If you hang around churches long enough, you will hear the term thrown around. It shows up around Nominating Committee time: "Person X isn't interested in doing anything in church. She's really just a cultural Adventist." It happens more often when a controversy is involved: "Those people who want to ordain women/change the worship service/serve coffee in the lobby ought to just move on. They're just cultural Adventists." Maybe you have heard it. Maybe you have said it. Maybe someone has said it about you.
The idea, the accusation, is that your faith is not real, or it is not important to you. If you are a cultural Adventist, you are not here because you love God and the church; you are just in it for the FriChik. You grew up in the church, and you come to see your friends and because it is comfortable and familiar here. And it is kind of nuts when you think about it.
It is nuts because it is used invariably for someone who is progressive, liberal. It is the traditional hashtag slapped on these "other" Adventist homes. The irony, of course, is that these are the people who usually want to change something. They are the ones who do not fit in, the square pegs in the round holes of the church. If someone stays in church, even when it does not suit their personal tastes, how can one accuse them of being there for the culture?
Actually, I am tempted to say it goes the other way. The people who find nothing to challenge or disturb them on Sabbath morning, the ones who speak the language and match the dress code--they are in the greater danger of staying for the culture.
I am tempted, but I have to do better than that. If I cannot do any better than turn the finger to point the other way, I might as well turn in my tofu-and-cheese cookbook and go home. Because the church is not a bone for us to fight over, it is a gift of God, and it belongs to him.
Perhaps it will help to start by admitting that Adventism is both a faith and a culture. We believe certain things in common (and sometimes we assume more things in common than that), and we are used to doing things certain ways. The doing might come from the believing, or it might be habit. Culture is okay, and so is changing it.
I want you to believe that last sentence is more profound that it appears, so I'll write it again. Culture is okay, and so is changing it.*
Habit is not evil, even when I find it annoying. It is okay for my friend to have a hymnal Velcro’d to their hip and a red-book quote for every occasion. As long as I also have the freedom to make a point without a quote to back me up.
Likewise, it is okay for me to put mustard and pepper on my vege-burger. I do not have to resent the person in the potluck line beside me if he has to look away as I do. And when I preach Sabbath morning and an older saint shakes my hand, I will not take it personally when she thanks me for my "little talk." She has a paradigm, and she is trying to conform her experience to it. She is doing it politely. I am guessing she goes through similar reasoning to make allowances for me.
Of course, I think I am right, and she is wrong on this one. I am not saying all opinions are equal. The reason I am a progressive is that I want to make progress. I am saying none of these things are grounds for us to question one another's faith or exclude them from being Adventists. It is lazy and irresponsible to try to solve our problems by disowning the other side of the pew.
We are all believers. Everyone's reason for showing up Sabbath morning is his or her own, and it is really not the point anyway. The point is this: we are all here. If we want to change the culture, we should skip the pointing fingers part and talk to one another.
*Note my clever tact in not using the word "tradition"—since that is a bad word in Adventist culture.
Laura Ochs Wibberding has two degrees in Religion and 18 years of experience married to a pastor. She blogs, writes dramas, and picks up after her kids in Silverlake, Washington. This article originally appeared on her blog, The Other Adventist Home, and is reprinted here with permission.
Image Credit: Laura Ochs Wibberding
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