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The ‘Adventist Review’ Defines Ad-ventist

Although he offers a little self-deprecation at the beginning of this complaint about his fellow believers, Adventist Review editor Bill Knott quickly presses forward, using the power of the church’s flagship magazine to tackle one of the pressing issues in the church. How we all pronounce the word “Adventist.”

Now those of us who—for whatever strange and loving reasons—like to think about the meanings of Adventism have probably noticed that one can tell how integrated a person is into the culture of Adventism by where they place the emphasis. The longer someone has been around us, the longer they spend on the first syllable. It’s an interesting cultural signifier. But is it more?

To Bill Knott, where one puts the emphasis when saying the word “Adventist” reveals how committed one is to the biblical belief in the Second Coming of Christ. He writes:

While the large majority still pronounce the name of this faith as Ad´-ven-tist—meaning one who believes in the Second Ad´-vent of Jesus Christ—a growing number regularly rely on a pronunciation that mystifies much more than it explains our core belief in the second coming of Jesus. . . .


Is it too much to ask for a little consistency—particularly when the original pronunciation actually underlines our biblical belief in the soon return of Jesus?

It’s a fine example of how some at the Adventist headquarters confuse the cultural with central beliefs.

The reality is probably the opposite of what Knott argues. Instead of the mispronunciation being a symbol of Adventist decline and disregard for a historic belief, the diversity in pronunciation is just evidence of diversity in the church. Without any actual evidence Knott goes on to blame the mispronouncing creep on the secular news media in the 70s and 80s. What he neglects is probably a much larger contributor. He celebrates the historic pronunciation before that time, when most Adventists were from America, the UK and Australia or were educated there.

But during the recent decades that he mentions, the demographics have shifted and now the majority of Adventists did not grow up speaking English. Is Knott really so unaware as to think that the diversity of phonological patterns comes from the very few times anyone in the media says “Ad-VEN-tist rather than the growing diversity in globalized Adventism? Ignoring that possibility, Knott appears to be telling Adventists that we should talk like he learned in the 1950s and 60s. And if we do, we’ll believe like that too!

It just goes to show how insecurities about Adventist diversity—whether in fundamental doctrines or pronunciation—appear to be driving a few of the top GC leaders to major in the minors.

It’s like they want to drive out diversity—in mixing science and doctrine or saying “Adventist.” Apparently they suspect that losing a traditional way of saying words signals a loss of historic Adventism. Talk about insecurity. Talk about shaky theology. Talk about focusing on talk and not on the Christian walk.

From early Christians fighting over a letter (homoiousian/homoousian) to Adventists kicking each other out of churches (imputed/imparted), one can always tell who’s most obsessed with their power by who comes up with little ways of marking who’s in and who’s out.

I’m all for pronouncing words correctly, including Adventist. But trying to tie that pronunciation to a narrative that suggests that we lost our way in the 70s and 80s sounds too much like we’re grasping at the straws of the past to define what Seventh-day Adventism means today. It’s pretty clear that Knott and others in Silver Spring really want to recodify our identity. And I am serious about defining the future of Adventism as well. But judging their approach thus far, it appears that they are repeatedly missing the forest for the trees.

After all, I’m sure that Jesus is in heaven right now celebrating the proper pronunciation of Adventist. “Someone is finally whipping my remnant people into rhetorical shape,” He’s certainly saying. “Now I can come again. For it is written:”

When the pronunciation of Adventist shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.

In a world of hunger, injustice, and war, this editorial shows how self-obsessed our General Conference is becoming. We all probably need to get out more—into other countries where not everyone has the same rules of pronunciation and into the variety of English-speaking highways and byways where people have larger worries than proper phonology.

From the annuciation on, Jesus never preached something as petty as this. I believe that it was peacemakers (in our church too?) who inherent the coming kin-dom, not perfect enunciators.

But if one reads those gospels again, this sounds like something the religious leaders of the first century A.D. might complain about:

Hey lame man, hurting woman, it’s pronounced phar’-i-see. Yeah, get it right. If you put the emphasis elsewhere you’re just knott set apart and ready for the Messiah’s coming.

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