On Being Adventist and Not Being a Jerk
By Christopher Thompson
You’re probably not going to like what I’m about to say, but I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’m convinced it’s true. I hope you’re sitting down. Here it goes.
Cultural Adventists are jerks.
I’m not sure where I first heard the term Cultural Adventist, but I think it encapsulates the persona of the kinds of people who fit the bill here. Adventists are those who are awaiting the coming of the Christ. A Cultural Adventist on the other hand, has been encultured in the behaviors and lifestyle of Adventism, yet they lack the Spirit of Christ.
So here’s a qualifier. Christians aren’t jerks. But you do know that you can be a Cultural Adventist and not be a Christian. I’m sure that concept is disturbing, but if you think carefully you’ll agree that Cultural Adventists are quite capable of being what Merriam-Webster defines as “cruel, rude, or small-minded.”
I’ll give you three reasons why I think Cultural Adventists are jerks.
Cultural Adventists constantly inform you about their holiness and restraint.
If they are fasting, you will know. If there’s an unacceptable TV program or movie, they’ll be sure to let you know that they haven’t seen it. They never fail to tell people what they never eat. They are professionals at letting you know all of the noble things they do and how careful they are to abstain from all things that are harmful. They are closely akin to the ancient Ascetics who believed pleasure to be evil. Cultural Adventists are pale-faced drones and they’re proud to tell you why God prefers pallor.
Cultural Adventists constantly remind you about your unacceptable behavior.
This is obviously the adverse of the previous one. Thus, they are closely related. We all know that our body is the temple of the living God and that living a healthy lifestyle is a sign of good stewardship. However, we can do without the incessant Sabbath dinner plate patrolling, with continual reminders of the evils of cheese and sugar. I’ll never forget (though I probably should) how a fellow freshman student told me that I wasn’t “college material” because I didn’t dress, talk and act to his liking. It didn’t matter that my GPA was and remained higher than his. He’s a multi-generational, Cultural Adventist, and so he made sure I knew it.
Cultural Adventists are unyielding, intolerant and insufferable hardliners.
If the pastor leads a Baptist church, he can’t possibly have anything valuable to say. If they sell drugs, use drugs, live an alternative lifestyle, then they’re reprobate. If you have fun on the Sabbath, you’re worldly. They do not care. They do not listen. And they show no mercy. They love to “reason together;” which in their minds means that you blindly accept the trite, overused and misinterpreted E.G. White quote about “a bedlam of noise” that they roll out whenever someone mentions drums. They see the world in black or white, and if you see shades of grey it must be because you’re into deviant behavior.
To be fair, Adventism is a complex and multifaceted system of belief and it’s unsafe to paint any one person or any group of people with such broad strokes. But I’ll bet my next paycheck that you just saw a good number of people you know in those descriptors.
The Cultural Adventist just got upset that I offered to bet. But try to understand the point here: If you’re an Adventist, try not to be a jerk.
The fact is, we all struggle with pride at some point and in some way. We struggle to see ourselves as we truly are. And we struggle in our expressions of pleasure and pain. We don’t want to embrace pleasure for fear of appearing worldly, and we don’t express pain because it makes us appear weak and faithless. Yet, Jesus told us just that; without him, we’re useless (see John 15:5). So with that in mind, here are three keys to not being a jerk.
Remember you’ve been forgiven.
I’m always mindful of Paul’s counsel in 2 Cor. 10:12. It is unwise to compare ourselves to ourselves. When we compare ourselves to ourselves we tend to rank ourselves. Yet, when God is our central focus we constantly see our need for him. And when we see our need we are reminded that we “have an Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1). It is then that we are reminded that we are made right with God; not because we’ve done what’s right, but rather because we’ve been forgiven for what we’ve done wrong. Whenever I think about all the reasons I need God’s grace, it makes me a lot more tolerant of others. And that brings me to my next point.
Be patient with people.
I’m often tempted to behave as if I’ve always been this way. The fact is I haven’t. There’s a long line of folks who knew me before I knew God. And they will tell you: I’ve come a long way. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in an instant. I’ve been seeking God and following him for some time. And every…single…day…I’m reminded that I’ve got a long way to go. I’m glad God is patient with me. Therefore, I’m reminded of my need to be patient with others–especially those who have never heard of God, who haven’t had the amazing privileges I’ve been afforded and who have had a much harder road than I. We need more patience and tolerance for others. You never know what a person has to contend with. This brings me to my last point.
Be kind to people.
Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. I really love those images. Salt brings flavor. Light dispels darkness. I’m enthralled with the idea that everyday I have many opportunities to brighten someone’s day. I embrace the challenge to bring just a pinch more joy and enjoyment to a person’s day. I want the waitress to smile when she sees the tip I left her. I want the store clerk to laugh a bit to make it through his shift. I want the police officer to know that I’m praying for her. I want the people that I touch on a daily basis to get an extra glimpse of the love and grace of God when they interact with me.
Now time for a transparent moment. I’m a bit of a jerk myself. I too can be quite snobbish and self-absorbed at times. I pray that God makes me always sensitive of my need for him and mindful of how much I’ve been forgiven. I pray that he makes me patient with myself and with others. I pray that he will cause me to be kind and gracious to everyone I meet. Here’s to trusting God to make us righteous instead of parading our own filthy rags for public praise.
Here’s to being Adventist and not being a jerk.
Christopher C. Thompson is beginning a new job in the Orlando, FL area, as Communication Director of the Southeastern Conference.