by Ervin Taylor
by Ervin Taylor, July 30, 2014
When the “flagship journal” of institutional Adventism, the Adventist Review (AR), publishes articles with titles such as “What Do You Mean: Seventh-day Adventist?,” the average Adventist reader can reasonably conclude that the Adventist Church in parts of North America in the early 21st Century is no longer the Adventist Church of his grandparents or great-grandparents, or even his parents’ generation. (Of course, this assumes that one’s parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were Adventists and that you are a 2nd- or 3rd-or 4th-generation Adventist. Most Adventists outside North America are converts and lack the historical perspective of someone born into the Church.)
Also, in many cases, when the AR publishes such articles, we might reasonably conclude that certain politically well-connected individuals and/or politically powerful families of Adventists are probably very unhappy about the way contemporary Adventism in many educational and medical centers in the North America Division (NAD) is evolving toward a post-Fundamentalist, non-sectarian Adventist future, characterized by greater intellectual maturity and a much more pluralistic theology.
The recent cover story of the AR, titled “What Do You Mean: Seventh-day Adventist?” by Lee Roy Holmes, is very concerned that Adventists in the North American Division (NAD) “think and speak of each other as either 'liberal' or 'conservative.'" His take on the Adventist left is that it represents an “insipid liberalism.” (To refresh my memory, I had to look up insipid. One definition is that it means something or someone “without distinctive, interesting, or stimulating qualities.”) Holmes’ take on the Adventist right is that it presents a “harsh legalism.” Guess what Pastor Holmes calls himself? He is, he insists, a “moderate.”
Now there are certainly moderate Adventists of good will who, as the author of this article notes, seek “to establish common ground between voices speaking out boldly against long-established positions and other equally strong voices defending them. . . .” What is interesting is that progressives and liberals in the Church generally respect those who are sincerely attempting to forge common ground and are happy to be a part of the dialogue that is necessary to determine if such a middle ground can be found on various issues. Regrettably, it seems that the majority of conservatives will have nothing to do with an exchange of views with the goal of seeking a middle ground.
A good example of this occurred in the aftermath of the series of Faith and Science Conferences held under General Conference (GC) and Division auspices. What occurred highlighted the inability of those of conservative mindset to explore any middle ground on the subject of Creation and earth history. As if to emphasize their refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue, following the final Faith and Science session, the GC established another apologetic organization, the Faith and Science Council, to operate alongside the existing GC apologetic organizations, the misnamed Geoscience Research (sic!) Institute and Biblical Research (sic!) Institute. They all now cooperate to organize and staff invitation-only (no moderate, open-minded individuals need apply) propaganda sessions with the goal of shoring up the standard fundamentalist Adventist understanding concerning Creation.
Pastor Holmes believes that the new reality of North American Adventism reflects “a profound change in how Seventh-day Adventists perceive themselves, their message and their mission.” He insists that the “consolidation of theologically contradictory groups creates division within the church.” He also accuses certain individuals of practicing “deception” because he believes “that a common set of baptismal vows does not allow for rival sets of Seventh-day Adventists.” Other bad things (from his perspective) that are happening are “Divisiveness” and the “Subversion of Church Discipline.”
What seems to be particularly troubling to Pastor Holmes is that “Church members sometimes hesitate to invite non-Adventists to church-sponsored activities because they fear the witness of a divided church.” NAD Adventism, he hints, is going the way of the liberal mainline American Protestant churches. He offers the opinion that these liberal churches have “abandoned the moral authority of the Bible, and are left with little to offer.” I’m sure that our Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian friends would be interested to learn that they have abandoned the moral authority of the Bible. But Holmes' misguided comment then allows him to assert that “Seventh-day Adventists have been assigned the task of giving the second angel’s message to the adherents of these churches.” Unfortunately, he does not share with his readers who, exactly, assigned that task to Adventists.
As we noted, the author insists that he is a “moderate” Adventist. Readers may wish to come to their own conclusion about where Pastor Holmes situates himself on the spectrum of Adventist thought, when they are informed of where an earlier version of this article was published. It turns out that it first appeared as a chapter in a 2005 book edited by ex-Adventist minister Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, titled Here We Stand. (The book was published by Review and Herald Graphics prior to the revelations of certain alleged and admitted moral lapses that resulted in Dr. Pipim’s Adventist ministerial status being publicly revoked.) If one wishes to insist that the Pipim book is considered “moderate,” then I suppose one could also reasonably argue that the Klu Klux Klan was moderate on the subject of race relations in the American South.
Holmes' article is interesting for both what it says and what it does not say. There has been a lot of talk recently about how “labels” such as “liberal” or “conservative” (as in liberal or conservative Adventism) should not be used. When those of good will make such a suggestion, perhaps they are simply saying that we should not use these kinds of labels to make judgments about individual personal motives or about a specific belief based only on some broad category. However, I would submit that there are individuals who may have less exalted reasons for arguing that such labels should not be used. It may be that they would like to maintain the myth that Adventism is a single, monolithic religious entity where everyone believes the same and that there is only one true Adventism to which all should adhere. Simply reading the various Adventist-oriented free-ranging Web sites (that criteria would exclude the AR comments postings) shows the pluralism that characterizes contemporary Adventism in North America.
It will be interesting to see what kinds of comments will be permitted for Holmes' article on the AR Web site, let alone in the pages of AR. We can be confident that they will be carefully vetted before being allowed to be posted or printed. Fortunately, the Adventist Today Web site models the kind of free speech that a mature, post-Fundamentalist Adventist Church of the future will welcome and celebrate. In such an environment, progressive, liberal, cultural, ecumenical, moderate, evangelical, charismatic, eschatological, and historic Adventists, including every variant of each grouping, can mutually sustain an affirming community where such labels will eventually become essentially superfluous, since everyone will be too busy in some type of ministry helping their fellow humans live a better life. Fundamentalist Adventists will also be welcomed, presuming they can be comfortable within an environment where all varieties of Adventism live in peace and mutual respect.