After reading Harper Lee’s recently-published novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” I wonder if many of us are feeling as Scout did when she stumbled upon piercing flaws of her much admired father, Atticus. At the 2015 General Conference Session, the capacity for instant communications and quick analysis displayed the limitations of administration within our massive church organization, perhaps for the first time. Many people have felt troubled, as they try to reconcile a long-standing love and respect for the church with displeasing procedural machinations.
For some of us, the once highly admired church seems shockingly weak and vulnerable. Lay members and lay delegates, accustomed to standard corporate best practices, spoke of bewilderment by leadership’s lack of stamina in striving to reach the simple goal of ensuring private electronic voting for a mere 2000 people. This incident was seen as emblematic, and as a sort of eerie foreshadowing, of an unraveling trust in the whole process. In the course of the meetings, delegates were promised that sensitive votes would be secret ballot, yet it was unclear if leaders did accurately identify all the sensitive votes. Observing uneven preparation and delegate commitment to the issues at hand lessened the notion that the General Conference in Session speaks for God. Many church members have experienced a deep sadness and disenchantment and an initial guttural urge to distance themselves from an institution that they love yet has disappointed them so deeply.
Though not as well written as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s new release might offer us a helpful way forward. The last chapter of “Watchman” portrays a thinly developed discussion between Scout and her uncle, alluding to the inevitable ego separation that should be expected to come to healthy adults. Urged by her uncle to strive for maturation by following her own conscience, Scout is able to move toward love and some understanding for Atticus. It is implied that Scout should acknowledge Atticus’ context and inherent limitations. Similarly, we should establish an ego differentiation between our local fellowships and the massive organization of which we are a part. We are part of that gigantic institution, but it cannot define our spiritual community. Despite the claims to power, we would be misguided if we were to believe that structural procedures, machinations, and creedal parsing would be capable of producing fertile ground for kingdom growth. Like the fictitious Scout in Maycomb County Alabama, we are each responsible to set a watchman in our own sphere.
But, to what extent can we be watchmen? Harper Lee’s title, taken from Isaiah 21:6, offers a small insight for us as well. As a board member of Spectrum, I do feel a measure of satisfaction that over time our organization has functioned as a sort of watchman within our denomination. Yet, such a flat description misses the depth of what Spectrum has tried to achieve. Perusing articles over decades will show that Spectrum has attempted to provide information about milieu, background and history, as well as a fresh lens from which to view dogma and events in the church. Such broad observation and perception is akin to the sweep of history that we call “The Great Controversy.” Over millennia, we see how God has dealt with people, their mistakes, their evil surmisings and how He blessed small efforts of faith. Time shows that God is worthy to be praised. This is the sort of watchmen we are urged to be; recognizing the value of an individual to observe, perceive, and then act accordingly. We are called to a comprehensive walk with God. We are to relax in our strong faith in our Lord, trusting that He will follow through. With hope we are to expect an adventure of surprises, paradoxes and opportunities, and then we feel joy when experiencing God’s love.
Jesus constantly urged people to see a deeper context. When Jesus’ disciples reported that those not of their group were casting out demons in His name, Jesus admonished them to view the situation in a broader framework. Jesus did not support the notion that each follower is to watch over the other, merely functioning as sentinels or tattletales. Repeatedly, He alluded to facts and issues that were unseen and immeasurable. Jesus’ followers could not know the widow gave her last mite. Jesus’ followers did not know that those wanting to stone a woman caught in adultery were actually guilty themselves. Jesus’ followers were oblivious that Zachaeous had a heart ripe for transformation. In the spirit of Gamaliel we must trust that what is of God will ultimately succeed. Quick observations won’t reflect the whole story.
Unfortunately, for many people the convocation that was GC 2015 appeared to be a series of political maneuvers. Yet, we would do well to continue to watch. Watch for context. Watch for success. Watch for the fruits of the Spirit. Watch ourselves, especially. Without a doubt, the whole chain events can become a blessing. That is God’s way. He turns our bungling into something else. An important consequence may be that we will be able to see clearly the reality that the mighty Lord of Hosts is our leader. Despite loud music and constant claims of institutional importance, we have been confronted with the frailties of humanity. Many of us have a dwindling confidence that a shrinking number of top executives will be able to set the tone for the church and execute goals effectively. A healthy response to the incongruence and disappointment to the weaknesses of human organization will be to choose to grow and thrive on our journey with our fellow believers in our communities. A truly God fearing watchman will testify that when we are weak He is strong. Spiritual growth is about kindness, faithfulness, trust, reliability, fellowship, prayer, and learning. These tangibles are key to Gods kingdom and a local faith community is the venue in which such a kingdom will sprout.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Can’t stop the dawn.
Carmen Lau is a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board of Directors.