As someone who enjoys mixing liberal values—freedom, equality, justice—with my Adventism, I find this clip from the documentary The Last Generation very instructive. Here is a man who worked to define people out of the church. But not that long after Pipim said these things, he’s no longer a member. It was conservatives and liberals, particularly women who spoke up. His rebaptism wasn’t stopped by pork or prophecy. It was because Pipim repeatedly used his power to hurt women. While church leaders around the world tamped down the sordid news thanks to Pipim’s prominence, it was lay members who really took action to define what’s acceptable in our community.
What is an Adventist? Defining our identity is one of the central questions of our time.
One can see in the video that Pipim’s attempts to define liberal Adventists were appreciated by his audience. They, like all of us, live in a complex world that challenges our spiritual identities in difficult ways. Pipim isn’t the only one who can work up a crowd over the question of going forward or backward. In fact, a thread that drives these messages turns fear about identity into fear of the future. To Pipim and his ilk, boundaries lie behind. But it is a losing battle because boundaries based on the past actually exacerbate fear. They don’t fit the present—and the future continually changes contexts.
Instead, an Adventist must find hope in the future. As believers in the Advent, we find that forward lies the return of the same Christ who taught us to always define the law by love. That might mean deciding that the pork thing is not a defining belief we need down the road. But it also might mean thinking a lot harder about treating our beliefs as something more profound than tests of loyalty.
A healthy future for Adventism lies not in fantasizing about some split in which all liberals or conservatives will leave. (The poor in ideology you will always have with you.) Rather, a healthy future for Adventism lies in connecting our beliefs to our actions. When our pioneers were at their best they turned their visions for education, gospel-sharing, health into practical, community-embodied realities. They created. They advocated. They converted beliefs into ethical actions that have effects in society. Might we do that too?
As a liberal Adventist I believe in an infinite God that exists beyond my human belief. And through Christ as God and man—dead and alive—we are offered the hope of transformed Being. A community. But only by sliding forward, into the future.