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!