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“I’ll just stay here,” said one participant in the roundtable conversation hosted by Pastor Mike Fulbright.
This particular participant had enjoyed the prior conversation, “Urban, Adventist, and Incarnational” so much, and as seats swiftly filled at other tables, she elected to stay and engage the topic once more.
But, on the whole, there appeared to be very little “staying in one place” among the nine tables where lively discussions transpired. After a full day of listening to dynamic speakers such as Brian McLaren, William Johnsson, and Samir Selmanović, the roundtables afforded a more intimate forum for conference participants, and a chance for everyone to say something. Each simultaneous discussion lasted 20 minutes, then (like speed-dating), everyone was supposed to move on to another table, giving people the opportunity to participate in three of the nine possible discussions.
At Fulbright’s table, enthusiasm ran high for discussion of the church as more than just a weekend “event.” Fulbright shared his struggles to expand ministries for his urban church whose congregation is predominantly suburban. Participants grappled with their own notions of church as active body versus a worship service, offering experiences/experiments of their own church’s ministries.
At another table, David Barrett, an Adventist graduate student, facilitated a discussion on postmodernism, stemming from his graduate studies. Barrett shared that he was reading Nietszche for a class on postmodernism, and his simultaneous studies of the writings of the apostle Paul revealed surprising similarities in the dialectic each offered. Barrett invited participants to consider the uniqueness of Adventism in its belief against platonic dualism. That is, our bodies and souls are not disparate; the incarnation of God exists within each body. When our bodies die, we do not believe our soul floats around independent of the body. “You have completely changed my view of postmodernism,” said one participant.
Another watershed discussion for many it seemed was the commingling of Adventism and Islam at a roundtable “Adventist Muslim Interfaith Dialogue.” Facilitators included Ira Farley and Amin Issa, an entrepreneur and a member of the Islamic Society of Chattanooga. Among other hot button issues, Issa shed light on sharia law, particularly the way it is enacted/followed for Muslims in the U.S..
A final call was made to each table for some “fieldnotes,” with key learnings from each table shared with the whole group, including insights from the discussion facilitated by Lisa Clark Diller on whether or not the Adventist church is a “peace church,” from Amy Leigh Poppinga’s discussion of interfaith relations as shaped by cultural identity, and a discussion led by Terry Rice centered around “safe dialogue” with gay-oriented Adventists in the church.
Kendra Stanton Lee is an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University's School of Journalism and Communication, and a freelance writer.