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In Defense of Truth-Telling Media

I’ve been reading a fair number of comments below articles on the Spectrum website for the past month, since the GC Session in Atlanta. A recurring theme I notice from conservative commentators is that liberal, Spectrum-loving Adventists (and perhaps former Adventists) are doing nothing to support the church, to be positive, to give Bible studies or hold evangelistic meetings. They’re only interested in tearing down the church, these people say. And those comments seem to be followed by another—that Spectrum, Adventist Today and such “critical” publications aid and abet the situation, tearing down the faith of traditional Adventists.
Well, I’d like to say a word or three about the efficacy of Spectrum in particular. I’m not sure I would be calling myself a Seventh-day Adventist today if it weren’t for the year-in, year-out witness to truth of Spectrum Magazine.
I was a regular church-goer all my life, through the end of the 1980s. I was the Communication Department’s media spokesman at the General Conference for four years in the 1970s, and held various PR and communications positions in the church from 1973 until 1988. My job was to put a good face on what the church did and didn’t do. I lived through dealing with the fallout from Ron Numbers’ “Prophetess of Health,” the beginning rumblings of the Davenport Affair, and even a local event where a Review and Herald employee was pressured to resign for wearing a simple gold wedding band. This was covered by the Washington Post, our local paper in Takoma Park, and I concocted a phrase to come up with the church’s position about it which I still remember (not particularly proudly)—“more than a dress code but less than a tenet.” Well, at least I was quoted in the Post!
After I left the GC for other positions, I was spared the fun of crafting a church response to the defrocking of Desmond Ford, Walter Rea’s “The White Lie,” the loss of Harris Pine Mills and other events of the 1980s. Each of those mileposts took its toll on my once unquestioning fidelity to the church, but I soldiered on, attending services, participating in the life of my local church—and simultaneously finding out what was really happening in Spectrum, Adventist Currents and AToday.
You see, it’s not that I seriously mistrusted the integrity of the editors of Adventist Review, the local union conference papers and other church publications. But having worked on the inside, I knew their job—and their job was not to tell the Adventist lay reader what was really happening, i.e., the “truth.” It was to frame the truth in a way that did as little damage as possible to the church as an institution. I understand that function; I made my living from it for years. I just became increasingly frustrated as a church member in the pew, as a tithe-payer, at not being able to know what really went on behind closed doors.
And it gets worse when you don’t work for the church. You’re out of the loop of the rumor mill. This is not a good thing, because your mind fills in the blanks when there is a vacuum of information. And the result is not always a complimentary picture.
I never resigned my church membership; like so many in my generation, I just attended less and less. Oh, I lived not too far from Loma Linda University Church, and my all-time favorite pastor, Bill Loveless, was there all through the 1990s, so I would try to go once a month or so. When I visited my mother, who lived in Loma Linda, on Sabbath mornings we would enjoy the luxury of watching the services on cable. Other times I would listen in on FM radio, before KSGN stopped broadcasting services altogether.
As the Internet became more integral to our lives, I would listen or watch services at other Adventist Radio Network (ARN) sites, like Sligo Church in Takoma Park on WGTS or Pioneer Memorial at Andrews on WAUS. It fed my interest in church, my desire to hear what a choir I used to sing in still sounded like, hearing an old friend’s voice now and again. I guess I was becoming a “social Adventist.” Sometimes I’d even show up at Loma Linda at about noon, just to visit with people I knew as they were coming out of second service.
I don’t say any of this proudly, it’s just the way I lived my life for a while. If I was asked what denomination I belonged to, or had to fill in a blank on a hospital admission form, I always said Seventh-day Adventist. It just wasn’t a big part of my life.
But I never cut my subscription to Spectrum. As a subscriber since it started in the early 1970s, I counted on the magazine to tell me the truth. I felt I had invested a lifetime of church membership, in addition to almost 15 years of employment, bundled up with the church. I still cared about what went on there.
So I kept reading, issue by issue. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this kind of experience. But I never wanted to cut myself off from the denomination completely. I’ve never quite understood people who feely greatly wronged by the church or those in it, who have removed their names from the rolls and made a public issue of it—some of them still read and write regularly on the Spectrum site. Once I bought a book (about 15 years ago!) from the folks at “Proclamation,” the Former Adventist Fellowship, and of course I’m now eternally on their mailing list. I wonder the same thing about them—why do you still care so much, if you’ve moved on? How do you define yourself by something you’re not anymore?
But slowly I decided that, by golly, I was born an Adventist and I’m going to die one! This is my church too, and even if I disagree with some of its ways, I have just as much a right to be a member as anyone else. Where I used to sit meekly in a Sabbath School class and keep my mouth closed when the discussion veered toward some issue where I disagree, now I speak up. At age 60, I figure life is too short to sit idly by, or seethe and give myself an ulcer! I’m going to speak my piece, calmly and with Christian charity (I hope), but clearly. I was fortunate to find a church, Palm Springs SDA, in my new hometown several years ago, where I feel comfortable doing that. I transferred my membership there in 2006 and have been very happy again participating again in the life of the church.
Now I view the denomination, Ellen White, and the like with the eyes of an adult looking at his parents. I no longer see them as one-dimensional parental figures, people and organizations who can do no wrong. They’re fallible, human—and yet I as the child who grew up in their care, I owe a great debt to them. I honor that debt even though I can look clear-eyed at them and feel sympathy for their short-comings.
I was strengthened in these thoughts by a story I once heard about Roy Branson, the longtime Spectrum editor. Apologies to Roy if this didn’t happen the way I heard it–third-hand, but here goes anyway:
GC President Robert Pierson was disturbed over something Roy had written or published in Spectrum (so what else is new?) back in the 1970s, and he called “Brother Branson” in for a tete-a-tete in his office. Pierson and Branson discussed the issue, somewhat vigorously, and basically agreed to disagree. Pierson ended the session by inviting Roy to kneel in prayer.
After Pierson said “Amen” and started to rise, Branson put his hand on Pierson’s shoulder and began praying his own prayer. In it, he laid out his arguments again, with more vehemence, before the Lord, for maybe five or ten more minutes. Pierson reluctantly stayed on his knees—what else could he do?
I’ve thought of that story often in regard to my relationship to the church. Why shouldn’t I be a member, even if I don’t agree with everything? Why shouldn’t I stay and speak truth to the powerful when I think they need to hear it? Why shouldn’t this be my church too?
I honestly think I have the truth-telling media, and those who write for and edit and support them, to thank for being my pillar of cloud and pillar of fire through years of wandering in the metaphorical wilderness. And if that’s not a form of evangelism, helping people stay in the orbit of Christ and the church, I don’t know what it is.
Gallagher is a grant writer for California State University, San Bernardino. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia.

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