With so much disinformation about the COVID-19 virus, whom do you trust? Your neighbor? Your family doctor? Your gut? The scientists? How do you ascertain what is factual and what is fiction?
In our everyday activities we must rely on many things. We trust that when we use Zelle to transfer money, it will go to the correct person. We trust that the jet or other aircraft will lift off and land safely. We trust that if we put a letter in the mail, it will arrive. We trust that the items we ordered online will be delivered. We trust that the food we ordered to be delivered will be handled healthfully and delivered appropriately.
In interpersonal relations one assumes that they will be treated as a human being without regard for race, gender, or nationality. So much in life is dependent on trusting that individuals will accomplish their task well, treating each other with dignity.
We expect administrators to act with integrity, to do the right thing, knowing that “nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not”—a sentiment Oprah Winfrey says that she lives by.1 This is also expected in the business world, where business leaders assert that honesty and integrity are the foundations of leadership. How much more in the Christian world!
As Christians, we have biblical examples of trustworthy individuals like Joseph. In spite of the expected horrible consequences, he stood up to Potiphar’s wife. Joseph showed that because of his value system, he could be trusted.
In our beginning Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders showed that they could be trusted to stand up for justice and integrity. According to Kevin M. Burton, “Seventh-day Adventists also risked their lives to liberate slaves from bondage. While some did this legally by purchasing slaves’ freedom, many broke federal law by assisting fugitives on the Underground Railroad. They upheld God’s fugitive slave law in Deuteronomy 23:15, 16: ‘Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates.’ ”2 It is also well known that Joseph Bates and his wife, Prudence, were leading abolitionists in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. They were trustworthy people.
What happened as the church developed? Could it be trusted to do the right thing consistently with regard to poverty and suffering? From our history it is evident that the organization has been involved in relieving suffering through its health and medical work. This is seen in the number of sanitariums, later hospitals, that have become an integral part of the church’s system. There is also the development of the service aspects of the local Adventist congregation, particularly the Dorcas Society, which eventually led to today’s Adventist Community Services.3 In the current pandemic, with its lost jobs and hunger, many Adventist Community Services centershave stepped up and delivered food.4 Local Adventist churches have too, and have drawn attention: the Berean church in New Jersey was featured on MSNBC. Whereas, previous to the pandemic, their food pantry served 100-200 families twice a month on Sundays, the community’s needs increased. Many people were furloughed from their jobs or lost them completely. The community service team went from twice a month to every Sunday, serving twice as many families as before.5
We expect the church to carry out its mission. We trust it to do this and be a help to all, members and nonmembers alike. But the question remains: Does each individual church member understand and commit to what this means? Can I, your sister, can you, my brother, be trusted? Are there times I personally fail of God’s ideal for His children,6 or the church’s organization defaults on its task to stand up for justice, to support the afflicted, to relieve the oppressed, and to protect the vulnerable? What does this lead to?
And what about my witness regarding what Jesus says matters most (Matt. 25:31-46)? Does it inspire belief that His church is worth their trust? What of my attention to pressing issues in my community, or my inattention to unethical practices, avoiding or denying them entirely? Do I realize that the question “Who can be trusted?” is constantly being answered by me?
A life of integrity has never been more desperately needed than in the present time of turmoil, national and global health crises, racial and other social injustice, and political masquerades. And what is true of the single individual is no less true of the church of God. No wonder God’s message of this moment so directly highlights His own people of the moment, those whose individual and collective testimony is seen, known, and celebrated for keeping “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
Joan A. Francis, a professional historian and academic coach, taught for more than four decades at Northern Caribbean University, Atlantic Union College, and Washington Adventist University.