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A few weeks ago I submitted an article, “No Recourse for the Laity," which was inspired by a post-Thanksgiving Dinner conversation with friends. In that same conversation I was asked what I would say to Ted Wilson if I had the chance to meet with him. I have spent considerable time pondering this question. The question really needed to be extended to, “What would I ask him and what would I say to him?” Here are my thoughts.
First, the questions:
1. “What is your vision for the church?” He has provided some snapshot views of his top agenda items: higher accountability, elevation of Ellen White’s writings, repentance, reformation, less outside influence. What I would like to have is a clearer picture of his vision for the denomination, i.e., how local churches would function, not just on Sabbath but throughout the week. I would like to understand better what an “ideal” church member looks like to him and how that member would interact with the church organization and its leadership; what their lifestyle would look like.
2. “What degree of theological variability can one have and still be a good Adventist?” Do all 28 have to be fully subscribed to? Can one drink coffee? Wear a wedding ring? Eat pork? Can one eat out on Sabbath? Does one have to believe in the "Sanctuary Doctrine"? Must they have to have a Trinitarian view of God? Should it be an all or nothing or something else?
3. “What spectrum of theology is acceptable for professors regarding the Trinity, sanctuary doctrine, perfection theology, nature of Christ, prophecy?”
4. “Are there, or should there be different standards for church members / pastors / professors / teachers, and what should those standards be?”
5. “What is your position on women in ministry? How do you view women elders and deacons? How do you view ordination of women?”
6. “How would you know that your call for reformation and repentance has been successful?”
7. “What is your philosophy of transparency in church leadership and, related to that, how much input should the laity have on theology?”
8. “Do you believe there is a problem with church structure and, if so, what changes do you think we need to make?”
9. “Jesus places as high priority serving the marginalized and the least of these. This seems both currently and historically to have been a low priority for the Adventist Church, particularly with respect to individual duty. What role do you see this mandate playing in the church?”
Here is what I would like to say.
I am a sixth or seventh generation Adventist. I walked away when I was 19, not because I didn’t believe in God or even because I had a problem with Adventist theology. The reason I left was that it did not make my life better and I did not see it making anyone else’s life better. The only thing it offered me was a tiny hope that, if I was good enough, if I lived a spartan, sinless life, it was possible that I could have heaven and eternal life. When I looked at the people who were holy (as I understood holiness) and I looked at my own life, I realized that I didn’t stand a chance in the salvation game.
This was confirmed for me when, at age 19, I dropped out of Pacific Union College, where I was unnoticed and unloved, and began going to a state college. When I got there I found, for the first time, professors who were interested in me, who cared about me. I found students who were friendly with a shy geeky awkward kid who was trying to find his way. I discovered that when I quit going to church at age 19 and moved 15 miles from my home church that not a single person ever called me up to invite me back. Not a single person ever came to visit me. I knew it wasn’t because they couldn’t find me, (I received the church news letter every month), but rather that no one cared enough to love me.
I found my way back, but many of those I grew up with did not. I am fearful that, as the president of the General Conference, you are focused on taking us back to the world of Adventism I grew up in. It was a religious system that provided no meaning to many then and would be even less relevant today. It was a time when the standards were everything. There was no room for and no love for those who were struggling, who had questions, who didn’t fit in.
I love this church and I don’t want to see us, once again, drive out the marginalized. I hope for a church that values transparency as much as God values freedom of choice. I hope for a church that loves the least of these more than the best of these. I long for a church that helps people wrestle with difficult questions like how we got here, what a loving God looks like, how to love my gay friends, how to know that God exists, without just telling me I must believe with an implied “or else”. I long for a church that places a priority on doing acts of charity for the marginalized because it is what Jesus does and because, by doing so, we make a compelling evangelistic case for Jesus to those who don’t know him.
Are you, I wonder, so intent on purifying the church that you are calling each of use to be a part of the process of separating the tares from the wheat? I hope and I pray that, under your leadership, under your direction, under your wisdom our churches and our members will fall so in love with Jesus that, as it was with the Apostolic church, we will find that we have only two priorities, spending time with each other in worship and telling others about the love of Jesus. I pray that we will not become a church that is mostly concerned about circling the wagons, about protecting the faith and removing the tares.
These are my thoughts. What are yours?
A lay delegate to the 2010 General Conference Session, Steve Moran works in Silicon Valley. He is the head elder of his church and a member of the Central California Conference Executive Committee.