Paul Coetser: Co-editor and Devil’s Advocate
Weiers is a pastor in Northern Ireland and co-editor of the Adventist Soapbox website and blog.
We (the editors of the Adventist Soapbox) have embarked on a quest to pen some of our thoughts as we engage with Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism. This blog focuses on the introductory section (pages 1-36).
What Are We Leaving Behind?
As pastor I could imagine myself in Kamy’s sitting-room as she discussed her questions and objections about Ellen White after submitting her resignation letter to the Church, first with the older Pastor Z, and then with the young Pastor A. I’ve been in such conversations over a variety of issues, even if they were not all conducted in “terminal” situations like these. At times the interactions were cordial and friendly, and even affirming, regardless of differences or a lack of one clear answer. At other times they were filled with frustration or barely hidden animosity.
The contrast between Pastor Z – a traditional Adventist who admitted his own misgivings about the role of Ellen White in the Church but still defended her – and Pastor A – a representative of the progressive wing of the church who showed a greater readiness to consign her to history – also resonated with me. Brian’s important point is to illustrate the fact that the urgent question of Ellen White’s authority and role in the Church spans across the various divisions that one might encounter in the church.
I salute Brian and Kamy’s spirit of integrity and willingness to go where the evidence leads. I also know that the factors that impact on our spiritual journeys and decision making are complex and often multi-layered. At one point (p.28), Kamy describes one transition from being faithful to a “cause” to being faithful to Christ. This again touches my heart strings. I think that is one of the most important moves that anyone can make.
I think that it was on the basis of this move to “faith maturity” that Pastor A, a pastor representing The One Project felt that he could present to her his cause: a Seventh-day Adventist denomination that does not rely so heavily on the writings of Ellen White. This was also not a viable option for Kamy.
Brian and Kamy’s story is a story of “moving on”.
By way of analysis I wonder if it would be worth wondering what they are leaving behind? What are the essential features of the Adventist world that they inhabited? Why was Pastor A‘s solution, for example, not an option?
Weiers, your questions are thought-provoking, May I suggest that the Adventist believer who is confronted with “evidence” that long held beliefs – such as the prophetic calling and inspiration of White – are simply not sustainably true, can follow one of three paths: “rejection” (pretend that the evidence is false), “revision” (give up all belief and possibly leave the Church) or “transform” (accept the new reality and accommodate it constructively in life and practice within the Church). 1
The question why one outcome was chosen over others is not simply a psychological question. I think it is useful to think about the bigger context in which decisions happen. How do our prior commitments and experience impact on how we make our choices? I think it also goes to questions of theology, and the decisions that we make about how we know what is true (epistemology).
From my analysis the reality of the Adventist world today is one where various epistemologies often come in conflict with each other. Some Adventists, believe strongly that truth is clearly visible in the Bible. You just need to open its pages and it will jump out at you. Others work from the assumption that one often works with different layers of understanding and that the Bible and our interpretation is inevitably a product of cultural conditioning.
Different epistemologies also lead into a variety of possible approaches in evaluating Ellen White. Brian outlines several choices that are vying for acceptance in the Church today.
I wonder if one could argue that these choices boil down to one of two fundamental decisions that one must make about the influence and authority of Ellen White. Does accepting Ellen White as prophet mean that she is perfect in every way and conforms fully to a set of strict requirements? Or can one take a more nuanced view of Ellen White as prophet and a human being, fallible like the rest of us, but who still made an impact on the Church for the good.
These questions became quite pertinent after Ellen White’s death. At that time the church decided on an idealistic, high view of Ellen White. This view has however come under pressure in recent years as information have become more widely available that call into question how prophetic inspiration works. How one responds to this new information depends to a large extent on which perspective one takes on these fundamental decisions about Ellen White.
Perhaps another way of asking the question is: How do some of the assumptions that we make about reality and how it is knitted together, determine the conclusions that we come to? An even more challenging question could be: How stable are the foundations that we build the decisions of our life upon?
These questions are not judgmental. They come to mind as I read the compelling stories of Brian and Kamy. As we continue reading the book, some of these issues might become more clear. My own hunch is that faith is a rather fragile thing and faith development is not a simple linear trajectory. Foundations may not always be as stable as they seem, and when they shift, they can do so in unexpected ways.
Weiers, is faith really “fragile”? Did the Apostle Paul not point out that “faith and hope”, apart from “love” are the strongest motivators of all. By the way, What do you mean by “faith”? Is it belief in God as a Person, or is it faith (belief) in a set of doctrines (beliefs)?
I hope to explore one element of this line of questioning in more depth in the next blog post on “Chapter 1.”
Note: The White Elephant in the Seventh-day Adventist Church contains and presents many new perspectives on the life of Ellen White. The book would be worth purchasing just for the spirit and the passion that is contained in Brian and Kamy’s personal stories found at the beginning of the book.