The 2020 Adventist Forum Conference on “identities: within and beyond the borders of Adventism” is happening February 21–23 at AdventHealth University in Orlando, Florida. In this interview series, we’re talking with the speakers about who they are, why identity is important, and getting a sneak peek into what they’ll be presenting at the conference.
Question: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you’ll be speaking about at the Adventist Forum Conference in February.
Answer: I’m a life-long Seventh-day Adventist, someone who has grown up in the church and seen all it has to offer, as well as the issues with which it struggles. I’m currently an Associate Professor of English at Andrews University, where my teaching and research focus on issues of identity, gender, race, and representation in literature. I’ll be addressing those interests by speaking about perspective, identity, and intersectionality at the conference.
How do the various identities that make up who you are intersect with each other? Do these identities ever create tension, and if so how?
I am a woman, a believer, a Cuban-American, a mother, a wife, a friend, a teacher, an Adventist, a middle-class American. All of those features affect who I am. Some are roles, some are categorizations; some I control; with some, I had no choice in the matter. And tensions certainly exist. For example, I find that my identity as a woman and feminist are often at odds with the way some in the Adventist church approach and value (or not) women. The traditional values of my Cuban background often clash with my less strict American education and culture. My Latinx identity is increasingly imagined as not really American. The tensions do not appear every day—they shift and change, as do my responses to them.
Why is it important to discuss identities?
Whether we view identities as natural or constructed, identities are real. They radically inform how we think, how we are treated, our opportunities, our perspectives. We must realize that while all identities are created equally, they are not all treated equally.
How do you see the Adventist Church approaching issues of identity? What does it get right, and what could it do better?
I think the church’s ideals could be really radical when thinking about issues of identity and social justice. We believe and stress that all humans are made in the image of God, and therefore have value. We believe that the body and spirit are one; as a result, we cannot treat the body poorly because it is God-given. This should suggest that we cannot devalue others’ bodies either, meaning this belief would have implications for prejudice regarding sex, race, etc. I think, however, our focus on the second coming, on the life beyond, often encourages us to overlook our responsibilities given to us by God here on earth, in the now. We also overlook the social/social justice implications of our theology. We see it as too political, when in fact loving others, loving our neighbor, is not really political. It is a commandment.
Has the Adventist church's identity changed during your lifetime and if so, how has that affected you?
I think this is really personal; the answer to this question depends on your church, your perspective, your own ideologies. I’m not sure the church’s identity as a whole has changed, but the way it approaches different points of view has. There seems to be a push for uniformity rather than unity. But perhaps that also signals a change — a growing number of unique, disparate voices all seeking Jesus, just not always through the same perspective or approach.
What is the difference between the church's identity and its culture?
This is a difficult knot to unravel. It’s why we have the concept of “badventists,” often a shorthand for those who appreciate parts of SDA culture but not all, those who adhere to its theology but not every cultural norm. I believe it comes down to this: the church’s identity should be Jesus. That’s it. Any part of culture that stands in the way of others seeing Jesus, of truly knowing and understanding the message of love and redemption not just in the gospel but across scripture as a whole, can be sidelined. Does that mean that those pieces of culture are not important? No. But Jesus, not culture — whether it be vegetarianism, no jewelry, what you do or do not do on the Sabbath — is the rock upon which we stand. Jesus is our solid ground. When we base our identity on anything other than Jesus, well, let’s just not do that.
Photo provided by Vanessa Corredera.
More with Dr. Corredera:
“Shakespeare, Race, and Adventism with Vanessa Corredera” — Adventist Voices Podcast Episode
For more information on the identities conference and to register, please click here.
Alisa Williams is managing editor at SpectrumMagazine.org.
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