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Forum Conference – Stories from the Public Square

“Nothing motivates us as much as seeing people do what we admire,” Roy Branson told the attendees of the Adventist Forum Conference at the final session. His interviews with two Adventist activists concluded the sessions on Christians in the Public Square.
Ryan Bell pastors the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church—known as the purple church because of the striking color of its building and its location at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway. It was at the front gate to the church on his first Sabbath there as a pastor that he experienced the intersection of social activism and Scripture. His text for the morning was to be Acts 4 about the beggar at the gate to the city. And when he pulled into the church parking lot, there at the gate was a homeless man who asked him for money. He gave to the man and went into the church to preach.
With that introduction to the neighborhood, Bell was surprised when one of the first things that he had to do as a pastor was shut down the church’s program for the homeless. But nobody seemed to care. That prompted him to start looking for other ways to address the problems of homeless people and the church became active in an interfaith national network that works on housing first as a way to solve homelessness. Since becoming involved with that group, the pastor and his congregation have found more ways to become engaged in the life of the neighborhood and community. They have worked in campaigns for health care for children, stood in opposition to human trafficking, and supported affordable housing campaigns. They joined with Adventist Women to Support Peace in an anti-war demonstration. A banner about the religious campaign against torture hangs on their church wall for all to see as they pass by on the freeway. Most recently, the church is finding ways to become green.
Along with these efforts for social justice, there has been a growing focus on art as young graduate art and film students have swelled the congregation which has doubled in the past three years. “People are drawn to a Christianity that is reaching out,” Bell concludes.
Avis Buchanan, director of the public defender service in the District of Columbia, told her conversion story along with her story of activism. She grew up in Washington, D.C. where her parents sent her to the Dupont Park Adventist School, even though they were not members of the church. Later when the family moved to the suburbs and she switched to public school, she was baptized, followed by her family. She remembers being encouraged to achieve, but also reminded to remember who you are and to give back to the community. For college she went to Michigan State University where she majored in criminal justice and Spanish. Upon graduation she did not feel ready for the work force so she applied to and was accepted at Harvard Law School. That was followed by clerking for a federal judge.
Her first job was in the public defender’s office. Twenty seven years later, she is now the director of the agency. And she has remembered the advice given to her as a child, and returned to the church of her youth, Dupont Park SDA Church, where she is an active member serving on boards and foundations.
During the lively conversation with the audience, Buchanan noted that her involvement with social issues was different at every stage of her life. Proximity to specific issues lead to certain kinds of involvement she suggested. In her current position, for instance, she is often asked for advice when church members find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Bell suggested that when the church is called to address the issues now that Christ will make real in the Kingdom. We are all called to a public witness.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum Magazine

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