Last Sunday morning when my phone reminded me it was October 22, I felt moved to say something about it. The result, completed late afternoon of the same day, was this widely shared essay.
I was astonished at how many of you resonated with my feeling that the church we grew up in used fear and guilt liberally, leaving scars. And worse: just about the time we’d discovered God’s grace, our leaders doubled down on authority, doctrine, and compliance.
Most of your responses were grateful and encouraging, and I thank you.
There were other kinds of responses, though.
A few told me it is a sin to criticize our church, its beliefs, or its leaders. I respect their view, even if they don’t respect mine: I wouldn’t yank from under them something they think keeps them spiritually upright.
To those who responded, “Sorry that was your experience, but it only happened to you,” I refer to the hundreds who replied that, “I grew up exactly as you did: terrified and guilty.”
Then there are a those who have left the church, who say I have no choice but to resign my fellowship with it as they’ve done,
Again, I respect your decision. But I don’t need to follow your example. When you insist I sever my ties to the church unless I like everything about it, I reply that you are saying precisely what Ted Wilson says—and I no more need to submit to that ultimatum from you than from him. Seeing this church in black-and-white tones betrays a lack of emotional intelligence: the church allows no middle ground, and neither will you!
I believe in holding a nuanced view of my church. I set aside the hurtful doctrines, and when necessary I argue (as graciously as they allow) against them. I reject the authority church offices claim to have over us. Nor do I give ultimate authority to Ellen White: she was a well-meaning but fallible commentator on our pioneers’ church.
After removing all of that, what’s left? Something wonderful: a community of kind, gracious people who love Jesus. I remain for those who, like me, remember that this church also blessed us. I remain for those who share our unique fellowship. I remain, too, for those who were hurt by the church: to pray for them and to speak for them.
I trust the God of Jesus, not the God of denominational offices. And there is nothing about my select community of good, gracious Adventists that’s incompatible with a biblical faith. We grace-loving Adventist Christians are God’s church—just not God’s only church.
How I should respond to my church is not yours to decide. And if you say, “Then I can’t respect you,” I reply, “I can live with that.”
Executive Editor, Adventist Today
October 28, 2023
Last Sabbath’s ATSS recording with Zapira Lapita can be accessed here.
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