by Lawrence G. Downing, August 29, 2016:    In the course of her May 6, 2016, interview with 2006 Southern Adventist University graduate and KUSC FM[1] on-air host Brian Lauritzen, Spectrum writer Alita Byrd asked Lauritzen whether he considered himself an Adventist still. For those of us who are part of, and care for, the Adventist church, Brian’s response is significant:

It’s difficult for me to claim the label of “Adventist” given how the church currently treats women and LGBTQ individuals. Right now, official church policy is that women are less qualified to serve the church than men are simply because of who they are. Right now, official church policy is that, if you identify as LGBTQ, who you are is not acceptable in God’s and the church’s eyes and you must change. That is oppression. If I claim to be an Adventist, I am complicit in that oppression. Growing up in the church, I was taught that Jesus fought oppression and injustice every time he encountered it. As long as the church runs counter to His example, perpetuating oppression and injustice while marginalizing large groups of people, I question whether I can claim membership in that organization.

I’m grateful to have been raised in the Adventist church. I still agree with many of the church’s fundamental beliefs. But in its insatiable quest for correct doctrine, the church has instead found dogma. The casualties of this are human. It makes me sad.[2]

Brian is not unique in his response to statements from church officials negating women’s ordination and their insensitivity toward the LGBTQ community. The angst compounds when these same administrators posit that real Adventists believe in a short earth chronology, a literal world-wide flood, and a literal reading of the Bible. Are individuals who think otherwise fake Adventists? If fake, what is the response? Anecdotal evidence suggests a correlation exists between the ex cathedra statements originating from the hierarchy and the exodus from the North American church.  Many of us know individuals, who, like Brian, reject administrators’ attitudes and statements related to the above matters and have walked away from the Adventist church.

My wife and I often attend an Adventist church with a membership of some 135 people; attendance is in the 75-85 range. Within the last two years, in response to statements similar to those that troubled Brian, more than six young adults no longer attend the church. They are no longer willing to be part of an organization that asks its members to accept church leaders’ interpretation of Ellen White’s view of the world and deny the findings of modern science. The net effect is that a pastor has lost valuable church members through no fault of his own. He is left to pick up the pieces and feel the hurt as good people abandon what once was their church home.

How many other congregations have experienced similar losses? I do not know. One is too many! We, like the pious of ancient Israel, travel far to convert one soul. We spend millions to attract the unconverted, and once we have them how is it we are willing, in the name of orthodoxy or remnantness, to cast our own aside as collateral damage on the battlefield of truth? Something is wrong in this scenario! Might fault lie in a misapplication and misunderstanding of what church is about? Might it be that well-meaning people have reached a faulty conclusion that has led to a wrong and counter-productive conclusion?

In thinking about the above matters, I suggest that one explanation for the disconnect between what administrators affirm and the response from women and men who are no longer in the pew is that there are two distinct and divergent views related to the purpose and function of church. How individuals or groups answer the question “Why Does the Adventist Church Exist?” makes all the difference in the world.

Members of one group, for lack of a better term, we can label The More Sure have their answers. This group disdains ambiguity. Another group, we can call the The Less Sure, values dialogue and can live with a degree of uncertainty. The More Sure tend to believe that the purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist church is to create, protect and perpetuate a sanctified people. This belief, and the advocacy for it, produces a far different approach to life from those who, as members of The Less Sure, understand the church to be a gathering of people who seek relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Less Sure welcome debate, doubters and those who struggle to understand the relevance the Christian faith might have for life as they know it.

The More Sure group gives special attention to behavior, conformity, adherence to, and acceptance of, defined beliefs and practice. The More Sure have been known to promote doctrinal positions that have, at most, weak scriptural support, or none at all, such as a short earth chronology. They find satisfaction that their interpretation of scripture is the final word and reject those who disagree with their conclusions or are neutral toward them. In contradistinction, The Less Sure seek understanding of the divine, an appreciation of personal growth, and an acceptance of diversity, both in belief and practice.

The Less Sure do not hold truck with those who set out to create and maintain an ideal organization, nor do they accept as their life-purpose the promotion of processes intended to hasten the  messianic parousia. The question of when the Lord will return and the factors that may bring about the second coming are not, they believe, under our control. To suggest that any individual or organization can affect God’s purposes exceeds human ability and places unnecessary guilt upon those who await God’s kingdom. This is not to diminish Christ’s call to share the Good News. Rather, it is to acknowledge that humanity does not constrict or control God’s purposes.

The Less Sure question practices and attitudes that, when implemented, result in separation from others, promote suspicions toward those who are not of their ilk, and display feelings of superiority when compared with the unenlightened. The Less Sure shy away from those, like in The More Sure, who claim to seek truth, and, by their definition, have found it. These behaviors, The Less Sure group advocates, are inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings and practice, as revealed in the Gospels of the Newer Testament. In addition, The Less Sure group claims no superiority over any others and denies that any group can claim to hold God hostage! How hostage? The More Sure hold to the belief that when they achieve a perfect remnant, Jesus can return. This, in the eyes of The Less Sure, is a pompous and irrational belief! God is hostage to no one or no group.

It is the conclusion of those who are partial to The Less Sure model that the “Jesus church” welcomed reprobates, outcasts, the unwashed hordes. The remnant of his day were not comfortable with his theology, his ethics and his sociological practices; indeed, were prompt to chide him and his followers for their irreligious behaviors.

The More Sure, who advocate and protect the traditions and practices that they believe define the remnant flock are incensed that any person or group could question, much less doubt, those Truths that have guided the church from its inception until now. As Israel of old was commanded to purge the camp of those who violated the religious norms or threatened the nation’s unity, so have The More Sure accepted that they have been given a mandate to purge the camp of those who walk apart from the established beliefs and practices. If the “Straight Testimony,” as defined by The More Sure, brings about the Shaking Time[3], so be it. The Less Sure are appalled by such narrow views and find it unacceptable to give credence to The More Sure’s policies and mandates. The Less Sure vote with their feet and we who stay by the church pay the price.

How, then, with such disparate beliefs, might it be possible to bring the two groups to some common ground? Compromise is a foreign concept to The More Sure. The suggestion that The More Sure keep quiet and refrain from the desire to attack and challenge The Less Sure falls on deaf ears. The remnant does not compromise. Truth must stand. Let not the winds of doubt trouble the saints; keep the ship true to its course. Offload the troublers of Israel. Press together, press together and together struggle toward the mark! In the interim, The Less Sure find their way toward other endeavors and belief systems. They are willing to allow The More Sure to follow their star, but they are unwilling to accept that they must adhere to a similar orbit. Each walks apart from the other. Sad! Is there no fix for this great divide? Yes, there is. If The More Sure are willing to accept The Less Sure as they are, with their questions, their doubts, their views of doctrine that diverge from The More Sure, there is a chance that brothers and sisters can and will dwell together in peace. What a joy that would be! It is unfortunate that that day, within the context of today’s Adventist world, appears far off. Sad!

[1] Classic KUSC, based on the campus of University of California, is one of the most-widely listened to stations in California.  It has transmitters throughout the state, including one at Pacific Union College.

[2] The entire interview, “Sharing Music in the City of Angels,” is on the SPECTRUM website under INTERVIEWS.

[3] The concept of a “shaking” can be traced back to at least 1653 when an English preacher spoke of “‘These are days of shaking, and this shaking is universal.’” See: Jonathan Kirsch, History of the End of the World, p. 175.  Adventists understand the “Shaking Time” occurs when those not committed to Adventist teachings will leave.

Larry DowningLawrence (Larry) Downing, D.Min., is retired after more than 40 years as a parish minister serving Seventh-day Adventist churches on both Coasts.  He was also an adjunct faculty in the School of Business and the School of Theology at La Sierra University.  He is married to Arleen.  Together, they have three grown children and six grandchildren.  Larry and Arleen reside part time in Rancho Cordova, CA and in San Luis Obispo, CA.