murder,” in the following passages: Numbers 35:16 [2 times], 17 [2 times], 18 [2 times], 19, 21 [2 times], 30, and 31. In contradistinction to the above, rāsah is used 19 times in these “city-of-refuge” passages to indicate the accidental taking of human life, i.e., “manslaughter,” or “killing,” in the following texts: Numbers 35:6, 11, 25, 26, 27, 28; Deuteronomy 4:42 [2 times]; 19:3, 4, 6; Joshua 20:3, 5, 6; 21:13, 21, 27, 32, and 38. In three additional passages (Numbers 35:12, 27, and 30 ), the context indicates that the broader term “kill” would be more appropriate, since rāsah here cannot be limited to “murder.” Thus, in 22 of its 33 appearances in the “city-of-refuge” passages, rāsah needs to be translated as “kill” rather than as “murder.”
The Symposium was a wonderful experience and as the book & DVDs are released I hope that it has an impact on the world-wide SDA Church. As a final observation, it was interesting to me to note that the topic of military service was one that drew SDAs from all spectrums together–”conservatives” & “liberals” both.
As a pacifist, one of course must wrestle with the question of our response to evil–popularized in the question: What about Hitler? I would like to take a moment to draw your attention to an excellent book by Robert W. Brimlow on this question, titled appropriately enough, What About Hitler? Wrestling With Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World (Brazos Press, 2006).
Brimlow comes to the following conclusion which I find both personally challenging and completely christological:
“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it. There is nothing else–or rather, anything else is only a footnote to this. We are called to live the kingdom as he proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may. We are, in his words, flowers flourishing and growing wild today, and tomorrow destined for the furnace. We are God’s people, living by faith.” (p151.)
Finally I would like to note how great it was to dialogue and discuss with others these critical issues. I was blessed in doing so.
The presenters. Absent are Jose McLaughlin & Lincoln Steed.
This post originally appeared on Hobbes' Place.
I just recently ran across Joseph Johnson's Megachurch portfolio, with the music of recording artist Former Selv. I spent several summers colporteuring among California and Nevada's Mega Church-attending evangelicals.
I remember one summer spent in Orange County and Riverside in which Rick Warren's Saddleback and Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade loomed large in our experience. We actually took our students to Angel's Stadium for the Harvest meeting. While wandering in and out of Seeds conferences at Andrews University (and also attending Willow Creek with seminarians) I noticed both attraction and repulsion among Adventists towards the Mega Church phenomena. It seemed to me that some of the recent "congregationalism" was a result of visionary pastors feeling hampered by some of our beliefs and denominational control while watching evangelical entrepreneurial pastors built very successful (mega) ministries. But on the other hand, the rise of video screens (and small groups) are traces of megachurch-dom that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has appropriated.
The Exposure Project writes, "Joe Johnson's series Mega Churches investigates the architectural ornateness of the contemporary, American place of worship. As the title clarifies, however, the churches captured by Johnson are more specifically the extravagant, stadium-sized Megachurches that have quickly sprung up all over the country. According to statistics, there are over 1,300 such churches in the United States, each with a congregation of 2,000 or more. Some megachurches possess congregations that soar as high as 45,000.
What is interesting about Johnson's Mega Churches project is that he has omitted showing us any people whatsoever. Instead, what he gives us are small architectural details and images that capture these places in a state of limbo, or preparation. In essence, what they show is the conscious orchestration and gaudy presentation of a structure that throughout history has been modest in nature. Churches, until relatively recently, never looked like venues that you could imagine seeing a large-scale rock concert in. The immodesty of megachurches has become increasingly apparent, however, Joe Johnson has captured this superfluousness in quite the opposite way--with quiet, contemplative and thought-provoking photographs."
I actually have to disagree with the above statement about churches being, until recently, relatively modest. Sure, most have been, but Gothic cathedrals functioned in many ways like Mega Churches, creating multi-sensory experiences in larger-than-life spaces. While the pictures didn't move (although the light did) the paintings, stained-glass and sculptures, vaulting and rooms worked in similar ways. In fact, earlier in December while on the Upper West Side I wandered through St. John the Divine's Gothic Revival nave while workers were setting up a stage for a rock concert.
The Spokesman-Review reports:
A large fire engulfed most of a church’s regional headquarters Sunday just west of Spokane, displacing the administrative offices for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Upper Columbia Conference and destroying a Christian bookstore and retail shop.
Witnesses said the early-morning blaze exploded in size shortly after firefighters arrived about 5:10 a.m. Flames consumed the east portion of the building and spread through walls and the ceiling into the center entryway, destroying meeting space and a youth department headquarters in the downstairs.
The building, located at 3715 S. Grove Road and visible from Interstate 90, served as an office for 30 Seventh-day Adventist schools and 117 churches and other operations in the area, including Camp MiVoden at Hayden Lake; it did not contain worship space. The Upper Columbia Conference has about 25,000 members in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and northeastern Oregon.
The building is insured, and Max Torkelsen, president of the Upper Columbia Conference, hopes to rebuild on the same site.
“It fits this location,” he said. “I’ve always liked the building because I thought it looked like it fit in the Northwest.”
The building’s location – a quarter-mile down a small road on a forested lot – coupled with slushy, snowy conditions, hampered fire crews, said Cheney Fire Chief Mike Winters.
One fire hydrant about 3,000 feet from the building fed the fire trucks, Winters said. It took more than five hours to contain the blaze, he said, and flames were still visible about 2 p.m.
Winters didn’t know what caused the fire and said investigation likely wouldn’t begin until Monday.
About 55 firefighters from Cheney, Airway Heights, Spokane, and several Spokane County districts fought the fire. It was the biggest blaze inside the jurisdiction – Spokane County Fire District 10 – in “quite a long time,” Winters said.
The blaze began in the east end of the building in the attic of the ABC Christian Bookstore and retail shop, and spread to the center part of the building, which included the entry way and office space. Firefighters contained the fire there, saving the administrative offices.
Employees saved major items like computer servers and financial and student records from the western portion of the building.
The server for the Web site bibleinfo.com was saved, and the Christian radio and TV station housed in the building was located in the preserved portion; it will temporarily operate out of a Seventh-day Adventist church on the South Hill, said Jay Wintermeyer, the church’s regional spokesman.
The fire destroyed about two-thirds of the 40,000 square-foot building and Torkelsen said he didn’t expect to use any portion of the remaining building for some time. Officials might look at using space at churches in the area or renting office space, he said.
“It’s a little early to make long-term commitments,” Torkelsen said.
The building’s fire and security alarm sounded shortly after 5 a.m., which alerted fire crews and the church’s regional human resources director.
The manager of the bookstore, which also sells CDs, DVDs and health food, learned of the fire about 5:15 a.m. when his wife, Sandy Schreven, a fire district lieutenant, was paged to respond to the blaze.
“It’s going to be O.K.,” said Herman Schreven. “I was lot more sick this morning.”
Built in 1977, the building was designed by a Sandpoint architect. Seventh-day Adventist Carl Campbell, a Wenatchee businessman, funded the property purchase and building construction.
A plaque commemorating Campbell was located in the building’s entryway, Torkelsen said.
A new year is a comin' for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
For the North American Division, 2009 is the year of evangelism and, of course, growth will be a focus around the globe as the world church gears up for the General Conference session next year. That meeting will also elect a new president.
What do you think should be a priority for the Adventist community and those who have the privileged of leading us in 2009?
Share your resolutions for Adventism below.
On Christmas Eve, a fire burned down the Cherry Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The blaze which started around midnight harmed no one. In the video below, Pastor T. Duwayne Privette speaks to the local news about the devastation. According to the Baltimore Sun, Privette, 36, who has been a pastor at the church since 2003, said it was founded more than 30 years ago by members who started meeting in a small house. In 1988, the house was razed and members built a one-story church on the same property.
The church has grown to about 170 members and offers Bible study, an afternoon youth program, a food pantry and pastoral services in the community, he said.
Ruth Flowers, 76, and her husband, who died in March, were among the original founding members of the church.
Flowers, the church's community services director, went to see the charred ruins yesterday morning. She left in shock.
Some parts of the church - such as the doors in the front foyer that still had green Christmas wreaths hanging on them - seemed almost untouched. But other parts, including a large portion of an exterior wall, were destroyed.
. . .
"It was just unbelievable," Flowers said. "When you have really witnessed something grow up, and then see the destruction, it's just unbelievable."
Among the important things the fire damaged were the church's food pantry, used to help feed the homeless, and its membership records, she said. Flowers also lost her own laptop computer, which she had left at the church.
"Everybody is just like in total shock," she said.
According to city fire officials, firefighters were called to the church at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday and found the building fully engulfed in flames. Firefighters did not enter the building because of the danger, including the buckling of one of the exterior walls. No one was inside the building, and no injuries were reported.
Here's a news roundup of many ways that Adventists are making the news this Christmas in their local communities.
One of the highlights of evening was the singing of “O Holy Night” by Susan Hamilton of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Pastor David Soden of Richmond Avenue Baptist Church. The crowd reacted with a thundering applause.
Nunez said that the food bank and other charitable efforts support more than 300 people a month.
As well as food, the organization provides blankets and clothing, and for people who have found a residence, St. Vincent de Paul provides dishes, cookware and other household necessities.
"We do provide some furnishings, but just not to everyone," Nunez said. "They have to demonstrate that they are working to get off the street."
Two other organizations that provide support for the homeless and needy, based upon donations, are the Seventh-Day Adventist Church through its Dorca program, and the Salvation Army.
PAW PAW, W.Va. — Rose Estep doesn’t let anyone inside her trailer.
For almost a decade she’s lived there alone, kept to herself inside the rotting, 50-year-old structure she bought for $500 from a woman who wanted a hundred more.
Dusty and sagging, it sits near the top of a mountain at the end of Cloud High Lane, a narrow dirt road that twists and climbs toward the heavens.
The winter wind blows hard up there, whips across the trees and settles into the bones.
For a couple of years, Estep lived without heat or electricity, huddling under piles of blankets, “camping out” in rooms that hadn’t been damaged by flooding.
She wouldn’t let anyone see her home — not friends or family or co-workers. It would simply cause distress. And even without running water or an indoor bathroom, Estep got along OK.
Then one day last spring a new friend from church wouldn’t back down.
Gary Kasekamp drove up the mountain to bring Estep groceries after getting to know her in Bible study and learning she wasn’t well-off. Outside her door, he pleaded for the better part of an hour to let him look inside. Estep finally relented. Kasekamp was stunned.
An elder at Cumberland’s Seventh-day Adventist Church, he saw conditions as poor as some he’d observed in Third World countries, where he’d taken at least a dozen mission trips.
“When I walked into that place,” Kasekamp said one day last week, his voice trailing off. “It was in pretty rough shape.”
He took his concerns to the church board, then, with the members’ blessing, started organizing a project to give Estep a present, hopefully in time for Christmas.
Volunteers from four local Seventh-day Adventist congregations would build her a house.
They christened it “The Rose Project” and started raising funds.
In September they painted signs with a single red rose to show the way up the mountain, past the ruts and turns, to get to Estep’s place. Volunteers agreed to meet once a week — on Sundays — to work on the house.
Unlike most Christian denominations, Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath on Saturday, as described in the Old Testament.
The first Rose Project work day was Sept. 21, when two dozen volunteers cleared the site. They came from Cumberland, Frostburg, Oakland and Romney, where the Adventists have congregations, each with fewer than 100 members.
Known as a conservative Christian denomination, the church has about 15 million members around the world and participates in a “global mission” to spread the gospel of Christ. It has projects in more than 200 countries, the church’s Web site says. Kasekamp has been to Honduras and the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico.
“We go to all these places and do stuff,” said Kasekamp, a woodworker who lives just outside Oldtown. “There’s people right here that need help. It’s just finding these people and figuring out who really needs the help and wants the help. It’s hard.”
Over 12 successive Sundays, with intermittent work by a handful of workers, Rose Project volunteers poured footers, laid sewage pipe and water lines, raised the walls and shingled the roof.
By Nov. 16, they were installing doors and windows. By Dec. 14, the electrical work was done.
Almost everything was donated — insulation, shingles, concrete and lumber from a company that has no ties to the church.
“I just called them and asked them,” Kasekamp said.
One church volunteer is paying for all the kitchen cabinets. Another man from Oakland did all the electrical work for free. Another dropped off a never-used propane heater he’d bought for his own family.
Just three days before Christmas, they’d spent only about $6,800 of the $16,000 raised.
Estep, 45, is dumbfounded by the generosity.
Raised a Baptist in West Virginia, she said she strayed from the church after a difficult childhood. After graduating from a Maryland high school, she began working minimum-wage jobs, sometimes two or three at a time to make ends meet, she said.
In 2002, she quit her last job as a sewing machine operator because of lupus and other related disabilities, she said.
“I figured sitting down I could probably do something,” she said. “And it was right close to my home. But my knee gave out, then my hands gave out. And my emotions gave out, cause I was really at the end of my rope.”
Never married, she has no children and lives on the Social Security check she gets once a month.
About a year ago she began writing letters to a pen pal with a member of a Seventh-day Adventist Bible study. By spring, she had found her way to Kasekamp and the Cumberland church.
When Kasekamp knocked on her trailer door that day, she didn’t want to let him in.
“I don’t like trailers, but that one was the right price at the right time,” said Estep, who had bought about 14 acres near the top of the mountain in 1987. “You do what you do. I mean, it’s better than being homeless, out in the elements and all. It was protection against the winter.”
Estep’s new house will be simple — four rooms, about 700 square feet. Church members plan to round up donated furniture and other items so she can set up housekeeping.
Last week, Estep watched, clear-eyed and ruddy-cheeked, while workers installed insulation. From the bedroom window, she can see the mountains of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“I love to watch the snow come down,” Estep said, shifting from foot to foot to keep circulation flowing in the 20-degree cold. “And thunderstorms in the spring.”
The house won’t be ready by Christmas, but Estep should be moved in shortly after the new year, church members hope.
Once she’s settled, Estep plans to have an open house to thank everyone. She plans to hang a plaque over the door.
“The House That Love Built,” it will say. “Because God is Love.”
And finally, a blog poem from a retired Loma Linda Dentistry Professor:
Once upon a Tuesday dreary
As I pondered thoughtless and weary
That, I'd written days before
Mindless drivel designed to bore
There came a tapping at my door
Irritating tapping at my chamber door
Opening, I thot to find a Raven
Rather than Raven there was a man
Garbed in brown with a matching van
Packages wrapped and taped in hand
Grinning as though this was something grand
But better I knew
And had not to guess
Santa had sent him
To the wrong address.
Merry Christmas to all sufficiently dour
With faces twisted to grimaces sour
As nearer comes the expectant hour
When relatives appear with gifts to shower
Who clean the table and ice box too
And ride clear of the mess hailing
"Merry Christmas," to you!