A series of developments in my church have made me wonder whether the church, which I have known my whole life, is not being kidnapped in broad daylight for purposes one has a hard time to fathom. Among the features of this development is a tone and a style of how views and disagreements are being expressed. A few things I believe need to be exposed and addressed.
Months before the Seventh-day Adventist World Church Session in July 2015 in San Antonio, TX, an avalanche of speculations, rumors and personal agenda items flooded conversations, publications, and social media talk. A friend asked me, Ray, why are you not saying anything? You have been around and could possibly tone down the rhetoric.
I do not see this as a noble task, I responded. There is more life to live than adding to the noise and chatter about the obvious church politics culminating in San Antonio. Besides, being a target for the lunatics that all of a sudden came out of the church’s stale woodwork, does not come close to my view of religious entertainment.
Frankly, I care more about the “pure and simple religion” than about positioning myself among the purveyors of personal agendas for the church, and react to hate, often vicious talk, laced with a sprinkle of lies here and there. Call me old-fashioned, but I care about the language we use, especially when describing matters that are associated with the culture of spiritual aesthetics. Call it spiritual formation that has a value for my life, a way of life I inherited from my upbringing and personal contact with Scripture and its Author.
Observing the Adventist blog conversations in particular, one could not miss how strategies were at play, especially when the topic of women in ministry surfaced as the church’s primary 2015 concern (again). The interlocutors, who in recent past had notable influence in church mission, all of a sudden claimed expertise is areas they were not known for. Freedom of expression notwithstanding, the cyber talk moved off center, and motives to “rule the church and rule the world” replaced unity with uniformity. All in the name of true religion.
Woman With a Scarf on Her Mouth. Replica. Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
In her commentary on “What It’s Really Like to Be a Woman Pastor,” Alicia Johnston, a church planter from Carolina Conference, wrote: “There are independent organizations and individuals that used to be dedicated to evangelism who have made it their mission to discredit the ministry of female pastors. It saddens me deeply.” Myself, I wondered about the effect of that obvious evolution.
When comments on the blogs were laced with name calling, which included expressions of hatred in responses to views that disagreed with one’s opinions, I could not help but see an image of a church that perhaps lost its balance. Some noble and notable church leaders in a matter of few strokes of the keyboard became … jesuits, servants of satan, antichrists, to list a few. When I read the Pauline admonition to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity,” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV), a thought crossed my mind and a smirk appeared on my face: Judging by whom the apostle is addressing - that's for the young people. Some of the interlocutors are already seasoned so perhaps this does not apply to them anymore!
But wait a minute, have some of our fellow church members (often hiding their names behind a pseudonym) forgotten another classic comment by Peter about brotherly kindness (2 Peter 3: 5-7), or a statement by James: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless,” (James 1:26).
After posting an article on the Rocky Mountain Conference’s Facebook page, about the vote dealing with the issue of the world divisions considering, within their territories, to allow women to be ordained, a flood of reactions – thousands of comments - was syncopated by hate talk. We thought we were quite tame until then. But an invasion of the unwanted happened. Some of us reflected: We have a fringe of Hateventists among us. They also should be loved but would we want to walk hand in hand with them?
A communication colleague of mine made a brilliant suggestion to post the following statement, and see what happens. “REMINDER ON CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE: The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes in respectful, Christ-like dialogue between Christians, and indeed, all people. There is no place for disrespectful statements, unfounded accusations, and hatred to exist on our social media pages. Thank you for understanding and demonstrating respect to all.” In a number of responses, if we could hear an approval, we could definitely hear people applauding.