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Why This Progressive Feels Proud to be Ted Wilson’s Adventist Brother

As we sat in church preparing to make praise music, a dear friend expressed the pain in his heart over the direction our Adventist world church is heading. He has dedicated his long and distinguished career to the Adventist Church, leading others in the path of greater acceptance, helping women into leadership, building bridges of understanding with others, etc. His heart aches to see the church “going backward.”

I consider myself a somewhat progressive California boy. I gratefully accept the contributions of science, modernism and post-modernism to my world-view. I happily worship Love and the Creator alongside siblings of any wisdom tradition. I desire liberty and justice for all, so I advocate for my gay friend’s right to marry. That my daughters should have an equal chance at church leadership is a truth I hold to be self-evident. Since Dr. Bruce Lipton showed in The Biology of Belief that biological evolution, from the perspective of the cell, is a story of increasing co-operation that allows increasing awareness, I find biological evolution and modern cosmology fit compatibly with my Christian values. My circle of care and self-identity has, at least at times, moved beyond ego-centrism, beyond ethno-centrism, beyond Adventist-centrism, and beyond species-centrism to compassionately embrace all life. So why am I proud of the direction our church is heading?

The answer involves my recent discovery of research into the evolution of consciousness. Also known as “developmental psychology,” this body of knowledge illuminates the way our minds and perspectives develop over time. Interestingly, this growth tends to mirror the development of world views that social groups go though over time. Ken Wilbur has popularized this understanding, building on the work of seminal researchers like Claire Graves. To depict the way our consciousness develops I like to use the model of a sailboat travelling upwind.

I see the Adventist Church in the Western World as made up of people who perhaps have an average worldview centering on the modern to post-modern perspective, and like most other churches, ours was born in traditional consciousness. Eros pulls toward the future, as we see the beauty of increasing Love and tolerance, and inclusion of women, gays, and others in every good Life can offer. Agape reaches back, offering a hand to bring others forward to join in the blessings God’s given us. The figure above shows the well-researched fact that consciousness doesn’t develop in a straight line, but that it develops over time in a dialectic, back and forth fashion. People don’t go immediately from an ego-centric, exploitive perspective to a post-modern perspective. To develop the kind of world 99% of humanity wants to live in requires growth in individuals and societies along this dialectic path.

So here’s the key: Ted Wilson was democratically elected head of the world church because he exemplifies the values held by the majority of Adventists world-wide. And the reason the church seems, (from our Western/postmodern perspective) to be going backward is that we’ve been growing so much in the developing world. We’ve been so successful in fulfilling the great commission, and in lifting people’s consciousness from the tribal or warrior to the traditional stage. Currently our world Adventist fellowship is now on average at a much earlier place than we are in the West.

This is great news! We’re not, as a group, sliding backward into bigotry and intolerance. We are a light on the hill, fulfilling our role as an engine of consciousness transformation, helping the world to realize the potential for cooperation and understanding described in the Bible as heaven. This is why I am proud to be a third generation Adventist missionary, and why, even as I advocate progressive values in the church, I proudly value my brother Ted.

Doug Wilson plays as a father and spouse and works as a family doctor in a community health clinic in Napa, California. 

Image: Salvador Dali, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, 1955. 


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