One Change

If there is one thing you would like to see change in your faith or ethical tradition over the next ten years, what would it be? What role would you want to play?

It is incredibly difficult for me to choose one thing that I would like to see changed in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. As much as I am wedded to my faith tradition and have no desire to leave it, I must admit that there is much that I wish were different. Within the last five years, I have watched the Adventist Church become more politically conservative, more entrenched in outdated beliefs, and more insular. (Though I am sure that my conservative friends would say the exact opposite about the church over the same period.) To this end, the church has supported Proposition 8 in California, attempted to continue the antiquated notion of not ordaining women to be pastors in the church, and attempted to disparage those who believe that other faiths have knowledge to offer or believe in differing modes of interpretation of the Bible.

While all of those things are worthy to be chosen as the one thing that I would like to change, there is something that bothers me even more than those. As someone who believes and advocates for the separation of church and state, I wish that I could change the prevailing ideology that Adventists should be active in attempting to impose our religious ideas on society and on others who disagree through the force of law. This dangerous ideology has manifested itself mainly in the discussion of civil gay marriage, but also has reared its head in the debates surrounding the sale of contraceptives and the “contraceptive mandate” promulgated in the regulations for the Affordable Care Act. The general concern is that religious people, who have a spiritual issue of conscience against the use of contraceptives, do not want to be “forced” to sell these products to people as a part of their employment duties or provide coverage for employees who may want to use such products. The issue itself touches on the most crucial fault line of religious freedom. What do we do when the religious freedom I want to exercise imposes a burden on the freedom of someone else? Unfortunately, too many Christians (including the religious liberty leaders of the Adventist Church) believe that their right of conscience, based in their religious beliefs, trumps the right of conscience of the customer or the employee. In the case of gay marriage, they believe that their righteous indignation about an activity they believe is outlawed in scripture should hold sway over the policies of the nation.

The idea that the right to religious freedom of the Christian should go before the right of the nonbeliever bothers me. I believe it is antithetical to the Christian faith. I have begun to describe this phenomenon as “selfish freedom,” the idea that the freedom that we exercise can only be exercised in ways that benefit me, or that do not offend my religious sensibilities. This concept of selfish freedom is the same idea that led many evangelicals to say in a recent survey that they believe religious freedom is under attack, but also want Judeo-Christian values to be given preference in society. Despite my disagreement, I understand the frame of reference. I understand the concern that these people feel about the ability to practice their faith. However, I have always seen the Christian faith, and Adventism by connection, as a religion of sacrifice, where my needs are not as important as the needs of those around me. I believe in the counsel of Micah 6:8. “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” I don’t believe that looking out for my right of free exercise to the point of imposition aligns with justice, kindness or humility. I think that the small and incomplete sacrifice of some of my “rights” is a small price to pay, especially when juxtaposed against the sacrifice of a Savior who I believe gave up so much more for me.

So if there were one thing I would like to see changed in my tradition, it would be a change in the mentality that leads people to want to impose their beliefs on others through law. I know that is a daunting and seemingly impossible task, but success is not necessarily my goal. I feel led to try. It is for that reason that I am pursuing my PhD in Church-State Studies. It was for that reason that I started traveling and giving seminars on this subject almost 10 years ago. I hope to continue doing those things for as long as I can because I believe these ideas will not change because an edict will be handed down from the President of our church, or because some motion will be passed at some meeting.[1] I believe change will come because people will find different ways to share these ideas; others will see the truth in those ideas and change because of it. I want to be one of those people involved in that discussion.

 


[1] Though I have to admit that those would be nice too.

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One thought on “One Change

  1. I so respect your bold, brave article. If only all religious practitioners could be healthily critical of their respective traditions.

    All the best,
    Josh

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