05 Jan


By Ed Barnett — With all of the talk and concerns about social justice today, I couldn’t help but stop and ask how it applies to the church. Do we have areas that we need to improve in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? How have we done in the past when it comes to social justice? To be totally transparent, I think we have done poorly in many ways.

Addressing unity in the church, Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12,20: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. . . . But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.”

Today, scattered all over the world, our church has 21.5 million members. They are believers of every color, culture, and status in life. In the Rocky Mountain Conference, with 18,000 members, we belong to the worldwide Adventist family. Some of us may say that we have endeavored well in taking the gospel to the world. Yet, we need to ask ourselves how we’ve done locally? How have I done as an individual called by Jesus to share the gospel? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Locally, how well are we doing in reaching out to everyone from any nation, every status in life? How are we responding to the poor and the rich? What about those who look different than we do? How are we at reaching out to the LGBTQ community? Has ethnicity caused us to carefully sort out whom we reach out to?

When reading the Gospel Commission, I hear Jesus saying it is our job to take Him to the entire world, not just to those we would like to have in the church or to those who look like we do.

When considering the situation in Denver, I am amazed that we don’t have a single church in the downtown area. Across the North American Division in general, we have done very poorly in the big cities. We struggle to reach those who are down and out. We are afraid to address issues of race and inequality as we struggle to reach the many ethnicities next door to us, especially in the metropolitan areas. We do much better in the suburbs where we reach out to those who look like us.

Sad as that is, I believe it is a true assessment of how we are doing with social justice in many areas across this continent. Perhaps the saddest commentary on this is the fact that

our church in the United States is divided into two separate conferences—one for (mostly) white people and one for mostly Black people. In my view, besides not being right, this is also a waste of money. Historically, I understand its beginnings, but today, there is not much of a rationale for having separate conferences based on skin color. I think this would be abhorrent to Jesus.

Recently, one church from our conference, the Littleton Church, joined with a church from Central States Conference (a Black conference) to hold a united worship service. Weeks since, many church members still talk of an inspiring, tremendous Sabbath gathering.

This shouldn’t be a special day for Adventists, but a common Sabbath occurrence. We have done poorly with Adventist mission presence in the big cities because we have left that work to someone else to do. We’ve left it to our brothers and sisters in the Black conferences. We would much better represent God’s love for everyone if we were united with all our brothers and sisters, learning about each other and from each other how to reach out to all.

Someday soon, Jesus will be coming to take His children home. In Revelation, Jesus says: “And behold, I am coming quickly, My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).

When Jesus says “to everyone,” I think He is talking to His disciples from all of the nations.

Can we do better at social justice and equality in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? I believe the answer is yes! Think about what you can do as an individual member to reach out to every child of God as you fulfill the Gospel Commission.

–Ed Barnett is RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By Reinder Bruinsma — During the recent Annual Council of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, some 300 participants from all around the world voted two official statements. One of these expressed the church’s continued confidence in the ministry of Ellen G. White. It was agreed to put this on the agenda for the next World Session of the General Conference of the Church in Indianapolis (May 2021) for endorsement by the world church.

The other official statement was the response of the Adventist Church to recent social developments in society, in particular in the United States. It was titled, “One Humanity: A Human Relations Statement Addressing Racism, Casteism, Tribalism, and Ethnocentrism,” and dealt with the issue of social justice.

The statement reads: We maintain our allegiance to the biblical principles of equality and dignity of all human beings in the face of historic and continuing attempts to use skin color, place of origin, caste, or perceived lineage as a pretext for oppressive and dominating behavior. . . . We accept and embrace our Christian commitment to live, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as a Church that is just, caring, and loving.

Some will undoubtedly wonder what impact such official denominational statements have. Will they be read by a major portion of our worldwide membership, let alone be noticed by the society around us? A few members, here and there, will probably analyze every word of the statement and ask some critical questions. Is the document clear enough and complete enough? Or does it fail to mention some important injustices—for instance, the widespread discrimination against those who have a “different” sexual orientation?

Some church members may also wonder whether accepting full gender equality does not require that female pastors receive the same status as their male colleagues. Others will welcome the statement as it was voted and consider it important that the church raises its voice to make clear where it stands in this time of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, and amid continued global injustice at a horrendous scale.

Perhaps the recent statements about social justice and confidence in the ministry of Ellen G. White are more closely linked than many might think. After all, Ellen White was quite outspoken about a number of important social issues in her time—an aspect of her work that some of her loyal followers today could pay more attention to.

Rules and Church Policies

Dictionaries define justice as the quality of being just and as pursuing righteousness, equality and moral rightness. To be just is to uphold the justice of a cause. To maintain justice in a society requires a judicial system, that operates on the basis of a body of just laws.

When we speak of social justice, we refer to fair and just relations between the individual and society. It has to do with such elements as equal opportunities, regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, and with such things as a defensible distribution of wealth and uniform access to education and health care. A democracy must develop a legal system that provides a solid basis for administering the kind of justice that is, indeed, “just,” and applies in the same way to every citizen and inhabitant of the country.

Churches must also operate on the basis of a clear set of rules. In the Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations, internal laws have, through the centuries, developed into a body of canon law. This has become so complex that ecclesial lawyers and ecclesial courts are needed to administer it. Most mainline Protestant denominations have a “church order” which regulates the way in which the church is governed and may be updated from time to time. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has collected its internal rules and regulations in two basic documents: The Church Manual and the General Conference Working Policy Book.

The focus of the Church Manual is on the inner workings of the local church and on its relationship to the conference to which it belongs. Its history goes back to 1932 when the first edition appeared. Amendments and additions are voted when the world church meets in its quinquennial world congress. It is no secret that in much of the non-Western world, the Church Manual plays a much more important role than in most of the western world. In some parts of the world, the Church Manual seems to have acquired a semi-divinely in- spired status!

The origin of the General Conference Working Policy Book (and its derived division and union policy collections) also goes back almost one hundred years. It has grown over time from a modest pamphlet that summarized the past decisions of the church’s leaders into a book of more than a thousand, fine-print pages. Each Autumn Council of the General Conference has a policy section on its agenda—as part of the constant updating of the “black book,” as the corpus of “Adventist canon law” is often referred to by church leaders. Increasingly, the issue of “compliance” with the policies by all organizational entities in the Adventist Church has become a hot issue, particularly with regard to financial management and the matter of ordination.

Acting Justly, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly

Applying the rules of the Church Manual and the regulations of the denomination policy book demands a consistent concern for justice. This is, in fact, what God demands of us. In a famous Old Testament text, the prophet Micah is adamant that God requires that we act justly (Micah 6:8). This most definitely applies to leaders at all levels in the church. But the prophet immediately adds that God is not interested in mere outward compliance with a set of rules. “Acting justly” must be integrated with “loving mercy.”

Christ taught us to look at principles and to always apply justice together with mercy. Uppermost in our mind should be the thought that God is never in the hurting but always in the healing business. Acting justly does not first and for all mean that we follow the letter of the law, but that we apply rules in such a way that they will ultimately benefit and bless the people involved.

During my years as a church administrator, I appreciated the fact that the church needs rules and regulations, but I never felt that the letter of church policy was the ultimate answer in every situation. In some cases, I concluded that a statement from the Church Manual needed a creative approach, and that a strict application of church policy would not be fair or in anyone’s interest. In some instances, I have always felt, it may be even morally questionable to go by the letter of the policy book. “Acting justly” demands not just sternness and determination, but also intelligence and “loving mercy.”

Micah reminds us that another important aspect is connected with “acting justly” and “loving mercy.” God also requires, the prophet says, that we “walk humbly” with our God. Church boards, pastors, conference and union officials, and other church leaders may at times be confronted with complicated matters when no existing rule seems to provide a good solution, but a decision must be reached. They must always realize that having been called to a leader- ship role does not make them infallible, and in all humility, they may have to admit that they made a mistake that needs to be corrected. It is never easy for leaders (or, for that matter, anyone else) to admit that they did not “act justly” and/or failed to “love mercy”. However, “walking humbly” is a key aspect of what God requires.

The Long Term

“Acting justly” implies looking at the long-term impact of what we do. We see this powerfully illustrated in the story of King Solomon, when he was asked to adjudicate a case that involved two prostitutes. Both women had given birth to a baby. One baby had died, and then hell broke loose. Each of the women claimed to be the mother of the baby that was still alive. Solomon had to act justly. And he did. Reading and analyzing the story in 1 Kings 3:16-28, we discover that Solomon had a long-term view.

His aim was not just to satisfy one of the two women. His concern was: What is in the long-term interest of the baby that is alive? How could the future of the child be best protected? Who was the “real” mother? The woman who agreed to the extraordinary suggestion that the child be killed so that they would each get part of its dead body? Or the woman who was prepared to do anything to ensure that the child would live? This is an important consideration whenever we seek to “act justly”: not to focus on immediate short-term answers that push the real issue toward the future. Some of us are good at that, but we must look further ahead. “Acting justly” opens up a future for those who suffer and seek justice.

There is one further important aspect: Voting a statement about the importance of social justice remains a public relations gesture if those who voted it are not determined to put the principles the statement emphasizes into practice as they seek, in all humility, to “act justly” and to “love mercy” in their decision-making practices.

–Reinder Bruinsma, PhD, has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He writes from the Netherlands where he lives with his wife Aafie. Among his latest books is “I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine.” Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By Barry Casey — “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So said Inigo Montoya in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. The word under scrutiny in this article is “socialism,” and it was used in the last U.S. presidential election to demonize, terrify, and coerce people.

Many of those who feared the outbreak of socialism, should the Democrats prevail, came from lives upended by communism, the centralization of power in the state, power to control the economic means of production and every aspect of social interaction. Power to repress religion, censor artistic expression, rewrite history, and co-opt athleticism for the glory of the state. Marx’s dream of the state withering away under communism turned into the nightmare of the state becoming all-powerful. No wonder they were afraid. I have been reading books about socialism, the better to understand and decide whether Jesus was a socialist. Once you enter the forest of such books you learn that you walk always in the hours before sunrise, never in the light of day. The sky, when you can see it through the trees, is an indeterminate shade of gray: it could be cloudy, or it could just lack light. But daylight does not come. The promise cannot be fulfilled.

It’s not that there is a lack of definitions, it’s that there are too many of them. There are so many precisely because there are so many variations of socialism that one definition cannot characterize all of them. The one that seems to me the closest to the ideal is Michael Newman’s. “In my view,” he comments, “the most fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society.”

That is a commitment that I share and that I believe most Christians could share. It is a hope that is rooted in the Gospels and in Jesus Himself. And Jesus held it because it was an ancient calling to righteousness that Yahweh, through the prophets, had held up to God’s people.

But we do not get far into discussion of socialism—or any social and political movement, for that matter—without running up against the nature of humanity. What kind of creatures are we?

Christians say we are made in the image of God and that image has almost been effaced in all of us. It’s still there, traces of it, sometimes more in the ideal than in the actual, but it is our highest and best hope for an egalitarian society. A society of people who regard each other the way God regards each person.

Christians thus believe that humanity has incredible potential, but that it is bent away from that potential by sin— by willful disobedience, by ignorance of the truth, by an inability to hit the mark because of our finitude.

Those are three options in this game of life and the one we choose to view ourselves and others by makes a lot of difference in how we go about doing anything in this world. For many Christians, what is most striking about their view of human nature is how low a value they put upon actual, present, living, human beings as opposed to the abstract principle of Life. They echo Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, “I love mankind . . . it’s people I can’t stand.”

Generic socialism, based on a materialistic philosophy of life, looks to the empirical as its foundation and believes that our failings are through ignorance. Knowing rightly makes acting rightly possible, hence the emphasis on education and even re-education.

Ignorance as a cause of injustice is also reinforced by the appalling conditions of poverty and oppression imposed by a system that exploits the many and benefits the few. That is something many Christians can agree with.

Yet, there are plenty of Christians who make the argument that Jesus endorsed capitalism, not socialism. They point to Jesus’ refusal to make a man’s brother split his inheritance with him, and they hold up the parable of the talents as Jesus’ stamp of approval for capitalistic investment. The parable of the Good Samaritan, they claim, calls us to aid those who are hurt, not to fund the welfare state through our taxes.

Likewise, the story Jesus tells of the landowner who hires workers at the end of day and pays them the same as those who worked all day, is a testament to supply and demand, the right of private property, and voluntary contracts, not socialism. They assert that Jesus’ command to help others is rooted in free-market capitalism, the only thing that has generated wealth. Individual responsibility, not coercion by the state, is what Jesus wants.

That would be ideal if all of us, acting in our God-given freedom and from our moral responsibility, were to care for each other. But as we’ve seen in this pandemic, millions of us cannot be relied upon to care for others through the simple act of wearing a mask and social distancing.

Here is the weakness in trying to build a society on the notion that Jesus was—or was not—a socialist: both positions misunderstand moral responsibility. Those for free-market capitalism believe they have few, if any, responsibilities to their larger community, while those for socialism don’t trust individuals to contribute to the welfare of the community.

If our individual measure of success is the ability to make and keep as much money as we can, then capitalism is the best means to that end. If our measure of an equitable society for all is our goal, then some form of democratic socialism is our best bet. The problem is that we want both: unfettered opportunity for individual wealth and no poverty in our society.

The most revolutionary statement of human rights is the Sermon on the Mount. To read its three chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, without sanding down its sharp imperatives is to be twisted like a pretzel. We long for such a world, yet we admit, in frustration and even anger, that it is nigh impossible, given our desire for autonomy and comfort. The closest that some have come to it are the Bruderhof, religious communities that hold no private possessions but share everything in common.

But what makes the Sermon on the Mount so revolutionary, so dauntingly comprehensive, is that Jesus includes actions and intentions. Turning the other cheek springs from gentleness and courage; not giving in to lust begins with respect for another; not making a show of your religion arises from faith and humility. In every measure we could apply, Jesus asks more of us than can be achieved, either through personal will or state requirements.

We cannot legislate morality, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore those whom Jesus especially cared for, much less exploit them. If we could do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly as Christians in our society, those actions alone would redress a multitude of sins. If we can speak clearly and courageously to the systemic injustice that locks in exploitation and misery for millions, the text, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,” becomes our means to that end.

Was Jesus a socialist? No, he was so much more, more than any ideology could contain or aspire to. Light of Light, Day Ascending, Word from the Beginning, Alpha and Omega.

–Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communication for 37 years in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. Read more of his work on his blog, “Dante’s Woods.” Casey’s first collection of essays, “Wandering, Not Lost,” was recently published by Wipf and Stock. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By Zdravko Plantak — “I hate your Sabbaths!” This sounds like a pretty strong sentiment, right? “I hate, I despise your feasts, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, . . . Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of the harps, I will not listen.” These are, of course, God’s words recorded by a prophet. Amos penned them in the context of what seems to be utterly detestable to God–Sabbath assemblies and worships that are not matched by social justice that rolls down like an ever-flowing stream. And Amos is not ambiguous on what is at stake in the same chapter [Amos 5] where he defines the social injustice problems in crystal clarity: “You trample on the poor, . . . you oppress . . . and deprive the poor of justice, . . . you turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.”

Of course, Amos is not the only prophet who suggests similar lines of thinking that link the issues of Sabbath and justice. In Isaiah 1, the community is called to repentance from meaningless worship and evil Sabbath assemblies (Vs. 13), “Sabbaths and convocations. I cannot bear your evil assembles . . . as they have become a burden to [God]” because the faithful do not “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Vs. 17, 22-23). The anger of God is against those who have ruined God’s vineyard (God’s people, Is. 5:7) because “the plunder of the poor is in [their] houses [because they are crushing God’s people] and grinding the faces of the poor” (Is. 3:14-15).

I hope to briefly develop three constructive points, as I think we would do well to look again at the meaning of Sabbath observance and its relationship to necessary social implications and applications through the vision of the prophetic responsibility.

Sabbath’s Universality

Philo’s expression that the Sabbath is “the birthday of the world” and consequently a “festival, not of a single city or country, but of the universe” (Philo, On the Creation, XXX, as cited in Sakae Kubo, God Meets Men: A Theology of Sabbath and Second Coming, 1978), p. 19.), points to the universality of the Sabbath. And the universal Sabbath makes no distinction among people. Instead, it makes all people equal before God.

Sabbath teaching does not involve only the Sabbath day; it concerns the other six days of the week as well. The atmosphere and the principles of the Sabbath will not only “extend beyond the worship service to the dinner table and the living room” (Kubo, p. 27.) on the seventh day, but they would also become a part of the Sabbath attitude which ought to be practiced throughout the week. In the words of Jack Provonsha:

True Sabbath-keeping touches the whole of life. The Sabbath sanctifies the week. One cannot be dishonest on Monday and truly keep the Sabbath, because Sabbath- keeping is essentially a posture toward God that is not a one-day-in-seven kind of activity. (A Remnant in Crisis, 1993, p. 87.)

The concern for other people which the believer is called to have on the Sabbath must be extended to a way of life exercised daily. The Sabbatical concern, which extends from the weekly Sabbaths to Sabbatical years also, was to teach the faithful about the needs of the less fortunate, the poor, the widows and the orphans (Ex. 35:12-33). In a similar way, we must develop a greater “Sabbatical” conscience for the poor, the unfortunate, the racially and ethnically disadvantaged, and the powerless whose basic human rights are denied.

As Karen Mains suggests, without the meaningful Sabbath cycle, our spiritual world is being ravaged, defoliated and deforested . . . as the forests in the Amazon River Basin in Brazil, and with similar spiritual consequences. “We have become a dehydrated people, with meager spiritual life, dwelling in desert places of the soul. God meant when He said, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” (Making Sunday Special, 1987, p. 145)

You see, without true Sabbath observance, without regularly entering that promised rest, our personal spirituality and our social concern can become dehydrated, deforested, and ravaged. We are becoming dehydrated people because we forget what Sabbath could bring to our compassion, relationship with, and love for others. On the other hand, a weekly reminder of God’s Shalom offered through Sabbath observance can replenish our compassion for and interest in others.

In the prophet Isaiah’s vision, in that oft-quoted passage in Chapter 58, that one needs to keep one’s feet from breaking the Sabbath and calling it delight (Is, 58:13) is directly linked to the earlier verses that have explicit social justice connection that elaborates on what may be a day acceptable to the Lord: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke; to share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor sojourn with shelter, to clothe the person you see naked, to spend yourselves on behalf of hungry and satisfy the need of the oppressed” (Is 58: 6.7.10).

Jesus is again the supreme example of the way God desired to have fellowship with man and how He intended the Sabbath to bring meaning to the worshipping community. As “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), Jesus took pains to clarify the true meaning of the Sabbath. At the time of Jesus, the Sabbath had become a legalistic exercise of self- righteousness on behalf of different groups of believers who wanted to prove their perfection. Jesus, however, pointed out to the almost forgotten humanitarian function of the fourth commandment. As one commentator notes, To counteract prevailing legal interpretations which restricted humanitarian service on the Sabbath to emergency situations only, Jesus intentionally ministered on this day to persons who were not critically, but chronically ill. (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, 1980, pp. 194-195)

In such a way Jesus pressed the Sabbath into salvation history, making it a day intended for the benefit of humankind.

The Sabbath points to equality among all human beings. It is a memorial to God, the Creator. Remembering weekly that God is our Creator, and that all human beings are only creatures among whom the differences are really non-essential, should encourage Sabbath observers to accept and respect others regardless of their occupation, race, culture or nationality, ethnic or economic background, ability or disability, or their occupation, or educational level.

Sabbath’s Liberation

So, the Sabbath becomes the true means of liberation for humanity. It celebrates God’s merciful act of liberation and deliverance from the bondage of Egypt (Deut. 5:15), but it also points to the ultimate liberation from sin and all its consequences.

Charles Bradford remarked in his treatise on “The Sabbath and Liberation” that the Sabbath lay at the very heart of the first great freedom movement. Moses delivered God’s message to Pharaoh: “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Ex. 7:16). This was a direct appeal to Pharaoh to allow the enslaved people to observe the Sabbath rest. Later, God re-established the Sabbath as a sign of their liberation (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Moreover, this arrangement was to be permanent be- cause Sabbath rest and Sabbath observance is directly related to human dignity and freedom. Yahweh never intended for one human being to tyrannize another, or for one nation to subjugate another nation (Charles E. Bradford, “The Sabbath and Liberation: With the Sabbath, No One Can Keep Us Down,” Anchor Points, 1993, p. 28).

Several commentators call Isaiah’s description of the Sabbatical attitude in Isaiah 56:1-7 “Yahweh’s manifesto,” or God’s sign of freedom, independence and liberation. “Maintain justice and do what is right. . . . Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it.” And “Yahweh’s manifesto” is relevant and applicable to the whole human family, especially to the outcasts—the poor, the powerless, foreigners (e.g., refugees) and eunuchs (politically and economically impotent). Bradford adds that, “The Sabbath is a sign in perpetuity
and a constant reminder of the relationships that exist between human beings and their God and between human beings and their fellow humans” (p. 28).

In the words of Sakae Kubo: “Sabbath observance has integral social and humanitarian aspects that we dare not forget. The Sabbath, as sign of redemption, points in two directions—to our own redemption and to that of the oppressed. We must bring rest to those who live in servitude (p. 46).

Ironically, we have many times failed to recognize that Sabbath observance should initiate liberation beyond our own community. Even within the church, the principle of equality was not always practiced rigorously. But, as Kubo concludes, if Adventists “fail to practice true fellowship and genuine equality, they betray a lack of understanding of the Sabbath as a sign of fellowship and equality” (p. 46).

Sabbatical Year Principle Through Annual Sabbaths and the Sabbath of Sabbaths

In Deuteronomy 15, the extensions of the weekly Sabbath idea apply to the sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee, and it emphasizes almost exclusively humanitarian aspects. From a week of days to a week of years, God’s desire for the poor and the oppressed to be liberated is the prime concern of the true Sabbatical attitude (Ex. 23:11 and Lev. 25:10).

It is fascinating to notice how Jesus’ programmatic speech in Luke 4, where He said that He came to “set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” resembles the description of the Year of Jubilee. If we listen carefully to Leviticus 25:5.8-11, and also the detailed description of the Year for Canceling Debts in Deut. 15:1-11, we can detect the resonances of Jesus’ announcement of His ministry in Luke 4.

Jesus’ work was the true Sabbatation, the proper celebration of the Sabbatical consciousness. The idea of the land resting (lying “unploughed and unused”) on the seventh year focuses on concern for the poor, the slave, the underdog, as well as the rights which go beyond mere human rights to protect and preserve the environment because God cares about the Earth to the point of destroying those who destroy the Earth.

Theodore Friedman, the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in New Jersey and a former editor of Judaism, wrote that the Sabbath “is the anticipation, the foretaste, the paradigm of life in the world-to-come” (“The Sabbath: Anticipation of Redemption,” in Judaism 16, 1967, p. 443).

True Sabbath keeping is “playing heaven.” Rabbi Friedman concludes his article by saying: “The Sabbath is at once the climax of that primordial time and the paradigm of the future time. Therefore, man should so conduct himself on the Sabbath as if the future time were already at hand”
(p. 447).

–Zdravko (Zack) Plantak, PhD, is professor of religion and ethics at the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By André Wang — Living in Portland, Oregon these last six months has been, to put it mildly, interesting. Once hailed as one of America’s most livable cities, during the summer of 2020, Portland endured more than 100 consecutive nights of racial-injustice protests marred by vandalism, chaos, and even loss of life. Every night, the area surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland became a war zone. Violence erupted. Property was destroyed. Businesses were looted.

A riot is the language of the unheard. ~Dr. Martin Luther King

American history is teeming with periods of social mobilization when communities of citizens rise up against injustice with the objective of replacing the existing social order with a more just society. Whether the subject of the movement is based on economics (Occupy Wall Street), race (Black Lives Matter), gender (Women’s Suffrage), the environment (Earth Day), or politics (Tea Party), each movement firmly believes in the moral position upon which it is based.

Social justice movements are a quest, not only for change, but radical change; change that is not incremental, but immediate. According to cultural anthropologist David. F. Aberle, social justice movements can be distilled to two fundamental questions: (1) Who is the movement attempting to change? (2) How much change is being advocated? Change can be focused on an individual level (e.g., addiction recovery) or a societal level (e.g., Black Lives Matter). Movements can also advocate for minor change, such as enacting new legislation or restrictions, or radical change, such as anti-globalization.

Nevertheless, America is an incremental nation. Change— or progress—takes time. Hearts and minds need persuasion. Cultures need to acclimate, and older generations need to adapt. But the form, substance, and timing of the change also depends on the type of change being advocated. According to Dr. Aberle, social justice movements fall into one of four categories: redemptive movements, reform movements, revolutionary movements, and alternative movements.

Redemptive Movements

Sometimes called “religious movements,” these endeavors seek “meaning.” They are usually focused on a specific segment of the community with the goal of provoking personal inner change, philosophy, or individual spiritual growth.

Reformative Movements

These are the most common. These movements seek to bring specific change to the social structure. While they are limited in scope and subject matter, they are targeted at the entire population. Environmental movements, women’s suffrage, and Black Lives Matter are examples of reformative movements.

Revolutionary Movements

Sometimes called “resistance movements,” revolutionary movements seek to bring wholesale change to every aspect of society, with the change being sweeping and dramatic. It is a “resistance” against the status quo. Examples include the Civil Rights Movement or one of the myriad political movements, such as the Abolitionist Movement.

Alternative Movements

These movements are typically focused on self-improvement and limited, specific changes to individual beliefs and behavior. Examples include coaching and support programs such as Tony Robbins, Weight Watchers, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

The lifecycle of a social justice movement is also critically important to its effectiveness. According to sociologists Herbert Blumer and Charles Tilly, the longevity of a movement occurs in four stages: (1) preliminary, (2) coalescence, (3) institutionalization, and (4) decline.

In the preliminary stage, people become aware of an issue, decide action is needed, and leaders emerge. Movements al- ways develop organically; they are never contrived or manufactured and are often triggered by an event. Examples of “triggering events” can range from a personal decision to break an addiction to the dramatic death of George Floyd. The coalescence stage is where a community of people bands together and organizes to expose the issue and raise awareness. The institutionalization stage is where the movement has momentum with widespread support. Grassroots volunteerism is no longer necessary as the movement is now organized, typically with substantial financial backing and even paid staff. Last, is the decline stage where the movement loses momentum or just simply concludes. Perhaps the movement success- fully brought about the change that it sought. Perhaps people lost interest, adopted a new cause, or no longer take the issue seriously.

So, if social justice movements are meant to address and, ostensibly, correct societal injustice, why have they become so divisive? Aren’t we all in support of saving the planet? Don’t we all want everyone to have access to health care? Isn’t racial equality something we should have achieved by now?

From my observation of the protests in Portland, there are three factors to the divisiveness. First, everything has become politicized. Everything is now a partisan issue with two polar-opposite sides. For example, take the current issue of mask- wearing in the U.S. in the fight to curb COVID-19. One side sees it as a basic public health action. To others, it is an unreasonable intrusion on individual liberty.

“We’re in this space in the U.S. where the two [political] sides just really hate each other, and that extends to information. So, it’s not just ‘I don’t like you.’ It’s ‘I don’t like your values, I don’t like your facts,’” explains Dr. Peter Ditto, professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine.

Most interestingly, issues that normally would be a non- political, common challenge for all of society becomes political when proponents and opponents of a cause weaponize it as a wedge issue. According to Dr. Ditto, we’re in a completely different and polarizing time in history. Humanity, he says, has “a long history . . . that some kind of external threat will bring people together. We may fight and fight and fight when the stakes are low. But when a serious threat happens, we pull together.” But, he soberingly concludes, “That just doesn’t seem to be happening, though.”

Second, “cancel culture” has become an important tool of social justice. Popularized over the last decade, cancel culture is a “modern form of ostracism” that refers to the practice of not only withdrawing support from an individual or business that one disagrees with, but even going so far as to destroy them socially and professionally. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “canceled.”

Because people feel disenfranchised and powerless, cancel culture in the social justice context serves as an equalizer for the sense of powerlessness that many people feel. As ideological divisions seem more and more insurmountable, the line be- tween the personal and the political is vanishing. Even though cancel culture seems to generate few lasting consequences for many—we are, after all, resilient and able to move on—it appears to be part of a deeper trend: an inability to dialogue, listen and extend courtesy to those that hold opposite views.

Most “canceling” is horizontal; that is, it is not done to justifiably or constructively criticize someone with the opposite point of view, but to score bragging points against people who mean no harm. As one friend put it, the people doing the canceling “become the self-appointed guardians of political purity.”

Third, civility in discourse is a lost attribute. Somewhere along the way, we abandoned civility and today, people are demeaned, derided and ridiculed for who they are or what they believe. People have gotten bitter and angry; and not just bitter and angry with those who don’t agree with them—they get bitter and angry with those who aren’t as bitter and angry as they are.

Merriam-Webster defines civility as “politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” It has its etymology in the Latin word civilis, meaning citizen or person; hence the term civilization. By its very origin, civility recognizes the inherent dignity of the individual and derives from it the basic code of social interaction.

Civility in discourse requires an immense humility. It is not only an acknowledgment that there is another perspective, but that one could be wrong. But it goes even further than that. Humility mandates that we view our counterparts as our moral and intellectual equals.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul sought to quell a theological conflict raging amongst the citizenry. In his plea for civility in discourse, he writes this: I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Whatever social justice movement we undertake, whether global or local, partisan or non-partisan, let us remember that we are all children of God and stewards of His creation—and to live a life worthy of that calling.

–André M. Wang serves as general counsel and director of public affairs and religious liberty for the North Pacific Union Conference. He writes from Portland, Oregon. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By Nathan Brown — It was a relaxed and sunny Sunday morning at a camp- meeting in a distant state. Over a breakfast of pancakes and other good things, I had shared a worship reflection as part of the youth program, situated, as youth venues often are at such events, on the far side of the campground. The program had come to an end and I was enjoying the sunshine and talking with a few friends as the crowd dispersed.

My relaxed conversation and state of mind were interrupted by a phone call, asking if I could do a book promotion before the next session began in the main venue in a few minutes’ time. I arranged to drop by the temporary camp bookstore to collect the books to be featured as I hurried to the stage on the other side of the campground.

The plan went smoothly enough, as I grabbed the books at the front of the bookstore with the ease of an incident-free relay baton change and arrived at the next venue with time to catch my breath before being introduced and delivering a presentation of the two or three books I had been asked to promote to the small morning Bible-study crowd. Returning the sample books to the bookstore at a more leisurely pace, I also returned to my more relaxed state of mind—and then my phone buzzed again.

A concerned someone had posted on my social media wall, direct-messaged me, posted on the host conference’s social media feeds and that of the publishing house I work for, all in quick succession in the few minutes since I had stepped onto the stage to promote the books. The “problem” was the T-shirt I was wearing. Dressed as I was for a Sunday-morning breakfast in the youth program with no time to change as I hurried across the campground, even if it had occurred to me (perhaps a T-shirt was underdressed for the main venue), apparently more “troubling” than my casual dress was the single word on the T-shirt: EQUALITY.

It was only a single complainant, but over the following weeks, he was persistent in seeking an “explanation” and trying to draw conference leaders into the conversation about wearing an item of clothing emblazoned with such a “political” message at an Adventist camp meeting. His protest is symbolic of a sense of uneasiness that many church members seem to have about the language of equality, justice, and tolerance that should be more a part of how we address the world around us.

There are two levels at which we need to think about these concepts in larger and more faithful ways. The first is the primary context in which these ethical principles are usually debated: in the political, legal, economic and cultural structures that organize and regulate our lives together. Here we are called to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed” (Proverbs 31:8).

To this task, we bring insights from our origin story that all human beings are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27), and affirmed by the incarnation of Jesus and the invitation He offered to “everyone who believes in Him” (John 3:16) for salvation and citizenship in the present and coming Kingdom of God. In short, we have deep theological reasons to insist that all people are created and valued as equals and society should treat them as such, with a particular focus on and prioritization of those who are most marginalized, vulnerable, and excluded.

Rather than contested concepts, as these tend to be in our societal and political contexts, at the second level in our personal attitudes and actions, they should be considered the bare minimum for our public engagement. Some ethicists argue that Christian love, as it is directed toward those in the world around us, could be defined as “equal regard” and Gushee and Stassen argue that such an understanding “is basic to any Christian understanding of love. . . But it seems somehow incomplete” (Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, p. 113).

Authentic Christian ethics must include equality, tolerance and more careful and thoughtful ways of speaking and acting.* These are actually the least we can do, but our faithful calling is much higher and deeper—a call to lead in all our human and communal interactions with love, humility, service and kindness.

Thinking about equality in this way fits by analogy with a statement from English novelist E. M. Forster, describing tolerance as “just a makeshift, suitable for an over-crowded and overheated planet. It carries on when love gives out” (On Tolerance).

Similarly, equality might be the best we can do if we ignore the Bible’s pre-eminent commands to love others, even to the extreme of loving our enemies (see Matthew 5:44). When we simplify and sentimentalize love, we ignore the depth and transformative nature of the way in which we are called to live. But the Bible does not allow us this superficial response.

Consider the attitude that Paul urged we should have in our relationships with others:

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to (Philippians 2:3–6, emphasis added).

Imagine if that earnestly-concerned church member from that Sunday morning at camp meeting was upset because my T-shirted call to equality was insufficient, that equality—even equality with God—was not something we should be clinging to or promoting because it is a lesser good. Ironically, he probably would not have protested nearly so much if my T-shirt had proclaimed love, humility, or kindness. We have tamed and diminished the power of these “church words” to such a degree that we miss the point that these callings are higher and much more politically, economically and culturally disruptive—if only we would take them seriously enough and live them out to their full extent.

Equality is necessary. A passion for the equality of others is something we must insist upon as a foundation for working and speaking up for justice in our world, in turn built on some of our most fundamental beliefs about our world and what it means to be human. But important as it is, equality is a makeshift for systems and institutions that are unable to love. We are called to more. Our equality is not something to cling to. Instead, we are called to love. Everyone equally—as difficult as that will be, in whatever ways we can.

–Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia. Nathan’s newest book is “Advent,” available from your favorite online book retailer. Email him at: [email protected]

*This has come to be termed and often described dismissively as “political correctness” by critics and, while there are obvious excesses in some contexts, using language that is conscientiously kinder and sensitive to how it is heard by others is something we should strive toward.

05 Jan


By Cryston Josiah — What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. —Luke 15:4,5

As we continue to simultaneously experience the realities of a deadly pandemic and racial tension, many have wondered about how we, as Christians, should relate to the group that Jesus, in Matthew 25, refers to as “the least of these.” That passage speaks for itself and clearly shows that as the King, the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats. The separation is not based on knowledge of doctrine and intellectual understanding of theology, but on their response to those who needed help in a real and tangible way.

Many have debated the politics of the Black Lives Matter sentiment and have asked if we, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, should be for or against it. I would humbly submit that the biblical passage which came to mind in helping us understand why this concept should be so important to Christians was the Scripture quoted above. Jesus, in this parable, gives us a glimpse of the compassion that God has for those who are spiritually lost. Yet, it also creates a window into His mind of how God persistently seeks to save the lost, not only spiritually, but physically as well. In this text, it is not that the 99 sheep did not matter to the Shepherd. However, they clearly were not the ones who were lost or in danger. I remember reading the old Uncle Arthur Bible Stories with the picture of the Shepherd clinging to the rocky cliff with one hand and the lost sheep with the other.

Regardless of our political or personal persuasion, the Christ-like character of God is always concerned for those who are “lost” and in danger. All American historians and sociologists have documented that, from the very birth of this nation, all men were indeed not treated as though they were created equal, as blacks were considered three-fifths of a man. Slavery, and subsequently the remnants of slavery, including Jim Crow laws, redlining, housing discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, financial discrimination, etc., have been the reality for the black sheep, the black and brown people in our nation.

The “black” sheep has not only been lost in America, but brought here not of its own will, and in real danger. Thus, there is a spiritual and moral responsibility for Christians to not only see the need to leave the ninety-nine who are safe and secure, and who still indeed matter to the Shepherd, but to search for, and care for and protect the one that is in danger, an endangered life.

It is such a blessing to know that our very own Seventh- day Adventist pioneers were strict abolitionists. Ellen G. White, Joseph Bates, and others wrote letters and articles condemning slavery and racism. They even sternly addressed Adventist churches and leaders, who endeavored to continue racist practices and traditions. In addition, they were supportive of joining and connecting with other groups, who were not members of our denomination on moral things that mattered.

Ellen G. White commented:
Light has been given me that there are those with most precious talents and capabilities in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Much time and money have been absorbed among us in ways that bring no returns. Instead of this, some of our best talent should be set at work for the WCTU, not as evangelists, but as those who fully appreciate the good that has been done by this body. We should seek to gain the confidence of the workers in the WCTU by harmonizing with them, as far as possible. (Review and Herald, June 18, 1908) What a beautiful sentiment. As far as possible, Mrs.

White proposed that we should work for the good of humanity, even if we have disagreements on other points. Her sentiments appear to echo Jesus’ ministry statement of Luke 4:18, which was to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly makes the appeal to the people and the religious leaders to recalibrate their minds about who is really our neighbor and what should be our primary focus as Christians.

In addition to Jesus’ mission statement written by Luke, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus highlights that those who have no concern for the least of these will suffer the same fate as Satan himself and his angels. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus declared, “. . . Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Ladies and gentlemen, why would our loving Lord make such a solemn declaration? He goes on to explain clearly that when you went on your merry way not caring for those who were hungry or thirsty or naked or incarcerated or sick, or when you didn’t even care why they were in those conditions and did nothing to alleviate their pain, anxiety, or suffering, it was Me that you were ignoring.

Even while those goats on the left are stunned and baffled, Jesus explained to them that He was the man who had a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He was the one wrongly accused, or was judged and executed without a trial, or was marginalized and oppressed, and you literally did and said nothing. The attitude toward the conditions of those described in this passage is literally what separates them from being sheep, the ones who hear, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,” or being goats who are eternally lost. Jesus summarily acknowledged that the goats rejected the Word which says, “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8,9).

In contrast, the attitude of the righteous toward those who are in need, toward those who are caged like animals, toward those who are unjustly beaten and murdered by those sworn to protect and serve them, toward the oppressed and the downtrodden, toward the marginalized, toward the hungry, thirsty, and naked, toward the stranger, that attitude of care, concern and compassion becomes the clincher for the King. That attitude of concern for those who can’t fend for themselves, those who can’t defend themselves, those who can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps because they never had boots—that attitude was the saving clincher for the Son of Man.

My prayer for us today is simply that we may see that one “Black” sheep and the least of these. And subsequently, that we will do all we can to demonstrate that they matter as much to us as they matter to God.

–Cryston Josiah is vice-president for administration, Central States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan


By Tony Hunter — Let’s start with a thought-provoking question: “Is silence a sin?” Answer: “Well, it depends . . .”

OK, that wasn’t very helpful. Great question, but a fairly unsatisfying answer. The problem is one of definition and context. Understanding what we mean when we use a word matters, and context is everything.

Question: “Tony, are you saying we can sort out both of those heavily-complex topics in less than 1500 words?”

Answer: “Um . . .” (pretends not to hear the question)

Let’s start with sin. What are we talking about when we use that word? That sounds like the correct question, but it isn’t. The correct question is: What were the original users of the word talking about when they used the word? In the New Testament, one of the main words translated as sin is hamartia (say “ha-mar-tea-uh”). It means “to miss the mark.” That seems like a reasonable definition. But here is a little contextual twist. It was a term that was used in ancient Greece for when archers missed their target.

On the surface, it’s a great metaphor. But let’s look deeper. When an archer is hitting a target, they don’t commit hamartia (sin). When they miss the target, they do commit hamartia (sin). Let me ask a question. What is the archer’s target? A paper bullseye? Or a man across a battle- field?

So, if an archer doesn’t kill someone with an arrow, he sins, but if he does kill someone with an arrow, he doesn’t sin. That seems to make the concept of sin more difficult. But you might point out that maybe I’m reading too much into the metaphor as most metaphors break down eventually.

Perhaps I am. But maybe not completely. Context is everything. There is a story in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25-37 for those keeping score) where Jesus tells the story of a man beaten by robbers and left along the side of a road to die. Jesus is telling a parable, a metaphor, to answer the question that an expert in Jewish law asked Him regarding salvation that turned into a discussion about who our neighbor is. Because, to inherit eternal life, the expert of the law said, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus liked the answer, but then the law expert asked another equally important question: Who is my neighbor? That’s when Jesus tells the story of the guy beaten and robbed. While this man is lying broken, bleeding, and dying along the side of the road, a priest walks by, sees the man, and then crosses the road to pass by as far away as he can, doing nothing to help. Then a Levite comes by and does the same, which was nothing.

It should be noted that priests served in the temple doing the most sacred and holy works, and Levites were the people that priests came from.

But then a third man, a Samaritan, came by, stopped and helped. Samaritans were looked down upon strongly by the people Jesus is speaking to. They were considered low class. They were seen as less than. But this man stopped, band- aged the man, took him to an inn, paid for his care, and saved his life.

After telling this story, Jesus asks who is the broken man’s neighbor? The expert rightly pointed out the Samaritan. Well, technically he didn’t because it seemed he couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the Samaritan and simply said “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus agreed.

Now, if we analyze this, I think most would agree that the Samaritan did well, and the priest and Levite missed the mark. They committed hamartia. They sinned.

Or did they?

The man is broken, bleeding, and dying. Most importantly, he’s bleeding. This is a problem for a priest and a Levite who were, as all Jewish and Israelite people were, for- bidden from touching things that are unclean. There is a whole list of unclean things, and blood is one of those things. Sure, they could do it, but there was a whole ritual and then a sequestering that would take place if they did. It was horribly inconvenient. So, the practice was—just don’t do it.

By not getting near that man, they were obeying the law. They were hitting the mark.

(Side note: What is lawful is not always just, and what is just is not always lawful. End of side note.)

But this article isn’t about what people do or don’t do. It’s about whether silence can be sin. It was bad enough that the priest and Levite didn’t choose mercy over law and act directly. But what is really more telling than what they did or didn’t do is what they didn’t say. They told no one. They didn’t get help. They didn’t find someone and tell them there was a man dying who needed help they weren’t able to provide.

They saw injustice and said nothing. It simply wasn’t convenient for them to do the right thing. From that perspective, they didn’t just miss the mark, they demonstrated they didn’t even know what the target was.

When we talk about sin, I’m curious if we know what the target even is? An equally important question is, as Adventist Christians, would you go somewhere Adventist Christianity says you shouldn’t to help a person Adventist Christianity says you shouldn’t be around because they are something Adventist Christianity doesn’t condone?

Would you get them help, or would you stay silent?

As a chaplain, I’m a mandated reporter. In fact, all pastors are technically mandated reporters. For those who don’t know, a mandated reporter is someone who is bound by law to report abuse. The abuse can come in the form of physical abuse or neglect. I’m oversimplifying this definition, so feel free to look it up for the full breadth of what that means. But the point is, if I see that someone is being abused or harmed or neglected, like children or the elderly, and I don’t report it, I can be charged by the law and be fined and/or imprisoned depending on how angry the judge is the day I’m dragged into court.

Our laws in this country tell us that if we see evil happening and say nothing, we are culpable for the evil taking place. Weirdly, the laws we use in Christianity do not usually include that caveat even though the Bible repeatedly makes the point that we are actually accountable for what we don’t do just as much as for what we do.

You might rightly agree that, obviously, if we see some- one being abused or murdered or some other horrible crime, we should be saying something. But what about the less obvious stuff? What about spiritual abuse? What about

theological abuse? What about when your pastor or elder or Sabbath School teacher stands before people putting down one group or another simply because they don’t believe the same?

When certain Adventists verbally attack Catholics and make declarations about people who believe that way, do we say, “Hey, it’s OK to not agree with them, but this is going way too far”? Do we stand up for pagans and atheists when some in our fold go on the verbal attack in Bible study? You don’t have to agree with a belief to defend the one who believes it. Are we not a people who stand for religious liberty? Or do we simply believe religious liberty only matters as it applies to Adventists?

The implication of the good Samaritan was that the Samaritan and the victim were of faiths that did not agree with each other. With that parable, Jesus implies a question. Are you willing to love everyone and stand for everyone and speak up for everyone, or only the ones like you?

Do we get so caught up in defending and distinguishing beliefs that we ignore the people on both sides? By equating the keeping of our beliefs with not sinning, do we wind up sinning by trying not to sin? By hitting one mark, do we miss another?

Are you willing to speak up for what is right, even if it makes the church look bad? Do we do what is right always, or only when it’s convenient?

The question was “Is silence a sin”? And the answer is, “Not always.” But sometimes it’s the greatest of sins. Maybe we don’t have the power on our own to stop evil and injustice. But we have a voice that is capable of exposing evil and bringing the help we can’t give.

It’s time to stop focusing on hitting marks (sin) and start focusing on showering our neighbor with all the love and mercy and justice that Christ is capable of funneling through us. Which brings us to one last question: Who is our neighbor?

Answer: Everyone.

–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]

05 Jan


By Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley — Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley in conversation about equality and the American Dream

Twenty-twenty has been a year for the books. We’ve all become accustomed to words like “unprecedented,” “can- celled,” “social distancing,” and “quarantine,” thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, we were also caught up in a period of social unrest brought about by in- equities in our country that were highlighted by the highly publicized slayings of several people of minority ethnicities by police officers. So, while we were quarantining and social distancing in the midst of these unprecedented times, we turned on our televisions or opened up our Twitter apps to watch as social justice initiatives called out for the (re?) establishment of equality in America.

Jessyka: As followers of Jesus, we should be the first people to acknowledge that every single person is made in the image of God and loved by Him. But it’s one thing to acknowledge that and another to actually walk that out in our day-to-day lives. Jesus was one to not only root for the underdog, but to highlight them as loved and whole.

Over this past year I’ve seen many Christians go out of their way to proclaim how they are leaning on God during these troublesome times, then go out of their way to speak harshly against those they dislike, vote in ways that suppress the basic rights of their fellow citizens, and become more self- seeking rather than going out of their way to care for others.

Kiefer: I’m with you. I’d even go so far as to put our own titles in the mix . . . because I think that as Seventh-day Adventist Christian followers of Jesus, we do a very good job of acknowledging that every single person is equal in the eyes of God. But we may not be so good at putting it into practice. This could be in part because we’ve been set up to arrive at this point by the world around us. Our founding fathers, held in great regard by our country, made sure that equality was front and center in our nation’s charter documents. We all know the lines by heart. “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But like you said, Jess, somewhere along the line, we got mixed up and stopped way short of the call. We stopped with writing it down and never put it into practice. The ineptitude, the double standards, the “all men” actually meaning “land owning white guys” crept out of politics and into the way we live our lives as individuals…even now 244 years later. And it’s just counter to the way of Jesus Christ.

Jessyka: We have definitely stopped short of the call as a country, but as a church it seems like we lag even further behind. In the book of Galatians, Paul shares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If our church lived that out, I for one, would have had a better experience growing up as a female in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I think, in a lot of ways, denominations across the board have become a mere reflection of their current culture and political climate rather than pursuing the way of Jesus first and foremost.

Kiefer: To take what you’ve said and elaborate . . . we can’t rely on the world, or America, or the constitution or even the institution of the Church to be our guide. If we do, we’ll always be disappointed. We’ll always see some flaw in the reflection. I feel like this is especially true of the call to justice and equality—both of which are very much biblical ideals. Before highlighting the flaws anywhere else, we must find ourselves fully known and loved and filled in a relationship with Jesus.

We need to see others equal because it’s what Jesus sees. Not because the Church or anyone else asks us, or doesn’t ask us, to see that way. It’s from our position as sons and daughters of Jesus that we can go about the politics (or activities associated with making decisions in groups) of equality inside of the church and inside of the country with His mindset. After all, what is the Church and what is the Country other than the people who make it up?

Jessyka: Exactly. I’ve often found myself easily pointing out the flaws I see in our country and in our church when it comes to the poor execution of equality, but at the end of the day, I’m a United States citizen and I’m a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. If I’m not actively living in the Spirit and following in the footsteps of Jesus, I’m just as much to blame.

The crazy part is what Jesus calls us to do is so radically different from the “American Dream” so many of us aspire to pursue. He does not call us to accumulate heaps of wealth, but rather to give to those who are in need. He doesn’t ask us to draw barriers both physically and metaphorically between ourselves and others, but rather to welcome them with open arms. He doesn’t call us to hatred and violence, but rather to turn the other cheek. Sometimes I feel like living a life modeled after Jesus is very “anti” American.

Kiefer: Jesus’ way is definitely not the American way. I think we can look to the Sermon on the Mount to see that Jesus takes everything we hold in high esteem and flips it up- side down. Blessed are the poor and the meek? The last shall be first? Excuse me, Jesus . . . don’t you mean blessed are the rich. The hustlers? The winners? No. He was pretty clear.

The way of Jesus is different and uncomfortable when held against our American worldview. But this is where we must take action to make decisions that demote the self and elevate the other. Because this is where we find equality and justice. We can make personal sacrifices for the good of our communities. We can see the tax collector, the prostitute, the thief, the stranger, the foreigner, the homeless, the “other,” and maybe even a woman, as equal. When the “other” is authentically viewed as an equal through the lens of Jesus, our actions will fall into place. When our actions fall into place, equity and justice will have a foothold to take root and transform our community, our church, our nation, and our world.

–Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley are RMC youth leaders. Email them at: [email protected] and [email protected]

05 Jan


By Shawn Brace — Much to my chagrin, I don’t cry much. But this last summer I found myself sobbing after I decided to do what many other people around the world did in May: I pulled up YouTube on my phone and watched every second of an 8 minute and 46 second video. And I cried and cried and cried.

I cried as I watched a black man having his life literally asphyxiated out of him. No, he was not a sinless and perfect man. Who among us is? But George Floyd bore—a tragically past tense verb—the Imago Dei. He was a child of God just like all of us. And yet his life was taken from him in broad daylight by sinners who felt no remorse about casting stones.

As I re-watched the video a few times, another figure caught my eye and ear as well. A bystander on the sidewalk kept pleading with the police to stop murdering Floyd. At times, the bystander’s language turned entirely vulgar, utilizing four-letter words that the privileged are taught never to use.

And yet a strange thought came to me, perhaps too scandalous for the pious mind. I heard Jesus in that man’s voice, cuss-words and all. After all, if such a cold-blooded tragedy doesn’t raise the ire from the God who once cursed a figtree for not bearing fruit (see Mark 11:12-25), what does that say about this God who allegedly died for George Floyd?

The question is, does God have a church who will join Him and that man on the sidewalk, willing to shed traditional forms of polite piety for the sake of speaking up and advocating for the “least of these”?

Our History of Social Justice

It may come as a surprise to many, but Seventh-day Adventists used to be at the forefront of social activism, zealously fighting against slavery and the racism that justified it. Our early history is littered with pioneers who passionately argued that being an Adventist and being an abolitionist were not mutually exclusive. In fact, some perhaps would have said they were necessarily mutually inclusive.

Figures such as Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith, J. N. Andrews, and James White staunchly spoke out against slavery, expressing their views frequently in all the major church publications, including the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. John Byington, who became the first president of the General Conference, participated in the Underground Railroad, even building small chapels to hide runaway slaves. In fact, Byington had left the Methodist Episcopal Church and joined the Adventist faith partly because the former was so soft on the slavery question while the latter wrote and spoke passionately about it.

Of course, perhaps none were more outspoken than the prophet herself. Ellen White was clear on the slavery question, maintaining that any person who had pro-slavery sympathies should not have fellowship with Adventists, and insisting that the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring northerners to return enslaved people who had escaped, was to be dis- obeyed. “We must abide the consequences of violating this law,” she wrote. “The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God’s workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own.” What is so fascinating about the pioneers’ attitudes toward the slavery issue is that they apparently didn’t feel that speaking against it would undermine their evangelistic opportunity. They didn’t worry that it would distract from their gospel witness. In fact, they felt that to not speak against slavery would undermine their gospel and evangelistic credibility. This they did, even while understanding that being staunchly abolitionist would close evangelistic doors in the southern states. But it was the price they were willing to pay in order to maintain gospel integrity and consistency.

Indeed, they viewed abolition and anti-racism as a gospel work. They were intimately connected in their minds. They even thought it was “present truth,” identifying America as the “land beast” of Revelation 13 partly because of its practice of slavery.

Is It Still “Present Truth”?

As we look across the landscape of Adventism today, one wonders if we still think that the work of anti-racism is a gospel work that reflects “present truth.” Some argue, of course, that since slavery was abolished long ago, and that further still, since the Civil Rights act was passed in the 1960s, the work of anti-racism resulted in glorious victory for America long ago. Those battles have been fought and won, both within and without the church, and we must instead focus on issues that will unite us rather than divide us.

Some further argue that harping on questions of racism distracts from Adventism’s primary calling to proclaim the Three Angels’ Messages. Those who focus on social justice and equality are playing a political game, the thinking goes, manipulated as pawns by political actors. We are therefore to bury all such questions.

For many of our brothers and sisters of color, however, it is anything but a distraction and it is anything but a political question. It is a lived reality. It is their reality.

A few months ago, one of my black friends, who had organized the Black Lives Matter march in our city in the wake of George Floyd’s death, which I gratefully marched in, offered this poignant perspective on such an attitude. “As a Black child, man, father,” he wrote, “no media outlet, politician, or organization has tricked me into thinking any- one is racist. Every single opinion I have about racism has come from my own experiences in school, in my community, and in the workplace as a Black American. Saying people of color are being tricked is essentially saying we are too stupid to interpret facts.”

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul, in explaining how the church of Christ is like a body, noted that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26, NKJV). For those of us who are white, who were raised in a context in which our skin color and race were never used against us as a liability, we may have a hard time understanding how racism could still be a problem.

But we are all a part of the body. And we need to learn how to trust our brothers and sisters of color and feel their pain with them. When they say they are frightened when they get pulled over by the police, we should take their word for it rather than trying to explain their anxiety away. When they say that the words we speak come across as insensitive and uncaring, we should honor their vulnerability and authenticity. No one ever changes their views by having someone invalidate them anyway. We bring healing to the suffering in our midst by suffering with them, not by telling them they have no reason to feel like they’re suffering. And we bring healing by speaking out, like that bystander on the sidewalk, against the ways in which our brothers and sisters of color are still being marginalized and excluded.

A few months ago, I got an unexpected message on Facebook from a young black man I didn’t know. He had attended one of our Adventist universities but struggled because of the climate of racism that he constantly felt on campus. A mutual friend of ours had sent him a number of posts I had written on Facebook in the weeks before that highlighted the important need for Christians to pursue the work of anti-racism.

Many of the posts had raised the ire of some of my white friends on Facebook, but connected deeply with my friends of color. When this young man reached out to me, he indicated that my posts had caused him to weep. He had never heard a white man, much less a white Adventist pastor, speak so powerfully to his experience. He had been tempted to give up on the Adventist church, but my posts had given him hope.

I don’t say this to imply any sort of moral superiority. I am far from perfect and have a lot to learn. But there are many people of color who are still wondering if they belong in our church. They wonder if it is safe for them.

We must learn to suffer with those who suffer, weep with those who weep, and curse with those who curse.

–Shawn Brace pastors in Maine and, along with his wife Camille and three children, is seeking to learn how to live out the gospel in his neighborhood and city. In 2018, he replanted his church to align more fully with God’s missional vision, focusing on the gospel, community, and discipleship. You can track his journey via his podcast, “Mission Lab,” [https://missionlab. podbean.com/] and his forthcoming book on the topic. Email him at: [email protected]