God on a Leash?
by Lawrence G. Downing, March 23, 2015: A few days ago a friend sent me the link to the video “What Might Have Been Can Be.” I watched it from start to finish. The film, without introduction or explanation, takes the viewer to a time and place removed from our era. Without some knowledge of Adventist church history, much that develops will not be understood. The video itself depicts intense and moving human experiences and response. At times, the emotions shown between the mostly men who were present at the meeting are more associated with a stereotyped perception of Pentecostalism than with the staid Adventist behavior.
The first few minutes of the video made one point clear: Had the Seventh-day Adventist believers followed God’s will, Jesus would have ere long returned. There is a logical extension of this belief: When the Adventist church does what it is called to do. The justification for this dramatic and self-condemnatory belief is a letter Ellen White wrote in which she chastised church leadership to humble themselves, seek forgiveness for disregarding God’s messages and evidence a unity of spirit and purpose. Their refusal to act in these matters hindered the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and thus delayed Christ’s return.
Consider that when Ellen White wrote the letter in the early 1900s that was the catalyst for the video, the Adventist church had fewer than 70,000 members. In 1898, as recorded in the GC Archives, the church counted 59,447 members. In 1901 the membership was 69,356. And this emerging church, thinly spread about earth, held God hostage? This struggling group, many of whom believed in and promoted the Shut Door doctrine, had the ability to inform the millions around the world that Adventist have the “Truth”? Agreed. Nothing is beyond God’s power. However, is it not arrogant, in the extreme, to promote the belief that a human organization, of whatever size and of whatever kind, holds God on a leash? No doubt, the film’s producers, and the church administrators who promote it, take strong and vigorous exception to the suggestion that they, or the church, control God. They are correct; they do not! However, the message that the viewer takes away is that when the Adventist church shapes up, and does what it is called to do, Jesus will return. Ergo, if we don’t, Jesus will stay put. That is power! And guilt? Adventists, according to this scenario that the video promotes, are guilty of thwarting Jesus Christ’s intention to return to this earth. Adventists, as atonement for our failed mission, might well don a sandwich board, one side to read “SHAME ON US,” the other side, “FORGIVE US OUR SIN.” And this is little enough penalty for the group that is responsible for the wars and travesties associated with conflict, along with the countless plagues and diseases that have afflicted humankind since the late 1800s. What group has more evil on its shoulders than the one that rejected the opportunity to save the world and its people?
For a more in-depth look at the “WMHBCB” video, read Bonnie Dwyer’s Spectrum article, “Is It Our Fault That Jesus Has Not Come?” posted on the current Spectrum web site. Dwyer consults respected Adventist historians and others as she seeks answers to the question in the article’s title. Her findings lead to the possibility that the video production placed higher priority on getting out the message than on historical accuracy. Granted, the film-maker’s role is to tell a story. Facts are incidental to the message. This is the Hollywood way. So be it. Let those who are so inclined continue to inform Adventists that God is in their control. Perhaps they had a revelation that passed us by. Our role may be to wait, and watch. We can also now and again remind people: God alone calls the shots.
The video ends with “contemporary” remarks from General Conference officials. Some credibility might have been restored to the production had the spokespeople, including the General Conference president and his wife, modeled forgiveness. Lord knows there are sufficient actions that warrant such. Care to talk about how the GC president has treated the duly and officially elected president of Southeastern California Conference? Think of the little matter of the international group that was brought together to study the women’s ordination conundrum. How does one justify the sums of money spent to reach no conclusion? No need to seek forgiveness for how GC administration spent our money with no tangible outcome? Or is it that forgiveness and humility are for the common folk? And as for the others, the “knowing ones”? Their task is to prod others to do the difficult and ease the way for those who lead. “Lead to where?” is the question at large.