by Ed Schwisow
July 10, 2014
San Antonio, the hottest summertime city in the United States, is a poster child for the perils of climate extremes. Red now colors the rising coastal tides on the eroding Gulf shorelines, as area reservoirs fall to some of their lowest recorded levels.
That’s fearful knowledge for those of us who have family members living in San Antonio or as Adventists who wonder why a deliberate choice was made to conduct a world session during the hottest days of the hottest month in the most arid major city in the United States. Otherwise, San Antonio’s summer climate is a worthy gathering ground for Adventists who fervently believe that this world, as it is becoming today, is no longer a fitting home for the human race….
The Heat Is on in the Church
But while questions of logistics are important, of greater import is that the General Conference Session (July 2-12, 2015) is fast lining up as a case study in climate change within the Adventist Church. Internal heat is on and tides are rising. Members right, left, and center share an unprecedented level of concern regarding the Church’s future and are mystified by the strange and idiosyncratic responses by Church administrators to a number of concerns (decisions chronicled and thoughtfully analyzed by Adventist Today). Pressure for women’s ordination from a sizable portion of the Church’s territory has finally broken through the dam of delay and demureness. There is no going back, it seems, and those who may try to turn back San Antonio’s sundial will find the situation far hotter than they ever deemed possible.
In the untimely closing of “The Record Keeper,” we see what truly must be a new record in heated administrative reaction against its own earlier decisions. Why, after so much quality time and effort, was this evangelistic film project terminated (rather than tested and polished further)? If it possessed so little potential by the time production ended, what happened to strip away the original virtues in the early script? The story and the story behind the story are emerging and will indeed be told without bias or self-interest by the free Adventist press. Count on it.
The heat is rising so quickly, and tides are now so high over these and other troubling issues, that Adventist Today has been told of serious concerns that the current GC administration may prove to be a one-term proposition—something unprecedented in modern times. Clearly, San Antonio is a defining moment for the Church, even as San Antonio’s most famous church, the Alamo, was definitive 160 years ago in the history of North America. Eight generations have passed since the Adventist Church came into being during those years of turmoil with Mexico and the future of slavery. We have reached a point of serious reckoning about the future of our Church.
A Historical Reckoning
Historians tell us that about every 80 years (four generations), an organization faces a new reckoning, marked by the passing of those who knew the founders personally.
The Adventist Church passed its first 80-year point (1851-1931) a few years after the death of Ellen White. Now the Church faces the conclusion of its second 80-year span (1931-2011). Gone are the aged Adventists who remember those days in the 1930s, when the Church decided to move in a direction of conservative Protestantism on matters of infallibility both in Scripture and in the writings of Mrs. White. We are faced again, in 2015, with an 80-year benchmark of reckoning.
Internal heat is on, and tides are rising, and making sense of the data is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Eighty years ago great secrecy attended the discussion of vital issues of that time, contributing in significant ways to what is in fact a sundering of Adventism into at least four major factions (Historic, Traditional, Evangelical, and Progressive). In the pages of Adventist Today and on its Web site we now possess an information and analytical resource that attracts articulate members of each of these elements of our Church—elements that for 80 years have tried either to ignore each other’s existence or to use each other as fighting foils.
To that end, Adventist Today is moving forward aggressively, conscious that we are not a wealthy organization but that our resources lie in the investment we have made in our seasoned readers and the younger set coming aboard. The other day I was talking to one of our young-adult readers with limited income, and asked if she would permit me to send her a complimentary subscription. She refused, and I asked her why. Said she, “When I like something as much as I like Adventist Today, I believe I should pay for it. We want it in our home, and we’re willing to pay the freight.”
We’re now preparing to provide special coverage of this momentous time in the history of our Church (more about that in a future letter.) As other magazines decline precipitously in circulation, Adventist Today remains consistent, in part because we continue to improve and expand our coverage, without increasing our cover price. Our Website traffic has grown immensely and now includes thousands of readers around the world, as well as North America. This winning combination has been made possible by strong donated support since last General Conference Session, when this era of dangerous opportunity for the Church began in earnest. Now as the Church faces a crucial historical divide in its history, we need the independent Adventist press more than ever to chronicle and make sense of a witheringly complex situation that will set the course for the next 80 years.
This is an opportunity to respond strongly as we face a once-in-a-century coming together of forces in the Church that will to a considerable degree lock in elements that will remain with us into our grandchildren’s old age. A special investment in Adventist Today is more important today than at any time before in our 21-year history, not because we need or deserve special help, but because the investment now is so vital to the Church as it wrestles with these issues.
To that end our reporting staff is expanding as we begin to establish contact points in our colleges and universities and use the skills of gifted student writers as well as seasoned professionals in the Adventist ambit to cover not only the Americas, but the world field.
Like the weather itself, our Church is a complex collage of many ideas, many influences, many voices. Insight, wisdom, and knowledge are needed to understand it and adapt to changing times. For moments like this the Free Press was created, and functions at its very best….
As the economy continues to show signs of life, and as we move toward San Antonio in 2015, consider making an online gift that reflects the audacious challenges we all face ahead in our Church, or don’t hesitate to phone me, Ed Schwisow, to discuss larger pledges and contributions over the next few months leading up to the Session…. Our phone number in the Pacific Time Zone) is 503 826-8600. Thank-you for your support now, and as we journey toward San Antonio.