A response to Monte Sahlin’s “How Should Adventists Respond When Many People Reject Organized Religion?”

As a lifelong Adventist who struggled to fit in with organized religion I can relate to the attitudes
of the people described in the article. I liked the Beatles, not hymns. I liked TV and novels, not
the Sabbath School lessons. I was told by my church that everything I liked was wrong, or bad
for me, or made me unfit for heaven, or at the very least, not part of the spiritually elite. So, even
though I went as a Student Missionary during my college years, and I attended church faithfully,
and for much of my adult life I didn’t watch TV, or read novels or go to movies, my experience
with church actually moved me farther from God. I was so busy trying to fit the mold of a
spiritual person that I never had time to be a real person, and I certainly couldn’t connect with
God as I really was.

Fortunately, as an adult I encountered a God who loved me as I am, who doesn’t need me to
quit watching TV in order to connect with me, and who can relate to me in the actual, real, life I
live, not the idealized, spiritualized life my church recommended to me. The God I encountered
is a vital Being who has actually tried to make me more of a real person instead of trying to
make me fit a mold. It’s a pleasure to know Him; even though His process isn’t pleasant all the
time, the results are worth the pain and I know that the Father who accepts me as I am is doing
it to make me my best self, the most happy I can be with who I am on this often-painful planet.

When the church acts in fossilized ways, as I believe it did in San Antonio, that doesn’t attract
anyone to itself. Modern people don’t want to be turned into religious robots, or forced into a
religious mold, or have their spirituality in the hands of people who are acting in ways from the
turn of the 19th century. They want something that enhances their lives, that isn’t about how well
they follow a set of rules drafted a hundred years ago, or be dictated to by men in black suits. If
the Sabbath is a burden, they don’t want it. If religion is a burden, they don’t want it. The church
needs to move into the modern age in order to attract the non-religious. Why can’t James
Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” be a worship song, or Bob Dylan’s “If Not For
You” or “To Make You Feel My Love?” I know those songs date me, but there are a lot of more
modern songs that are just as worshipful. Why do we follow the format we do when modern
people don’t like rigidity in worship, or anything else? Our current format of worship hasn’t
changed since I was born into the church a long, long time ago. But why shouldn’t it? The fact
that “church people” like it shouldn’t keep us from reaching out to “non-church people” in ways
that they can actually relate to and that don’t make them feel threatened. I never liked the
religious box, so why would I try to force someone else into it? If the church doesn’t change its
focus and its approach to people, it will become irrelevant to real life. It will continue to steal
members from other religious groups without really touching the increasing numbers of people
who don’t want any religion.

William Vercio

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