Last week, RIP GC held a vigil mourning the loss, in its words, of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference‘s “moral authority.” The source of RIP GC’s lament is the General Conference’s exclusionary response to women (specifically the issue of ordination equality) and to the Church’s LGBTQ members.
These issues are what divide—and alienate—vast, significant numbers of lay Adventists (including myself) from contemporary institutional Adventism as embodied by some of the positions promulgated by the General Conference. And these are the issues that engender heart-wrenching lament, pain, and frustration among those of us Adventists—in particular those from the progressive and LGBTQ communities—who wonder if institutional Adventism can still be a place we can call our spiritual home. Sadly, for many alienated Adventists, they have decided on that matter by simply leaving the Church.
As such, the question going forward is the following: Now what? For those of us dissident Adventists who feel alienated by and frustrated with institutional Adventism, whether our community encompasses those who still remain within the Church or have simply left it, the question specifically asked by us is this: Where (and how) do we go forward?
In answering the aforementioned inquiry, dissident Adventists must get back to the bedrock tenet of Christianity, their—our—faith fundamentally speaking, specifically Christian Adventism (what it means to us and how we express it), is something that we, in our relationship with Jesus Christ, can only define ourselves. In other words, it is “us with Christ”—not the institutional prerogatives of organized Adventism—that define our Christianity and our Adventism. Now, this perspective hit home to me upon reading Union College senior Sarah Ventura’s moving piece, in Spectrum magazine, describing her struggles with contemporary Seventh-day Adventism (emphases and italics added):
This past summer, many members of my church were heartbroken over the “no” vote in regards [sic] to women’s ordination at the General Conference Session. Many of us wondered, can we still be Adventists if we don’t agree with this? Do we even want to be?
I can’t answer this question for everyone, but I’ve answered it for myself. . . .
I poured my heart out to a teacher who listened and then completely changed my perspective. “Sarah,” he said. “You get to decide what Adventism is.”
Before that moment, I viewed Adventism as something someone else decided and controlled. There was one Adventism, one way of doing and believing, and I either fit into that or I didn’t.
But in reality, there are as many different ways of being Adventist as there are people in the Adventist Church. . . .
Adventist beliefs are as diverse as the members that make up the church. If Adventism was only one thing, only one way of believing, perceiving and living in the world, I would have to leave because there wouldn’t be room for me. But I’m staying, because there’s room for me and there’s room for you, even if we believe differently in a lot of different areas.
I’m staying because Adventism is mine, and I decide what it looks like. I’m staying because if I left, I would forfeit my ability to grow, shape and shift my church. I’m staying because I’m positively influenced by other Adventists, both similar to and different from me.
For far too long, some of us critics of institutional Adventism have defined our Adventist creed in a fashion, with the practical effect, of what we oppose—in regard to the official positions of the General Conference—rather than what we affirmatively embrace that defines our Adventist faith that makes it altogether irrelevant of what contemporary organized Adventism does or does not do. In other words, we define our Adventist credo ourselves that’s not shaped by what the Church’s official positions are or are not in any given moment; we must take ownership of our faith.
And, as such, instead of looking to institutional Adventism (via the General Conference) to be the change agent that we wish it to be—or to be disappointed by it for when it fails to be so—we should take heed (and inspiration) from the famous words from several years ago by then-Senator Obama (italics added): “We are the change we have been waiting for.”
As important as mourning is for us dissident Adventists, we must nonetheless take heed from he famous challenge from outspoken songwriter-activist, Joe Hill, who famously said: “Don’t mourn, organize!”
As such, if we want an Adventism that speaks to our needs and concerns in which we revitalize the Adventist credo to be, at its best, an inclusive Christ-centric credo of spiritual vitality and dynamic relevance, then we must collectively do the hard work of organizing. Not only must we, again, take ownership in defining our Adventism, we must also do the yeoman’s work of creating our own alternative institutions, organizations, and movements that further our vision for Adventism that channels the practical ethos of “we ourselves.” If critics of institutional Adventism seek to transform the Adventist faith, then they must be willing—and not abrogate their responsibilities—to create those institutions and movements that provide a safe place—spiritually, socially, and intellectually—for those Adventists frustrated at what contemporary organized Adventism has become, and who believe that the Church (and the faith) can do better.
Now, as to the shape and form of what these new alternative Adventist institutions and movements will look like—or how they will get off the ground—those critical issues are something that our collective enterprising energies, as dissident Adventists, must now focus on after the pall of mourning. The time of mourning has its useful place; however, now is the time to organize.