Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ideological differences in the SDA church

David Hamstra is one of the new bloggers for Adventist Today. In his first article he takes on the topic of Liberals and conservatives in the church entitled Freedom and Security.

Unfortunately he begins by using the terms liberals and conservatives even though those are rarely used in the Adventist church. He states:

Few Adventists who categorize other church members with these terms are willing to apply those labels to themselves. And it is clear to many that those categories obfuscate nuance and abet controversy, yet we continue to use them. Why? What function do they serve?

The reason for that is that people in the Adventist church use more descriptive terms than ill defined liberal and conservative. Instead of conservative they use "traditional or historic Adventist" while on the other end of Adventism they use Progressive Adventist. First problem solved... because Adventists do use those terms about themselves and most know what they mean.

David Hamstra than creates novel meanings for the terms Liberal and conservative.

Liberals are those in our church who feel the need for freedom more strongly than the need for security. Liberals seek liberty (which is freedom) and to liberate those who are captive, whom they believe suffer from too much security. They value creativity and see the world as a canvas waiting to the painted.

Conservatives feel the need for security more strongly than the need for freedom and thus try to conserve structures that provide stability. They see the world as a place of danger and the church as a place of refuge. So they warn those they see freely wandering into danger and defend the church against perceived threats from within and without.

These definitions make no sense to the real world, either in the church or in the political world. Liberals in the political world embrace big government with more government involvement in peoples lives, that is not freedom. Conservatives in the political world favor small government and less nanny state involvement which is equivalent to more freedom. Hamstra's definition does not work in the church any better. Traditional/historic Adventists have no more security, it could be argued they have less security because they have more rules and feel that their acts such as commandment keeping will affect their salvation. But even if we accepted the idea that it was security their security is found in their traditional Adventist beliefs. Which explains the name Traditional, thus we don't have to go and use ill defined words with novel meanings that no one in the church actually uses.

One of the common definitions of conservative is:
"Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change."

There is a quote which is helpful in getting a handle on where the starting point for traditional ideas begin. That quote goes like this: "The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution" [Hannah Arendt] Thus conservative is related to the society or subset of people in a society and liberal is a reaction to the conservative elements. A conservative in the old USSR would hold to traditional communist party ideas, the liberal would hold to free market ideas.

His conclusion based upon the faulty definitions then becomes:

"With Jesus meeting our needs for freedom and security, we no longer need to emphasize one need over the other."

A nice tidy answer, not that it answers anything at all but it seems to satisfy his sense of order. Perhaps that is all some are looking for, why can't we all get along. The reality is that different ideas don't always get along. Which reminds me of an article I recently read by Richard Mouw about the split between Evangelical and Liberal Presbyterians, where he writes:

I worry much about what would happen to Presbyterian evangelicals ourselves if we were to leave the PC(USA). When we evangelical types don’t have more liberal people to argue with, we tend to start arguing with each other. I would much rather see us continue to focus on the major issues of Reformed thought in an admittedly pluralistic denomination than to deal with the tensions that often arise among ourselves when evangelicals get into the debates that seem inevitably to arise when we have established our own "pure" denominations.

What we need to do is recognize that we have differences and be able to talk about them reasonably, sharpen our thinking. We need to actually be able to publicize that we have Progressive Sabbath School classes, Progressive Adventist churches, after all if the traditionals Adventists can have those things why not the Progressive Adventists.

What would happen however if your local Adventist school teacher attended a Progressive Adventist Sabbath School class? What would the traditional Adventists say or do? Would they say that such a person does not believe the 28 fundamentals and therefore should not be employed by the SDA school?

That is the reality we live in, where one side (many or most Traditional/Historic Adventist) is seeking a pure denomination. I keep reading articles like David Hamstra's and Alden Thompson who has a new book out on the idea that Progressive and Traditional Adventists need each other. Yet I don't see any such ideas coming from the Traditional side of the spectrum. I wonder why.

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