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The gnats and camels of May

By: Nathan Brown, editor, Signs of the Times Australia/NZ edition
I am a semi-professional observer of our church community. Sometimes the way it conducts its business and mission raise questions for me.
And sometimes a conjunction of “events” brings these questions into stark focus. Such was the case last month. And someone needs to ask the hard questions about what this says about us and what we can learn along the way.
The first event was the self-proclaimed Ten Commandments day. The Adventist focus on this event began with the television stations associated with the church. They highlighted this event, interviewed the experts, drove the “Adventist” alternative and focused their broadcasting for that weekend on this issue.
And where the television stations go, other voices of the church are expected to follow. Our publishing houses scrambled to produce resources—“as seen on TV.” Millions of Ten Commandment-focused booklets were printed and promoted to viewers and church members to arm them with the ammunition to counter the “attack” on the decalogue.
And among some within the church, the level of focus on this upcoming event almost seemed commensurate with one’s measure of orthodoxy. Working with a church news magazine—even on the other side of the world—questions were asked as to why the Ten Commandments day was not a priority in our reporting.
And then the day came and went, the special broadcasts were broadcast, the books were distributed—or perhaps many of them are still sitting in a warehouse or churches’ backrooms somewhere—and the statements were made. But no-one noticed.
Searches by myself and others could find barely a mention of this “event” in major news services. Even Christian news services gave it little attention. For all our frantic attentions, in terms of its relevance to mainstream culture, the Ten Commandments day was a non-event—and our Adventist “responses” even more so.
Two weeks later, The Da Vinci Code became one of the biggest movies of the year. This story—based on Dan Brown’s mega best-seller—questions the divinity of Jesus, alleges that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, re-imagines church history and challenges the origins of the Bible. And by its best-seller/box office hit status, The Da Vinci Code is launching these claims into the hearts and minds of mainstream society.
And the Adventist response? Apart from a few magazine articles and a couple of hurried publishing ventures, it was somewhere between ignoring it completely to limited, especially when compared with the Ten Commandments hype. At a time when Jesus—who must ever be the centre of our faith and lives—is again a topic of legitimate but too often misguided conversations in the movie theatres, the bookstores, the mainstream and Christian media, the educated forums, the workplaces and the social gatherings, for whatever reason, it seems we have chosen largely to be non-participants.
In a scathing criticism of the religiosity of His day, Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24, NLT). In May, it seems we got the gnat—and, proverbially at least, beat it to death with a sledgehammer—but the Da Vinci camel roams free and unhindered.
Yes, we have a sensitivity and special regard for the Ten Commandments, but without Jesus the commandments are of little consequence, to us or anyone else. We should be prepared to stand up for our specific beliefs in the Christian community and beyond, but we must not allow our preoccupations or paranoia—or our associated television stations—to misdirect our priorities in such a way.
After the millions of dollars have been spent and all that evangelistic fervour misdirected, someone somewhere—or perhaps all of us everywhere—should pause to consider what we have to say to our culture, how we go about it and how the agendas are set for what occupies our primary attention. Until then, we will probably go on answering the questions we think our society should be asking, while continuing to ignore the challenging but exciting possibilities of answering real questions and being the link between the real Jesus and our communities that he loves.

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