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This past weekend (September 6-8) I had the honor and pleasure of attending the 2013 Adventist Forum Conference at the Sheraton Read House Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As an intellectually inclined college student at Southern Adventist University, I normally would have followed this conference from afar, lacking the funds and possibly the time to go in person. But thanks to a generous anonymous donor, students in the honors program were given the chance to attend this year’s meeting; I was one of them, and what follows are some of my personal thoughts on the event.
I’m reminded of my critical theory textbook’s use of the term feminisms to underscore the wide range of approaches contained within feminist ideology. After this weekend, I feel one could similarly use Adventisms and Christianities to describe each tradition’s multiplicity of perspectives, for the number of possible viewpoints amounts to the number of individuals present, and even beyond. Armed with the nuance of language, the speakers (Brian McLaren, Samir Selmanović, William Johnsson, and Ryan Bell), respondents (Deborah Levine and Amin Issa, among others), discussion leaders, and ordinary attendees like myself all laid out our own thoughts and beliefs on the topic of “strong, benevolent Christianity” — how to respectfully and lovingly engage the religious other without suppressing our identity.
For me, such a conversation was life-infused water for the parched. Not because of the topic, though it was certainly engaging enough, but because of the guiding spirit of dialogue. Since my high school days I have been desperately seeking a safe space for the rich exchange of ideas, a chance to meet others who dare to be thoughtful and humble and dig deep into the issues that shape us. School and church were and are marvelous “faith kitchens,” as I like to call them — cheerfully providing spiritual nourishment for all. But what I look for are the prickling sparks of discussion, and here was a gathering that not only promised discussion, but also explicitly espoused the principles of healthy discourse: listening, asking questions, finding commonalities, respectfully disagreeing, and genuine care and concern for the other.
What a blessed path! It is my fervent hope that all of us who attended the conference, no matter what our individual stances, came away with a reduced fear of religious multiplicity and a certain boldness to engage. Conversation is its own reward, while the lack of it promotes distrust.
Amanda Ruf is a sophomore English major at Southern Adventist University. She enjoys telling, hearing, and critiquing stories, along with playing the piano.