From Alexander Carpenter, executive editor:
This week marks 30 years since 76 people died in the Branch Davidian compound. Spectrum will be publishing several articles this week analyzing that tragedy and exploring its connection to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its beliefs. History matters. Last week, I spent several days at bucolic Southern Adventist University for the triennial Association of Seventh-day Adventist Historians Conference. The theme was “Rhymes of History: Disruption, Change and Repeating the Past." Later this week we’ll publish a student report on one of the more controversial moments during the conference.
For those interested in Adventism, a presentation by Brian Strayer offered fresh insights into the myths around Hiram Edson. Exciting new research by Kevin Burton centered on Millerite contributions to the Abolitionist Movement, and Kris Erskine got the audience hungry by talking about the Adventist craze for commercial cookie baking about 100 years ago. A paper by Michel Sun Lee explored the activist life of S. M. I. Henry (Sarepta Myrenda Irish), a prominent Adventist in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and Gregory Dodds condensed a book project into a riveting brief bio on “wicked” William Whiston, a disciple of Isaac Newton who appears to be an almost proto-Seventh-day Adventist in both constructive and destructive ways. Whether in 1736 or in 1993, the past rhymes with apocalyptic temptations. The millennial springs perennial.
These are just a sample of the 40 or so presentations and panel participants that included undergraduates and speakers from Hong Kong and Nigeria. Spectrum sponsored the Friday night plenary session chaired by Lisa Clark Diller, featuring Christie Chui-Shan Chow (Princeton University), Ben Baker (University of Maryland), David Trim (General Conference), and Phillip Warfield (Howard University). I hope to publish several of these in upcoming issues of the journal and online.
Speaking of the website, I need to correct a mistake I made editing the Sabbath-keeping bees article by Murray McGill. I identified the wrong organization featured by the Village Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was Know His Love Ministries, not “Coming Out” Ministries. They appear to have swapped ministry partners, which added to my confusion.
From Carmen Lau, board chair:
My mind still soars with the image Dr. Rick Johns painted of God as Healer at Collegedale Academy’s Alumni Weekend. Post slavery, when the Hebrews needed water, God used the name Jehovah Rapha (healer) when he gave instructions to use a piece of wood to remove the bitter taste from needed water. God could have used the identity of Jehovah Jireh (provider) at that moment, but he didn’t. The Israelites inevitably had wounds, seen and unseen, from centuries of slavery. Though liberated and led, they also needed healing. God could do that.
Johns traced the theme through the Bible, noting Jesus’s healing and Revelation’s description of healing leaves on the Tree of Life before he brought the concept to people now. We all know, especially now, with a looming national mental health crisis, that we need healing. Alleviation of pain, hurt, suffering, and betrayal is the task at hand. God wants us to shine and to be the best we can be. Johns reminded listeners that Jesus treasures people; after all, Jesus told us to let our lights shine. No matter our past wounds, there is hope. He will not break a bruised reed. Instead, the wounded healers may be the most effective.
One needs an honest reckoning with reality (some might call this humility) before growth and healing can begin. Our communal life of faith may be like working in a field hospital where all of us staff have sustained flesh wounds but are still upright and engaged. God can use wounded people and institutions. We are healed by Jesus’s wounds. That is the miracle. That is who he is.
There are people who will benefit from hearing the story of someone else who has had deep pain and found a way forward. Over five decades, Spectrum has sought to be an honest place to discuss, share, and inform, and to highlight injustice and inconsistencies. At times, words on our pages may have looked like outrage, but I assure you, on behalf of the board, that it comes from an outrageous conviction of the power and relevance of expressing God’s character now.
We desire for the Adventist Church to reject fear and embrace honest reckoning. A good life is not necessarily a calm life. A good church may, at times, be afloat on a choppy sea. Whether or not the official church grapples with recent history, the Spectrum team sees deep value in reflecting on what has happened. As Adventists, we cannot help but mark the 30-year anniversary of Waco and consider the possibility that the nature of Adventist culture made people vulnerable to joining David Koresh’s group. In addition, it has been 50 years since Merikay Silver filed a class discrimination lawsuit under Title VII. What has been the impact? We look to the past to learn, and we look at reality now. Our editorial team has begun a yearlong series to report what is happening in varied local churches in the North American Division. Stories, told in an independent voice, move us to joy and to humble acknowledgment of our brokenness.
God is a Healing God. The only shame is when we want to hide our real condition. Then we miss out on the miracle.
Title image: Aerial view of Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in flames on April 19, 1993, following a 51-day siege by the FBI and law enforcement. Photo by the FBI (public domain).
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