Outside the Alamo 2: NAD Leaves the Nest

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Published:
July 6, 2015

Dreams change. As Stephen Colbert quipped in his commencement address at Northwestern University, “If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.”

Maybe you’ve heard. The North American Division (NAD), after 152 years and countless texts saying is moving out of the General Conference (GC) building in the land from which silver springs.

Rumors were rife that hostilities between GC administration and NAD had reached the point that any object placed between them would instantly burst into flames. Adventist Risk Management was placed on speed dial. Secretaries armed with Choplets stood as sentries. Then an intervention team—Hostbusters—was called in.

“Yeah, you should move out,” they told the NADsters after studying the situation. “Naturally you still love each other. You basically supported Grandma Conference for decades. But let’s get real: You need your own identity and parking spaces. Look,” they pointed around the planet, “all your sibs quit the nest ages ago and are doing fine. So pack your stuff. And don’t forget your heritage, yo!”

Something like that.

* *

Of course, moving brings new challenges. Actually, under the direction of NAD Treasurer Tom Evans, the division compared moving expenses and cost recovery if their headquarters moved to Atlanta, Dallas, or Denver. Staying in the D.C. area ultimately was deemed by a consulting firm to be the most prudent financial choice. Non-financial considerations included access to qualified individuals, airports and other means of transportation, and churches and schools for employees and their families.

NAD President Dan Jackson also has referenced a different non-financial concern. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America has a need to have its own unique message and strategies that are relevant and work in our territory,” he said. “While the Seventh-day Adventist movement began in North America, we are among the youngest divisions in the church, and it’s time that we grow up and leave our parent’s house.”

How does the GC feel about the move? “This should never be treated as an initiative to get them out of the building. Quite the opposite,” Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, told Annual Council delegates this past October. At the same meeting, GC Treasurer Robert Lemon stated that while the GC would welcome the NAD’s remaining in the building, the GC fully supports the NAD decision to relocate and establish its own identity.

Oh, one more thing. The GC promised to provide $3 million to assist with the transition.

(Taken from North American Division Newspoints bulletin for 11-3-14)

* *

Here in San Antonio, the NAD move seems nearly forgotten. After all, this is the United States of Amnesia, with the attention span of a tweet. Still, the moving drama of the past few months is noteworthy—possibly worthy of a soap opera script.

DANIELLE: I don’t want to leave you. Do you want me to leave?

ROBERT: Of course not, Dearest. But here’s $3 million if you happen to choose that path. Don’t let the door hit you on the behind on the way out.

In all fairness, I think the GC offer is a magnanimous gesture, even if it sends a mixed message. The resulting confusion reminds me of jokes I’ve heard, classic misdirections termed zeugmas.

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read” (Groucho Marx).

A man walks into a bar. “Ouch!” he says, rubbing his head.

A man phoned an airline and asked, “How long does it take to fly from Montreal to Vancouver?”

“Just a minute,” the clerk replied.

“Thank you,” said the man, and hung up.

You get the idea.

The direction that matters most in this imminent move is not merely literal. Pertinent and impertinent questions abound:

How will the NAD create its own identity?

What will the new identity look like?

How different will it appear from its former identity?

Will I feel more a part of my church?

Those answers are forthcoming. But they will take more than a minute to text. #ReadyToLaunch

* *

Overheard:

“An open mic in a room full of preachers is like an open bar at an AA meeting.”

* *

Go NAD!

Okay, yes, I’ve wanted to write that since last century but lacked the opportunity, or maybe the cajo—courage—to do so. Perhaps I wasn’t alone in that sense. But that was then, this is now.

I asked some NAD cognoscenti what they thought of the move. What are the benefits and drawbacks? Why is this happening?

Raewyn Hankins, a young adult lead pastor in Victorville, California, stated, “It’s important that the NAD and GC have separate spheres of influence with healthy boundaries. If those boundaries are violated, then neither will take responsibility for its area.” She concluded, “If moving out of the house is necessary to be treated like an adult, then so be it.”

Charles Sandefur, former president of ADRA International and General Field Secretary, who lives “1800 yards as the crow flies” from the GC building, shared another take. “The present logistical problems may be overblown,” he said. “I don’t think local church people are saying, ‘Oh, my word! The NAD and the GC are in the same building! How can they possibly do ministry?’”

Reflecting the probable majority view on the issue, Alisa Williams, Annual Giving Coordinator in the Office of Development at Andrews University, responded, “I didn’t know they were moving. When did that happen?”

Finally, Seth Pierce, a young adult lead pastor in Puyallup, Washington, observed, “When the entities have to share the same facility, two conclusions can be reached about the NAD: 1) They’re “special” with an elevated status, or 2) They’re rebellious and unpredictable, and need to be babysat. We can claim the move is to cut costs but those are the perceptions.”

Seth continued with an idea of what could be done with the extra room left after the move: an Adventist theme park. It could feature a roller coaster called The Great Disappointment that climbs 200 feet and stops. The riders then have to get out and descend stairs all the way down as a disembodied voice from a wall speaker remarks, “Are you disappointed? That’s how the early pioneers felt . . .”

* *

In his Sabbath sermon on July 4, N.T. Ng (President Wilson said Ng is pronounced “thing” without the beginning) observed that in the U.S.A. we enjoy freedom of religion, an undoubtedly glorious gift. He then led the audience of more than 30,000 believers through a rapid-fire Bible study of portions of Daniel and Revelation 10.

Though recognizing time is limited, I yearned for him to go further and make contemporary applications. For example, there’s the ending of Revelation 13 describing the beast of the earth, which Adventists traditionally view as the U.S.A. (Canada, our NAD partner, gets a free pass.) What I find exceedingly odd is the nearer we get to “the end of time” the less we hear about the U.S.A. role in prophecy. I haven’t heard a sermon addressing it in decades. (“U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”)

No mention that the beast of the earth uses coercion and deception—hand and head—to foment havoc. Or that two chapters earlier God destroys “the destroyers of the earth” (11:18). It’s also noteworthy that John writes at the end of Revelation 13, just before mentioning 666, “This calls for wisdom.” He must have seen the mudslide of numerical nonsense approaching.

Anyway, with respect to traditional evangelism these days, apparently patriotism trumps prophecy. The last thing we want to talk about is devilish mayhem caused by a country’s unjust violence, imprisonment, economic oppression, wars, torture, and deception to an epidemic degree, eh?

* *

In the science fiction action comedy film Men in Black, Will Smith’s character James Edwards—soon Agent J—competes with other law enforcement and military standouts for a position at M.I.B. One test involves filling out an exam from an awkward position in a cone chair. A large, heavy metallic table sits nearby. Edwards is the only one who drags the unwieldy table, scraping hideously all the way, to where he can use it. It turns out moving the desk IS the test.

The same may be said of the NAD. The act of moving is itself the test.

* *

San Antonio humidity can be torrid, producing rivulets of instant perspiration, while the constant gale of Alamodome air conditioning is numbingly frigid. After exiting the dome with the doors propped open, about eight feet outside I experienced a sweet spot between the blasts of cold and warm, so I stood there for a bit. Lovely.

When I related the discovery yesterday to my friend Gary Krause, he said, “Ah, you found Laodicea.”

Perhaps he’s right. Though humans flourish with abiding peace, we don’t do well with static comfort. Jesus always seems to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

God loves questions and those who ask them. So Jesus asks us, “Will you move? Will you embrace? Will you grow? Will you listen?” The same tomb for the caterpillar is a womb for the butterfly. Without movement life cannot continue.

Lacking contextualization and loving, consistent application, our words in a bulletin masquerade as church. Our Sabbath Schools serve pre-chewed, pietistic food. Our worships remain as tasteless as the back of a stamp. Our community impact feels as flat as road kill at rush hour. Our conversations appear as bright as a ten-watt bulb. Our message sounds as phony as a fast weight-loss program.

In the end, the only appropriately “perfect” people—those unwilling to risk and change—are dead people.

Fortunately our God is more invested in our purpose than our perfection, more concerned about our direction than our distractions, more interested in our future than our past. To God, the journey IS the destination. That’s why Jesus of Nazareth announces, “I am the way.”

Painted on the outside of a church van in Lincoln, Nebraska, is one of my favorite slogans: “The church has left the building.” If we find the discernment and courage to follow Jesus fully, as the song assures, anywhere with Jesus we can safely go.

Even outside Silver Spring.

* *

Next post: “WO Is We”

Chris Blake is an associate professor of English and communication at Union College and the author of many books and hundreds of articles. He is a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo Credit: Bryant Taylor / NAD

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