by Melissa Howell

One of the things I like to do in my class when we first begin the section on SDA Beliefs is to pass out a questionnaire, asking the students 3 questions: 

1. Which of the 28 fundamental beliefs do you have the most questions about?
2. Which of the 28 fundamental beliefs seem to personally bother you the most?
3. Which of the 28 fundamental beliefs seem the most relevant and useful in real life? 

Of course Ellen White, the sanctuary, and the investigative judgment are always the heavy weights for the first question.  The millennium and the end of sin often make the list too.  The kids almost always report finding the Sabbath, the health message, and our beliefs on the state of the dead very relevant to real life in question 3.  But question number 2 is usually the unpredictable one, and often I get as many answers for that as I have students.  However, not last year.

Last year, question 2 was answered identically by a giant majority of the 86 students.  Do you want to know which one thing bothered them the most?  Jewelry.  It was jewelry!  You know, I didn’t even list that one, either.  It wasn’t an option;  it’s not one of the core 28, though of course it’s inferred under lifestyle issues I guess.  As I read the results, I kept thinking to myself…jewelry?  Really?! 

On the one hand, I felt happy that they aren’t personally disturbed to their cores about other things, larger things, things with profound theological implications.  On the other hand, I felt discouraged that so many found themselves snared on such a side issue. 

These are academy kids, keep in mind.  So perhaps they were reacting to the most prevalent rules they seem to collide with on a day-to-day basis.  It seems like jewelry is sneaked on, found, and taken almost constantly in the routine rhythms of boarding school life – someone’s always pushing the limits.  But to get stuck on this, out of all our beliefs, as something that bothers them the MOST?  I was surprised. 

So we held a debate on the issue – I let them hash it out because I wanted to hear their thoughts.  For a full class period each section, I listened to all of the pros and cons, all of the slinging of Bible texts and sentimental ideas and witnessing plugs, from both sides, and I simply marveled.  Actually, their arguments were GOOD.  Many were confused about how wearing jewelry is any different from wearing expensive clothes, shoes, ties, and sunglasses.  Some struggled with the different standards between churches.  And others simply wanted to find a clear verse they could stand behind and hang their hat – or necklace – on.  But in each class, the arguments grew so heated and passionate that I came to see clearly why this is such a problem for teenagers. 

In the post-debate aftermath quiet of my classroom, alone with my thoughts, I began to wonder how many kids we lose to silly, petty issues such as jewelry.  And that goes for both sides – how many have we lost because we condemned them for wearing it, or made such a huge issue about it instead of focusing on Jesus?  How many have we lost because we wore it to church bold-faced, even though our church technically speaks against it?  I wondered how much longer this particular subject was going to be an issue in our church.

In the California and Arizona churches I grew up in, many people wore it without a second thought.  Fast forward to my college days in Nebraska and Iowa, and I hardly ever saw it, except among my peers.  It was almost completely missing from grad school in Michigan.  Here in the Seattle area – well, it just depends on the church you choose to attend each week, I suppose. 

One of the things I have always loved about the Adventist church is that we can disagree on things, sometimes vehemently, and yet still stay together, still retain the general sense of unity.  I’ve read that so many churches have split over the very same issues which we fight over, yet we somehow find a way to agree to disagree and remain as one.  I’m proud of us for that.  Terribly proud!  But I also wonder just how confusing it is to our kids, to find a different flavor of Adventism almost anywhere you go. 

Maybe confusing is okay though?  “Confusing” has the potential to cause people to throw their hands up in exasperation, true. But then again, maybe if they are presented with a large enough variety of options, they will be forced to learn how to think for themselves.  Forced to search their Bibles.  Forced to seek their answers personally from God, instead of church people.  I guess I really would rather see a generation of young Adventists who have a well-thought out faith, than a generation of identical bleating sheep, earring-clad or not.