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.
Lately I have been fascinated by questions about Christianity that are foundational but that very few ever seem to address in any substantive manner. When these questions do get discussed I generally find that we talk about them in ways that are not helpful to people that have just discovered faith in Jesus, and they reinforce misguided ideas amongst those of us who have been in the faith for a long time. Many Evangelical Protestants (including Adventism) consider themselves people of the book. The cry since the Reformation has been sola scriptura!
When I was about 12 years old I accompanied my mother one evening to midweek prayer meeting—a rarity in our church, since farm people don’t generally come out to evening meetings because of chores—but our pastor was conscientious and determined to try. There were only six of us there, all women, and me. We each received a copy of a newly-released book called Preparation for the Final Crisis, with Pacific Press book editor Fernando Chaij’s name on the cover.
Fast-moving political events have altered the script for President Obama’s nationally televised speech about Syria. He is now in a position of having to argue for both war and diplomacy in the same address. This speech on international Politics becomes this way an additional event in an unpredictable process that has shifted repeatedly over the past two weeks. No one appears in control of anything in an embrangled political situation. But while the U.S.A.
I am often asked why a person born in England to Caribbean parents has such a deep interest in African-American affairs. Those who pose this question demonstrate their ignorance of Black history. Although my immediate ancestors hail from the Caribbean, their presence on this side of the world is due to a complex capitalist endeavor where millions of Africans were ripped from their families and forced to fatten the coffers of their European overlords.
Recently I have been thinking about some of the most basic questions about Christianity that we often gloss over. For example, “What does it mean to be like Jesus?” We talk about this a lot, and rightly so. As disciples of Christ, it is of the most important questions that we should answer. For over 20 years the questioning phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” has been used and overused in Christian circles. But what does it really mean to be like Jesus?
You have heard by now that the committee set up to merge Pacific Press and Review & Herald has decided not to. In the short term this is good news for employees of both organizations. Undoubtedly such a combination would have meant lost jobs, moves, and (the committee must have thought) difficulties that outweighed efficiencies.
I hope it is also good news for the work of God, although I’m unqualified to evaluate that. I know as little as the rest of you about the economics of publishing, although I can make some observations.
The way this title articulates the question on Creation evidences an apparently ungenerous doubt toward Adventism. Adventism has been, in contemporary religious history, the community that may have, more intensively and creatively than others, called back the attention, by theological perspective as much as by religious practice (see for instance the Adventist protological, soteriological, eschatological, anthropological or ethical reflection on the Sabbath), toward Creation as a key point in theological construction.
I wonder how many people believed President Clinton when he looked into the camera and with a steeled face and a semblance of righteous indignation declared to the American people, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Just in case people did not know “which” of his accusers he was referencing, he was clear to specify “Miss Lewinsky.” Or maybe he didn’t really intend to be specific—there are thousands of “Miss Lewinskys” out there who never even knew him. I’m surprised he never used this line of logic when being questioned by the grand jury.