by Larry Downing  |  29 January 2018  |

A disclaimer: I am not employed by Adventist Review, nor am I seeking a position with the venerable organization.

Adventist Review (AR) articles, for the most part, have not grabbed my attention. The authors advocated or defended beliefs and practices that were not part of my world. The journal too often had the feel of a PR rag published to promote General Conference (GC) administrators’ opinions and programs. The AR avoided issues that concerned people in the church where I lived. When response was given to pertinent matters it was with time-worn clichés. Why, then, read the journal? Many do not. When I ask my colleagues in ministry and my parishioners if they subscribe to the AR, the answer is most often no.

Having tipped my hand that I have not always appreciated the Adventist flagship publication, it is confession time. Recent Adventist Reviews have had articles written by recognized authorities who address real-life issues. My world has been discombobulated by such astounding change. The subjects addressed have blown my negativity out of the water! I will share with the reader why this change of mind by identifying specific examples published in the last three AR journals.

The first article in the November 2017 issue is a report of the response Adventist congregations have made to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Helping those in crisis is something we Adventists do well. The responders do us proud!

In the next article, written by Jarrod Stackelroth, we learn that the Griffith Seventh-day Adventist Church in the New South Wales Conference made a public apology for its maltreatment of pastors and others. The document, signed by most of its members, opens the door to all manner of responses. Specifics that led to the apology are not identified, nor is it important that we know the details. What is of note is that people in a congregation recognized their behavior had contradicted their faith, and took action. A model for other congregations?

Brenda Dickerson’s article, “Anti-Sex Trafficking Event Confronts Criminal Enterprise with Awareness” reports on a conference held in Kansas City that offered “…education for prevention of human sex trafficking and to provide support to existing survivors.” The reader was introduced to Veronica’s Voice, an Adventist Church program that provides shelter to those victimized by sexual traffickers. Participants listened to first-hand accounts of survivors and how the experience impacted their lives. Specialists from law enforcement and various agencies shared their expertise on how individuals and organizations can implement effective response to those enslaved by sex traffickers. The article, in brief form, presented the scope of the sex trafficking menace: “over 100,000 children are being sex trafficked every year in the United States” alone; average ages for entry into sex trafficking: 11-14 years. This article will mess up your mind and vibrate your moral fibers. How can this be going on under our very noses? It is! And rural America? It’s there, too!

When I was a pastor in Pennsylvania, we often visited Lancaster, Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse. This was Amish country. The NEWSFEATURE article, “We Are Amish, and We Are Seventh-day Adventists,” caught my attention. How can this be? Well, it is. When Naomi and Andy Weaver broke away from their Amish congregation and joined an outside church, they were shunned by family, church and community. Shunning is a harsh punishment. The Amish are a tight and ancient community. They do not abide those who disrupt their way of life. If the disruptor is part of the Amish community, he or she may be shunned.

When we lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Carlisle Sentinel ran a series of articles covering an alienation of affection suit one Amish man filed against another. An Amish bishop had announced that a former member of his church was to be shunned; he had broken away from the church and formed another group. The shunned man, who was the bishop’s brother-in-law, suddenly became a non-person! Not even his wife or children could acknowledge his presence, despite the fact they all continued to share the same house. The man who filed suit testified that the command to shun him had caused him great emotional distress and asked to court to countermand the decree. His request was denied.

The Weavers, as people who are shunned, have likely experienced similar emotional distress. Unlike the Amish man referenced above, they have not sued anyone. They did one better. They formed an Adventist church and invited friends and neighbors to join with them to worship the Lord on Sabbath. Some have accepted.

The DISCOVER section lead reads “Could it be, somehow, that raising our kids in an Adventist university town might have worked against everything we had hoped and prayed for?” A reader expecting the pat, corporate answer, would be surprised. The authors, Ivan and Olivia Ruiz-Knott, acknowledge that the answer might well be yes.

The December issue could have clogged the reader’s mind with more cliché Christmas stories. It did not yield to this temptation. The NEWS section began with an account of the GC Annual Council vote that referred back to committee the document GC president Ted Wilson urged the delegates to adopt. The AR report, while not as thorough as those published by the independent journals, Adventist Today and Spectrum, was not a whitewash. An additional report gave account of the action by the Pacific Union College (PUC) board to reject an offer from a winery to purchase a portion of the college land. I, a PUC alum, say, ‘good move!’

The NEWS account of the dedication of the new North American Division (NAD) headquarters provided a brief background into the dynamics that led to the move away from the GC headquarters and the financial benefits that are expected. Readers were assured that the close relationship between the GC and NAD would continue. (The denial of rumors that there is strain between the two organizations leads one to ponder whether tension may have lurked somewhere in the dark past.) One puzzle: the article states that NAD president Dan Jackson was attending a board meeting in California and thus unable to participate in the official events, although he did address the group on the phone. Here’s the puzzle: the picture accompanying the article shows Jackson and Wilson shaking hands. Another time? Another place?

OK. These may not be earth-shaking articles, but competent authors did address matters that impact the contemporary Adventist church and society at large. For example, the January 2018 AR informed us that Sonya Carson, Dr. Ben Carson’s mother, died. The article states that Mrs. Carson married at age 13 and years later, after the birth of two sons, she left her husband when she learned he had not divorced his previous wife. Mrs. Carson was left to raise her children as a single mother. Never underestimate the power of a mother’s love!           

Jim Ponder reported that members of La Sierra University’s social work faculty, and a university pastor, made a presentation before the National Association of Christian Social Workers convention at Charlotte, North Carolina. The three presenters spoke on ways congregations and faith-based organizations can be more effective in assisting economically challenged individuals to connect with appropriate agencies, and how churches can partner with governmental agencies. I pondered who will translate/implement theory into parish life.

“Trafficking People: How to recognize the many faces of evil,” written by Ivona Bernard, does not reference the similar article published in the November 2017 AR, but there is direct connection. Both address the crime of sex trafficking and its harmful effect upon its victims. Bernard describes her introduction to human trafficking and shares what she learned from individuals who have been victimized. In her meeting with Kristy Childs, founder and program director of Veronica’s Voice (see the November article) Bernard shares the emotional roller coaster experience as she listened to the horror stories told by those trapped in the sex trade. I was impressed that here was an account of caring people who are willing to respond to a human tragedy that has brought unimaginable hurt to thousands of people. Kudos to them!

It is not unusual for Allan R. Handysides, MD, to tackle pertinent health topics and provide balanced, reasonable response to ailments that affect our lives. In the article “Telling Our Children About Sex” he ventures to address a challenge every parent has faced or will face. Handysides, in non-technical, straightforward language, provides parents, and others, sensible advice for introducing their kids to the mysterious world of the birds and the bees. Sex does make the world go round. Pleased AR gave the wheel a gentle spin.

Not sure what struck the AR editors, as they stretched beyond churchly preconceptions. A few pages past Handysides’ article is another sexually oriented piece. (It’s heartening to see that the AR is no longer afraid to address important topics having to do with sex.)

“Changing Your Mind” is an innocuous safe title, and so it would remain, did not the eye wander to the subtitle: “Pornography and the brain.” The authors, Stanley Stevenson, MSW, and Timothy Jennings, MD, have dared venture into an arena reserved for the bold. No pious platitudes here. Pornography is labeled a potentially addictive behavior. No one is immune from its clutches. Stevenson and Jennings report that 21 percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with pornography. Both men and women are potential porn addicts. Porn addiction carries real consequence. Marriages are put under threat. Careers suffer and relationships are harmed. There is more. An unexpected effect on the person who watches porn is a diminished connection between the frontal cortex and other regions of the brain. Negative results may include loss of self-governance, lessening of reason-based decision making and other impairments to the ability to make decisions.

Adults are not the only ones who view porn. Quoting from a U. S. Department of Justice memo the authors write, “‘Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent and obscene material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.’”        

“Predators in the Pews” by David Fournier, chief client officer for Adventist Risk Management, confronts a disturbing and destructive behavior seldom written about in church papers. The first sentence in the article’s second paragraph states where the author is headed. “It is hard to imagine the impact of sexual abuse upon a child, and the pain and damage endured regardless of the perpetrator (p. 60).” The perpetrators, Fournier reports, include Seventh-day Adventist clergy, teachers, and others.

While there are numerous challenges that confront our church, there is one that calls for particular attention: the prevention of child-on-child abuse. Child-on-child abuse requires a far different response than adult-to-child abuse. It is possible that the predators may be classmates, bullies, fellow Pathfinders, or friends from within the local church. The victims in these cases are children ranging in age from teenagers to the very young. “It is important,” notes Fournier, “to remember that the perpetrator of the sexual abuse in this case is also a minor and, in many cases, a child who is close in age to the victim. The actions take place with any combination of genders: boys abusing boys or girls; girls abusing boys or other girls. The range of misconduct includes inappropriate touching, sexual acts, sexual intercourse, and sodomy.”

Child-on-child abuse can occur at a children’s ministries party at a church member’s home, on a Pathfinder bus or on a camping trip. Predators take advantage of areas of privacy or isolation, such as restrooms or rooms seldom occupied. Appropriate response is to have adult supervision at all times.

As I reflected on the above article, thoughts whirled about, putting my little gray cells all a-jumble. How can a person inflict such damage on a child? A child who has been sexually abused will carry a lifelong scar that affects every component of that child’s present and future life. Hell’s lowest abyss is too good a place for the sexual pervert who enfolds himself (most of those who prey upon kids are men) in a cloak of piety and spirituality in his attempt to fulfill his sexual fantasies.

It is encouraging to learn that people and churches have learned to be on the watch for those who are on the prowl. Frank conversations, diligent volunteers, committed church leadership, Adventist Risk Management, and EndItNow, combined with policies and guidelines, enhanced training and background screening, and windows in doors, have made our churches a safer place for our kids and kept predators away. The article reminds the reader that there is no location or function that does not provide a potential target for the child sexual predator. Be aware and report are the watchwords.

End note: AR editor Bill Knott is to be commended for publishing the articles in the three journals referenced above. He has invited us into areas usually avoided by Adventist journalism. Keep at it, people. It’s good stuff! And to those who gave up on the AR, you might give it another try. Who knows? You might like it.

Lawrence Downing, DMin, is a retired pastor who has served as an adjunct instructor at La Sierra University School of Business and the School of Religion, and the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. 

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