by Charles Eaton
By way of an introductory statement, I am a college student attending Oakwood University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution which is also an HBCU (Historically Black College or University). Academia notwithstanding, the real learning takes place at the midday lunch tables in the café. Here different perspectives, various represented majors, and diverse geographical backgrounds gather together to argue about the happenings of the day over veggie meat and rice. The content of my writing both now and in the future will often reflect what is discussed at these sacred lunch table parleys and barbershop like gatherings where the ‘real’ conversations are held.
It has become clear to me the foundation of Adventism is soon going to be challenged. I understand that not everyone here is Adventist, but those of us who are, and certainly the general population of Adventists at large, became and stay Adventist in large part because of how well we believe Adventism parallels biblical truth. It isn’t an exaggeration to say the heart, soul, identity, selling point, and staying power of Adventism — our claim to be the remnant church spoken of in Revelation and our interpretation of the 2300 day prophecy — all hinge on our ability to remain in biblical truth. But have we ignored or misinterpreted some of the truth we so adamantly claim to posses?
CNN recently ran a story which talked about sexuality in single Christians. The article noted that a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in 2009 showed that an alarmingly high 80 % of unmarried ‘evangelical’ young adults between 18–29 years have had sex, compared with 88 % of unmarried adults without the evangelical label. According to my own personal research (asking around), I noticed that 80% translates pretty well to the Adventist community as well. Several reasons were offered by CNN to try to explain this high mark among Christians, and I believe they are absolutely correct when they say it may be an issue of culture.
Back in the Bible times, it was quite common to see young people married in their teenage years. Yet in today’s culture, it is illegal to get married before 18, and most marriages don’t occur until the late 20’s to early 30’s anyway. This difference in marriage ages across time presents a simple reason why people no longer wait to have sex: It’s harder. Although, in general, young people today face many more years of post puberty temptation than the young people of the Bible ever did, the Adventist response remains “suck it up”. As a denomination, we say regardless of culture or times, the action of premarital sex was a sin then, is still a sin today, and will be a sin tomorrow. (Interesting side note for the original meaning sticklers: we translate premarital sex to mean ‘fornication’ which comes from the Greek root word “porneia”, but there is a apparently mini controversy as to whether or not “porneia” was intended to include premarital sex at all.) Regardless, Adventists view this as a biblical principle, not a cultural phenomenon.
Compare that with the biblical teachings of the role of women in the church. The fact of the matter is, biblical days were not as kind to women as they were to horny teenagers (1 Cor 14:33-35, 1 Tim 2:9-15, etc). But the times have changed since then because it is no longer ‘cool’ to treat women in the way these and other verses would suggest. The Adventist church has, understandably, attempted to have its cake and eat it too. Taking a modernized view, our denomination has primarily taught that passages like these promote an idea which is a cultural phenomenon, not a biblical truth. On one hand, we have subtly encouraged female theology majors to enter into the ranks of the chaplaincy, rather than endeavor to be head pastors themselves. Yet, on the other hand, we wink at the verses which bar women from speaking up in the church, nor do we prevent them from holding teaching positions in Sabbath School. It would be very hard to expect the church to conform to the standards Paul laid out in the New Testament, perhaps almost as hard as teenagers trying to stay abstinent in today’s sex-saturated society.
Whether premarital sex and the role of women in the church is a cultural phenomenon or a biblical principal isn’t directly the point of this blog. My questions are these: Who got to decide which is which? What is the standard for determining what is truth versus what is cultural convenience? Is it possible that our approaches to premarital sex and other culturally sensitive topics are wrong? How long will we continue to give females a cute pat on the back and a sticker as we usher them to the Chaplaincy office instead of letting them head their own congregation? Should they even have Chaplaincy positions? If, through careful study of the Word of God, this church has been found slack on its incorporation of any biblical truths, will the institution of Adventism have the nerve to be unpopular in order to be correct? Will we, as a people, be willing to stand up for unpopularity if the church proves slow in moving its feet? I don’t know when, but it’s only a matter of time until these issues come to their climax.