Influential Seventh-day Adventist historian George Knight posted an article at Spectrum which claims that some of its ministers are leading the denomination into Papal apostasy. I took sharp exception to it, but not to its author, as evident in the following 57 mostly negative comments in the discussion that follows it. For the article and the other 500 or so comments so far, please click here. Please see also see Knight's Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination and the Roman Catholic Temptation (Oak & Acorn, 2017).
I disavow and distance myself as far as possible from introducing into this discussion in any way the Mark of the Beast, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, FBI, Curia or anything similar. I find all use of such language to be unprofessional, irresponsible and unworthy of Adventist Forum and Spectrum. I think that what we write should hit the issues as hard as possible but never strike people and we most certainly should not land blows beneath the belt.
Describing a small group percentage of the leaders at the General Conference as a straightforward fulfillment of Revelation 13 might or might not be a helpful rhetorical flourish; however, it is an exegetical and hermeneutical stretch. Another consideration is that no SDA minister takes a vow of obedience. What’s more, it turns out that the very worst thing many SDAs can say of someone is that he or she acts like a Roman Catholic. Are we soon to hear that the President of the General Conference is a Jesuit? Guess what? We are too late because others have already announced this.
Catholic haters on the SDA left are stretching across the gulf to join hands with Catholic haters on the SDA right.
Doctor Zwemer. My experience working with Roman Catholic bioethicists who have taken the vow of obedience—both men and women–for decades has also been overwhelmingly positive. We ought to evaluate every religion at its best and not at its worst.
Frank Merendino. I think that your last paragraph in its present form is very insightful. My responses to your earlier ones are not negative; however, they are more nuanced than I now have time to explain. Keep writing!
P.S.: 1. I believe you when you say that you are not a Catholic hater.
I think that what the pope did or did not do is one set of issues and what is going on in Adventism is another and in neither case is using language like “Mark of the Beast” helpful.
No matter how good it might make many of us feel, introducing into this discussion the names of people whose regimes have slaughtered millions of people is ineffective and immoral. No SDA leader has ever done anything remotely evil enough to be discussed with them. To suggest that they might is all the worse. Let’s ponder the very worst that the GC has done or possibly could do and then let’s spend a thoughtful hour contemplating what they did. If we can’t see the difference, we are the worst of the worst. Some things are right and some things are wrong. Introducing their names into this discussion is wrong through and through.
George Knight has not suffered as did the victims of the Inquisition and to state or imply that he has dishonors those who did.
We should not talk about grieving for the victims of the wrongdoings of some General Conference leaders and grieving for the victims of people like Hitler, Stalin and Mao as though they are at all analogous. They aren’t.
Neither should we talk about the mindsets of these church leaders as though they are at all similar to the mindsets of these murderers. They aren’t. These are differences in kind and not degree.
Doctor Knight’s explicit references to Stalin, Hitler and Mao are not helpful contributions to this conversation. They do not make it easier to find mutually acceptable compromises and they do not make it easier to respect people with whom we disagree.
There is in fact an overlap between epistemological totalizng and political totalitarianism. If the Adventism you know best speaks and acts as though it and it alone possesses the Truth, it is worthy of rejection. All I can say that the Adventism I know best makes no such claims.
It speaks of “present truth.” This is a way of simultaneously stating that we have something to offer but that it is partial and provisional.
Appealing to Mark 10: 28 in this discussion is to separate both from their contexts. I do not know if the point is that the way some General Conference leaders allegedly kill the soul is equivalent, to, or perhaps even worse than, how Hitler. Stalin and Mao certainly killed the body, it is mistaken. Yet I am not confident that I have correctly understood what you are saying. Sorry!
Doctor Zwemer: I do not condone the conduct you rightly condemn. I still say that you ought to record your stories about Adventism past and present. The book would be both entertaining and instructive!
Frank Meredino. I think that this last comment of yours is helpful because it helps us pinpoint an important difference. This is that some hold that the differences between how some General Conference leaders act and how Hitler, Stalin and Mao acted are a matter of degree. I hold that it is a difference in kind. Thanks!
Andreas Bochmann. Thank you for honoring me by writing so much and so well. Except for time itself, no gift is more precious than an offer to be understood.
Your analysis is deep and wide and I will learn from
it each of the many times I will reread and ponder it.
I would subtract nothing but add one thing and this is how this entire situation looks to me.
Many people have been working on this issue for decades, trying with considerable risk while still fully employed by the denomination to make some progress in respectful ways. I am one but only one of many of these. Sometimes we have succeeded at being respectful and sometimes we have failed; however, we have always tried.
George Knight is one of several people who began to give this issue major public attention only after he safely retired and he is doing so in way that makes our work much more difficult by using language which some call hyperbolic and others find deeply offensive.
George knows as well as you and I do that it simply is not true that Adventism in whole or in part is a fulfillment of Apocalyptic anticipations of Apostasy. He also knows that the 2017 Autumn Council was doomed before it began because one GC leader posted on the Internet a PowerPoint presentation which compared our noncompliant unions to those who prepared the path to the Holocaust. That was so offensive that it together with similar things caused even the strongest supporters of those GC leaders to turn away. Knowing this he introduced the names of Hitler Stalin and Mao into this discussion anyway.
George did what he did because he honestly thought it would be helpful and I respect him for this. He also energize those who already agree with him. He did not make it easier for us to reach those who disagree. He made it harder.
Doctor Knight has not been marginalized in the denomination. Until the last one or two, the church has published his books. He is often invited to speak at important meetings. He is frequently and rightly honored by denominational organizations. Neither a victim nor a martyr, he is one of the denominations most highly respected scholars. His PhD students are making major contributions to the study of SDA history. In addition to this, he has another successful professional life outside the denomination as a well-known and highly regarded philosopher of education. Precisely because he has so much credibility in the eyes of people on all sides of this debate, he could have been a bridge builder. We should grieve the lost opportunity but we should not feel sorry for him. I’m certain he doesn’t want this either.
I did not know this. Thank you!
How good it is to hear from you after so very long! I hope that you have been well. Three responses: 1. Sounds like I am still more of a Weslyan and you are still more of Lutheran /Calvinist. 2. I once heard someone say that we should draw a continuum more like a horseshoe than a straight line to show how opposite extremes often converge. This goes along with your point. 3. Just as I think that we should not use the word “murder” when talking about abortion, I think that we should be hesitant to use Apocalyptic imagery in discussions like these. Especially for SDAs, they are very powerful. They are rhetoric explosives. Again; I am happy to hear from you!
I agree with your analysis of the symptoms and the disease. We are in big trouble!. Thank you for making these points! P.S.: Just reread your response. Demographic tsunami? Yes! In all denominations.
I’m signing out with thanks to everyone who has and will participate in this discussion. All the best
Many thanks and all the best!
dabe. Thank you. This situation is truly tragic because, even though every person is doing what he or she thinks is right, in the end we will all be dead unless we treat even those with whom we most proundly disagree with respect. Thid is not easy for me and I often fail; however, the other prospects are so horrible that we must st least try. Thank s again!
Doctor Racine: Thank you for writing at least three times, for the reference for the reminder of the “Romansm Within” and for your encouragement. This has been a difficult struggle but I am confident that it will soon be over in a mutually tolerable way. Elder Wilson has ruled out the “nuclear option” of disbanding the unions. At this point, we are negotiating the terms of the settlement. I think that we can afford to be a bit magnanimous. Hope to see you soon. So does Bronwen!
Robert T. Johnston. For many years in my public and published opposition to the IBMTE I have said that I would sign nothing written by others but that I would happily write out my views on any topic my Dean asked. When it came time for me to respond to the documents, I presented two lists. One of them consisted of the statements I could accept as they are now written. The other was a list of things which in my view can be improved together with my proposals on how in each case this might be done. For instance, on the sanctuary doctrine I proposed that we reverse our usual process of beginning with one verse and moving from it to the rest of Scrpture and begin instead with what Scripture says everywhere else about the Sanctuary and only then turn to this one verse. Similarly, with the other topics. My Dean read my responses and then interviewed me and said that I passed and that he he hoped I would publish some of the things I had written. My public and published opposition to the IBMTE remains; however, I did not experience this process as equivalent to taking a vow of obedience.
Robert T. Johnston. I do not recall naming the author of this article as a Catholic hater. Neither do I remember saying that everyone in this discussion who disagrees with me is a Catholic hater. Yet I think that I could have expressed myself more precisely and clearly with something like: “Those who are Catholic haters on the Adventist left are stretching across the gulf to those who are Catholic haters on the SDA right.” This is not based on quantitative or qualitative research but upon my reading of the anecdotal evidence.
It seems to me that using the powerful resources of clinical psychology and psychiatry in discussions like this one is challenging. On the one hand, it is unprofessional for a therapist to diagnose the problems of a person or group of them with whom he or she has spent little or no time in a therapeutic relationship. On the other hand, it is unprofessional for a therapist to discuss in public what he or she had learned about people with whom he or she has had a significant therapeutic relationship. I am not saying that clinical psychologists and psychiatrists cannot meet this challenge. I am saying that it takes much specialized skill and sensitivity. I am also saying that those of us who are not clinical psychologists and psychiatrists should leave these matters to them.
In addition to everything else, I have trouble with this article’s title. For one thing, it headlines “Adventism’s fulfillment of prophecy” when much less than one percent of the SDAs around the world are doing the things the article rightly criticizes. In addition, twice in two years the General Conference Executive Committee has not approved the draconian proposals it received. This does not suggest to me that Adventism as such is fulfilling the alleged prophecies. We must say “alleged” because it seems unlikely that any of the Biblical prophets had in mind this small group of the General Conference leaders. It is possible to say that their prophecies condemned the kind of behavior we see among some General Conference leaders. I see this differently. For all their faults and failures, in my view not one current General Conference minister has ever done anything as evil as did the oppressors against whom the prophets protested. To say that in their inner lives some SDA leaders are as bad as those oppressors is to make judgements that only God is qualified to make. These matters are more or less clarified in the article itself; however, its title will dissuade many from reading it.
Why so many see this sequence of events as a morality play when I see them as a tragedy puzzles me.
Robert T. Johnston. I think that we agree that for our purposes what matters is what is on the “page” and not who put it there. We also agree that the article is more nuanced than the title for saying, in effect, that the prophecies are their way to fulfilment. I have no objection to reading the word “fulfillment” in the title the same way. This gives us 3/3 agreement. Thanks!
Jeremy Vandieman. The Church of England is tricameral as you suggest. Its General Synod is comprised of three separate groups: 1. House of Bishops; 2. House of Clergy; 3. House of Laity.
Most measures have to be approved by a simple majority of all three bodies calculated together. More important ones have to be approved by a simple majority of each group calculated separately. I think that requiring a supermajority in some General Conference Executive Committee meetings is a good idea
The presumptive practice would be to function on simple majorities but with supermajorities when needed. Two thirds of the vote would be required to mandate a super majority of votes on a case-by-case basis for some specific vote or or purpose or length of time.
Be Positive. I do not plan to use the expression “Wilson Derangement Syndrome” because I think it wrongly shifts our attention away from what the article says to the person who wrote it. Besides, if we did make him our focus, virtually no one would say that he is deranged and no qualified professional would
I believe that what this article says is grotesque madness. Twenty million SDAs around the world are not on their way to fulfilling the worst prophetic anticipations. Elder Wilson, Hitler, Stalin and Mao do not share anything like the same mindset;. No one today is experiencing anything akin to the Inquisition. SDAs are not going to subject the President of the General Conference to the public humiliation of repeated naming and shaming and they shouldn’t. Having one’s book banned in one or even all Adventist bookstores will increase its overall sales. Many of Elder Wilson’s strongest supporters on the Adventist right believe that he has abandoned them and that the five committees will been even less effective than the other coercive measures he has unsuccessfully tried. They might be right.
Here are two hard facts. This article will convert to this cause very few who didn’t already believe in it and it will alienate quite a few who did. It is hard to imagine anything less helpful.
I end where I began and this is with a reiteration that nothing which I have said about this article pertains in the least to the one who wrote it. I have been known him for many years and I have never doubted that he is pure in heart.
This is what makes this situation so tragic. As in all tragedies, unless we start presuming that everyone else is at least as high minded as we are, this story will end with the problem solved but many people either dead or wishing they were.
Kim Green. Thank s for the question. It’s just that when I review the defining feature of tragedies as Aristotle summarized them a long time ago and the defining features of morality plays as they emerged in 15th a d 16th century England, what we are we are going through seems to me to be more like tragedy. But most of the people in this discussion seem to me see it as a morality play. I wonder why.
Edwin Torkelsen. Please do not “apologize for using so many words.” Because they are measured, insightful, pinpointed instead of global, informed by mastery of the subject, humble and considerate, we need to hear and see more of them. I wholly agree with you about the dangerousness of relying upon simple majorities on very controversial issues. This almost always backfires.
Jeremy Vandieman (I almost wrote Jeremy Bentham! Have you recently viewed the images on the Internet of his mummified body and wax head? You are better looking!)
I agree that the noncompliant unions should continue to be noncompliant on this issue and I think that all who are closely watching these events concede that this most likely will be the case. I also believe that they should receive appropriate penalties for breaking the rules. People are trying to figure out what these should be. For the most part, the documents do not answer this question. They tend to identify who will answer them on a case-by-case basis instead. The more these proposals are likewise procedural rather than they are substantive, the better.
I think that over time a helpful consensus could developed in favor of: (1) Giving the Divisions more administrative discretion on many issues; (2) Requiring supermajorities on very controversial issues; (3) using a bicameral or tricameral structure; (4) Clearly demarcating and institutionalizing a separation of legislative, executive and legislative roles. Great!
Kim Green. As I understand it, the main difference is that in morality plays the leading characters are clearly good or bad and obviously right or wrong but in tragedies the very best people often destroy themselves and others with their inevitable and usually unnoticed flaws. It is interesting to me that in morality plays right and wrong are often portrayed by nonhuman beings like the ferocious animals in the last book of the Bible. This could be a vote in favor of viewing what we are experiencing as a morality play after all!. I enjoy thinking about such things!
Kim Green. Exactly! Having whole populations who can read and write is a recent thing in the long history of the universe.
KIm Green. I did not know that even today so many cannot read or write. Someone once told me how many of the 20 million SDAs around the world can neither read nor write. The number was so scary that I think that I subconsciously decided to forget it. All I now recall is how frightened I felt.
Kim Green. I’m not certain if you are asking these questions of me. If so, the answers are that I have been an employee of the denomination since 1968 and I have been a teacher at what is now called Loma Linda University Health since September 1, 1974. I do not believe in Last Generation Theology even though I think it makes some good points. While we are at it, I am a Trinitarian.
It takes only one point to win a game of baseball and only one point to decide which is the better belief. This means that one can concede that those who believe something else have a lot of good points on their side
At least two things about our situation might be lingering challenges. One is the number of SDAs around the world who can neither read nor write. The other is the number of them who have been SDAs for less than five years.
We need to be sure that we have the right numbers on both and David Trim can probably help us on this. We also need to make certain that we do not transform the Global North and Global South binary (I hate this word because it is so trendy.) into a Literate and Illiterate one. Still further, we need to develop administrative structures which turn these minuses into pluses.
A bicameral arrangement would do this. This would guarantee each Division as many delegates that some percentage of its membership allows in one Group. In the other Group, each Division would have the same number of delegates as all the other divisions have no matter how many or how few members it has. We could significantly increase the participation of those who are not employees of the denomination by moving to a tricameral system in which they make up a third Group. The two or perhaps three Groups together would be the General Conference Executive Committee.
My own view is that all proposals should be approved by a separate supermajority in each of the three Groups. The opposite extreme would be for them to be approved by a simple majority of all three Groups combined. A middle position would be to approve some proposals one way and other proposals the other way.
If we work together, we can update our administrative structure in ways that will benefit everybody.
harrpa. I agree with your analysis. The only thing that I would add is that to my eyes Elder Wilson is a truly tragic person. I think of him as a well-meaning man who has discredited himself to the Adventist left, right and center by doing what he honestly thinks God wants him to do. As you say, he has done this two ways: 1. By deciding to be a partisan for some SDAs rather than a president for all. 2. By trying to force his views on all SDAs. It isn’t working and it won’t. Unless one enjoys watching people destroy themselves, this is a sad spectacle
By any objective measure, some of things this article says could not be more false. Yet it seems best to take a “wait and see” attitude about some of its other claims.
One is these is that the denomination’s system of checks and balances is at risk. My view is that they are working remarkably well.
Another is that the 2018 Annual Council will be a decisive meeting. My view is that this occurred at the 2016 and 2017 Annual Councils. At this point the priority is to find some way to move forward despite the rejection of the proposals of a small group of General Conference leaders.
I experience this article as a dramatic call to fight a battle which has already been won. I have written some strong things about three aspects of the settlement following the defeat. But they all presuppose it.
Another is the fear bordering on panic that the establishment of these Five Committees is causing some people. For two reasons they do not frighten me even though I am a denominational employee who does not plan to retire in the near future.
One of them that it is unlikely that they will be any more effective than the coercive methods which Elder Wilson and his closest colleagues have already tried without success.
The other is that the very worst thing that could happen to me is that the General Conference institution for which I work would fire me. It won’t behead me, burn me at the stake or stretch my body apart on a rack or any other similar thing.
Particularly at this late stage of my life, I would rather not have to find another way to make a living but I have no doubt that I could and that One who is wiser would help me.
I feel sorry for denominational employees who are so afraid that they might be fired that they never say what they really think until they retire. What a terrible way to live!
It is still true: Cowards die a thousand deaths but the courageous die only once.
I think that my hunches about what is going to happen will prove to be more accurate than this article’s. Yet time will tell and we should wait and see. Meanwhile, we should not let fear run and ruin our lives.
Robert T. Johnston. Thank you for writing! Richard Rice often says that genuine disagreements are rare achievements because we so often talk past each other by using imprecise language and so forth. Your comments serve us well by pinpointing our differences in at least the following three ways.
There are two honorable ways and one dishonorable way to relate to this situation. One honorable way is to endorse the ways they read the Bible on these matters and openly do the same today. The other honorable way is to reject their ways of reading the Bible on these issues and openly not do the same today. Although they are opposite, both of these alternatives are honorable because they are both honest.
There is a third alternative which is dishonorable because it is dishonest. This is in some settings to reject the ways a number of the early SDAs interpreted the Bible on these matters but in other settings, specifically when it serves one’s rhetorical and political purposes, to affirm them and use them today in ways that are as verbally, conceptually and ecumenically as abusive as anything our pioneers did.
Again, thanks for the genuine disagreements. I think that Richard Rice would agree that they qualify and matter!
Jeremy Vandieman. It is complicated, isn’t it? If we elect a sheriff, it is “bottom up.” If he catches us breaking the law while he is in the office, it is “top down.”
But let’s step back and look at the whole picture. It is a scene in which Christians are not relating to each other as though they are equally independent members of the Body of Christ but as competitive individuals and groups in some hierarchical structure in which it is really important to know who is on the top and who is on the bottom.
This is sick.
I am not faulting you because over the years you have consistently and effectively helped people to understand each other and to come up with solutions fo real problems. I am decrying the pathological circumstances in which you are serving us so well.
Robert T. Johnston. How true!
George Tichy. You are the only person in the whole universe who believes that right now I don’t say what I think! You might want to check with my colleagues, administrators and lawyers where I work. Especially the legal department.
Robert T. Johnston. I missed your paper in “Spectrum” and this selection from the 1856 GC minutes. Are they on the Internet? If not, I think that “Spectrum” or “Adventist Today” could post them. If they can’t, there are other ways.
I wholly agree with you about the necessity of supermajorities in all important decisions. England moving in and out of the European Union is a perfect example. I am perplexed as to why Elder Wilson seems wholly unable to understand this. The result is that the decisions he forces upon people don’t get implemented to his satisfaction. The same fate awaits the “Five Committees.” The Adventist “right” already knows this and is openly saying so. The Adventist “middle” and “left” will soon figure this out too. Thanks again!
Robert T. Johnston. Your clarifications on why some people are more vocal after retirement are well taken. Some cases of this are easier to understand than others. For me the most difficult one was the leading church administrator who traveled from campus trying to compel SDA religion teachers to believe something which in retirement he said he had come not to believe. It was difficult for me to understand then, and still is, how a person with his academic achievements might not have given the issue some serious study before he retired. The best interpretation I can put on this is that these administrators think of themselves sort of like ambassadors who are expected to explain and promote the nation’s policies even when they disagree with them. Either that or resign and let the position be filled by a less qualified person.
Robert T. Johnston. Thank you for the reference to the “Theory of Inventive Preventive Problem Solving.” This is something about which I knew nothing. Now, after having done some reading on the Internet about it because of your suggestion, I know a little. From “nothing” to “little” is some progress and I am grateful to you for it.
I am struck of a formal similarity between TRIZ and how Alfred North Whitehead says that we should reason about everything. Neither deductively nor inductively but interactively, he says we should reason from the concrete to the abstract and back to the concrete. He compares it to the flight of an airplane which starts from the ground, soars into the sky from which the pilot can see the big picture and its various relationships and back to the ground again prepared to do better work because of the flight.
Actually, even though many think of him as advocating straightforward induction, I understand Francis Bacon to be saying something similar. I take him to mean that the scientific method reasons from the concrete to the abstract and back to increasingly generalizable accounts of the concrete. It’s almost as if each time the airplane returns from the heavens to the earth it lands on on ground at increasingly higher elevations.
Thank you for introducing me to TRIZ!
Robert T. Johnston. I would like to add something to my earlier favorable response to your recommendation that we be hesitant to criticize people for being more vocal on controversial issues after they retire. I refer to these lines in the article:
“I have highlighted John of Saxony because in the Adventist context many leaders are afraid of standing for the right for fear of losing their jobs. And that fear is a serious reality in 2018, given the highhanded approach of the denomination’s president. But to betray our church and its future along with our conscience makes our positions and our very selves meaningless.”
Nowhere in this article have I found a sensitive and subtle delineation of a range of justifiable reasons for not speaking out akin to the one you presented. Nowhere have I found an acknowledgment that in some circumstances it is ethically acceptable, or even ethically obligatory, not to speak out precisely for fear of losing one’s job and for no other reason.
I believe that protesting what some General Conference leaders are doing is a duty for people like you and me; however, it is not our only duty and it might not be our most important duty. Other duties also matter and sometimes overwhelmingly so.
A response to my criticism of the article at this point might be that no article can say everything. This is correct; however, if an article cannot address an issue sufficiently, it should not bring it up at all. The same is true of sermons, academic lectures, business presentations and so forth.
Some people who read this article will needlessly feel guilty for choosing not to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. No matter how important its cause, no article has permission needlessly to wound innocent people. This article does this and it is one reason why my objection to it is so vehement.
Thank you, Alisa! Good to see you participating!
Robert T. Johnston: In rereading my comments I see that I did not acknowledge and accept an important point you made. This is that earlier you had not said that I had said that “all those who disagree with me” are Catholic haters. You had not put these six words into my mouth and you are right to point this out. Thank you!
Yet I do not back away from what I did mean to say. This is that, except for one thing, I experience no difference between the claims from some on the Adventist theological left that the General Conference is becoming or has become “papist” and the same claim that I have heard for many years from some on the Adventist theological right. The one difference is that I have not heard anyone on the Adventist theological left assert that some Adventist leader is actually a Jesuit.
This article could have made all of its points without mentioning Roman Catholicism even once and it is my view that it should have. There is one and only one reason to mention it and this is to appeal to the latent or manifest hostility toward Roman Catholicism there is in too many Adventist lives. Much too often this surfaces in negative attitudes and actions toward Roman Catholic people as well.
Roman Catholicism is frankly hierarchical. So is the military. So are emergency rooms in times of crisis. So what?
We can discuss whether in each case this is the best way to arrange things; however, there is in principle nothing necessarily evil in hierarchical structures. In some circumstances they might be better than egalitarian ones. Everything depends on a case-by-case basis upon which way of arranging things best expresses the organization’s values and helps it accomplish its purposes.
This article is part of a larger project which is attempting to gain a rhetorical and political advantage over some things some General Conference leaders are doing to which I also object; however, it is doing this in part by appealing to the worst of Adventism as well as the best. This is very offensive to me and I hope that at least some of my vehemence shows.
So far I have argued that this article’s use of the word “Adventism’s” in its title announces that 20 million SDAs around the world are losing their way when in fact the point of the article is that less than one percent of them are. I have also objected to the unacceptable anti-Catholic bias there is in how this article uses the word “hierarchy.” I now turn to how it uses the word “curia” in two importantly different ways without making this difference clear, The first way it uses the term is acceptable but the second one isn’t.
The denotation of the word “curia” is neutral. Its basic meaning is something like “group.” The Romans used it to refer to a particular cluster of people or, sometimes, to a building in which the group met Over time, as the Roman Empire faded in Western Europe and the Roman Catholic church gradually took over, it came to mean a small group of people who helped a leader do what needed be done. As the Pope in uneven steps became more powerful, the word increasingly referred to his closest advisors and implementers and this is its primary use today.
If we use the word with only this meaning in mind, we say nothing negative about the General Conference Administrative Committee if we agree with with this article that in contemporary Adventism it is “taking on the role of the Curia.” Every leader of a big organization needs a “curia” in this neutral sense. The bigger the organization is, the more the leader needs a good one.
Yet the article also says that this about ADCOM: “As such, it is, as it is presently utilized by the denomination’s leader, one more way to follow the beast.” This sentence, and others somewhat like it, is problematic in two ways.
One problem is that is that it does make clear that the members of the Roman Catholic Curia have taken the vow of obedience but the members of the Adventist “curia” haven’t. This means that how the members of the two groups relate to the respective leaders is different. Saying or implying that they are “basically the same” is theoretically and practically false. It is also invidious.
Another problem is that for many Adventists the word “Curia” has very negative connotations and the article does nothing to correct them. It does the opposite. It takes full advantage of these negative connotations on behalf of its cause.
Introducing a term with its neutral denotative meaning and exploiting its negative connotative meaning is clever. It is also dishonest. I abhor attempts to advance noble causes in this ignoble way. I am talking about the words on the “page” and not those who put them there.
Here is the big picture as I see it. According to the American Civil Liberties Union which wishes they would do some things differently, one sixth of all patients in the United States today are in Roman Catholic medical institutions. In almost all of them, Roman Catholic and other men and women who have devoted their lives to helping others are serving these patients very well. Who gave us permission to use their denomination as the embodiment of the very worst of what our denomination could become or allegedly is becoming?
In addition to myself, I know two Seventh-day Adventists bioethicists who for many years have been working closely with Roman Catholic bioethicists, clinicians, lawyers and administrators on how best to deal with some very complicated and important issues. As is the case with many people who face difficulties together, we have become more than colleagues, We are friends who have learned that we can rely on each other when the pressure is intense. I take offense at the way this article treats their community of faith.
One of these Seventh-day Adventist bioethicists is the top administrator for bioethical issues in a chain of Roman Catholic medical institutions throughout one of the states in the United States… They do not expect him to become a Roman Catholic. They trust him–emphasize the word trust-- to treat their ethical traditions with respect and to make them as effective as possible. Some conservative Roman Catholics are now beginning to object to such an ecumenical spirit in all of their denomination’s medical facilities throughout the United States and maybe the world. Keeping this in mind, was it absolutely necessary for this article to say what it does the way it does?
I object to the negative attitudes toward Roman Catholicism, and too often its people, in this article and in the other endeavors and publications of a big project which is trying to do good things for our denomination by doing bad things to it.
Kim Green. Thank you! Thinking of the article as an OpEd gives it more latitude than if we think of it as regular journalism. This is a good idea. I also think that sometimes when we are addressing one problem we forget about other ones we should also keep in mind. Looks like the Apostle Paul made this mistake a time or two!
Patrick Davis. You’re observation that in these exchanges we are discussing ecclesiology rather than soteriology, is correct. I can understand why you “no longer have a dog in this fight.” I hope it won’t last much longer!
by David R. Larson
With thanks to Brush Sage
July 7, 2918
Although there are others, at the moment I can think of seven reasons why "equality of opportunity" is not a goal toward which we should strive nor a standard by which we should judge ourselves. In no particular order, these are:
1. It is impossible, practically speaking, to measure units of "opportunity" which we can then distribute equally.
2. People vary in what they most want. One issue we all face in the workplace is what ratio of income and wealth, on the one hand, and discretionary time, on the other, we prefer. Requiring everyone to choose the same "outcome" in this regard is neither possible nor desirable.
3. Everytime it has been tried, this goal and standard has been incinerated in the flames of discontent. The New Testament testifies to one of the most spectacular of these test cases because it was motivated by religious generosity. In "Acts of the Apostles" we read that the very first Christians possessed everything "in common" and distributed everything according to "need. It did not take long for this way of doing things to prompt heated division along ethnic and cultural lines. (Acts 2, 4 and 6)
4. The problem of "freeloading" erupts everywhere and always. Among the earliest Christians, this difficulty became so great that the Apostle Paul," or someone writing in his name, declared that "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." (II Thessalonians 3:10)
5. "Equality of opportunity" denies the principle, which I think that even those who negotiate behind the "veil of ignorance" in John Rawls' "hypothetical original position" would affirm, that within broad boundaries which have to be drawn on a case-by-case basis by those who are most involved, those who achieve and contribute more should also receive more.
6. As John Rawls "difference principle" addresses, sometimes those who end up with the least in unequal allocations receive more than if the outcomes had been distributed equally. My reservation about the "difference principle" as Rawls formulates, it is that I think that his hypothetical negotiators would contend for some proportionality between how much more the best off get and how much more the worst off get.
7. "Equality of opportunity" denies citizens the opportunity of freely contributing to the income and wealth of those "performances" they enjoy. These can range from athletes to artists and scientists.
Although I won't spell it out, I think it possible to demonstrate that each one of these can be slightly modified so as to count against "equality of opportunity" with plausibility too. If this is so, and I think it is, we need a different goal and standard.
I favor making it "equity and utility of opportunity." "Equitable" means "fare" and not "equality." What is "fair" cannot be determined in advance. It has to be worked out on a case-by-case basis by those who are most involved, using whatever mental and material resources they have.
This means changing John Rawls' "hypothetical original position" to a "hypothetical continuing position."
First-day and Seventh-day Christian Sabbath keepers often debate whether the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine chose the right day when he made Sunday rather than Saturday the weekly day of rest for the entire empire. This debate, which has continued for centuries, has produced an impressive amount of excellent scholarship about how Christians gradually eclipsed the Jewish Sabbath with the Christian Lord's Day.
The best thing that can be said about this slow and uneven transition is that it expressed the overwhelming importance for Christians of the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week. The worst is that it articulated a growing anti-Judaism among Christians which would intensify throughout the Middle Ages and well into the twentieth century when it fully manifest itself in horrors like the Holocaust. An objective examination of the evidence suggests that it was both but that the degree to which it was one or the other varied according to period, place and people.
Too often those on both sides of this debate forget that the most important issue is not whether Constantine rightly endorsed either Saturday or Sunday but that he endorsed, with all the coercive power of the Roman Empire, either day, or any other one for that matter, in the first place. His fateful mistake, which eventually caused much needless suffering, was not that he endorsed Sunday but that he endorsed Sunday. Using the coercive power of government to make Christianity, or any other religion, the official one is the essence of the Constantinianism to which many today rightly reject.
Those of us who are Christian can do a better job of focusing on the most important questions. In this context, it is not whether we are First-day or Seventh-day Sabbath Keepers. It is whether or not we are Constantinians.
Tags: Church and Culture, Church and Government, Church and State, Constantinianism, First-day Sabbath keepers, Lord's Day, onstantine, Religious Freedom, Religious Liberty, Sabbath, Seventh-day Sabbath keepers
In Christian circles, the term "postmillennialism" refers to an optimistic view of human history according to which the kingdom of God will be fully established after a long period of time, or millennium, of gradual improvement. The term "premillennialism" refers to a pessimistic view. It holds that things will dramatically worsen and the Second Coming of Jesus will occur before the millennium. Although each group tends to isolate itself from the other, sometimes they encounter and dialogue with each other about this issue
One of the things that besets these conversations is the tendency to think that if a person is not one of these he or she must be the other. This is not so because there are the "amillennialists" who think that both of these two positions are too literalistic and insufficiently sensitive to the degree that the key concepts may belong to a different and non-temporal sphere of things.
There is a different problem with both postmillennialism and premillennialism and this is that both often suffer from the "fallacy of inevitability." The first group is persuaded by divine goodness that all things cannot help but improve. The second group is convinced by human badness that all things cannot help but deteriorate until the Second Coming of Christ rescues the situation. Members of both groups can be disappointed, despondent or even despairing when the "signs of the times" are not what they anticipate.
It is doubtful that all things will get either better or worse. It is far more likely that in the future some things will get better and some things will get worse. That's seems to be the way things have been going for a very long time.
It is also doubtful that there is anything inevitable about the future of humanity. Nobody can predict in any detail what is going to happen in the next day, week, month, year, century or eon and the further we look into the future we look the less accurate our predictions are likely to be. Much depends upon what we choose. As Scripture says, we can choose life and we can choose death. Our choices are constrained but genuine and how we make them will help determine what the future will be like.
An optimistic view of the future of humanity is false. So is a pessimistic one. More precisely, they are both mistaken to the degree that they commit the fallacy of inevitability. Because human history is partly up to what we choose, our view of humanity's future should be neither of these but voluntaristic.
Tags: Amillennialism, Eschatology, Fallacy of Inevitability, freedom, Futurology, human choice, Kingdom of God, philosophy of history, Postmillennialism, Premillennialism, Prophesy, Second Coming of Jesus, self-determinism, Voluntarism
As I have said so before, so far I am disappointed in the leadership of General Conference President Elder Ted N. C. Wilson because he has chosen, out of honest conviction, I believe, to be a partisan in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination rather than a pastor or even a president (presider). He is either unable or unwilling, or some combination of both, to discern that there are in it at least two schools of thought from which their supporters cannot retreat in good conscience.
This is not an issue of compliance, It is an unhonest difference of intense moral conscience. Those who oppose the ordination of women are not going to yield no matter how much we pressure them because they ethically can’t. Even if we burn them at the stake or throw them into vats of boiling oil, they will not compromise. We can, and we must say, the same thing about those who support it. Why Elder Wilson seems not to discern this perplexes me greatly.
Some seem to be pushing the denomination into a crisis in hopes that they will split it and only those with whom they agree will remain. This is not going to happen. This denomination will continue to splinter as it has from the beginning but it will never split.
On the one hand, theological agreement on many issues is too deep and wide for this to happen. On the other, the denomination’s administrative structured is honeycombed with so many checks and balances that no person or group can force its will on everyone else. Elder Wilson’s own way of putting this is that his office of worldwide leadership “does not have many levers.”
Sooner later, some leader will diagnose the problem as it actually is and apply the needed remedy. Elder Wilson could be that person and I hope and pray that even at this late date he will be.
If he continues to choose not to be this leader, his administration will end in frustration and disappointment and he will be remembered as a man who could have been a unifier but chose to be a divider instead. Few get to miss so great an opportunity!
Definition: "A religion is a way of life."
Some Methods of Studying Religion:
History of Religion
Philosophy of Religion
Psychology of Religion
Sociology of Religion
Anthropology of Religion
Phenomenology of Religion
Recurring Features of Religions
Last week someone asked me if throughout the whole of human history all religions have been misogynistic. I answered that, as far as I knew, the overwhelming majority of them have been patriarchal but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were all misogynistic. This is because it might be that in some past times and places patriarchy was the best possible way to distribute opportunities and responsibilities. I added that it is misogynistic to insist on patriarchy when the circumstances no longer justify it.
If I could, I know that I'd change at least one thing. It would be to say that this question seems to presuppose a difference between religion and the rest of life. Although this has been so in some Western nations since the Enlightenment, for almost all of human history they have been inseparable. To paraphrase Paul Tillich, religion is the substance of culture and culture is its form. This turns the question into whether all cultures have been misogynistic. I doubt it.
"Patriarchy" means at least three things which are increasingly problematic. One of these is that being a man is the criterion by which a culture' distributes its most important opportunities and responsibilities. A second is that being a man is the norm which determines who gets the final say and who inherits what. A third is that from their infancy all members of the next generation are so enculturated into this way of doing things that it is difficult for them to imagine any other. If I were to allocate 12 points among these three patterns with the worst of them getting the most points, the first would get three, the second would get four and the third would get five.
Misogyny adds two more things for a total of five. One of these is that the first three of them prevail without regard to how qualified or unqualified the man is. The other is that the penalties for questioning the system, let alone acting contrary to it, are severe. In too many cases it is death.
One of my nieces by marriage is a slight and oh-so-very-straight truck driver in Australia. Her ability to navigate 18 wheelers, and even truck trains, surpasses the overwhelming majority of men in her business. "Good on her!"
A recent discussion in the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda, California brought to my mind the difference between two types of postmodern Biblical interpretation. One of these is solipsistic. The other is pluralistic. Both of these differ from premodern interpretation, which gave each Biblical text four meanings (literal, allegorical, tropolopological and anoalogical) and modern interpretation, which typically concentrated upon the text and its contexts without attending to what we bring to it.
Although it is often used pejoratively, the word “solipsism” has two honorable meanings. Its epistemological meaning is that we can assuredly know only that which is within our own minds. Its ontological one is that in a specific and important sense only our minds exist. Either way, this type of postmodern interpretation makes what Kendra Haloviak Valentine called “the world in front of” the text normative. It does not necessarily exclude the worlds “within” and “behind” the text; however, it does hold that what we see when we read the text without reference to anything else is the most important of what we get.
In this context, the world “pluralism” has two somewhat parallel meanings. When we use it epistemologically, we mean that as far back and wide we go, we see that people always find more than one meaning in the text. When we use it ontologically, we mean that we justifiably believe that the text’s author intended it to have several meanings. Both of these require the interpreter to ponder what is “within” the text and what is “behind” it as well as what is “in front of” it.
The important difference between solipsistic and pluralistic types of postmodern interpretation is that the second is more able to protect us from seeing nothing but what we already believe and feel when we read the text. In solipsistic interpretations we can get the same meaning from different texts or different meanings from the same text. This is because the text does not ultimately matter. Only what is in our minds does.
Does Donald Trump's massive but apparently uneven tax cut meet the ethical requirements of the "difference principle" as John Rawls' formulated it in A Theory of Justice? I ask this question in hopes of increasing my understanding of both.
As I understand him, Rawls holds that, in a circumstance in which none of us knows who would benefit least or most, we would choose to live in a society which is doubly egalitarian.
It would be politically egalitarian in that it would guarantee each citizen as many rights (freedom of speech, for example) as he or she could exercise without violating anyone else's rights. It would be economically and socially egalitarian because it would allocate its primary resources equally unless an unequal distribution would improve the circumstances of those who would be least well off. I addition, everyone would have an equal opportunity to be among those who would be the most well off.
Here is my question: Is it true that the "Difference Principle" ethically justifies the largest possible advantage of the most well off even if it improves the circumstances of the least well off by the smallest possible amount?
According to his theory, then, would a tax cut which improves the fortunes of some by 99% be ethically justified even if it improves the fortunes of others by only 1%? Those who get a 1% cut would have no grounds for complaint because they would indeed be better off than they were.
This would seem to put an ethical stamp of approval on what the Trump tax cut does. Is this correct?
Posted by David R Larson on July 16, 2010 at 07:13 PM in Free Will Theism, God, Larson, David R., Love, Panentheism, Pantheism, Papers, Presentations, Process Theology, Theology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: creation out of nothing, Donna Bowman, God's freedom, Karl Barth, process theology
Posted by David R Larson on July 14, 2010 at 06:41 PM in Book Reviews, Ethics, Evolution, Free Will Theism, Freedom, Moral , God, Panentheism, Pantheism, Papers, Philosophy, Postmodernism, Process Theology, Process Thought, Religion and Science, Reviews, Science, Theodicy, Theology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: David Ray Griffin, free will theism, openness of God theology, process philosophy, process theology
Tags: Adventism, amillennialism, David R. Larson, postmillennialism, premillennialism, religious optimisim, religious pessimism, Seventh-day Adventism
Posted by David R Larson on August 26, 2009 at 05:56 AM in Book Reviews, Ecstatic Religious Experience, Faith Healing, Holy Spirit, Papers, Seventh-day Adventism | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Ann Taves, Charismatic Religion, David R.Larson, David Ray Griffin, Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventism