by Erv Taylor
I regret to report that it appears that my good friend, Cliff Goldstein, the editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and frequent contributor to Adventist Review, seems to have an addiction. That seeming addiction is evolution—biological evolution, that is. (Cliff seems to wish to call it “Evil-ution”). His addiction is that he can’t leave it alone.
In his case, perhaps we should call it an obsession. Whatever one wishes to call it, Cliff seems to have a compulsion to write about evolution over and over and over again. Of course, in his case, he is compelled to write how much he is against it. An adapted Shakespeare line (Hamlet Art III, scene II), “Methinks he dost protest too much.” comes to mind, but unpacking this observation is for another day.
His latest encyclical on this topic is entitled “A Safe Place” (Adventist Review, April 21, 2011). As is usual with him, he moves beyond his own personal distaste for evolution and insists that “you can be an Adventist or an evolutionist, but not both.” He must project his own addiction onto everyone else and make his personal dislike a normative belief for every Adventist.
Saying that one can’t be an Adventist and an evolutionist is, of course, factually incorrect as there are a number of Adventists, with whom I have personally discussed this topic, who have accepted the view that the contemporary scientific understanding of biological evolutionary processes is the currently best model—from a scientific perspective—to explain the fossil record and contemporary life forms. All of these individuals are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in good and regular standing in their respective home churches—all of which, by the way, are not located in southern California or even California.
Now if Cliff had written that “you can’t be my kind of Adventist and be an evolutionist,” I, for one, would have no objection. That’s his thing and he has a right to express his opinion. His own understanding of the Bible will not allow him to be an Adventist and an evolutionist. Fine, no problem.
But his obsession or addiction will apparently not allow him to take that position. To Cliff, there is only one kind of Adventism—his kind. It is a classical, traditional 19th century fundamentalist Adventism where, it would seem, theological orthodoxy is the highest value. Right now, the political reality is that General Conference Adventism and its mouthpiece, the Adventist Review (AR), is controlled by people like Cliff.
Cliff’s own personal convictions as an Adventist convert are squarely in alignment with the current political winds now blowing through institutional Adventism. By the way, I see that the AR is advertising itself as “The Most Respected Source for Church News and Information.” That is an interesting use of the word “respected.” At least, even they don’t say that they are the most accurate source of Adventist Church news.
To be honest to the facts, we should immediately note that Cliff’s position on this topic precedes by many years the radical right wing takeover of the General Conference. Also, to be honest, I would assume that the vast majority of Adventists agree with Cliff. Regretfully, Adventist culture has linked the whole complex of issues surrounding the so-called “creation-evolution” debate, e.g. a recent literal, seven-day creation week, a recent whole wide flood, etc. etc., as being central to providing Biblical support for the Adventist Sabbath worship practices. Rather than seeing the example of Jesus as totally and completely sufficient to commend Sabbath worship, Cliff and others make a fundamentalist understanding of the Genesis narratives normative. This is an understandable but tragic situation.
Also we should take note that in this article, Cliff has categorically stated that he does not—repeat not—advocate that “anyone who believes in evolution ought to be thrown out of the [Adventist] church.” This is something we can all agree upon.
On the other hand, in his discussion of the church as a “Safe Place,” Cliff talks about such a place only for someone “struggling (his emphasis) with this attack on his or her faith.” Evolution might constitute an attack on Cliff’s faith, but it is not a problem for many other Adventists who do not share Cliff’s theology. They are certainly still a minority even in First World Adventism, but they constitute a significant proportion of the academic and professional parts of Adventism.
The sad part is that Cliff’s never ending personal jihad on this point and the political efforts inside the Adventist Church by other right-wing extremists will foster the continuing polarization in our faith community in the First World. But it appears that Cliff and others holding his views really do not care if they continue to undermine efforts at reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. It’s all or nothing with them.
I know I am asking the impossible but may I suggest to Cliff a policy of “benign neglect?” If he stops writing about evolution, then the rest of us can turn our writing projects toward more productive topics.