19 June 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
A friend of mine dropped her membership over the church’s stand on LGBTQ people and women. Knowing that even a small percentage of her tithe was being used to harm and demean people was more than she could tolerate.
Is she right? Does my continued membership and financial support make me party to the hate? At what point should I admit that the church has left me and make my withdrawal official?
Signed, Do No Evil
Dear No Evil,
Churches come into being with the best of intentions. Usually they feel they have something to contribute to the larger faith community that others haven‘t thought of. In those early years they are searching and flexible. Our pioneers called this “progressive truth.”
But as years pass, as both financial assets and the numbers of members grow, churches turn selfish, fearful and protective. They’re don’t want to lose the support of those who are the most attached to the most conservative teachings. They regard even taking a stand on moral issues as too great a risk—thus the Catholic Church is still hiding pedophiles, and the Adventist Church can’t speak up against the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda.
Eventually they begin to roll back even the advances they’ve already made. The early Adventist church had women as evangelists, pastors, church leaders, and a prophet—but now it wants to eliminate all female leadership.
Progressive leadership is replaced by strong regressive church leaders. And the only safe plan, they believe, is to enforce uniformity. These leaders are terrified that the church might be a space (as it was in its early years) for diversity and differing opinions. They use the church’s money and influence to push out those who don’t agree. Our denomination could easily be a “broad church” that embraces many opinions and many kinds of people; instead, it is becoming narrower and more excluding.
This isn’t just Aunty’s theory; the aging of organizations is one that is well-understood by sociologists. Our church is no longer searching for God’s truth, nor even just holding the line, but is instead retreating from the progressive truth that our ancestors stood for.
As for tithe, there are ways to support the work of your congregation and local conference without supporting the General Conference. The key is to never, ever use the word “tithe,” whether you give that money to the local church or directly to the conference office. If that isn’t enough for you, you can send your contributions to relief ministries like ADRA.
What Aunty can’t tell you is when the time has come for you to cut ties. That must be a matter of much personal prayer. Aunty loves this church and sees all the wonderful things that it has accomplished—not least, the millions of Adventists who love Jesus and preach the gospel, who accept and help their fellow human beings. But she doesn’t blame anyone for being discouraged about what the church is now becoming, and she would never criticize someone for saying, “I can’t be a member of this denomination anymore.”
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.