A hundred books and television shows have inured us to the reality that we are being surveilled in almost every arena of our lives. We laugh nervously at the memory that each ATM transaction is being recorded, that images of our license plates are being snapped at every tollbooth, and that red-light cameras silently detect our marginal transgressions past stop signs and marked crosswalks.
The revelations made by Edward Snowden of government-sponsored tracking of our tweets, e-mails, and phone conversations induce us, like Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian 1984, to find some corner of our homes or workplaces in which we can be confident of being unobserved. Or has someone—anyone—tagged our cars or carry bags with a micro device capable of transmitting information on everywhere we go and everything we say?
In the story lines from Hollywood, the victimized lover of liberty eventually discovers the watch battery-sized wafer attached to his bumper or buried behind the glow of his big-screen TV. This is the way we wish the story would end.
But what if the thing that marks us, that monitors us, that ultimately reshapes our lives and our relationships, was invisible to the eye—a tag seen only by the “Wise Ones,” who have powers to detect spiritual fluorescence unseen by all others?
Fantastical and dystopian as it seems, just such a device is now available to the average Pharisee or Sadducee. This tag—this “taint,” if you will—is more readily available than vitamin supplements at your local pharmacy, but a hundred times more potent.
Note this development: A respected and faithful Adventist evangelist allows that he has “no problem” with the idea of ordaining women to ministry. He is immediately “tainted” by hot blog postings that wrongly recite Ellen White’s visionary prediction—“Many a star that we have admired for its brilliance will then go out in darkness.”1 The goal of such labeling is clear enough—to diminish the evangelist’s influence, damage his reputation, and limit his opportunities. No matter who engages in such stuff, it is an act of fallenness.
Or this: A respected and faithful Adventist theologian reveals that he feels compelled by his commitment to Scripture to accept the concept of male “headship” he finds there. Instantly the room begins to cool: his access to certain circles of conversation starts closing; his previous scholarship may no longer be trusted by those who read the Bible texts another way. The taint has been attached, and proves more durable than Super-Glue. Score yet another for the forces of darkness.
Sad to say, some among God’s people have learned from American political culture the successful techniques of tainting philosophical opponents. Watch an episode of Hannity or The Rachel Maddow Show, and you will (I hope) wince at how frequently such polarizing labels as “leftist” and “reactionary” are thrown about by those who make their living as professional controversialists. We can more easily excuse the antics of Sean and Rachel, however, for they have no stated mission to “build up the body of Christ.” That such behaviors are still practiced freely among us—with no apologies for the damage they are doing to the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17)—is the shame of the modern Adventist Church.
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” Paul urged the believers in Rome (Rom. 12:18, NKJV).2 Writing to the factious Galatians, he insisted that an even higher ethic was required in the fellowship of the church: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10, NKJV).
The plainest reading of inspired counsel immediately precludes the politics of taint. Let us not only wince or shudder when we hear such stuff: let us “call it out”—oppose it—in the name of the One who is never ashamed, despite our many injuries to Him and to each other, to call us “brothers and sisters.”