Very early in 2022 Spectrum received word that its application to have a booth at the North American Division CALLED convention was approved. This year’s NAD pastors’ family convention in Lexington, Kentucky, runs from June 19-22. Several months after Spectrum’s booth approval, a sense of growing NAD agita began to leak out. This initiated several amicable Spectrum-NAD conversations aimed at better understanding.
[In this report I’m going to leave out the names of NAD employees who dialogued and backchanneled throughout this process because ultimately there is one responsible party. Naming some and not others could potentially hurt anyone caught in the middle trying to help both organizations understand each other better.]
After a period of silence from the NAD, less than a month before CALLED, Spectrum received an email from the NAD that stated:
We pray daily over the thousands of pastors that are gathering at the CALLED Convention next month.
This is an essential theological grounding for the sacred calling on pastors and their communities.
The intentional and deliberate decisions that cover their experience from the moment they arrive through to our close on Wednesday, June 23, have weighed heavy on the entire team.
It is with this in mind, that we have had to decline several exhibitors, to provide a healing neutral space for our pastors.
While plenty of orgs were never accepted, Spectrum was the only org to be accepted, but then months later "declined." Despite its lack of specific theological or policy violations, the NAD seemed to not want Spectrum around. But the passive language, plus the patronizing explanation to exclude Spectrum in order to create a “healing neutral space,” initiated a wave of “what are you thinking?” conversations with NAD folks. For awhile, the decision seemed tabled. There was a sense of limbo, and even hope, by some close to the NAD.
After several months of this ambiguity, earlier this week, less than seven days before CALLED, Spectrum received final word from the top:
Regrettably, under the current circumstances, I need to let you know the NAD is reaffirming the decision not to have Spectrum provide an exhibit at the Pastor’s Convention next week [sic].
This very late news about the pastors' family convention was not a surprise to Spectrum. As I communicated with the Spectrum board, I had a brief conversation with Glenward Alexander Bryant, president of the NAD, in a hallway during the GC Session last week. To put it bluntly, unlike every other interaction with NAD folks, this was not a true dialogue. Because it was not recorded I don’t want to rely on my faulty memory and unfairly put sentences in his mouth. But I left that conversation discouraged, not merely at the lack of serious theological or church policy engagement, but at the NAD president's approach.
Doing my reportorial duty I will share my own perspective.
In my conversation with the president I pointed out that the NAD’s exclusion of Spectrum could create a sense of alienation—especially for those Adventist pastors, educators, healthcare workers, and other professionals who value inclusion, process, and openness.
At two points in our conversation at the GC Session, the NAD president seemed confused. I referred to a letter that I presumed had been passed on to him. He couldn't acknowledge receipt. It stated:
The Spectrum community has, for over 50 years, found that working together in mission works best by being present and in conversation. As a media organization we take seriously our role in modeling mentorship and multiplication. Toward that end Spectrum has partnered with the Versacare foundation for many months lifting up and profiling NAD pastors who put Ellen G. White's A Ministry of Healing p. 143 message into action through community engagement. If permitted, Spectrum's booth will lead with that strategic vision for our NAD family.
The second concern with the NAD president was when I pointed out Spectrum would be the only CALLED convention booth that was first accepted and then rejected. The president said that’s not true. I asked for another example. He could not provide one.
The bottom line is that the NAD president doesn't like Spectrum's podcast. I noted we have two: Adventist Voices and Imago Gei. Beyond the audio, starting in January Spectrum posted a weekly video sermon by NAD pastors. Furthermore, in a partnership with the Versacare foundation, Spectrum’s podcast, Adventist Voices, highlighted ministers including Will James, Darriel Hoy, Ronald D. Williams Jr., and David Jamieson. Each of these conversations focused specifically on the NAD strategic plan for community engagement. Earlier Spectrum pastor and leader interviews included a series called “Ministering Under Quarantine” in which I talked with Michael Gibson, Jonny Moor, Nicholas Zork, Keisha McKenzie, and Peter Flores. A search through the remaining exhibitors reveals almost none that have provided this specific focus on NAD pastors or the NAD's explicit strategic mission. In fact, some of the remaining booths are organizations led by anti-vax proponents with dubious partnerships undermining NAD policy and others who are merely using their CALLED convention booth space as an opportunity to sell their ideas about prophetic speculations.
Someone unfamiliar with the history of Spectrum might read this and feel a moment of schadenfreude. But others might see through this political calculation. It's a knee-jerk act of phobia. What drives this is the kind of fear that hyper-focuses a person on the one percent of difference rather than the 99% of community agreement. This fear-based executive myopia might seem aligned with an important principle today, but it’s the sort of fearful, frozen thinking that makes for bad decisions everywhere—from selecting vice presidents, to crisis mismanagement, to not hiring a communication director after almost a year.
The fundamental reason why Spectrum was in limbo and then rejected after being accepted is that we’re half way through a year-long partnership with SDA Kinship to co-produce the Imago Gei podcast with Kendra Arsenault. As previously reported, shortly before completing her MDiv at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Kendra came out as bisexual on her widely praised Advent Next podcast. That resulted in the NAD firing her from that contract media job.
More than one NAD person told me that it was not just the focus on human sexuality that contributed to the NAD’s decision to boot Spectrum—it was also Kendra. For the record, she’s great to work with and very devoted to the Adventist Church and her current hospital-based work. I also heard from more than one NAD person that, seeing her talents, they themselves had hoped to hire her, until her identity made that seemingly impossible. I asked Kendra what it’s like being “canceled” twice by the NAD. With a laugh she replied,
First, it’s an honor. It means someone out there is scared I have a voice and am speaking freely for those who have historically been silenced.
Secondly, I’m not even sure you can call it being “canceled” at this point. Cancel culture is a tool for the disempowered. It is an avenue for the populous to use their personal platforms to hold people in power accountable for their abuses. However, when people who hold power in the Adventist church try to ostracize, punish, and intimidate LGBTQ people, it is just plain old unoriginal abuse.
Facing this before, Spectrum has been valued among Adventists for half a century. Reflecting back on Adventist history, I grabbed an issue [13.1] from the Spectrum office shelves. It came out in 1982 and included an article by Ray Cottrell, titled "The Case for an Independent North American Division." Forty years later, I'm proud to be connected to these Adventist leaders willing to ask serious questions in order to better the church. As they knew, the secret is that the attacks don’t hurt us, it hurts the attacker. It’s what Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. knew. The force used to exclude ultimately results in a more powerful moral reaction. Not having a booth doesn’t hurt Spectrum. Instead it reveals something about the tilt of the current NAD. I hope my own "amens" when president Bryant preached about equity at the recent Pacific Union constituency meeting were not in vain.
A generation ago Neal Wilson denied Spectrum a booth at the General Conference Session. (We've mostly had a booth presence in denominational events until now.) That anecdote appears in the great new book, Ostriches and Canaries: Coping with Change in Adventism, 1966-1979, in which historian and former administrator Gil Valentine documents through incredible access to administrator diaries and letters how major decisions got made. From firing brilliant professors to papering over issues around Ellen White, church leaders chose instead to marginalize Adventists who tried to be open and honest about their questions. But marginalizing the messengers working inside the denomination only leads to faith-damaging explosions. It’s the rare administrator who listens to constructive critique in order to better the org.
A few months ago, during this saga, I sat down for a Zoom session with some NAD leaders who, as I learned later, were not actually the decision makers. They shared their common misperception that the podcast content about homosexuality on the Spectrum website marked a new direction. In preparation I had pulled several issues of the SPECTRUM journal from the 1980s showing our long engagement on this issue. For example, in 1982, the cover of the journal (12.3) stated, "Adventists Face Homosexuality” and the interior included a classic Roy Branson three article cluster on the topic including one titled, “Growing Up Gay Adventist.” It starts, “In August 1980, six delegates accredited by the General Conference, including three seminary professors and two pastors, attended a camp meeting at Payson, Arizona, sponsored by SDA Kinship, an organization serving and representing homosexual Adventists. At one meeting the delegates asked Kinship members to tell their personal stories (38).” That’s basically what Kendra's podcast does. Four decades later, Spectrum continues to partner with many organizations to tell their part of the Adventist story.
Until something changes, all the NAD rhetoric about following Christ’s method and engaging various communities will ring mostly hollow. As Kendra points out, short term leadership myopic reactions to social justice hurt those on the margins. This Spectrum booth acceptance and then rejection act by the NAD might not create a "healing neutral space" for many pastors, educators, moms, dads, and grandparents who want to engage complex issues. By their exclusionary act they've signaled that if you reach out to the church in good faith you might be kicked out. But Spectrum hopes to rebuild. Toward equity, openness, and history, we march forward. Toward that end—ever hopeful for conversations that create community—Spectrum presses on and shows up. At CALLED, representatives of Spectrum are registered and will be helping our friends: Adventist Peace Fellowship, TEAM (Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry), and SDA Kinship. Missional on the margins, we’ll be celebrating our shared belief that Jesus called all in.
Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum
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