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.