21 Dec

BETTER THAN OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE BETTER THAN US

For the three of you who have read any of my previous articles, you may have noticed that I’ve been hard on Adventism. To be fair, I am critical of all organized religious groups and if I were a Lutheran or Hindu or Wiccan, I’d be writing articles that were hard on whichever of those groups I was a part of.

It’s because I believe we can do better. It’s because I believe we haven’t been honest with ourselves about who we are as a people and what good we contribute to the world around us. Because, if we are not contributing in a helpful and positive way and are merely existing to sustain our own group, then there is no point to the group. Creating new ways to be isolated and exclusionary is not a great way to help and love our neighbors.

An important question might be, “Do our beliefs make us better people?” As opposed to another equally important follow up question:

“Do our beliefs only serve to make us believe we are better than other people?”

Growing up in Adventism, I remember being taught that we had the best theology, and we were the only ones who were right and that made us better than everyone else. I don’t pretend that my experience was everyone else’s experience. But I also don’t pretend that I was the only one who grew up believing that because of attending Adventist church and school.

There is a lot of evidence past and present that suggests our organizational goal is that second question. So, let’s focus on the first question.

Do our Adventist beliefs make us better people?

Let’s set aside the details of some of the dubious theology still taught from Adventist pulpits and simply focus on the human experience. What do we teach people that makes those people better?

Well, we do believe in the love of Jesus. You might not know it sometimes, but we do. We believe in grace and forgiveness. Not just coming from God but going from us to others. Those are all pretty good things and, when embraced by an individual, could certainly serve to make them a better person.

The only problem is—those beliefs aren’t exclusively Adventist. Literally, every Christian denomination believes those things. And, believe it or not, most Pagan religions have a variation of those beliefs that encourage them to be kind, forgiving, loving, and to care for their fellow people.

So, in the end, not only are those beliefs not unique to Adventism, but the end results of those beliefs aren’t, also, even unique to Christianity.

What else? Does the concept of the Trinity make one a better human? It really does not. And some of the fights I’ve seen take place surrounding that one belief suggests it just might make us worse. But perhaps that’s a false correlation on my part.

Oh, Adventism believes we have at least one prophet in our history. And no, that belief has not made us better people. The people who believe that the hardest tend to be the ones most likely to cause you spiritual harm in the name of that same prophet. They very much need you to believe it with the same fervor and in the same detail as they do. Those people might also be kind at times, but not because of that belief.

We believe in healthy living and good health care. And this is probably as close as we get to a belief that could make us better people, except, again, we are not the only or first people to believe in such things. And for those who have become healthier people by becoming Adventist, healthier is not the same as better in character and does not equate to treating others better. A lot of damage has been done in the name of health reform.

In fact, as I reflected on our beliefs, I couldn’t find one that actually makes us better people as a whole. Oh, sure. Some of you probably know a story of some person who was just an awful human, and then they met Jesus and became a genuinely amazing and loving human and takes care of their community with zest and zeal.

But that isn’t an Adventist thing. That’s a Jesus thing. The spirit of God transformed that person’s life. Adventism didn’t change them even if the change happened in an Adventist community. That community just happened to be one of the tools God used to make it happen.

It could have happened anywhere.

Some Adventist church communities are beautiful and amazing places, full of God’s spirit and love. And I fear just as many, if not more, are not. And, just as many, if not more, loving and amazing spirit filled communities exist outside of Adventism and do way more amazing things than ours generally do within their communities.

Some of you are going to point out that, “doesn’t being saved make you a better person?” My response would be, that may depend on what you believe that means? A pretty standard line in Adventist evangelism is that “… there are many loving and sincere people who are sincerely wrong.” Which is not only an idiotic statement masking as cleverness, but it also doesn’t seem to have a clear grasp of what it is God has been trying to do to humanity.

What it does suggest is that it doesn’t matter how much love you have for people and how much you do to care for your neighbor, the actual things Jesus suggests separates the saved from the lost (see Matt. 25:31-46) if you don’t agree on theological things exactly as the evangelist you will be damned. Especially when you consider those evangelists are rarely evangelizing atheists.

The problems in that last sentence could fill books.

So, Jesus and the Spirit of God can make us better people. Both things are not exclusive to Adventism, and no one is required to be “Christian” to benefit there.

Perhaps this isn’t something I can answer. Perhaps you need to wrestle with this. What is it about Adventism that has made you a better person? And be honest. Don’t attribute things to Adventism that aren’t exclusive to Adventism or aren’t about the beliefs.

So, has it? Has Adventism made you better? Or has simply being in a community of loving people rubbed off on you? Or has having a practice of seeking God regularly with the desire to be a better person changed you?

I have known way too many non-Adventists who have made it their life’s work to help others and live a life of love and forgiveness and compassion for me to believe Adventism alone has anything to do with these things. That’s my position.

But what is yours? You don’t have to agree with me. I’m wrong all the time. Do Adventist beliefs make you a better person? Or do Adventist beliefs just make you believe you are better than other people?

The answer to those questions might just be a little important.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]  

26 Jul

THE DARK ARTS OF SNOBBERY

If you’ve ever tried to buy a hotdog in Chicago, you know that the fastest way to get kicked out of a hotdog joint in the city of wind and hotdogs is to ask for ketchup on it.

Putting ketchup on a hotdog in Chicago is about the most blasphemous thing you could do. I lived in Chicago. More than one hotdog place actually had a sign warning customers of the consequences of asking for ketchup.

Because, if you live in Chicago, the only correct way to order a hotdog is to order an authentic Chicago style hotdog. Mustard, relish, pickle, tomato, onions, sports peppers, and celery salt. That’s it. Done. Some places advocated for a modification that includes sauerkraut. But if it’s a modification, is it really the authentic version?

I’m sure the debate will never end. One might ask, “How did this come about?” Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t looked it up.

Why?

Because I don’t care. It’s food. Eat what tastes good. And maybe, preferably, is healthy. But whatever.

I love a good Chicago dog. But I grew up eating ketchup on hotdogs before I learned that doing so made me some sort of barbarian.

Does that mean ketchup on a hotdog tastes bad and is wrong? I’ll let you decide.

I also love Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s a curry based Indian dish. It’s fantastic. It’s this creamy spiced curry sauce with chicken mixed in that you put over rice. I will eat it any day, every day till I’m sick if I let myself.

However, it is not the authentic version of that dish even though I think it’s the “best” version. The original wasn’t so creamy. This version has been Westernized. Some say it originated in Britain, others say a Bengali chef in Scotland came up with it when he ran out of the proper ingredients.

And, I don’t care. Because I love what it is.

Does that make the original bad? No.

Does that mean it couldn’t ever be made better? No.

At what point does “authentic” stop being important and simply become a type of snobbery?

The word authentic has a number of overlapping definitions. It can mean “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” Or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.” Or “made or done the same way as an original.” Or “not false.” Or “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.”

The importance of accuracy and truth can’t be downplayed. Having said that, does authenticity really matter to most of the things in our life? We need things to work or taste good or be healthy more than we need them to be “authentic.”

And, considering how bad humans are as unbiased historians, I feel a couple questions should be asked, especially if we are relating the concept of authenticity to things like religion, theology, and spirituality.

Like Adventism.

We should ask questions like: “So, you want authentic Adventism? Cool. But which version is authentic? The version that existed before the organization of the church? The version that believed organizing would be evil? The version that believed they knew when the world was ending and promoted it, not because of accurate theology, but because of the pressure of a magazine publisher named Snow who wanted William Miller to make it more flashy?

Or the version where it was just people who decided they agreed on a seventh day sabbath and wanted to hang out together but still believed they should be a part of and attend their old Sunday churches? Or the version just after organizing, who embodied everything the pre-organizers believed was wrong? Or the ones who affirmed legalism and shunned grace and love and pushed away one of their own founders because she believed love and grace mattered most? Or maybe the authentic version of Adventism is the one that didn’t always stand against racism and sexism? Or is it the one before Desmond Ford? Or the one after? Or is it the one that exists now? Which one of those or any other version is the most authentic version of Adventism?”

Now, let’s say we answer all those questions and more. We still have an even more important question to ask?

Does “authentic” equate with “good” or “better”?

So, we all somehow miraculously agreed on the most authentic version (by whichever definition we landed on), does that mean it’s automatically the healthiest version? The one that most closely conforms to the absolute truths that only God knows and that we are floundering to figure out?

At least one definition of authentic suggests that what is authentic is individual to the person as opposed to a universal truth. But all of them speak of being true to itself, either as a concept or an origin.

And none of those things rely on any sort of absolute accuracy, only a comparative accuracy as it relates to itself.

So, I will ask again. Does finding authentic Adventism actually matter at all? The authentic way of travel is by walking. So, no horses or cars or boats or planes. Authentic would mean we can’t have new and better things. Only the original things. Or the ones that self-validate by comparison.

Or the ones that harmonize with the original thought …

… even if that thought was wrong.

Instead of arguing over authentic Adventism, as some Adventists are wanting to do, what if we discussed spiritual health and paths to greater connection with our Creator?

Arguing over authentic Adventism suggests that Adventism is the point and goal. It, of course, is not. That’s like arguing over which tool is the most authentic. The hammer? A rock? Fire? A stick? That means no nail guns or pliers or screwdrivers or air wrenches. No saws, welders, or glue.

It turns out there are a lot of useful tools because every situation is a different context that requires a different solution and a different tool to make it happen. Having the correct tool for any given task makes all the difference in the world.

Why can’t religious organizations understand this simple basic concept? In fact, almost every other area of thought and vocation understands this concept. Just not religious ones. That chef in Scotland adapted and changed and created something every bit as awesome as the original. Maybe even better.

And put ketchup on your hotdog. It’s not bad.

And feel free to change up your spiritual journey as you need to. It was ok with Jesus, it was ok with the apostles (see Peter, John, and Paul), and stop worrying whether it’s authentic.

Here is an idea. What if you ignored everyone else, and just asked God, the great Chef of the Universe, to guide you to the spiritual recipe that works best for you, to get you to where you need to be, and just let the religion snobs practice their dark arts on someone else?

If they don’t like that you might need a little ketchup with Jesus, that’s their problem. Be at peace and dust off your sandals and go somewhere else. There are plenty of restaurants out there.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]  

24 Apr

A CULTURED VERB

In my head, there is a difference between a “reason” and an “excuse.”

A reason is a good excuse. An excuse is not always a good reason.

I like reasons, but I don’t usually like excuses. Although, I will acknowledge respecting a well-crafted and clever excuse even if I don’t believe it to be a valid reason.

Also, a reason is something that prevented us from doing what we set out to do. An excuse is what we provided to get out of doing something we needed to do but didn’t want to do.

Or an excuse is what we told ourselves so that we could justify doing things a certain way even if there wasn’t a true reason to do so.

The dog ate my homework. I caught all the stoplights. The cops were really out in force today. I was hangry. This is a therapy animal, I swear. All common excuses for something we didn’t get right. Sometimes they are technically true, and sometimes they are complete fabrications.

Which brings me to the last difference between a reason and an excuse.

One is honest and true, and the other one is a lie by intent whether technically true or not.

Unfortunately, I have been guilty a time or two of leaning on excuses when I didn’t have a good reason.

And now that I have clarified for you how I see these two concepts in my own head, I want to use this as a segue to what this article is really about, which isn’t reason or excuses specifically.

When I was a kid in church, I remember sitting through the Mission Spotlight videos that they used to show a lot. I’m sure some churches still do. They were stories of missionaries going to some country and starting churches and baptizing people as converts from some version of tribal paganism. And I remember thinking, even back then, that there were always some similarities between all the recorded stories even though I didn’t really understand what it meant. As an adult, however, I see those stories very differently.

The missionaries would do their work and the video would show their success. And their success was all these former tribes sitting in rudimentary churches on rudimentary pews singing American church songs (sometimes even in English) wearing shirts, ties, and, sometimes, full-on suits and American style churchy cloths.

I’ve had this conversation several times with other pastors and chaplains, and we’ve all recognized some of the same things. What many of these missionaries were doing wasn’t simply teaching these people about Jesus, they were attempting to change their culture. We know this because there isn’t one good reason to make them dress like us when they weren’t already. And they didn’t need to learn English to sing songs about God. They didn’t need to adopt the American Adventist order of service to worship God, and they didn’t even need to do it in any overtly church oriented way.

These people had a culture. They didn’t need to look and act American to meet God. As a result of these practices, we have found that when some of these converts eventually come to America, they are disappointed that we aren’t all like what the missionaries said. Because, as it turns out, the missionaries weren’t all using accurate theology and, instead, were teaching them a version of Adventist cultural Christianity as opposed to introducing them to Jesus.

Ask any pastor how difficult navigating imported theology is within their church.

Now, I want to be very clear here. I’m not against missionaries. I’m not against cultures being altered to create better environments for people to be healthy and thrive.

But there is a difference between helping lift a people up and simply imposing our comfort level upon them.

And now, 630 words in, I get to the actual purpose of this article. What are we actually doing as Adventists to contribute positively to the world around us, including here in our own country?

To Adventism’s credit, we have a lot of hospitals here in America and have done health work around the world. We do have an education system that has done some good as well. I want to acknowledge these things. These efforts aren’t perfect, but no effort is.

But neither of those are large culture impacting phenomenon.

Adventists are known for a couple of things primarily by those who are not. Sabbath keeping and vegetarianism.

Adventists have been leaning into vegetarianism since the late 1800s. And yet we had almost nothing to do with huge rise in vegetarianism in America that has taken place over the last 25 years. That has been driven by other forces. Eastern spiritualities account for some of it, and a combination of better mainstream health research combined with companies willing to cash in on it by utilizing better science to create quality non-meat foods.

Other factors are in play as well including counterculture reactions against excessive lifestyles and the accumulation of material things. The need to live a simple, stress reduced, and healthy life. The roots of some of this can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s in the peace and love era.

Where it doesn’t trace back to is Adventism. We’ve been making and selling vegetarian foods for well over 100 years that anyone can buy … as long as they weren’t looking in any mainstream grocery stores. In fact, you usually couldn’t find any of it outside of a conference office or local church, with some rare exceptions.

Adventism had a useful health message the whole time, and we did nothing but try to use it as a tool to get baptisms. Health became a spiritual test as opposed to simply trying to alter the culture of our world’s health.

This is simply an example of how Adventism has approached culture. We somehow took the idea of being “in the world, but not of the world,” a saying that does not actually exist in the Bible but is an interpretation of a broader point, and instead just said, “stay out of the world.”

We interpreted it in an ostrich head-in-sand sort of way. This mentality resulted in us using missions and evangelism to try to change culture into Adventist culture by pulling people out of their own culture.

When we try to impact culture what we are really doing is trying to make people like us and bring them to us so that we don’t have to change ourselves and go to them. And by “go to them” I don’t mean travel to their country. I mean live with them. Be a part of their lives. Lift them up to be the best they can be in their setting, instead of forcing them into our own setting.

This is why I don’t like the term “culture” as we use it. It’s a noun. It has a static definition. It’s about preserving what was. It’s an excuse for being a certain way and not moving forward to become more. It promotes stagnation and stagnation promotes death.

But culture is also a verb. In this usage it’s about creating an environment where growth can happen. It’s how live bacteria are created that we use to benefit digestion, for example. It’s a biochemical process.

Maybe instead of impacting culture or changing culture, both noun realities, we could instead culture our people and our towns and our cities and our churches and our communities. What if we fostered an environment where people could grow uninhibited and healthy without someone holding them back and tethering them to the past? Anchoring them to bad theology and isolated, controlled realities?

Until we change the Us vs Them mentality that drives us organizationally, we will never truly be relevant to the culture around us because we will never have anything meaningful to contribute to the growth of humanity. We will be too busy fortifying our walls.

But if we could change our corporate mindset, we might stop making excuses for not truly being a part of our communities and as a result might finally have a good reason for existing
as a group.

And I do like good reasons.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]  

31 Jan

I CAN STOP ANYTIME I WANT TO. I JUST DON’T WANT TO.

Do you know why people smoke crack? It’s the same reason why people smoke cigarettes, or weed, or shoot heroin, or do meth, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or binge sugary things.

It makes them feel good.

It does not make them BE good, only FEEL good. It’s that feeling that is part of what leads to addiction. It becomes a need because, when they don’t do the thing that makes them feel good, they feel exceptionally bad.

Of course, not everything people become addicted to is inherently bad. People can be addicted to eating, even if the food is healthy. Exercise can be addicting. Sex.

When we are addicted, even good things are taken to bad places.

One thing that makes it difficult when dealing with someone addicted is that they often convince themselves that what they are doing is both healthy and correct. To see it any other way suggests they have a problem and need to change.

But change can be uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good in the moment. Especially when we usually only change when we accept we are incorrect about something. And incorrect is wrong. And wrong is bad. And bad is evil. And evil is sin. And sin is damnation.

Next thing we know we are going to hell and burning forever.

Or only burning for a moment.

Or whatever it is that person believes that might not actually be true.

Perhaps that’s why belief and religion can be an addiction. Some people believe what they believe in part out of fear of consequences. But others believe what they believe because it makes them feel good.

That isn’t automatically bad. But what if that belief/practice/religion that makes them feel good, isn’t actually accurate? What if it doesn’t matter that it’s easily disproven? What if, if they can’t believe that thing that is incorrect and easily disproven, they can’t handle life without it? What if they would rather become horrible, unhealthy people living a lie than feel that feeling of being wrong?

And what if they would rather make someone else feel horrible about themselves than accept the truth of their own errancy? 

This is where things stop being about religion and belief, which is about seeking truth, speaking truth, and living truth to the best of our ability … which requires constant adaptation and change, and they start being about culture, which doesn’t require any sort of accuracy or honesty at all.

Culture also isn’t inherently bad. It just isn’t inherently good. But it can breed some very bad things. And it can normalize those things as a positive way of life. And positive is good. And good is righteous. And righteous is sinless.

And sinless is salvific.

And suddenly we are saying or doing or being or teaching terrible things and declaring them the way to heaven. Or whatever one believes about such things.

And the truth never once comes into play. Because for whatever reason, that way of life has been skewed to benefit us in some way that makes us feel good about ourselves or the way we do things. It makes us feel good and people like to feel good at almost any cost.

In recent years, we have all born witness to someone screaming something horrible and inaccurate with some sort of righteous fervor, either politically, religiously, or both. Something that is obvious and easily disproven. But when the research/facts are presented, they deny it all with a blind certainty that is terrifying in its insanity.

They do this because they NEED that lie to be true. They have built a self-view upon that thing, whatever it is. It makes them feel good about who they are and what they believe.

There is more to it, of course, and I may be over generalizing some. But before dismissing it all, consider how, over the last 6 years, white nationalism and Christianity have become besties. Not universally. But to an uncomfortable degree. And by “uncomfortable degree” I mean that any degree at all is evil.

And then, loud and large chunks of both groups have created the narrative that, to be a good American is to follow their lead. 

Now, I don’t actually care what political group any of you are a part of. None of the groups have the market cornered on truth and goodness. But the moment that anyone pushing racism and an “I’m right and you’re evil” mentality as being a “good American,” we’ve collectively jumped the shark and now it’s no longer about right and wrong and truth and accuracy. It’s about what makes me feel good in relation to those around me and makes sure I’m accepted by the people I think I need to be accepted by.

And, just in case one wishes to believe Adventism is some sort of exception, I give you the long list of independent ministries lead by conspiracy theorists who make their living selling to Adventists who need what they say to be true. And a denomination who won’t put a stop to it because half the leadership is buying what’s being sold.

When I was pastoring churches, I once had one of our prominent independent ministry health chefs leave a voicemail on the church answering machine that was the most arrogant and hateful thing I’ve ever had anyone say about me. Apparently, he had called before and not received a return phone call. This turned out to be because the very kind, and very old, ladies who ran the clothing giveaway ministry we had, where we gave away clothes to people who needed them, would try to check messages and accidentally delete them … about 99% of the time.

I never had, and still never have, met this man who told me in no uncertain terms that anyone who wouldn’t return his phone call and invite him in was of low moral character and a servant of Satan leading his church to hell. He went on to say that any congregation that would allow me to be their pastor couldn’t possibly love God and care about people, because if we did, we would invite him because his ministry saves lives. He continued by telling me how important he was, how many awards he’d received, and how popular he was on 3ABN and some of our other TV networks.

I only know this because I happened to check the machine after he made that call, but before the kindly elderly ladies tried to “help” me by accidentally deleting messages. The entire message was over 6 minutes long. Go ahead and rant for 6 minutes and tell me how long that is? I’ll wait.

But, you know, I’m sure he felt good about himself after sending that message. And why wouldn’t he? The culture he lives in tells him he was correct to do so. 

When our affiliation to group and culture starts dictating belief and practice, and not God and accuracy, our belief and practice become nothing but a useless addiction that does nothing but make us feel good. And there is more to life than feeling good.

Like, maybe, trying to be good.

It’s just a thought.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected] 

21 Oct

DEATH, OR SOMETHING LIKE IT

Another woman died because she wore her hijab incorrectly.

I saw that in the news this week. It’s outrageous. It’s insane. It’s utterly evil.

This is not a statement against God or the many people who practice Islam. It’s a statement about the people who have stopped seeing God and instead are protecting their own comfort and hiding their own spiritual and moral insecurities.

We could make that same statement about any established religious group. This was just the most recent example of that reality at the time I wrote this.

Let me state this less clearly. I have no problem with Islam. And, I have every problem with Islam. Also, I have no problem with Christianity. And, I have every problem with Christianity.

By extension, I have no problem with Adventism. And, I have every problem with Adventism.

What do I mean by any of that? It sounds like a paradox that can’t possibly be true.

Maybe. Or maybe, to quote Obi Wan Kenobi “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”

Let’s try it this way. There is the Adventist-based faith and practice of a single believer. And then there is the corporate mandate of the Adventist organization. One is a person whose faith was informed by Adventism, who then went on and grew and found connection with God and became something more beyond that which sparked the journey. The other is a group that not only refuses to move beyond that beginning but punishes those who try to grow and become more than Adventism was designed to contain.

“So, Tony, I’m not sure that was less unclear.”

Ok, fine.

Jesus picked food to eat on the Sabbath. Acts 15 created a clear path for a completely alternate set of beliefs for different “Christians”. Paul later altered it even more when he told one group to do a thing and another group to not do the same thing. Everything about the New Testament grinds the idea of uniform belief AND practice into dust.

And yet, people in Adventism are still excommunicated for not practicing the Sabbath the way someone else decided they should. Others are removed from fellowship for eating or drinking the wrong thing. People are chastised and punished for wearing the wrong thing, or listening to the wrong thing, or watching the wrong thing.

And that’s just in THIS country. No, it’s not universal. But it IS still allowed to happen. And THAT is a failure. The fact that if you were born with your genitals on the inside instead of the outside means you’re considered less than in Adventism, which suggests Adventism has failed. If the color of your skin dictates your place and value in your Adventist faith community, and it still does in some places, Adventism has failed.

“But Tony, sometimes things happen locally that the organization doesn’t condone.”

True. And, they also haven’t taken the steps to stop it, AND some of it they do condone.

“But Tony, if someone is going to be part of a group, shouldn’t they obey the rules of the group?”

That’s a fair point. Now, ask me what the purpose of the group was supposed to be? Is the purpose of the group to defend the group? Or was it supposed to launch people on their way to a connection with God that leads them down a path of God’s choosing?

When I was told the theme of articles, we were all asked to write about, I liked it. It’s the correct question: Reimagining/Redefining Adventism and what that looks like.

And the very fact that we are asking that question means we’ve failed. It’s the correct question AND it’s the wrong question. We are asking that question because we all know things have gone off the rails. It’s the wrong question because we shouldn’t have to be asking it.

The moment we start saying things like “That’s not the Adventist way” or “Adventism believes…” or “How do we fix Adventism…” we’ve ignored a very important point.

It’s not about Adventism. It illustrates that we have made Adventism the point and the goal, and no matter how we say it and justify it, we are trying to defend a group and its beliefs.

But if we are growing with the spirit, that will be a moving target. We will be ever changing as our understanding is ever changing and we will never need to, or want to, defend a static system of practice.

If we are doing it right, we will never care about what Adventism is or what it needs to be because we will be so focused on God and being part of that connection, it simply won’t matter. We only defend the basic set of practices and thoughts because it’s warm and comfy there. There is no need to stretch and grow. It’s the soft recliner we sit in while we watch our favorite show.

Safe, entertaining (maybe), and tells us exactly what we want to hear to ensure we never strive beyond our chair. It validates our worldview, but never forces us to reexamine it and change it.

Jesus challenged everything. Adventism challenges nothing. Adventism is focused on maintaining Adventism. Jesus was focused on changing lives, empowering those lives, and setting them free from the borders other people want to place them in.

Christ didn’t make Christianity. People did. Christ wanted to show people a better way. Therefore, its first followers were called Wayists. Followers of The Way. But then people codified it, stamped it into law, and here we are wondering why no one gets along.

The only way for Adventism to succeed, is for Adventism to die.

Or, at least, die to what it is. Just like the followers of Jesus, Adventism must die and be reborn. We must stop trying to make it look like something and stop trying to keep it looking like it used to. For Adventism to succeed, it must become a place that has nothing to do with Adventism, and everything to do with supporting people as they seek God and follow God’s lead WHEREVER it takes them, even when it results in that person’s life looking very different than old Adventism would have allowed for.

Because it isn’t about Adventism.

It’s about God leading a person and people regardless of if anyone else likes it.

Because if it isn’t about that, we should just pack up and go home. Otherwise, we will do nothing more than argue about Hijabs and food and Sabbath “rules”.

There is a quote from 2013’s “Man of Steel”. “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”

Or said this way…

What if God led a person to become something other than what Adventism had intended? What if that person could become something greater?

We need to stop placing limits on what God can do and what people can be. We don’t know what we are doing, and Adventism needs to accept that.

We need to get out of the way and let God show us what can really be done.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun

TUBERCULOSIS MODEL OF EVANGELISM

I recently started a new job.

It’s exactly like the old job, but with a new company. Same territory. Same facilities. Better paycheck.

“Better” being very relative.

Because this new job, like the old job, is in hospice, I had to get a TB (tuberculosis) test. It’s not a test to see what I know about tuberculosis, which to be clear, is very little, but a test to see if I have it. I could have been exposed, be carrying it, and then spread it to every person in every facility I walk into whether they are on hospice or not.

That would be very, very bad. I mean, sure, my job is to help make people comfortable as they die. However, my job is not to MAKE people die. We in Hospice genuinely want our patients to somehow recover and go on to lead full extended lives. Which is why we take precautions like COVID tests and TB tests, just to name a couple.

I do not have TB. Thank you for asking.

Fortunately, if I did, TB is very curable. It’s a long process involving 6-9 months of antibiotics, but it is easily done. Without those antibiotics, TB is very deadly. With them, it’s very curable. For example, the death rate for TB in the USA is about 0.09 deaths per 100,000. That’s pretty good. Not the best in the world, which is Iceland with 0.00 deaths per 100,000, but still super great.

By comparison, Somalia has 109.27 deaths per 100,000 and Central Africa leads with the highest death rate at 148.01 deaths per 100,000. And this all raises an interesting question.

If TB is so easily curable, then why are there countries with 1,645 times the TB death rate of the USA?

There are lots of competing opinions and views all supported by varying facts. However, what most of them have in common is money. It’s not that the antibiotics are so expensive to make. It’s that there is a lot of profit to be had, and the poor countries either don’t have the money, or they aren’t prioritizing the money for the purpose of TB. That is an overly simplistic answer, and I recognize that. But the statistics are super clear. If you are a citizen of the USA or pretty much any first-world country, it is very unlikely you would die from TB, let alone even contract it.

But if you live in an impoverished country, your odds of contraction and death are exponentially higher.

Lives could be “easily” saved, but priority and distribution is heavily biased toward those in the correct group. Apparently, all one needs to do to all but ensure they never die from this illness is to change their national affiliation and live in the right place.

Does it disturb anyone that this is a thing?

A similar question… does it disturb anyone that I just described modern evangelism within the Adventist context?

Evangelism is about the good news. In fact, the Greek word that we get the word “evangelism” from literally means “good news” or “to proclaim good news” and a few other variations of the same thing.

The good news was that the Kingdom of God was at hand. It was the good news of Jesus. The good news that God sent Jesus to bring transformation to this world. Jesus was born, lived, and died to make this future possible. He ensured eternity for people who have never met Him. He ensured eternity for people who have never even heard of Him.

Jesus didn’t care what group you were in or what you believed. He cared that you existed and lived his life trying to show a better way. And He did all this while being very much at odds with every religious group he came in contact with.

This all forces us to ask another question. Why then, is all of our evangelism focused on making people part of our group instead of bringing people hope and healing and love in the spirit of Christ?

Why are we using the Tuberculosis model of evangelism?

I mentioned this in a previous article, but I will restate it. If you attend any mainstream Adventist evangelism seminar, it might last between 2-6 weeks, depending on who does it and which version they are using. But no matter how long it is, out of those 2-6 weeks, there are only 1-2 nights that focus on the life/death of Jesus. And even those 1-2 nights do so within the context of the rest of the series. A series that is designed to do exactly one thing.

Make more Adventists.

The primary goal of Adventist evangelism is to make more Adventists. It spends the entire time attempting to prove to the audience why Adventists are the true church of God. Everything is tied into prophecy-based remnant theology, interpreted differently and in a sketchy manner by every different evangelist. And in the end, it does lead to baptism, but only when those willing accept that it must end with them being Adventist.

In short, to be baptized at the end of an Adventist evangelistic seminar, one must first decide to become an Adventist. They can’t accept Jesus without first accepting Adventism.

They can’t get the antibiotic unless they change countries.

This is with the understanding that the overwhelming majority of “converts” were already Christian. They just changed clubs.

What we do isn’t evangelism. It’s more closely related to nationalism. It’s us vs. them. It’s about growing the club. It’s about sustaining the organization. It’s not about saving lives. One doesn’t need a prophecy seminar to do that.

Feed people. Heal people. Give them lifesaving medicine. Give them shelter. Give them clothing. Show them the love of God. The good news isn’t about changing minds. It’s about healing hearts. It’s about showing people that they matter to us and that they matter to God and that it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live or what groups they are a part of.

Let’s stop trying to do God’s job. We just aren’t very good at it.

Our job is to love. God’s job is to transform.

Maybe it’s time we stop getting in the way of what God is trying to do.

Maybe we need to experience the good news for ourselves.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar

A SOAPBOX OF SARCASM

By Tony Hunter … The ability to think is horribly inconvenient.

And, while it’s bad enough that I possess this uncomfortable ability, other people can apparently do it as well. This is both unfortunate and problematic. How are we, as a people, supposed to maintain a perfectly identical and uniform set of beliefs and practices if just anyone can have ideas and inspiration and original thought? How can we all be the same and be comfortable in our homogeny if someone else somewhere else thinks better and differently than the person responsible for the thinking that led to our uniform traditions and practices that allow us the luxury of conducting ourselves without the burden of thought and consideration?

Don’t the newer thinkers, with their more complete palate of information and subsequent alternative perspective, understand that our forefathers already figured everything out? I mean, really. Those original pre-Adventists who became Adventists already went through the trouble of coming from different backgrounds with different ideas and shared them together so that everyone could learn from each other and gain a perspective of God and reality that they didn’t already possess. They already took the extra time to fellowship together, but then encourage each other to continue fellowshipping with their original groups so that they could learn from both sides and maybe come to even greater and better understandings, and maybe help those around them do the same.

As we all now know, they figured it all out so that we didn’t have to put any real thought into our faith and beliefs and God and reality and health and science and love and anything, and then they predicted the end of the world with accuracy so stunning that they sold everything and left their fields unplowed and succeeded in going to heaven.

Well, okay, they got that part wrong, but they gave it a good think, figured it all out again and moved forward through shared ideas about health and the Sabbath and revised it all more than a few times so that we don’t have to. They even took the time to make sure they never formulated a creedal statement or organized a formal religion because to formalize an organized religion would be akin to becoming Babylon because focus would shift from

real progressive thought and continued present truth, to simply doing whatever to maintain the organization at the expense of the true mission. And they never made a creedal statement because they knew we would keep learning and thinking and discovering and if they cemented stuff, new thought couldn’t really take place.

Okay, okay, that’s my bad again. It took them less than 20 years to decide to formalize their organization for the sake of finances and expansion of ministry, and then another 25 or so before the very organization that they started, against their own judgment, started ostracizing the very people who formed it for the high crime of thinking better thoughts and valuing love over tradition. At least they had the clarity of thinking to ship off their primary thought leader, who they believed had an inspired and prophetic gift, to a country far, far away so she couldn’t promote uncomfortable ideas and encourage people to think more.

Whew, right? They totally dodged that bullet.

But at least they never formalized any sort of creed like they said they wouldn’t. At no point did they create a list of fundamental beliefs that in many, and even most, circles became the criteria for baptism instead of the cross of Christ and Him crucified.

I mean, okay, I guess they sort of did that too. But thank goodness, right?! At least then they had this document written down so that people could officially not have to think anymore. Well, sure, they could think, obviously,

as long as what they thought was even better ways of coming to the exact same conclusions they had already come to. Because that’s what thinking is for. It’s for thinking the same thing they thought before and discovering new things, as long as they were the same things they

already knew. Because to come to a different conclusion meant they might fire you and ship you off to another country again.

And really, who can af-FORD that kind of inconvenience?

It’s just really fortunate that we figured out that to use the minds that God gave us and the ability to think with them was a terrible idea. What was God thinking? I certainly don’t know, but He clearly wasn’t thinking it as good as we were. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have let us do it.

Obviously.

God should have known, as we do, that difference and diversity are bad. How can we be all the same with that kind of mess? If someone else starts thinking, they will come to a conclusion that may be different, and then we will have to tell them they are wrong and bad. If people just weren’t allowed to think, then no one would ever be wrong and bad!

See how simple and blissful thoughtlessness can be? It’s such a peaceful, beautiful thing.

If we can just keep thought and thinking away, we can keep everything the way we like it and everyone in their place—all the men where they are supposed to be, all the women where THEY need to be, and all the not-white people in their place too. Because if we think about it

too much and do it with any sort of integrity, another problem to be avoided, we might find that none of us is better than the other and that God doesn’t hate the differences in any of us, and we’d have to treat each other with equality and love.

It’s a good thing we already showed that God doesn’t really know what’s up.

What we really need is to randomly be that one thing Jesus named us, and do it out of context, and just be like sheep. And then just follow whichever fluffy white one is in

front, and if we can all do it, it will be okay. Because when whichever mostly blind sheep in front walks off the cliff, all the rest of us can go down with him.

Okay, now I’m going to step off my soapbox of sarcasm.

Everyone is different. This was an intentional design by our Creator. We look different, sound different, act different, and think different. This is as it should be. It was God’s will and desire and that has not changed. We are finite beings with finite knowledge who know very little. If we want to know more, we have to pray, study, and think. If we want to grow, we have to think.

Muscles only grow when they are placed in tension with themselves and their environment. That is also how we grow. We place our minds in tension with ourselves and the thoughts around us. We don’t already know it all. We haven’t thought all the thoughts.

Adventists don’t know everything. We haven’t thought everything. We don’t have all the facts. And the ramifications of that are huge.

Perhaps that’s something worth thinking about.

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife Nirma live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

10 Jan

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU KNOW?

By Tony Hunter — Humans like to confuse their words.

We conflate terms and then don’t correct them, and then everyone starts interchanging the terms and suddenly we aren’t saying what we think we are saying—good vs. well. We interchange these all the time. Except, “good” is about being righteous, and “well” is about how you are feeling and your general state of being.

Or Factoid. We use this regularly when speaking of some little tidbit of information. A small piece of truth. When the truth is, it was a term created by Norman Mailer in 1973 to describe information that has been printed and disseminated so many times that people believe it is true, when in fact, it is not. #Fakenews.

Imagine rules and doctrine being formed around this practice.

Let’s take truth and knowing. There is truth and there is what we know. On a good day, these things overlap. But considering how much information there is in reality vs. how accurate our perceptions are, that overlap might not be as large as we’d like.

A hypothetical scenario. You walk into a room and there is a dead man on the floor with another man standing over him with a bloody knife. There is a terrified child hiding behind his terrified mother. What do we know?

We know the man is dead. And… well that’s about it. We know that the child and mother look terrified, but of what? We know a man is holding a bloody knife, but why? Did he kill the man, or did he pick up the knife that someone else left there? Was the dead man an aggressor? Or was he the father/husband? If he was the father/husband does that mean he wasn’t the aggressor?

Is the standing man the husband/father? Is the husband/ father even in the room? Was the dead man an aggressor and the standing man the savior, or was the dead man trying to be the savior and the standing man the aggressor? Are the family terrified of the standing man or the dead man?

Truth exists in absence of my knowing. Some truth exists within my knowing. Most exists outside of it, and not everything I know, is true.

So, what is truth? What do we know?

Some people know the world is round. Others know that it is flat. Both of those things can’t be true. Or what color is a color? Do we all perceive the same color the same way? Is blue actually blue? The sky is blue, except it sort of isn’t because it only appears blue based on the angle of light shining through it and the amount of atmosphere the light has to travel through and the make-up of the atmosphere at the angle of viewing, which is why, sometimes, the sky looks red/orange. So, which is it?

How much of what we know is true, and how much of what we know is perception bias? Or experience bias? Or desire bias? Can accurate knowing even take place at all until one let’s go of all their bias? Can truth and knowing overlap at all if there is even a little bias?

I mean, we think we know a person, but do we really know them?

The Adventist denomination has put a lot of focus on “knowing the truth”. But how do we know that what we know is true? Because a bunch of people agreed on it? Does that make it true? (See my Factoid about Factoids above. See what I did there?)

Let’s talk exegesis. Exegesis is a word that means “to bring out”, or “to read out”. It’s the term used in biblical scholasticism for how we hope to interpret the meaning of things. It’s about bringing the meaning out of the text.

Now let’s talk eisegesis. Eisegesis is a word that means “to put in” or “to read into”. It’s what biblical scholars hope to not do when trying to interpret the meaning of things. It’s about putting the meaning into the text.

But the question is, because of all of our different biases and inaccuracies in what we think we know and how we see the world, can we ever truly do accurate exegesis? Or will we still be doing eisegesis no matter how hard we try? The odds of me meeting an author from 2000 or 3000 years ago when studying today seem slim. And short of that, any interpretation I make of that author’s writing will be biased by my own perceptions either in subtle or large ways simply because I cannot know his/her mind. I can never completely know or understand the context within which they wrote or spoke. I can know some, but not all. And therefore, any conclusions I come to will be questionable in some way.

Jesus spoke about truth in John 16:13. “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth…” Jesus is suggesting that, because we are all fallible and untrusting, that the Spirit will do all the convicting and convincing in regard to truth.

Well, that makes it easy, right? Just listen to the Spirit, then you can know.

Uh, huh.

How many sincere, dedicated, devoted, seekers and followers of Christ have studied, prayed, begged, and listened for the Spirit, and come to different conclusions about, well, everything? And that’s just within Adventism. Go beyond that and the differences become even more dramatic.

So, how do we know anything? How can we know what we don’t know? Well, just because people come to different conclusions about that which we perceive differently doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying, and that we don’t keep seeking God’s help.

But I am going to suggest something else. Are you ready?

Knowing is not the point. We are so focused on knowing things from a religious/theological standpoint, that we completely miss the fact that we are not judged by our knowing. We are not saved by our knowing. Nor are we condemned by our lack of it.

As long as we are imperfect, we will always know imperfectly. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul states that we see as though through a dark glass. Imperfectly. Unclear.

This is important for us to accept because while it is good for us to continue always seeking and learning and growing, we will never know it all, and we will constantly be incorrect.

And that’s OK. It’s OK to be incorrect. Jesus didn’t die for us because we know it all or are correct in everything, or even anything. He did it because He loves us. Our knowing didn’t even come into play one way or the other.

We should stop trying to be known by our knowing, because to be a disciple of Jesus is to be known by our love.

So, love each other and love God. The rest will take care of itself.

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a Hospice Chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

29 Sep

What If?

By Tony Hunter — I want to ask you a bunch of questions. I’m going to just throw them out rapid fire, in whatever order they come. But I want you to do something for me. I want you to not react to them. I want you to observe whatever feelings you get, whatever reactionary thought that pops up, set it aside, and consider that reaction. I want you to honestly, and without falling back on Adventist cliché and someone else’s arguments, consider why you felt the way you did.

Then, having set your reactions aside, I want you to consider these questions again, but as if it were the first time you’ve ever thought about questions such as these. Look at them from new angles with a fresh perspective.

Here we go . . .

What if people mattered more than organizations?

What if we actually trusted God to change lives and dictate a person’s path or calling?

What if we didn’t use fear to control behavior, but instead used patience and love to encourage a person’s exploration of the divine?

What if we weren’t afraid that someone would make a choice different than our own? What if we could accept that two different, and maybe even opposing, choices from two different people could both be okay and healthy?

What if we didn’t measure our comfort by the differences between us and someone else?

What if someone else’s goodness and righteousness wasn’t measured by our own individual or organizational comfort levels?

What if we accepted that we don’t know everything, and in fact, know little more than nothing compared to what we think we know? What if it didn’t matter whether we proved someone wrong?

What if we treated everyone with the equality, we say we believe in? What if we backed it up in our organizational practice?

What if we let God be judge and jury and stopped taking those titles for ourselves?

What if love mattered?

What might we look like if any or all of those things were true? Individually? Organizationally? What might Adventism look like if any or all of that were true?

What would happen if we accepted any given context in life for what it is? What if we worked within that context, instead of trying to change every context we see to one that doesn’t exist anymore, for the sake of authoritative weakness and our personal comfort?

What could Adventism become if individually and organizationally we believed in, and were capable of, change?

What if we cared about God and people more than we do about Adventism?

That’s a lot of “ifs”.

I suspect that, on the first reading, some of you were offended. Maybe because you assumed you knew my intentions. Maybe it was because you assumed my beliefs. Maybe it was because you don’t like being questioned.

Or maybe because you didn’t like the implication of the honest reflection you gave yourself personally, and as it related to the organization that is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Some of you were likely excited. You read questions that echoed your own. You felt in my words the pain or the hope that exists in your soul as it relates to these things.

But I’m willing to bet good money (like a good Adventist), that, no matter which category you fall into, some . . . many . . . maybe even most . . . read those questions and, at some point, immediately thought of someone specifically, or some group of someones, who either represented those questions and you don’t like it or what they represent, or . . .

. . . you thought of someone who doesn’t represent those things, and you’d love it if they would read this, and then be there just to see them cringe.

If any of that described you, or you feel it described the organization, I have two things to say to you.

One, you’ve sort of illustrated the point.

Two, don’t feel bad. I fall into one of those categories, too. I’m not an exception. I’m just as big a part of this tension as anyone else because when I reflected on my own questions, my biases and resentments and anger slapped me in the face and I realized, again for the zillionth time that I’m not better than anyone else.

Me being a white male doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Me being an Adventist doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Me being educated doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Me being a chaplain doesn’t make me better than anyone else. In the grand view, I’m not smarter, more moral, more ethical, or more righteous, than anyone else.

I’m not more saved than anyone else.

What if we all accepted that is true for all of us, and then started over from there?

Would we be able to hear people and know them better? Would we be able to hear God and know Him better? And if we could do that, what else could we do and be?

What if Adventist leaders walked with people on their journeys, no matter how different and alien, and didn’t try to convince them they are wrong? If that person felt supported and loved and had room to grow and make mistakes and never felt condemned for any of it, who might they become? Where might God take them if we got out of God’s way?

What if Adventist leaders cared less about keeping their power and instead cared more about empowering everyone they know and meet? Would that person find belonging and love with people who might be very different? Might they find the freedom they need, and the support they require, to become the best versions of themselves as God designed?

What if we as Adventists, leaders or not, did those things?

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: ADVENTIST EDITION

By Tony Hunter … I’m going to plagiarize a few words. I suppose, technically, if I tell you that I’m plagiarizing and tell you who wrote it and from what book, it’s not plagiarizing.

You know, because of how words work.

Jim Butcher, the author of Blood Rites, opened his fictional book with these words from the main character, Harry Dresden: “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.” It’s a great opening line.

What’s not great is that they are the words that came to my mind as I pondered the theme of this issue, that theme being the difference between profession and practice within Christianity and, more specifically, Adventism. That opening line echoed in my mind as a metaphor for the denial of our part in a large problem, even as it echoes Adam’s proclamation that it wasn’t his fault.

It’s a great metaphor because we (Christians and Adventists) built this building. We lived in it with questionable consideration, did sketchy maintenance on it, and poured the gasoline on it as we saw fit, juggled with the implements of fire, and then ran around pointing at everyone else (those not-Adventists and/or anyone who disagrees with whatever) when the whole thing burst into flames.

We either said one thing but did another or lacked any sort of consistency in the spirit of what we said or what we did. And this is important, because it is often in the difference between what we say and what we do that lies, pain, chaos, and despair often exist. And that reality itself is distressing for many because it also speaks to expectation. The expectation being that an organization declaring certain spiritual truths about itself would conduct itself according to those spiritual truths. And when that inevitably doesn’t happen, we have problems.

This is because the difference between happiness and despair is usually expectation.

But perhaps this is being unfair. How can an organization with millions of members and a lot of cooks in the kitchen exist within any sort of consistent thought and action, and have any sort of real cohesiveness in practice?

That is a much larger issue that all organizations struggle with. But I’m not sure that the more spiritual issue is actually any smaller. That’s because the problem with there being a difference between what we say and what we do is one of identity and belief.

Who do we think we are, and do we actually believe it?

I’m not talking about the details of Biblical prophecy and the inconsistent Adventist interpretations, nor the details of the equally questionable remnant theology that still floats around our churches. I’m talking about something more fundamental and foundational to who any Christian claims to be.

Our identity is as children of the Creator, siblings of Christ, who are to be known by the entire planet by our love. Who are to love their neighbors as they love themselves? Who are to be willing to give the shirts off their own back to someone in need? Who are not to think ourselves better than anyone? Whose very religion is to care for orphans and widows? Who is to welcome those different than us with open arms into our homes and lives and communities?

I’m not putting the citations for those portions of the Bible in here. Partially, because I need to conserve my word count. But also, if anyone doesn’t recognize those words from your own Bible, you’ve just illustrated the problem.

As Christian Adventists, those words are our identity. That is who we are. And I’ve rarely met anyone who would hear that and disagree. But weirdly, that identity doesn’t always, or even usually, trickle down into our doctrinal theology and practice.

We claim to be a people of love, but have spent a ludicrous amount of money, time, and energy bashing Catholics, non-Adventists, non-Christians, and anyone who doesn’t see the Sabbath as we do.

We spend more time on prophecy evangelism than we do helping our communities. And no, our hospitals and ADRA don’t count. We don’t get to hand off our spiritual duty to others just because it’s easier to give them money.

In a typical prophecy evangelistic series (the primary way new Adventists are created other than by birth), out of the 4–6 weeks that the series goes, usually only 1–2 nights are spent on the core of what it actually is to be a Christian in terms of Jesus death and resurrection. The rest is spent trying to prove through Bible prophecy why Adventists are better than everyone else and why you need to be one to be saved.

You read that correctly. Sure, no one outright says you have to be Adventist to be saved. They merely try to point out that Adventists are the most correct, and then link that with remnant theology, a theology that says only those that conform to our version of Bible truth will be God’s chosen, therefore they need to choose us. Our baptismal vows are based on this idea. But, if as we say one is saved through Christ and Christ alone, then there should only be one baptismal vow and one message of evangelism: Jesus.

We say we are all one in the eyes of God, but then create differences between gender and race in church things and argue about those rights.

And don’t get me started on gender identity. We are so busy arguing about the “right” and “wrong” of it, that few are bothering to actually care for those in one of those categories because caring for others is apparently not as important as dying on a shaky and irrelevant theological hill.

If we are to be known by our love, but don’t show the world love, then either we weren’t teaching love, or we don’t actually believe love is who we should be.

The difference between what we profess and what we practice exists because we don’t actually know who we are and who we want to be. It also exists because we, as an organization, are spending more time and money on proving we are correct than we are on being an agency of love.

Proving we are correct, and being love, are not the same thing.

The tragedy is, if we focused more on being love to all humanity, we would automatically lend much more weight to some version of correctness.

But as it stands, we care more about the nuances of Sabbath keeping than we do the suffering of another human. And while that may not be true on an individual basis, it is what our corporate behavior suggests.

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Those were the words of God spoken through the prophet Micah. Everything else was meaningless, it was suggested. If we actually do believe that God is love and that we should be too, that the world is supposed to know us by our love, then perhaps it’s time to just shut up entirely. Maybe the spirit of Christ can no longer rest in our words.

Perhaps it’s time to stop professing in words and let our hands speak for us.

To plagiarize and paraphrase: “Preach the gospel. And if needed, use words.”

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife Nirma live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]