April 20, 2011

A Safe Place

As I have said numerous times: Adventism and evolution are mutually exclusive. If one is true, the other is false. Ergo, you can be an Adventist or an evolutionist, but not both. Our name, Seventh-day Adventist, implies a rejection of any creation story that’s premised not on the six days before the seventh but on eons of evolutionary hell. Honesty demands that those who call themselves Seventh-day Adventist ought to at least believe in what the name they claim stands for.
Because I’ve taken this unyielding position on what’s an unyieldable position, I’ve been accused—both in the flesh and in the fleshly androgyny of cyberspace—of advocating that anyone who believes in evolution ought to be thrown out of the church.
That’s false. What I’ve said is that it’s hard to see how anyone who believes in evolution would want to be in this church. Nothing Adventist makes sense with the neo-Darwinian synthesis as backdrop. To paraphrase a fundamentalist atheist, evolution is an acid that erodes everything it touches. That would include the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, which have the central theme of creation and redemption, two truths nullified by evolution, even a “theistic” kind. (Who’d want to worship a theos who created like that, anyway?)
2011 1511 page17To reiterate: be a Seventh-day Adventist or be an evolutionist, but let’s end the charade of thinking one can be both.
That being said, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has to be a safe place for anyone who struggles with this issue. Notice, I said struggles. I understand the challenge that science, with all its prejudices, speculation, and presuppositions, poses, especially to anyone who doesn’t realize just how heavy-laden with subjectivity even the hardest sciences can be (much less something as speculative as what supposedly happened to some proto-RNA a billon years ago). I understand that the secular academy is manically hostile to any hint of teleology, design, or goal in nature (other than, perhaps, survival), and is not only going to interpret everything through an a priori materialistic lens but demand that every student do it too. I understand that much of today’s science will be overturned, as has happened to many now-defunct scientific theories; but I also understand that, until then, current theories can seem compelling. I understand, too, that the world that science studies today is not the same as the original creation; instead, it suffers from the “double curse” (as Ellen White called it) of Adam’s and Cain’s sin, as well as massive water damage, i.e., the Flood. Therefore, what is can easily lead even the most astute observer astray about what was.
Thus it isn’t hard to sympathize with those who are confronted with scientific “facts” that contradict all they have believed. We have to be sensitive to their struggles; we have to affirm them in their search; and we have to create an environment in which they can, without being judged or condemned, ask questions as they work through these issues.
In short, our church has to be a safe place for anyone struggling with this attack on his or her faith.
That being said, the church also has to be a safe place for our students. It’s heart-wrenching to think that, on occasion, young people in our Seventh-day Adventist colleges face teachers who, though professing to be Seventh-day Adventists, hold a view on evolution that nullifies that profession. It’s a problem that is now coming more to the attention of church members who are anxious for church leaders to deal with it. The recent Adventist Accrediting Association decision to offer only a limited extension of term to La Sierra University because of its acknowledged mistakes in conveying the church’s belief on creation exemplifies how seriously the church is dealing with this issue.
No question, the overwhelming vote at the Atlanta General Conference session in 2010 to strengthen the language on the Fundamental Belief regarding creation shows the church’s legitimate concern about the inroads of a theory that, at its core, undermines everything we Seventh-day Adventist Christians believe. As Paul said: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:8). And make no mistake: evolution is another gospel.
Yes, the church needs to be a safe place: safe for those struggling with evolution, and safe for those who have rejected it.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published April 21, 2011.