21 July 2020  |

I appreciate Loren Seibold’s liberating voice in his recent article, “Abusive Eschatology.”

A defining moment from my private autobiography related to abusive eschatology:

I was taking a class at Pacific School of Religion as part of my PhD program. A fellow student asked me to join him for lunch to get better acquainted. He told me of his work with a non-profit agency serving the homeless and other marginalized people. He learned I was on the faculty at Pacific Union College and asked what classes I was teaching. “Life and Teachings of Jesus,” I replied. And an upper division course for theology majors called “Sanctuary.”

He lit up. “Fabulous! My church was a sanctuary church, too. How many refugees did the college protect?”

It took me several moments to shift the verbal paradigm and to realize he was talking about Central American refugees, fleeing civil war in their own country, coming to the US. They were considered “economic refugees” by the Reagan administration as it tried to hide its involvement in supporting the oppressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala that these refugees had fled. They were being hunted down and sent home by federal agencies. More than 500 progressive U.S. congregations would take them into their sanctuaries for protection, knowing that immigration officers would not enter sacred space to arrest these frightened people. It became known as the Sanctuary Movement.

It took much longer for it to become clear that I had been living in a bubble. I was teaching a class to advocate for a dubious doctrine about something that was asserted to have happened in an imagined heavenly “sanctuary” in 1844, without any way to verify if it had happened and what real difference it might have made to human existence. By contrast, my lunchtime companion had made legally risky commitments to help actual people, here, in real time, under ethically fraught circumstances, with tangible outcomes. Though our conversation intersected with a common word, the worldviews behind each one could never connect. My sanctuary class had a strained relevance to a small group of people within the bubble who held shared beliefs (or, perhaps, suspicions) about a heavenly structure where the God of the universe walked from one room to the next to do different stuff. My colleague’s participation in the Sanctuary Movement made enormous demands on his life and career, here on the earth, complete with media coverage and visible tears of gratitude among those whose lives were now being torn apart by flawed government policy.

A few months later, I was in conversation with three high-profile Adventist pastors whose sermons were typically taped and distributed as norms for aspiring young ministers. I asked them how long it had been since they had preached a sermon about the heavenly sanctuary—the location and event that had been the core of my class. The first answered, “About ten years.” The second: “So long ago, I can’t even remember.” The third: “Never!”

This is one of many reasons why, after 29 years of being an Adventist educator, pastor, author, theologian, I said, “I’m done.” It was the beginning of authentic living for me!

Best,

Richard Winn

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