Croatian Adventist Pastor receives 2016 Human Rights Award

Dragutin Matak—an Adventist Pastor and theologian also serving as the General Secretary of the Croatian Religious Liberty Association—was one of three individuals to receive the 2016 Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Award on Friday, December 9. All three were “were recognized for their promotion of human rights, religious liberty and interreligious dialogue.”

Among his recent activities Matak was part of a delegation of religious representatives from Croatia who visited the religious and political leaders of Iran during the summer. In his acceptance speech Matak emphasised the need for personal moral responsibilities in achieving human and religious freedom.

Read the full story on the Adventist News Network.

Adventists Reflect on “Hacksaw Ridge”

In connection with the release of the Desmond Doss biopic film Hacksaw Ridge, Ronald Osborn—friend and former Director of the Adventist Peace Fellowship—briefly explains the shifting history of Adventists and war.

Hacksaw Ridge: A Reflection (N. Brown)

Nathan Brown originally published this reflection on the Avondale News website (reprinted with permission). Nathan is Book Editor at Signs Publishing. He is a former magazine editor, a published writer and an author or editor of a dozen books. He is also a co-convener of Manifest, a community exploring, encouraging and celebrating faithful creativity.

IS IT MORE CONSCIENTIOUS TO BE AN “OBJECTOR” OF THAN A “COOPERATOR” IN WAR?

Watching Hacksaw Ridge is an ordeal—and probably should be. War is hell. Any storytelling painting the picture otherwise is disingenuous. Even more so when the central character is a United States Army medic, charged with patching up his wounded and shattered comrades. But the portrayal of the battlefield horrors in this new biographical film render the heroism and the faithfulness of conscientious objector and Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss more troubling than inspiring.

After an arresting opening glimpse of the carnage to come but with a Bible verse that also hints at the story of faith, we get to know Doss, who grows up in an abusive home with a father damaged by past war. Faith and love play increasing roles in the story, coinciding with Doss enlisting to serve in the army as World War II takes grip of the world.

As we see more of Doss’ faith—portrayed in a way that shows rather than tells—the Bible is depicted as central. Doss is committed to Sabbath-keeping and his refusal to even touch a gun in training is the dominant tension. Doss always argued against his classification as a “conscientious objector”—he preferred “conscientious cooperator.” His stand is admirable. His determination to serve his country and fellow men in even the worst of circumstances is heroic. But the ordeal of the battlefield tests the assumptions we might prefer, the image of the American hero director Mel Gibson seeks to portray and how we as Adventists might respond to this film.

The graphic rendering of the battle for Hacksaw Ridge—regarded as one of the bloodiest of the war—emphasises the absurdity of going into such an environment unarmed. Undoubtedly, Doss served faithfully and it seems God worked with his faithfulness to save both Doss and many of his men.

But this large-scale retelling of Doss’ story also raises questions about the conscientious role he played, whether cooperator or objector. On a number of occasions, Doss is depicted being rescued from an attacking soldier by a bullet fired by one of his fellow soldiers (it’s hardly a spoiler to report Doss survives the battle). As viewers, we’re expected to applaud these deaths at the same time as honouring Doss’ commitment not to kill.

And this is the tension. In his survey of different Christian stances in relation to war, John Howard Yoder singled out the traditional Seventh-day Adventist position as one of the most fraught: “The obligation is absolute, but it is also arbitrary. One can, like the Seventh Day Adventists [sic], refuse to kill and yet be willing to participate in the military enterprise, since it is only the act of doing the killing oneself which is forbidden.” (Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism, Second Edition, Herald Press, 1976, page 96). Perhaps this “immature vision”—as Yoder describes it—has laid the groundwork for the growing abandonment of it by Adventist members of the military in some parts of the world.

But would Doss have been more faithful if he’d simply chosen to stay home, safely away from the war, as he had the option to do? Would he have been any less a beneficiary of those who were killing on behalf of his nation? And is this similar to the situation many of us find ourselves in as beneficiaries of the violence committed to ensure our freedom and lifestyles?

These questions are not answered simply. Doss’ story does little to help us with them, except to remind us our highest call is always to faithful service, to “conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:20, NLT), whenever and whatever our circumstances. While we might examine the theology of his stance, we cannot question the faithfulness and trust with which he did what he felt he was called to do.

But Hacksaw Ridge’s graphic depiction of the horrors and futility of war should also remind us of the Bible’s call to faithful peacemaking in the larger and the smaller contexts of our lives. When it comes to war and peace, the Bible offers stark alternatives: “Those who use the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52, NLT); or “those who work for peace . . . will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NLT), although this is certainly not a formula for everything to go smoothly, easily or safely.

Hacksaw Ridge should prompt us to ask whether it is more conscientious to be an “objector” than a “cooperator” with the tragic business of war. In a violent and conflicted world, we must continue to applaud faithfulness and service. But we must also find ways to champion faithful, courageous and creative peacemaking wherever it can be found and fostered.

 

Yi Shen Ma: The Word for Today

By: Jeff Boyd

Long-time APF supporter Pastor Yi Shen Ma has continued his YouTube series The Word for Today. We highlighted this series back in July. 

A number of the videos would be of interest to Adventist Peacemakers, including episodes on immigration and poverty. However, I want to especially note a series of videos Yi Shen made with APF co-founder and former director Ron Osborn.

Dr. Ron Osborn Interview Part 1: Christianity and Social Justice

Follow the complete vlog series here.

Adventists for Social Justice (DC, Nov 4-6, 2016)

By: Jeff Boyd

Adventists for Social Justice is hosting its first conference in Washington DC, November 4-6, 2016. The theme this year is "Pushing Past the Pews."

Unfortunately, I dropped the ball and didn't figure out our new blog platform until last night, so I didn't promote the event before registration closed at Eventbrite. However, you can still donate to the cause at GoFundMe.

The Adventist Peace Fellowship will have two representatives at the conference. Board of Directors member Dr. Olive Hemmings will be speaking. Dr. Hemmings is a professor at Washington Adventist University, where she teaches Biblical Theology, Pauline Theology, Introduction to the New Testament and other New testament courses, New Testament Greek and Moral Issues in World Religions. Also, as APF director, I will participate in one of the workshops on church-based social action.

ASJ co-founder Tiffany Llewellyn has an interview posted on the Spectrum website. In that interview, Llewellyn addresses a question about why ASJ is necessary:

Whether we choose to accept the responsibility or not, this group is long overdue. Our denomination must experience a paradigm shift in our identified goals internally and externally as it relates to the community. The church is a hub -- when a community is hurting the question is asked “Where is the church?” We have been given a mandate by God, which also happens to be our organization’s mission to “do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless and plead the widow’s cause.” This should be the focus of the church on a micro and macro level. We cannot seek to evangelize without first understanding the implications. We cannot misrepresent Christ as if He is not burdened by the injustices within society. We cannot preach passionately about Esther and Joseph, confident about what God called them to do, and be silent when it matters most. No, this group is not only necessary, it is overdue.

While I'm out at the conference, I hope to record another Adventist Peace Radio episode, even though I'll miss Friday's session. Look for an announcement of the episode on this blog.

Adventists for Racial Justice [Updated]

Adventists are responding to the recent killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling as well as the five police officers in Dallas, Texas (not yet named). The Adventist Peace Fellowship is preparing a statement and a plan of action that coordinates with efforts of others, but before that is released, we want to share what Adventists are already thinking, planning, and doing.

Pastor Dan Jackson and Pastor Alexander Bryant, leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in North America, released the following statement:

Statement on Shooting Deaths in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas

Daniel R. Jackson and G. Alexander Bryant, the president and executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, issued the following joint statement on July 8, 2016. The statement is in response to this week’s shooting deaths in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Dallas, Texas:

“We are heartbroken and disturbed by the tragic and brutal shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers.* We extend our deepest condolences and prayers for the seven people killed this week, the seven officers and two civilians wounded in Dallas, their families, loved ones, and friends. We also pray for the communities of Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, and the heartache they are experiencing as a result of this tragedy.

“This week has been an extremely difficult week as we wrestle with the senseless loss of life. It is past time for our society to engage in open, honest, civil, and constructive conversation about the rights and equality of every member of our community. Having an open discussion means talking about difficult topics in a productive manner. However, we must move beyond the talking stage and begin to actually develop practical ways of dealing with racial intolerance in all of its forms — whether subtle or overt.

“This week we continue the struggle with what it means to fear for your life because of the color of your skin. We struggle with the pain that the African-American community feels. Last night we struggled seeing a hate so evil, so intense, that it led to the murder of those who were attempting to protect the right of American citizens to peacefully protest.

“We were deeply troubled by the shooting deaths of two African-American men by police officers this week. This brings the total number of blacks shot to death by police in the United States to 123 so far in 2016, according to press reports. We are equally troubled that five Dallas police officers were killed by a gunman filled with hate who, in his words, wanted to “kill white people and especially white police.”

“Let us be clear: the violent death of any human being is wrong. The deaths of these seven people in these three events are equally tragic and agonizing for God. While so many in our country are angry and frightened, hate and revenge are never the answer.

“We find wisdom and comfort in the life of Jesus. Human experience illustrates that hatred breeds more hatred. Jesus lived a life that demonstrated love in the face of hatred, and peace in the place of anger. Evil cannot be eliminated with evil; it must be overwhelmed with peace, love, and goodness. We know that there is growing anger, frustration, and alienation throughout our division. These emotions are accompanied by a growing distrust and fear.

“How will we personally and corporately respond? We believe that . . .

• Now is the time to listen, to hear, and to understand the cry of those living in fear.
• Now is the time for the men and women of the North American Division to stand up and link arms together, in peace and love, to say “NO” to racial inequality; and demonstrate that love is stronger than hate.
• Now is the time for our local congregations, for our state and regional conferences, for our educational and medical institutions to pray together, to engage in creative thinking together, and then to work together to strengthen what we have in common and bring the hope and healing compassion of Jesus to our communities.

“We pray for peace and compassion to guide our way forward as we acknowledge and seek to heal the hurt and fear that pervades this country. We pray, once again, for the day when all of God’s children, of all races, treat each other with love and respect rather than bias and hate.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV).

* NOTE: At the time of this release the names of all of the officers had not been released.
http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=84ac041b8b705798057dab6f2&id=513e5c0847

Chaplain Michael Polite, who works in Campus Ministries at Andrews University offered this analysis on Facebook — CLICK HERE.

Pastor David Franklin, who leads the Miracle City Church in Baltimore, MD, used his Instagram account to promote a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial today, July 9, 2016.

Pastor Franklin was back on Instagram this morning highlighting the day’s upcoming events.

Attorney Michael Nixon posted on Facebook:

I’m encouraged.

I participated in a conference call that Oakwood University put together this morning along with 200+ other minority attorneys.

There is an SDAs for Social Justice group that went from 200 to 1500+ members in 24 hours – there is a conference call to discuss action plans and organizing this evening at 8pm.

I was reached out to by an Adventist publication to write a piece on how we as a church can get engaged & involved.

This time it’s going to be different. We are in this for the long haul. We will not be silent. We will not be shaken. We will not wait for another hashtag. We have the one we need: ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬.

Pastor Moses Eli of the New Beginnings Seventh-day Adventist Church distributed an email yesterday highlighting a 4-point action plan that “hundreds of black clergy” created in a conference call moderated by Rev. Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III:

Adventist Peace Fellowship Board member and pastor of Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Mark McCleary wrote to the APF leadership team:

These recent tragedies have jettisoned Adventists into public speaking like I have never seen in my SDA lifetime. I believe it’s part of the national (millennial rising) within the Black Lives Matter Movement, but also a unique prophetic energy long waiting to express itself in light of War and Baby Boomer generational social justice lethargy and alienation.

APF is needed and others like it. Lord, help us keep shouting, blowing the trumpet and searching for peace everywhere and for everyone until Jesus comes.

UPDATE: Fellow APF Board member and professor at Washington Adventist University, Dr. Olive Hemmings shared on Saturday evening:

Today we had church in DC with top officers in the NAD office – Dan Jackson, Alex Bryant, Dave Gemmell,  and many black pastors in the DC metro area and Baltimore present giving speeches and offering prayers at the MLK memorial. About 500 Adventists marched from the Lincoln memorial arms locked to the MLK memorial where WE HAD CHURCH!  We began our march at 6:30 pm singing “we shall overcome” and ended our vigil with the same at sunset.

Two APF Board members shared this list of actions we can take to work for positive change — 30 Things Your Church Can DO to Affect CHANGE! (Christopher Thompson, PELC, 9 July 2016). I appreciate the various areas for action.

There are surely other actions, groups, and preparations, but these are the ones I’m aware of at this point. May unity and peace guide our prayers and actions for a more just world. May God’s will be done on Earth as in Heaven, so that we will be unified in the reality that we are one humanity formed of one blood (Matt. 6:10; Act 17:26).

APF Statement on Florida Mass Shooting

The Adventist Peace Fellowship is devastated by the mass killing of members of the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida. We extend our deepest grief and support to the families, partners, and friends of the victims, and we stand in solidarity with individuals and organizations working to combat all forms of hatred, bigotry, violence, and intolerance. We also call on church leaders in the Adventist tradition to speak forthrightly to the fact that the slain in Orlando were by every indication targeted not only as an act of terror but also as an act of homophobia by an individual whose hatred was stoked by religious intolerance.

Since 2011, the Adventist Peace Fellowship—a broadly inclusive network that has sought to promote principles of nonviolence and a spirit of dialogue across theological differences—has included on our website a statement about both racial and gender justice. We realize it is a very imperfect document reflecting the fact that we are ourselves an imperfect and often sadly fractured community, but we hope that it might challenge all Adventists to a renewed commitment to the work of peace and justice in a broken world. The statement reads:

The Adventist church emerged at the height of slavery in the United States and was led by a group of young people from New England who embraced the most radical social reforms of their day,[1] including: abolitionism, elimination of class distinctions based upon birth rights, and women’s suffrage. The Adventist pioneers were led by a young woman, Ellen White, who was accepted by the fledgling denomination as possessing a unique prophetic ministry and authority. While the movement was in many ways a hotbed of theological exploration, vigorous debate, and radical thinking, on some questions the pioneers refused to allow for any compromise: White declared that individuals who publically defended slavery should be expelled from the Adventist movement.[2] She also urged Adventists to defy a Federal statute, the Fugitive Slave Law.
Despite these radical beginnings, the Adventist church over time became increasingly socially cautious and disengaged from pressing human rights issues. After an early period in which numerous Adventist women held important leadership roles, male officials increasingly came to marginalize women from leadership positions in the church that was originally led by a woman. During the Civil Rights era in the United States, the movement begun by New England abolitionists remained largely silent in the face of racial injustice. Adventists leaders and members were complicit with apartheid in South Africa and active participants in genocide in Rwanda.[3] Today, many gay and lesbian Adventists[4] are unable to find Adventist congregations where they know they will be treated with full dignity and humanity as persons made in the image of God.
You Are All One in Christ
The APF welcomes actions to repair historical wrongs and to put an end to all forms of violence and discrimination rooted in a refusal to accept the Other at the deepest levels of their personhood. We support women in ministry and at all levels of church leadership. We repent of all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination and seek ways of overcoming divisions based upon injustices of the past. Recognizing the complexity of the theological, scriptural, historical, and cultural questions concerning homosexuality in the Christian tradition—a matter that tragically divides Adventists no less than Catholics, Anglicans, and others—the APF, until such time as we receive greater clarity and consensus:
1. Affirms the dignity and fundamental human rights of all persons regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation;
2. Embraces campaigns and actions aimed at ending all forms of violence, intimidation, harassment, and bullying of persons for their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation;
3. Supports public policies that maintain a clear separation of church (mosque, synagogue, or temple) and state, neither attempting to impose essentially religious or theological understandings upon society as a whole nor penalizing forms of religious expression and association that include their own understandings of sexual ethics;
4. Urges all Adventist churches to serve their communities as places of refuge from threatening, bigoted, and uncompassionate actions and speech; and
5. Encourages respectful, inclusive, and ongoing dialogue between persons with different understandings of what sexual faithfulness within the Body of Christ requires of believers today.
[1] http://www.memorymeaningfaith.org/blog/2010/04/adventist-pioneers-women-ministry.html
[2] http://www.oakwood.edu/goldmine/hdoc/blacksda/champ/index.html
[3] http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2716
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Seventh-day_Adventism

Adventists Respond to Mass Shooting in Florida

“Seventh-day Adventist congregations in Florida and California have reached out to LGBT+ communities in the wake of yesterday’s massacre at the Pulse gay club in Orlando, Florida. The shooting claimed the lives of fifty people and wounded fifty-three more,” reports Jared Wright for Spectrum.

Wright continues: “The Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida, under the leadership of Senior Pastor Geoff Paterson, announced on Facebook that it would hold free funeral services for any of the victims of the shooting.”

Image above is a screenshot taken from Facebook

Image above is a screenshot taken from Facebook

“On the opposite coast, the Glendale City Adventist Church in Glendale, California will host a community vigil to honor the victims tomorrow (Tuesday, June 14). From 11:00 am to 7:30 pm, the doors of the sanctuary will be open for mourning and reflection. At 7:30 pm, the church will host a service of remembrance.” Read Spectrum’s full article here.

The Glendale City Adventist Church is a member of the Adventist Peace Fellowship Peace Church Network.

Additionally, pastor Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, released a statement about the mass shooting.
This is an excerpt from his statement:

We strongly denounce the hate that led to this mass shooting. This type of senseless violence has no place in this country or in this world. It is appalling that these lives were tragically cut short because of hate. We pray that God’s love will comfort and console the victims’ loved ones whose lives have become a nightmare overnight.

As Christians, we strongly believe that hate, for anyone, brother, sister, friend or enemy, comes not from God, but from the father of evil himself, the devil. We must condemn all expressions of hate, from speech to deadly violence. All of the women, children, and men in this world, regardless of whether they worship, live, or love like us, are children of God.”

Jackson’s complete statement can be read on the NAD website

AT: Observations of a Black Seventh-day Adventist American

APF Board member and pastor Mark McCleary has recently begun writing for Adventist Today. His first article is titled, “Observations of a Black Seventh-day Adventist American.”

The themes in this portion stood out to me:

Christianity is not exempt from racism. It has absorbed racist norms, and the Christian church and its Adventist subculture offer a truncated version of Biblical egalitarianism. I am reminded of H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture, where this noted Christian theologian and ethicist posits that the Christian Church is challenged to either emulate secular society’s elitism or model Christ’s kingdom.

Black SDA’s reacted to White SDA racism by accepting the latter’s suggestion to establish Regional Conferences in 1944. Since then, Black SDA’s have turned the other cheek, while White leadership has winked at the practice and impact of racism within the Church.

In my opinion, the nature of the comments people have made in reaction to his article point out the necessity of his voice and demonstrate how difficult it can be to foster positive and healthy dialogue online.

To improve online communication and to improve our understanding of racial issues, may we each be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

See the complete article here.

Adventist History Podcast: Civil War, Part 1

Matthew Lucio, host of the Adventist History Podcast, recently posted an episode on the American Civil War (episode linkFacebook link).

Episode 19: The War Between the States

In this episode, we learn about how the new Seventh-day Adventist Church coped with the American Civil War.

An important part of the early story was an editorial James White wrote about the draft. I was glad to hear Lucio cover this aspect of the church’s struggle. One meaningful reaction against White’s argument — which was to follow the state’s orders because the moral blame lies on the government that commanded it — was someone who pointed out this was the exact logic the church was arguing against in the context of Sunday laws. Clearly, there were good reasons to oppose James’ early views on the topic.

The amount of debate demonstrates that there were mixed views in the early group about how Adventists should respond to war and the draft. However, the denomination’s official stance became clear:

May 17, 1865… While we thus cheerfully render to Caesar the things which the Scriptures show to be his, we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind.

(GC declaration quoted from Douglas Morgan, “The Beginnings of a Peace Church: Eschatology, Ethics, and Expedience in Seventh‐day Adventist Responses to the Civil War,”Andrews University Seminary Studies 45, no. 1 [Spring 2007]: 36.)

That this pronouncement was prescriptive and not entirely descriptive is most certainly true.

For more on Adventists and the Civil War, see these resources.

Adventist Author Using Kickstarter to Fund Book on Social Justice Advocate

Adventist author Debbonnaire Kovacs has launched a KickStarter campaign to fund a children’s book about John G. Fee.

Kovacs describes Fee:

Fee was an astonishing man for his time. In the 1850s, when race and slavery issues were heating to the boiling point that would set off the American Civil War, Fee was working hard to educate both black and white students, and both male and female (another taboo of his time) together. He was a staunch abolitionist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist–and he lived below the Mason-Dixon line that separated slave states from free states. He started a school and a church on a wooded ridge in central Kentucky, which have grown into world-famous Berea College, the Church of Christ, Union, nicknamed Union Church, a second church called First Christian Church, and ultimately, Berea, Kentucky, itself.

To learn more about both Fee and Kovacs’s campaign, click here.

Walla Walla University Opens Race and Ethnicity Studies Center

Walla Walla University has opened the Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture—named after one of the first black tenure-track faculty members to be hired by an Adventist college or university. The center will promote research through an annual conference, and encourage student involvement in matters of social justice.

The center also will offer pedagogy workshops on curriculum inclusiveness and multiculturalism, and it “will aim for excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God through the promotion of research, the provision of pedagogical resources, and the encouragement of student-led acts of service that relate to race, ethnicity, and culture.”

Read the full article in the Adventist Review.