Kevin Burton describes how the FBI investigated and influenced Adventism during WWI.Read More
Adventist Church Files Amicus Brief for Workplace Religious Freedom Case at Top U.S. Court (Ansel Oliver, ANN, 27 Aug 2014)
The Seventh-day Adventist Church filed an amicus brief today urging the United States’ top court to accept the case of a Muslim girl who was denied a job because her hijab—a head-covering—violated a company’s policy. The Adventist Church’s “friend-of-the-court” brief is joined by seven other faith groups for the case Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. [complete article]
Adventist Church Sponsors Its First Religious Liberty Festival in Britain (Victor Hulbert, John Surridge, Dan Serb and ANN staff, ANN, 26 Aug 2014)
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Britain held its first religious liberty festival, in which Church leaders offered an overview of religious freedom developments and urged Church members to continue defending rights for people of all faiths and beliefs. More than 2,000 people attended the “Free to Worship” festival on Saturday, August 16, the second of a two-day event at the Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich. [complete article]
Adventist Leaders Speak Out on Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri (Adventist Today, 21 Aug 2014)
Pastor Daniel R. Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in North America, released a statement early Thursday morning (August 21) about the ongoing civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. “As a part of the larger family of America, Seventh-day Adventists grieve with Michael Brown’s family and extend our heartfelt condolences for their tragic loss," he said. "We are praying for our Ferguson community family who are in such great pain." [complete article]
Adventist Church’s Anti-abuse Initiative Set for August 23 (Ansel Oliver, ANN, 15 Aug 2014)
Seventh-day Adventist world church leaders are calling on all Adventist congregations to designate a portion of their August 23 church service to mark the EndItNow Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day. The Adventist Church’s annual day of emphasis brings awareness to the issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse and other forms of mistreatment. [complete article]
Note: I write from a North American perspective, specifically from the United States.
The questions we ask greatly determine the answers we find. Therefore, I believe Christian peacemakers need to be intentional about the questions we prioritize. Which of the following questions are productive, distracting, dangerous, or beyond our sphere of influence?
- What should the Ukrainian government do to ensure the integrity of its borders?
- What should the Iraqi government do to protect religious minorities?
- What should Hamas and Israel do to enable peace and security in the region?
- What should the US military do in Iraq and Syria to protect US interests?
- What should the US government do around the world to protect minorities and stop genocides?
- What should Christians do in situations of violence and injustice?
- How can Christians live, work and serve in ways that promote true peace?
For me, the final two questions are the most critical; however, judging from the conversations I have within my Christian social circles as well as the content that appears on my Facebook wall-feed, they are the most ignored.
I occasionally hear this comment in the context of the first five questions: We have to do something. Unfortunately, it seems that for too many of us, the military option is the only something that comes to mind.
It can be difficult to voice reservations about this option. “Don't you care?! You just want to be pious and righteous, ignoring the reality of evil injustice. You can't just talk to these tyrants; they only understand the bullet and the bomb.”
While I genuinely believe that nonviolence is a productive strategy for people of any world view or religious conviction, I will direct my thoughts here to Christians, specifically Adventists.
First, I think we need to be careful about believing too firmly in the efficacy of violence. Blowback is real. Unintended consequences are numerous. For example, the US supported Saddam Hussein against Iran, but then for various reasons it was determined that his influence in the world needed to be curtailed, so the US took him out. That left a power vacuum, allowing ISIS/IS to expand, which is today's problem. Arming one group today seems to require the arming of an opposing group tomorrow.
We also supported rebels/freedom fighters in Syria, with some calling for much more military support. “The government is killing their people; we must do something.” Now we know that IS was one of the groups in Syria that we supported; some even had a photo op with John McCain during his trip to Syria (Counter Current News). Of course McCain didn't intend to support IS, but rushing to the military option can lead to new problems such as this.
Or consider the US involvement in Afghanistan. We supported the freedom fighters against Russia. But then the winners built a nation we didn't like; so we had to go against the ones we had armed. The cycle of violence—the repeated reality that military intervention creates tomorrow's conflicts—should make a person pause, regardless of whether or not they claim to follow the way of Jesus Christ. That is, setting Christian ethics and values aside, this historical pattern should seemingly diminish our confidence in the effectiveness of military intervention for creating the future we desire (For more on this see chapter one of Subverting Global Myths, Ramachandra, 2008; yes, a bit dated. There are many more examples both current and historical.).
Second, I think we need to take more seriously the injustice-violence cycle. I once came across a statement by Quakers that essentially said, “Don't ask us to engage in a violent solution to the Nazi problem when you ignored our counsel all along that the Versailles Treaty was bound to foster such problems.” Similarly, throughout the “War on Terror,” some of us have argued that US actions—drone strikes, indefinite detention in Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, to name a few—act to make recruitment efforts by terrorist organizations all the more effective. Peace activists are not surprised by IS and other radicalized movements; we have been warning about the possibility all along. Naturally, it is not only the acts of the US military that incubate movements like IS; governments in the Middle East are quite capable of stoking it as well. Acts of injustice today—regardless of the actor—create conditions for violence tomorrow.
Third, I think far too many people have failed to develop what John Paul Lederach calls the moral imagination (see The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, 2005). And here I now speak directly to those who desire to follow Jesus in the real world—this messy, violent, unjust world.
If we can't imagine a response other than military action, then that is the only something we'll advocate for in the public space or work for in our sphere of influence. So I ask: What else can Christians do to limit violence and promote a just peace? I believe that any action that supports justice today makes peace possible tomorrow. “If you want peace, work for justice.” There are countless ways to support justice in the world; let your imagination run wild!
Here are some questions to spark your imagination:
If I would advocate for America's youth to go fight in the Middle East, would I also advocate for Adventist youth to go on a delegation there with Christian Peacemaker Teams?
If I would advocate for American tax dollars to go for military operations, would I also advocate for church finances to support peace and justice ministries and projects?
Do I consider the promotion of peace and justice to be the business of government but not the business of the church? If so, what assumptions is this division based on?
What injustice is some entity in my circle of influence perpetrating or experiencing today? How can I work to promote justice in this area today in order to prevent violence tomorrow?
One significant struggle peacemakers face is the call for instant results. We need to stop the Syrian war now. We have to end the Ukrainian conflict now. We must stop Hamas and Israel from bombing each other now. Somebody has to stop IS now. Because military intervention is perceived as the only effective short-term approach, we too easily ignore the need for longer-term approaches that deal with the roots of the problems. As soon as Country X is “solved,” we must immediately stop the violence in Country Y with another “humanitarian intervention.” We follow the media, jumping from headline to headline, from conflict to conflict—solve each one now (and “my party would never have let it get this bad in the first place”). As Christians, maybe we can find a way to slow down and look at the longer game. Kevin Courtney, who founded Preemptive Love while living in Iraq, shares this conviction:
We need a long-term plan, not just a short-term fix. There are agencies helping Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabak and others, and those services are necessary. But this isn't only about what Obama or Maliki must do now. The Christian church needs to reconsider its relationship with violence; that is part of what has landed us and others in this dire situation. We cannot carp about Christian persecution and not talk about violence and our use of violent solutions. We need a 40- to 50-year plan so that when the time comes to overthrow the next dictator, we are not as blind to our own complicity and stuck with short-term gains. (Huffington Post, 11 Aug 2014)
The questions we ask greatly determine the answers we find, so I encourage Adventist peacemakers to start with the question, What can I uniquely do as a disciple of Jesus? Jesus isn't caught off guard by these violent developments. He said the love of most would grow cold and that there would be wars and rumors of wars. Peace organizations can't stop all war, but wars don't end war either. Only Jesus' return will do that. But here in the midst of great suffering and evil, Jesus blessed the peacemakers and taught many lessons on peacemaking if we have ears to hear them. The world knows how to use its weapons; do we know how to use the tools of the Spirit? What questions am I prioritizing?
A few articles to nurture the moral imagination:
- What Can Christians Do About Iraq? (Raushenbush, Huffington Post, 8 Aug 2014)
- Is There a Nonviolent Response to ISIS? (Flood, Sojourners, 13 Aug 2014)
- Seeking the Peace of Christ: Christianity and Peacemaking (Roberts, Patheos, 2010)
- Fr. John Dear, Dismissed from Jesuits (Sweas, Religion Dispatches, 6 Mar 2014)
The Adventist Review recently ran a story on Marianne Thieme, the Dutch Politician who co-founded the Party for the Animals. Despite criticism, the party has thrived in the Netherlands and has spread to other countries. "Thieme said her secret for success has been to live what she teaches, stand by her convictions, and determinedly press ahead despite opposition, remembering that heated emotions can be a catalyst for change." Thieme shares, “I have experienced that one can be successful by sticking to your ideals and by practicing what you preach.”
Although she is a Seventh-day Adventist, "never expect to see Thieme preaching on the job. The Party of the Animals is secular, and Thieme keeps matters of church and state strictly separate." A colleague reveals, “She doesn't believe in 'Christian politics'; therefore, she started a secular party. She strongly believes in the separation between church and state.”
Naturally, Thieme is a vegetarian, as is her husband, Jaap Korteweg (aka, The Vegetarian Butcher). The Adventist Review article looks into this part of her story:
While studying vegetarianism a decade ago, Thieme learned about Adventists and began to read books by Ellen White. She said she was struck by White’s message of compassion toward animals and her passionate plea for vegetarianism.
“I dare say she was an animal rights activist,” Thieme said.
One passage that particularly impressed her came from a chapter titled “Flesh as Food” in White’s book “Ministry of Health”: “Animals are often transported long distances and subjected to great suffering in reaching a market. Taken from the green pastures, and traveling for weary miles over the hot, dusty roads, or crowded into filthy cars, feverish and exhausted, often for many hours deprived of food and water, the poor creatures are driven to their death, that human beings may feast on the carcasses.”
“Together with my beliefs and my animal advocacy, the Adventist Church appealed to me and I became an Adventist in 2006,” Thieme said.
Her joy was short-lived, however. As she began to talk with other Adventists, she found that some downplayed White’s writings as old-fashioned.
“Old-fashioned? I was so surprised,” she said.
Thieme said she saw nothing 19th century in White’s writings about a healthier life with no animal products, her compassion toward animals, her advice not to smoke cigarettes, and the fact that Adventists were the first religious group with health programs to stop smoking and provide vegetarian products.
“Right now, at this moment, it’s a most relevant and current message,” she said.
She said Adventists should be more visible in ongoing global discussions about the impact of meat on climate change, obesity, animal welfare and a looming food crisis.
Read the entire story here. Note the additional resources at the end of that article, as well as these three:
- Marianne Thieme — Party for the Animals (Adventist Activism, 3 May 2013)
- Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: Marianne Thieme (Spectrum, 1 May 2013)
- A Platform of Compassion (Spectrum, 18 February 2008)
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, "Dutch Politician Finds Success in Practicing What She Preaches," Adventist Review (24 July 2014); http://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/pioneering-dutch-politician-finds-success-in-practicing-what-she-preaches.
NOTE: See other APF articles about Thieme here.