June 7, 2006

On Our Watch

1516 page5 cap would never see him coming. But suddenly he’d be on me—sometimes, like Balaam’s angel, blocking my path so I could’t move away.
I’m talking about a member of my local church.
Almost invariably, his focus would be on the leadership of the church—about what they may or may not be doing about this or that issue that’s vexing him at the moment. Whether his concerns are social, political, or religious, he’s always passionate and restively impatient about what he sees as the church’s inaction. 
And he usually begins in the middle, so to speak—as if we’d already been discussing the particular subject. So when he approached me Sabbath, April 29, about an upcoming demonstration, I had no idea what he was referring to. But thinking I understood, he said to me, “I’ll be looking to see if any of you from the General Conference will come out in support.”
Fresh from back-to-back itineraries, I’d been almost completely out of touch with developments around Washington. Only as I watched the evening news the following day did it dawn on me that he’d been referring to a demonstration in the U.S. capital (and 18 other U.S. cities) that Sunday against genocide in a certain African country. The 15,000 gathered on the National Mall were protesting a tragedy that over the past four years had claimed some 400,000 lives and driven more than 2 million people from their homes. There have been reports of mass rapes, torture, and systematic pillaging of villages and crops.
1516 page5According to press accounts, the event on the Mall was one of the most diverse ever seen in Washington. The crowd included religious leaders, entertainers, and politicians. “They wore skullcaps, turbans, headscarves, yarmulkes, baseball hats, and bandanas. There were pastors, rabbis, imams, youths from churches and youths from synagogues. They cried out phrases in Arabic and held signs in Hebrew. But on this day, they said, they didn’t come out as Jews or Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, Republicans or Democrats.” They’d come out in solidarity against a common scourge on the human family.1
And where was I?
It was the first spring Sunday that I got a chance to be home, and my wife, Celia, and I spent just about the entire day on gardening and other round-the-house maintenance stuff. Important work, to be sure, but the brother’s words came back to haunt me as I watched the evening news. I don’t know about the other General Conference folk, but I wasn’t there.
This brother probably has the idea that every Christian should express their convictions in the identical way. I don’t believe that. There are those who can mount an effective resistance to evil without ever joining a public demonstration. So the more important question is: What have you done—what have I done—to push back against this monstrous atrocity of our times?
However you may read this editorial, it should be taken as an appeal, not a condemnation (how can I condemn when I feel equally guilty?). One question faces us down with unblinking urgency: Have we become numb to injustice? Does our belief in the imminence of the Advent absolve us of concern for human tragedy? Why do rock stars and movie celebrities come across as more compassionate than we who hold God’s last message of mercy to humanity? I keep asking myself: What does Jesus expect of me in a complex and dysfunctional world?
Ron Fisher, accompanied by his 15-year-old daughter, Jordyn, took a predawn bus—all the way from Cleveland, Ohio—to attend the demonstration in Washington. “It’s an opportunity,” he said, “to show my daughter what people do when they care about something.”2 Wow! (What’s your guess? Is Ron Fisher a Seventh-day Adventist?)
“Not on our watch,” the crowd chanted on the Washington Mall as they waited. One of the speakers, journalist Nick Clooney, father of actor (and genocide activist) George Clooney, spoke against the background of a recent visit to a camp with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the genocide: “We didn’t stop the Holocaust. We didn’t stop Cambodia. We didn’t stop Rwanda. But this one, we can stop.”3
The words came from a man who knows that this huge evil calls for extraordinary action from the world community. Should the Lord delay His coming, future Adventists will look back on this time and say of us: “It happened on their watch. What did they do?”
1 www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/30/AR2006043000183.html.
2 www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/NewsSearch?sb=-1&st=Sudan%20genocide%20demonstration&.
3 www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/30/AR2006043000183.html.

Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review