Last Friday Arizona became the first state to pass a bill that will allow for-profit business owners to claim a religious exemption in service to customers and treatment of employees. The bill, which would have allowed business owners to refuse to serve gay people and discriminate between genders in terms of pay, was vetoed by the governor yesterday.
I was interested to learn, a few months ago, that some folks in Silver Spring had discovered how many were "slipping out the back door" of the church. It made me think of those European explorers a few centuries back who came back from sea voyages saying they’d discovered a new land, even though that land was occupied with people who had apparently discovered it long before. We out in the congregations have been experiencing the hemorrhaging for a long time. Especially small congregations.
I recently went through a word study of grace in the Bible. In the NASB, the word grace appears approximately 125 times. A good amount of the time the word is used either in greeting at the beginning of an epistle or at the conclusion of an epistle. It happened so often that it almost made me think that God’s grace might be something that only applied to Christians, a concept that only made sense in discussing what God had done for us.
Should all religious communities be periodically assessed? Should they be only assessed in their practice or also in their founding principles? Are the claimed founding principles of a community always biblical or rather are they already an interpretation of the bible, mixed with some cultural conditioning elements? Are these cultural conditioning elements necessarily negative? Are they absolute? How should intrinsic and extrinsic evaluative perspectives be combined? Are continuous evaluations necessarily heterogeneous?
While Georges Polti presents an argument for as many as thirty-six predictable plots in literature,[i] I tend to agree with Foster-Harris’ trinitarian understanding of a single plot that is characterized by one of three “types” of development.[ii] The first two are self-explanatory: “Type A, happy ending” and “Type B, sad ending.” “Type C” is more complex, with the “ending” occurring at the beginning of the narrative, and the explanation provided as the narrative develops.
We spend a lot of time during the Christmas season talking about things that don’t have much to do with what the holiday commemorates. There is certainly a lot of misguided focus on gift-giving and consumerism. Some Christians and television stations are overly focused on a war on Christmas that is not nearly as extensive as they seem to want it to be. The cliché is that Jesus is the reason for the season – and that is certainly true. If we are going to celebrate the coming of the Savior during this holiday season, then it is important for us to understand who Jesus is.
I needn't tell you that it's difficult for a pastor nowadays to find a place to plant his or her feet on the moral questions of the day. I'm constantly struggling with it. I know what my heart tells me to do, what I think Jesus would do. But then there's this institution to which I've devoted my life, an institution in some ways still firmly rooted in the 19th century, that has its own expectations. Most of those expectations are excellent and praiseworthy. Others are difficult to navigate.
Seventh-day Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson released, last month, a “State of the Church” address in which he updated the denomination on its mission and membership growth and highlighted concerns, including lack of involvement and disunity. The most prominent annual speech of the Adventist Church president has traditionally been delivered as the Sabbath sermon during Annual Council, a nearly week-long meeting of the denomination’s Executive Committee.
How do we speak with integrity about sustainable development amongst a culture that embraces a worldview of disintegration? Let me explain. From a Seventh-day Adventist perspective, the failing world is heading towards destruction, and only the power of the Christ can implement real and lasting change. When the future is viewed through our apocalyptic lenses, it is the perpetrators of global warming who score the final goal.
I am tempted to use this space at this time to talk about some of the interesting things going on this week. On Tuesday the Supreme Court decided to hear cases involving the religious rights of corporations. As a budding church-state scholar this is right in my wheelhouse and a fascinating and complex religio-political issue.
I'm going to claim (for I get to write my own history) that my questions on this topic originated at Sheyenne River Academy when, in order to get more compliance, they suggested that the rules they gave us were not just rules but something more, something holy and right and true. Yet we knew from looking at pictures of Jesus and church pioneers that clean shaves and short haircuts weren't a moral universal. But of course, we were teenagers, and for teenagers being contrary is as natural as having spots on your face.
October 27, 2013, Sunday afternoon, Dr. Sandra Roberts was confirmed as Southeastern California Conference’s (SECC) next president. She becomes the first Adventist woman to assume this responsibility. The history-making vote (567 “yes” to 219 “no” or 72% to 28%) overwhelmingly affirmed the conference nominating committee’s recommendation despite a cautionary message from General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson.
After lauding the accomplishments of John the Baptist, Jesus lambasts his generation by echoing the words of a children’s ditty: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” This is a “something’s wrong with this picture” type of rhyme. It’s a poem that reflects awareness of the effect that music is supposed to have on individuals. It’s a Jazz funeral nightmare: nobody sheds a tear when the orchestra’s dirge-laden, slightly dissonant chords of “Just a Closer Walk with Me” evoke a cloud over the funeral procession.
There is a lot of argumentation in the religious arena. I don’t mean heated shouting matches, although I suppose that happens too. I mean debate-style dialogs where one party states a position and provides support followed by the disagreeing party attempting rebuttal. Then, like innings in a baseball game, the roles reverse until resolution or some arbitrary limit is reached. There is certainly nothing wrong with this process. True religion is not all sermons and prayer meetings. Paul wrote “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5 KJV).
Recently I sat through a sermon about the evils of jewelry. The principle of modesty is well-established in Adventism and for many years this meant that no jewelry should be worn. It is only in my lifetime that even wedding bands have been accepted. I believe in the principle of modesty. However, I do not believe that the Bible specifically calls for believers to abstain from wearing jewelry. I know many conservative Adventists would disagree, as did the speaker that day.
Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church I was taught that Scripture demanded perfect sexual purity before marriage. As I think back on it, the way the subject was framed made it seem almost a virtue to be ignorant about sex, naive and vulnerable. Implied (and sometimes said) was that sexual interest wasn’t compatible with faith. And believe me, we were interested! All of us, even the most pious. Some managed to keep the urge under control, or at least secret.
On September 21, 2013 the Netherlands Adventist Union officers ordained the first woman pastor in Europe, Ms. Guisèle Berkel-Larmonie. The ordination ceremony was conducted by the Union president Wim Altink at the Christus Koning church in the Hague. On November 11, 2012, the Netherlands Union constituency had already voted to approve the ordination of women. The conference executive committee made that decision effective on May 30, 2013 and announced the action publically July 5, 2013.
I’ve been an Adventist most of my life and the years are adding up. In that lengthy exposure to the SDA subculture there are many things I like and many I don’t. One of the least attractive has been those church members who seem to have an excessive need to be right. Whether it is in Sabbath School, hallway conversation or online, some Adventists exhibit a low tolerance for what they see as aberrant viewpoints. Often, in my experience, the pushback occurs toward someone who is expressing some sort of “new” idea.