by Rebecca Barceló | 20 November 2023 |
The female scholars woke up bright and early Friday morning to make it to the Grand Hyatt for the North American Division (NAD) Women Scholars Breakfast at 6:45 a.m. We agreed that looking somewhat put together at that hour was a tall order, but the hospitable setup and delicious food made it worth our while. NAD Women’s Ministries Director DeeAnn Bragaw worked with her team to go above and beyond in order to make us feel seen and valued, and a group of NAD male leaders attended in allyship to support, amplify, and advocate for the voices of women in academic ministry.
The breakfast started out with a warm welcome, and Dr. Michael Campbell, Director of the NAD Archives, Statistics & Research, shared some profile sketches of Adventist women with key historical leadership roles in the church. DeeAnn shared resources and encouragement for the ladies in attendance, and there were opportunities to connect and compare notes with other scholars on current projects. Then the NAD team gathered up front and announced that they had a special award to give this year for dedication and service to the student community. Dr. Jean Sheldon, Professor of Religion at Pacific Union College since 1995, looked shocked when they called her name, and we cheered for her as she received her award!
The bulk of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) presentations were held today in the Marriott Rivercenter, an elegant venue with dozens of meeting rooms and convention halls. The theme for ASRS this year was “Cosmic Conflict: Out-of-Date vs. Up-to-Date,” and the paper presentations tackled all angles – from the history of The Great Controversy book by Ellen G. White, to the relevance of the conflict theme for new generations, to its Biblical ties, racial implications, role of the Sabbath in the conflict, ethics of using this narrative of evil, and even its role in pop culture and digital missions.
There were some salient points throughout the presentations that kept me ruminating throughout the afternoon. A few include:
- Violence in the Great Controversy: Though the book of Revelation describes many violent scenarios, its main protagonist throughout the battle against evil is the slain lamb representing Jesus. This sets an example for the people of God demonstrating that, amidst violence, we have a model of self-giving love that gains its worthiness through different, non-violent means.
- Personal Controversies: While the conflict is usually presented as consisting of external religious, political, and environmental factors, the internal conflict is often the most important battle at hand, as we engage in the battle within ourselves. Often, the role of discipline and suffering helps us develop our spiritual maturity.
- Racial and Social Justice: God engages and respects our free will and makes us “vice-regents” per se, in the stewardship over the earth. When we steward well, the earth flourishes – not only in our social communities, but the plants and animals within our stewardship. When we steward poorly, all of the above suffer. How do we use this shared governance with God over the earth?
In the evening, all of the Adventist societies came together for the annual Friday night vespers and dinner. It has become the annual tradition in order to remind ourselves that, despite our historic theological differences, there is a time to unify as a family for worship and nourishment, both spiritual and literal. We met in a rented hall at the First Presbyterian Church nearby, which provided a warm and welcoming space for all of us to worship together. We were led in some rousing hymns by Dr. Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid, Professor of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University (previously a Professor of Music and choir director). I’m not sure that we scholars provided the amount of enthusiasm or musical prowess that he was hoping for as he motioned for us to sing louder or softer within the verses… but we made a joyful noise, nonetheless.
Pastor Dwight Nelson interrupted his retirement to be our speaker for the evening, and his wife, Karen, also graced us with her presence. Pastor Dwight’s focus was on orienting our teaching, lives, and ministries to live as if Jesus is coming tomorrow – emphasizing the importance of remembering that the second coming is imminent.
Despite the debates throughout the day on different topics, it was interesting to see everyone together in the same room. I scanned the room as we were singing, noting tables where there were people I agreed with and people I disagreed with, sometimes seated together. I thought of academic articles that perhaps had been written by one and heavily critiqued by another. Or bitter online comment battles between someone from table three and someone from table seven. Yet, here we all were, worshiping together. And, while I know better than to think that moments like this will solve our deep denominational divides, I did remind myself that each person has the right to express their conviction differently and that we are all trying, in our own flawed ways, to honor God with our lives and teachings.
Tonight, it was nice to feel that I was among Adventist family… however imperfect we might be.
Rebecca Barceló covers news and special projects for Adventist Today.