June 22, 2011

Live Up to the Billing

The late-night text message was short, cryptic: “When you get a moment, I could really use a friend to talk to.” Startled—rattled—I dialed the number immediately. Two hours later, as our conversation drew to a close, I promised to keep in touch, awkwardly adding that I’d pray for her situation.
My friend is what some may describe as a “backslidden” Seventh-day Adventist. No Bible studying, no church attending. No religious instruction to her children; little religious influence in their lives (Christmas/Easter with husband’s Sunday-observing denomination). But that’s not why it was awkward for me. It was her last few words: “I know I’ve failed my kids in not taking them to church, letting them be a part of something good for them—and somewhere they could safely make friends. I feel so guilty. I don’t know . . . I’m going to look around and see what church interests them . . .”
I wanted to wholeheartedly endorse at least one of the four Adventist congregations close to her home. But I couldn’t: I didn’t trust the congregations to welcome her without the sting of judgment, the slap of hypocrisy—a big part of what drove her away in the first place. I didn’t know, truthfully, what she might face; but I know I couldn’t bear well the sorrow if a reencounter with the church ended in a final, painful period.
I did, ultimately, give her the names, addresses, and phone numbers for her local Adventist churches, bluntly stating that I didn’t know whether they were decent. And I reminded her that no congregation—comprised of imperfect people—is without its flaws. I’m praying for her to make the right decision. And I’m praying for you—if she crosses the threshold of your church, please, treat her well. Live up to the billing.
Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published June 23, 2011.