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From Our Desk: A Widening Gyre and Overton Windows


From Alexander Carpenter, executive editor:

The swirl of news feels like a widening gyre. These days, many Adventist institutions face intense pressures inside and out. As I write this, Alex Aamodt, managing digital editor, is listening to the National Labor Relations Board hearing regarding Loma Linda University Health and its residents' and fellows' unionization effort. And last week, 340-plus nurses at the Adventist Health hospital in Lodi, California, voted to join the California Nurses Association union.

Earlier this month, Weimar Institute settled a major sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former employee. The self-supporting institution has recently lost supporters, administrators, two board members, and the church pastor was removed by the board from leading the religion dept.* This is all under the leadership of Neil Nedley, MD. A patient from his Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program recently died by suicide on campus. Weimar’s health impacts all Adventists because Ted Wilson believes that Weimar is the blueprint for Adventist education. Spectrum reported on it more than a decade ago based on remarks Wilson gave during a luncheon at the 2010 GC Session where he was elected president.

As we reported, John Wesley Taylor V, the new president of Andrews University is a graduate of Weimar. Nedley, who blames coffee for causing gossip, along with the president of the self-supporting Hartland Institute are members of the GC Executive Committee. Taylor spoke at both institutes in the last few months. As the growing whirlpool of harm at Weimar shows, it increasingly appears to be following the blueprint for mismanagement. The case settlement terms are not public, but recently, the Adventist self-supporting Miracle Meadows school settled a myriad of abuse claims for $51.9 million. This cost the denomination due to its close association with the school.

In a video endorsing a NEWSTART Global event on the campus of Weimar, Wilson says it’s time to “blend” denominational and self-supporting organizations. Driven by his desire for ideological bedfellows, Wilson’s blueprint and blend agenda endangers Adventist institutions ethically and legally. Does representation from Weimar and Hartland at the General Conference's highest levels increase denominational liability? Adventist institutions need executives and board members devoted to clear organizational boundaries and a selfless sense of mission. It’s the only way the center will hold in these troubling times.

From Carmen Lau, board chair:

Former ZOEgirl singer Alisa Childers caught my attention in a recent podcast discussing the Asbury Revival when she asked what gospel the students were hearing, and did it include renouncing Critical Race Theory? Her confident linking of this concept to gospel struck me as odd. So, I read her book Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity. I disagree with the book, overall, which is not surprising. I embrace the identity of a progressive. But, also, according to her metrics, Adventists are outside of orthodox Christianity, simply because of the traditional Adventist view of hell and God’s wrath. Who gets to define the boundaries of the concept of Gospel? Who gets to decide the Overton Window for constructs to be included under the term traditional gospel? 

I found the idea of the Overton Window to be useful soon after I assumed the role of Adventist Forum board chair. The Overton Window denotes the fluid frame of what topics are acceptable for journalists to address. The Overton Window is a conceptual framework, a “Spectrum” that changes over time and context.

This week, David Brooks reminded me of it again. In its original use, the Overton Window noted the range of political ideas that are open for discussion. Discussing cancel culture, Brooks highlights two incidents: the fact that newspapers dropped Dilbert on the heels of Scott Adams’s hate group comments and the unfolding saga of free speech and the pandemic, especially since we continue to learn of varied levels of confidence in the China lab leak hypothesis for the COVID-19 pandemic. To evaluate evidence of cancel culture in these two incidents, Brooks uses Nicholas Christakis’s definition, which has three components: mob formation, seeking removal of entity or person (firing), and that the person had been speaking within the Overton Window of culture. Brooks notes that in polarized America, we now have two Overton Windows, one for the left and one for the right. “Speech that is squarely mainstream in Red America is completely out of bounds in Blue America, and vice versa.” In Brooks’s accounting, Scott Adams was not canceled but instead reaped the consequences for words spoken outside the Overton Window frame, and China lab leak ponderings should be allowed to permeate the internet freely as they are in the frame.

The Overton Window, though not rigidly defined, is important and can be applied retroactively as we make sense of happenings. For Adventists, “Was Des Ford canceled?” His in-depth study, for many, was in the Overton Window, so using Christakis’s framework, we would say he was “canceled.” Others would say Ford’s work was outside the norm, or outside the Overton Window for Adventism, so, of course (they said), he must be defrocked.

The Adventist Pilgrimage podcast is currently broadcasting a series to address claims that Adventism is a cult, an assertion coming from a different podcast series. Who frames the Overton Window for what concepts are acceptable for a group to discuss without being designated as a cult?

Life is complicated, when one takes on the role to decide who is in and who is out, or what is orthodox and what is heresy. God help us all and place us on a road of humility.

*Correction: an earlier version misstated the position change.

Image by David Perell (via Twitter). 

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