Something we can agree on?

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Recently I attended some meetings out west with a group of Adventist “progressives”. Because of jet lag, I found myself waking up early. One morning, after reading for two hours, I tried to think of other interesting things to do. Finally, at about 6:15, I gave in and took a wrinkled shirt down the hallway to a shared ironing room.

As I entered, one of the conference attendees was already there having her devotional time. I apologised for interrupting but she waved it off and told me to stay.

Instead there sounds a rather steady drumbeat of criticism, even mockery, of church leadership.

While I stood ironing at my usual turtle’s pace, we struck up a conversation about the Adventist Church comparing attitudes at our local churches.

“Where you live,” she asked, “Does everyone pray at 7:00 am and 7:00 pm?”

It took me a moment to realise what she meant. “Oh,” I said, “I forgot all about that. Are you talking about Ted Wilson asking the world Church to pray at 7:00 and 7:00?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well,” I asked, “Do church members do that where you live?” She nodded.

These meetings that I attended “out west” were really far west for me (I teach at Southern Adventist University in the US). They were in Melbourne, Australia, where Adventist bookstore managers from throughout the South Pacific had gathered to welcome a new round of products. These men and women brought with them incredible stories of conversion, of whole families brought to Christ through the words on the pages of our books.

The woman praying in the ironing room was from the Solomon Islands. She and her friends are, to me, “Adventist progressives” in the best sense of the term. They’ll be praying this evening at 7:00 and tomorrow morning at 7:00 for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to progress rapidly throughout the earth.

I realise that my definition of “Adventist progressives” is a little unconventional. Adventist “progressives” are commonly seen as those urging the abandonment of the six-day creation record and biblical teachings on human sexuality; views the Adventist Church explicitly rejects.

Setting aside these differences for a moment, I got to thinking how meaningful it would be if leaders of the Adventist progressive movement were the ones calling members to join our world Church leaders in prayer.

Whether or not we’re praying at exactly 7:00 and 7:00, surely we’d all agree about the importance of praying for and with each other. Yet how often do we find anything of this sort on the websites of those self-identified as progressive? Instead there sounds a rather steady drumbeat of criticism, even mockery, of church leadership.

Making the choice to be in a spiritual community isn’t about whether we all instantly agree on (what we’ve decided are) the pressing issues of the day. It’s about finding ways to come together anyway, being just a little bit different from a vitriolic popular culture that specialises in tearing others down without batting an eye. It’s also about showing respect for our appointed leaders and considering the possibility that they have been called to their positions for a reason. 

Do I agree with everything that our current General Conference president does? Of course not. But I respect him as a deeply spiritual person and as our leader, just as I did his predecessor. 

Jesus didn’t command unity; He prayed for it. What could be more unifying (and potentially transforming) than for those most opposed to each other to pray for each other, and with each other? The day progressives unite in promoting prayer would be a good day for our Church.

Andy Nash is a professor, pastor and the author of Paper God, a spiritual memoir. This article was first published in the Adventist Review.