By Ron Price

I recently heard a message from Pastor Miles McPherson, a former NFL player, and the author of The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation. In his talk, he stated that as humans, we tend to differentiate between those who appear to be like us and those who do not. While all generalizations will break down at some point, I believe he is on to something.

If you happen to be Caucasian, it does not necessarily mean you are a racist if you tend to associate with others of your race. The same is true for African Americans, Latinos, Hispanics, or any other group that comes to your mind. This preference to be among your “own kind” is pretty much universal, and it starts young. Look around at church next week and see who the kids like to hang out with. Then observe the senior citizens, then the young marrieds, then . . . well, you get the idea.

The fact that you tend to gather with others who are like you does not automatically indicate you are snobbish, elitist, or any other negative-sounding label you might apply. There’s just a certain comfort level that comes from being with people who you feel have a better idea of what your life is like than those who do not share your situations and experiences. You might feel you have less to explain, and that these people “get” you.

Might this theory apply to Seventh-day Adventists? I dare say my answer is yes, and therein may lie a problem. For sure, the concept applies to Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and others, but we Adventists sometimes pride ourselves on how different we are from those of other faiths. After all, we worship on the correct day, we have the Spirit of Prophecy, we rightly interpret the biblical teaching on the state of the dead, and there are many more unique factors I could cite. In fact, we like to think and sometimes proclaim that we “have the truth,” thereby implying that others do not.

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s teachings most closely align with His Holy Word. But what if our uniqueness causes us to shun others who are not of the faith? What if we look down on people who act or believe differently than we do, or as we think is proper? As author Stewart Stafford said, “When you choose to look down on something, you render yourself incapable of understanding it.” Might the same be said for looking down on others?

What if we tend to cluster together and only befriend other church members? And, even then, what if we only sit at the same table with those same members at fellowship meals or socials, possibly ignoring visitors and denying our- selves the opportunity to meet new friends? Methinks that might be a limiting factor in how we represent our Lord and do His bidding.

I came to Christ and the church later in life than many (age 28). That simply means I do not have an ingrained Seventh-day Adventist heritage. As such I frequently find myself in the company of people who are not Seventh-day Adventists. Unfortunately, often I am the only Adventist there. I do not intend that to sound boastful or like a put- down, but I challenge you to think about how many people who are not Adventist are in your close circle of friends.

Back in my colporteur days, I heard various beliefs that people held about our church. I heard that we do not like to give blood, that we try to build our stairway to Heaven by keeping the Law, that we are a cult, etc. And, while we can ably dispute these false claims, do we not share some responsibility for their formation? Have we isolated ourselves so much that others do not have a right understanding of who we are and what we believe?

As with so many areas of life, I believe balance is called for in this situation. One of our famous pastors (forgive my aging memory as to which one), when asked about his religion, replied, “Well, I hate to brag, but I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.” Another reply to that question is, “The Bible tells me I’m going to be a Seventh-day Sabbath keeper in Heaven (See Isaiah 66:22,23), so I’m just getting a headstart down here.”

We need not shy away from who we are and what we believe. We need to follow the counsel as Peter recorded in 1 Peter 3:15b (NLT): “And if someone asks you about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Having said that, however, we need to be so careful that we do not become exclusionary. For our church to be healthy and growing, we need to be open, warm, and welcoming. We must never sacrifice our principles or beliefs, but neither should we allow them to be a dividing wall between us and everyone else.

–Ron Price is a member of the RMC executive committee from Farmington, New Mexico. Email him at: [email protected]