I’m a proud 4th generation Adventist, on both sides. I grew up going to Adventist schools, I graduated from an Adventist boarding school and college. I even managed to marry an amazing Adventist man.
Not only that, but I actually really love Jesus. I never had an imaginary friend as a little girl because I’ve always had Jesus.
Last week, I finally sent the email to my pastor that I’ve been slowly tweaking and editing, to formally request my name be removed from the Seventh-day Adventist membership books. (Apparently, it’s as easy as sending an email.) Instead of a “conscious uncoupling,” I’d call it my religious untethering.
So, it may come as a surprise to hear I’m actually still Adventist, and I’m not leaving my church.
For years I’ve been outspoken about the many things I “fundamentally” disagree with. Many times I’ve found myself talking to a friend, a former Adventist, about why they felt they had to leave: usually beliefs regarding women’s ordination, the treatment of LGBTQ people, and even very trivial things such as jewelry or alcohol. Things that made them feel guilty or like an outsider. Things I often agree with them on. But when they asked why I continued to “stay,” I always said it was because I wanted to be a voice of change in my community. I didn’t want a singular voice to get louder.
But then a couple of months ago, I was having this same conversation again and they asked the same question, and without even thinking, the words “I stay out of spite” came tumbling out my mouth before I even realized what I was saying. I laughed mischievously at my own joke, but on the inside, I felt something break.
It made me think of my mother who is so proud to be the head elder in her church. (Progressive, I know!) She spends hours praying and studying her Bible. She often eagerly shares things she’s learned from Doug Batchelor or on 3ABN. She gives Bible studies to the kids in her church. She helps out with the food bank. She plans outreach events and potlucks and has been key to fostering a welcoming and supportive community, which is evident by the many young families that have joined a formerly senior membership.
My mom has always been my spiritual mainstay. And I am so proud of her and the ministry she has cultivated.
When my parents got divorced and she was working two jobs, dating, and raising a teenage daughter, I remember the binder ring of brightly colored notecards she kept by her bedside. She was memorizing the Bible verses she had handwritten on them. We fought all the time then, a typical teenage mother-daughter relationship but made harder by our circumstances. Yet her faith was steadfast and unwavering. We fought, and then we cried. And then we prayed. We went to church every week, and it was there that I found other adults who advised me and loved me and my mom. They became our family.
I love my church family. And I don’t mean the friendly faces of acquaintances or even friends I see in the pews on Sabbath. I mean the people who kept orange juice in their fridge because it was my favorite, or who took me dress shopping for my high school graduation, or who let me live in their basement for free, or who built a chuppah for my wedding, or who spent hours, maybe days, pulling poison oak from my backyard. You could call them my chosen family, but I could never choose to let them go.
All of these people are Adventist.
I always thought people who disagreed with some of the “fundamentals” of the Adventist Church only had two choices: they could stay and try to be a part of the change, or they could leave. And leaving meant either going to another denomination or perhaps leaving God altogether. I’ve seen the pain and resentment that can take hold for many of my friends who have left like this.
There’s something about being Adventist. Maybe it’s the Sabbath, maybe it’s haystacks, or maybe it’s all the inside jokes like getting “put on social” in high school, or not being allowed to swim on Sabbath but being allowed to wade up to your knees. Maybe it’s playing the Adventist name game and knowing I have this community around the world that I can always turn to.
I don’t want to leave. This is my culture, my community, my beloved family. They need me, and I need them.
But until recently, I’ve felt like I was in some battle to undo the hurt and harm my beloved church has caused due to their beliefs, particularly to the LGBTQ community. And standing on the other side of the battle lines was my mom.
So, relinquishing my membership is my surrender. I understand that organizations have to take a stand on what they believe, and I know that many earnest people, like my mom, sincerely hold on to these beliefs as their lifeline.
What kind of person am I to be untying or severing these lines? But I’ve run out of options. If what is a lifeline for one is a noose for another, what am I to do?
And I guess that’s when I had my light-bulb moment. At least that’s how it has felt for me. A third choice.
In an act of solidarity for myself as a woman—and for the LGBTQ community, along with others struggling for their civil rights—I decided to take a stand by removing my name from the Seventh-day Adventist membership. (Of course, if my salvation is your concern, my name is still on that book.)
However, I deny any claim this man-made organization has on my spiritual identity or calling. I will continue to identify as Seventh-day Adventist and am even more committed than ever to my spiritual growth and that of my church community.
I guess you could say, I’m staying out of spite and love.
And to my Mom: I love you. And even though I might pretend I don’t care, I really hope and pray that you are proud of me, and most of all, proud of yourself for the way you raised me. I know I am so proud of you!
Brittnie Clark Sigamoney is a graduate of Highland View Academy and Washington Adventist University. She lives in California.
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