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What do you claim as your identity? Where do you get your identity from? Is your first inclination to tell people you are a Seventh-day Adventist, or do you avoid that distinction? What do you really believe and how do you live out your belief? How do you maintain your beliefs while entering into communal conversations with those who think differently? These were the question asked at the 2013 Adventist Forum Conference.
Most of the opinions expressed were by members of an older generation, but as a college student, I have a somewhat different perspective on the idea of not being liberal or conservative in the church. I’m part of a generation that is caught between wanting structure to live by, and living as God wants me to. I want to love others for who they are, not what they do. But without some sort of guidelines, I have no idea how to do that. I need to be respectful of others' beliefs, but I want to be true to how I understand God. The conflict between those “extremes” is forming my identity as a modern, single, young adult, Seventh-day Adventist.
My generation is tired of being “religious.” We want to be involved, but are struggling with exactly what that means. We are the future of our church, and we don’t like what our church has done in the past. We want to reform our church, but not completely leave. As we attempt to form our current and future identity we have become tired of a religion that only tells us the answers to the what, who, and why questions. What we don’t hear is the answer to the how questions. How do we love others as Jesus does? How do we carry our cross? How do we reach others? How do we lose our “self” and allow God to recreate us? How do we form our identity in Christ?
Some of the conference presenters talked about the tension between concentrating on doctrines and focusing on the love of God. For me, doctrines form the foundation to our spirituality and if we refuse to understand them and don’t learn to love others as well, we become stagnant and stiff in our beliefs (ie, fundamentalism). On the other hand, if all we do is acknowledge our sin and show gratitude to God for redemption, we can’t give godly love to others. Love and doctrine need not be polar opposites, and in fact I believe that fundamental doctrines explain why the love of God is so powerful and necessary. As a history major writing my senior thesis, I need read up on the history behind the letters, diaries and pamphlets to gain an understanding of the context in which they were written. It seems like the history and doctrines of the church help me understand the proper context in which to love others.
I appreciated the reminder from the presenters that we must get to know others as fellow humans and build a relationship with them first, before we can share our spiritual understanding. We can’t be harsh in our approach however. While we need to stay loyal to our religion, we need to become understanding of others' viewpoints and accept them as a person first and foremost. Only after that can we possibly lead them to our Savior and friend, Jesus.
My conclusion at the end of my time at the conference is that our identity needs to be found in God first. We must give up our wills and desires to Him and allow Him to recreate us as He desires. This allowing of Him to remake us is not easy, and can be downright painful, but we can’t do it on our own. As we allow God to remake us, we all come to the same place, no matter where we come from. We must be willing to have our theology, doctrine, and beliefs changed by Him. He is the leader of our lives and spiritual identity, not the Adventist Church. As we become like Him, we will find our identity in His love.
Erin Bush is a senior history major/religion minor at Southern Adventist University. She enjoys writing and is working on her senior thesis about 19th Century Prostitution and the Civil War.