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]