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Adventism in the Public Square


With the candidacy of Ben Carson creating new media interest in Adventism, the topic of Adventism in the Public Square chosen by the Adventist Society for Religious Scholars for their annual meeting could not have been more timely.  Last week the scholars met in Atlanta, Georgia to present papers, draft statements, worship and in all these things, explore the topic with creativity.  

Nicholas Miller kicked things off with his paper on “Ellen White, Natural Law, Natural Rights and Social Justice” making a distinction between rights and duties. Civil societies may no longer understand transcendent duties, but it is an argument that we must make, he said, as a last witness to the truth and moral nature of God to a society rapidly losing its moral bearing. 

Richard Rice poignantly traced the history of Adventists and the Temperance Movement, and concluded that we should “actively participate in reform movements and activities, cooperate with organizations committed to social improvement, righting wrongs, and both preventing and relieving suffering in the world around us.  And we should not be reluctant to appeal to civil authority and use the power of government to support our efforts in doing so.”  

In a push towards an Adventist theology of culture, Zane Yi suggested an affirmation of the created order that recognizes its brokenness, but underscores its beauty and goodness, 

God’s union with it through Jesus and the Spirit, and elements of it that will endure

into the coming age. He said such a view would lead to a more affirmative view of culture and a more balanced approach to engaging in the public square.

Zack Plantak’s discussion of the betwixt and between period called liminality—where all transformation happens—began with consideration of the exodus and Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, and concluded with a call to start imagining what God desires for us and to what God is leading us. 

The Bible played significantly in the conversation. Leo Ranzolin turned to Paul’s Areopagus speech for a model for the public square. Janis Lowry brought a whole new understanding to Matthew 26 as she talked of 10 bridesmaids with talent and extra olive oil. Charles Scriven considered apocalypse and the the public square. Martin Weber talked of the effect of Adventist isolationism.

Race and ethnicity were also explored, first, in the poetry of Ramona Hyman. Then in a consideration of why Obama is America’s first black president by Keith Burton. Doug Morgan told the stories of three black Adventists, Mary E. Britton, Lewis C. Shaefe, and T.W. Troy to illustrate his points that Adventists may make their most meaningful and effective impact on the public order as a consequence of, not in spite of, faithful focus on the church’s distinctive mission, inspired by its message of transcendent hope. He said, “If truly shaped by the biblical, prophetic heritage, the Adventist commitment to restoration of the whole person, must, with discernment, identify and ally itself with the oppressed in liberation struggles in the wider society that others may be more prominent in leading.”

Erick Mendieta made the case for the church to develop a biblical position on immigration that could guide members and officials as they address the complexities immigration poses in society and the church. He noted that the church is immersed in the issue, not only because the church as part of society is affected by immigration at large, but because in several places around the world, a good number of members are immigrants—legal and illegal. Society members also voted a statement regarding migration as part of their proceedings. (See below)

The ASRS meetings were rounded out by a presentation on the new Adventist Encyclopedia, a panel discussion of Ellen Harmon White, the book intended to put Mrs. White more significantly in the public square, and a moving liturgical worship service featuring a beautiful sermon by William Johnsson (read Charles Scriven’s description of the event here).


Next year, when the Society meets in San Antonio, the topic will be Adventist Dreams.


Statement on the Refugee Crisis

Adventist Society for Religious Studies

November 21, 2015

In light of the present refugee crisis engulfing the globe, we as a body of religion scholars who are committed to the full gospel of Jesus Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt. 25:38); and who take seriously the Word of God in Deut. 23:9 that we must not oppress the strangers “because we were strangers in the land of Egypt” (cf. Lev. 19:34), the Adventist Society of Religious Studies asserts the following:

As sojourners and pilgrims ourselves, we recognize that we are all expatriates who have been called to manifest the principles of God’s eternal kingdom in all of our decisions.

As people with patriotic sympathies, we understand the power of the type of fear that saps human compassion, but we believe that we ought to always practice the perfect love that casts out all fear.

As creatures of national cultures, we acknowledge that we are comfortable with the familiar; however, our commitment to Christ compels us to reject xenophobia, outright racism and competitive religious extremism.

As members of the human family, we accept all men and women as our siblings, regardless of their religious confession or country of origin.

As followers of Christ, we will be the Good Samaritan to the victims of war; we will willingly clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned and receive the refugee. We invite others to do the same.

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.

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