Battle Creek 2018
I watched the Battle Creek debate on compliance from afar. What I witnessed was a grand exercise in nostalgia. The beards and the period dress made that clear enough. The choice of location was plainly meant to evoke significant time past. Other details made it evident that nostalgia was heavy in the air.
You might object to the play-acting on the grounds of the cost of hire. You might object that the whole scenario was a political maneuver designed to manipulate participants. I really cannot say. But there was something more serious. When religion and nostalgia are mixed the result is likely to be toxic.
Let me say immediately that I believe in the importance of remaining attached to our roots. It concerns me that rising generations of Adventists do, by neglect, consign our pioneering sisters and brothers to the scrap-heap of history. That way lies confusion.
The dangers of nostalgia
Nostalgia literally is a form of homesickness, a wistfulness. It wants a return home. It is sentimental about home. It yearns for a return to a time or state in the past which is remembered very warmly. Anything wrong with that?
Yes, it misleads us. Nostalgia falsifies or misrepresents the past. The idea that there was some golden age in the life of the Adventist Church is manifestly false. The main contender for the label “golden age” is probably the period when Ellen White was alive and at the peak of her powers. But it does not qualify. It is no secret that there was a great deal of infighting in the Adventist Church in this, or any, allegedly “golden age.”
The idealization of a past golden age leads inevitably to comparison with the present, and the present always comes off worst. The flaws of the present remain vivid in our minds while those of the past pale in the memory. Nostalgia falsifies the present.
Just as seriously, the idealization of the past falsifies or misrepresents the future. It distorts the formulations of plans. It fails to get to grips with a fast-changing world. Nostalgia cannot keep up.
Refurbishing the Church
If asked to refurbish a house with a rich history, an architect would try to do two things. She would be obliged to retain the original character of the house. Then she would make it a comfortable and efficient place to occupy today — a contemporary home. It is not so easy, and if she achieves it, people will call it a “sympathetic conversion.”
So…what kind of church do I want to call home? One with a rich past and one which is able to welcome my friends, my children’s friends, and any who wander across my path. The church on show in Battle Creek recently is sadly not fit for that purpose. It had a musty smell. Even a scent of death. Autumn Council 2018 lost sight of the present and the future in a fog of nostalgia.
I want to see Adventist “architects” with an aptitude for “sympathetic conversion.” What I saw in Battle Creek is what architects call “brutalism” — monolithic, unyielding, intimidating.
Pure nostalgia? There is nothing pure about nostalgia. It flatters to deceive. It stifles.
There is only one antidote — the freshness of God. Surprising, bracing not stifling. New every morning.
Michael Pearson is a retired ethicist living in the UK. He and his wife, Helen, run the website Pearsons’ Perspectives.
Photo taken in the Historic Adventist Village, Battle Creek, Michigan. Image Credit: Flickr.com / ANN / Brent Hardinge
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