Note: I wrote this first part in the summer of 2011 after I finished writing my manuscript on the first 10 years of GYC history. I was trying to sort through everything I’d learned about the behind the scenes workings of GYC, my Church Youth Department, and the Church as a whole.
Our Church is dying. No, it’s not just dying . . . it’s killing itself.
How? You ask. I’ll tell you how. I was faced with the how the entire time I was writing this book. I didn’t see it at first. I didn’t even realize our Church was dying when I started the project, but soon enough I saw it. And it made my heart break.
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
I’ll be honest, writing this book depressed me. Oh, yes there were high points. I loved seeing how GYC was able to begin against the odds of not having enough money or support from their local conference in California. I also loved the time my Church youth leaders gave me to interview them—talking with them was truly inspiring.
But in the end, I came back to the same realization that undoubtedly MOST people in our Church have, yet aren’t talking about or doing ANYTHING to remedy! The Divide. Yes, we are a divided Church that will not stand unless we decide to start working together for the common goal of seeing Jesus return in our lifetime. I mean, is anyone really that thrilled about living on a planet where children are sold into slavery, women are abused, and men are destroyed by the other men seeking more power than they deserve? Really?! No. Don’t even call yourself Adventist. Because we, by our very own name, are seeking the Second Advent of Christ.
What divides our Church is our pride.
We are divided over many things. But it all comes down to this . . . it’s not what we view as the correct form of worship that divides. It’s not our varying views of theology that divides us. It’s not dress reform that divides us. It isn’t any of that . . . while the fact that we vary on all of those points probably doesn’t help . . . that ISN’T what divides us. What divides our Church is our pride. It is our pride in each one of those areas. We say, “I’m better than you because I only sing out of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.” We say, “I’m better than you because I wear dresses . . . I’m not causing my brother to stumble.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t exclude people who live alternative lifestyles.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t condemn people for praising God with drums and contemporary Christian music.” We say a lot of stuff that doesn’t mean anything!
But what we don’t say a lot of is this, “I love you even though I don’t agree. I love you even though I think you are wrong. I love you and I know that I don’t have everything completely correct either, but you know what, I am, and I believe you are too, still searching for how God would have us be. How can we work TOGETHER to find HIS ideal?
While writing this book I saw how the two sides (GYC verses the Church Youth Department) couldn’t get along–leadership on one side seemed overly condemning while leadership on the other side wasn’t willing to confront the condemnation head on, and so the young people were caught in the middle to clean up the political mess.
In every generation this happens. 1888 . . . remember the story of that GC session? Pride. And the young people were let down.
When I saw this happening to my generation, I cried. I was so angry and hurt. Why haven’t we grown past this? Why aren’t the youth the most important segment of our Church? Why are our Church leaders on both sides making us choose between the left and the right?
I love my Church. But as I’ve grown up in it I’ve come to see that this judging back and forth is not just something solely between GYC and the Youth Department but something that spans the entire spectrum of Adventism. From GYC to JCI, from the chaplains offices to the youth ministries office, from Women’s Ministries to Pastoral Ministries, from the General Conference to the North American Division and all the other Divisions, from the Michigan Conference to Southeastern California Conference. We are divided. We are separate. We love to point fingers and call each other out. I know . . . I’ve done it. I’ve been overwhelmed with anger and hatred for the side I thought was against me.
But what made me cry that day in my room was obviously not the good I saw on any of the sides. It was the fact that because of pride and personal differences, the good of both sides was not able to be measured together. I believe God ordained people on both sides for a special work. But I don’t believe He ordained one side above another. When I came to the end of the book, what I discovered made me angry because I felt like I had to choose one side over the other.
WE’RE ONE BODY, I wanted to shout . . . Please, get your act together or you won’t have young people to pass your offices to. And I’m talking to the left and the right! This IS NOT one sided. It takes two to tango, whether you dance or not.
In my frustration a question popped into my mind. If we are divided, will we not be attacked? But . . . you don’t often hear about countries in civil wars being attacked. Why not, they’re wide open . . . Why didn’t England attack the United States during the Civil War?
I did some research into this and discovered the reason . . . and that reason . . . made me even angrier.
England didn’t attack the United States for several reasons. 1. England was conflicted as to which side it really wanted to support publically. 2. It was thought that dealing with two separate republics would be easier than one. And then came the third reason . . . the worst reason. They were selling weapons to both sides. They were making money off us . . . while we were destroying ourselves! We weren’t a threat . . . so there was no need to fight us . . . so they decided to make money off us as we killed ourselves for them.
If they were to join a side they would have lost money by entering the war; supporting their soldiers while losing one side of “clients.”
Now, I love my English friends, but this just made me slightly upset . . . to say the least . . . they were making money . . . MONEY . . . off us, while we were killing ourselves.
And then I saw the analogy. We, the Seventh-day Adventist Church are in a Civil War. We are fighting each other for our own agendas while the Devil makes money off us in the form of souls we are neglecting.
Because, while I interviewed each side of the “war” I heard one resounding theme. “We want to be the last generation on earth; we want to reach the world for Christ.”
Because as long as we continue to fight ourselves we will NEVER be a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Until we can come together and become a united force, we will continue to lose valuable souls that Christ died on a cross for.
Obviously we’re really good at fighting, what if we took that passion and turned it toward the real enemy. Not each other, but to Satan. What if we could unite against the real traitor? How much could we accomplish?
How can we unify? Only through Christ and getting into His Word. Only through daily seeking God in our own lives can our hearts be humbled and changed. By beholding we become changed. And when we start to behold God above ourselves and our agendas and even our personal viewpoints can we become that united Church that can be a threat to the enemy.
In the end, I refuse to choose a side. I will continue to attend and support GYC as I will continue to attend and support my Church youth events. If there is something I don’t agree with at either, I will voice those concerns to the appropriate people and dialog with them about why that was chosen. While understanding there is a Divide in my Church, I refuse to acknowledge its power. Because to me, it has none. I am a Seventh-day Adventist. Not a right-wing Adventist or a left-wing Adventist. Not a Spectrum Adventist, not a GYC-Adventist, not a One Project Adventist, not a Michigan Conference Adventist . . . because I don’t believe God cares if I read Spectrum or if I attend GYC or any other event the church has to offer. What I believe He cares about is whether I have a personal relationship with Him . . . because that’s what guarantees He’ll be able to spend eternity with me . . . the whole reason He came to earth and died on a cross and in three days rose again . . . so I could live with Him forever.
So, until we can set aside our pride and come together with the single goal of getting addicted to the Word of God, we can forget about being the last generation on this earth.
Three Years Later
My journey with my church has morphed and grown since writing this in 2011. I’ve become involved heavily within my church. Through interning two summers at the North American Division headquarters in the General Conference building, through becoming an NAD senior youth volunteer coordinator, through joining the board of the Society of Adventist Communicators—all these things gave me greater insight into my church but also allowed me to see more of what I disdained about my church through allowing me an up-close vantage point.
I’ve found myself more than once being dishonest to the words I wrote in this piece. I’ve picked sides. I’ve neglected relationships based on what side I thought a person was on. And in the end, I’ve found that this is a lonely and broken way to live. This piece was written out of love and youthful idealism for my church. Part of which turned to cold cynicism when I saw more things wrong than ways to fix them—when I saw church leaders continue brushing things under the rug.
Then I looked in the mirror, and I saw my church staring back at me. Yes, church can be defined in many ways . . . the structure . . . the people . . . the building . . . but I choose to believe it is all three and maybe more . . . and I am part of that composition. I am the church. And what I do and say does play a role no matter how small that is. If I choose to bad mouth one organization and uplift another I am in fact tearing down my church. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was doing just that. Someone who hated a brother just because he identified himself with an organization I disagreed with. Someone who disdained a sister because she felt compelled to live a more restricted life. I was someone who was quick to judge others yet even faster to defend myself and my shortcomings.
I am my church and I am human and I am failing. I am killing it. And I am ready to now take responsibility for that. By God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and direction . . . through putting down my man-made idols and walls built from bitterness and pride, hopefully I can become a healer and not a killer. Someone who binds up wounds instead of constantly pouring salt into them. Someone who is a unifier and not a divider. Someone who lets others grow at their own pace just as I want others to allow me to grow at my own pace. Someone who loves and doesn’t hate the people who also look into their mirrors and also call themselves the church. Someone who is like Jesus to the world. This is my prayer. This is my wish. This is my continuing story.
Note: This article was originally published by Suzanne Ocsai at sdaunder30.wordpress.com. It has been re-posted with permission.