I realised something during last year’s marriage plebiscite in Australia: the days of friendly disagreements are over.
I voted “No”. I’m comfortable admitting that. I’m also happy if you—based on what you personally believed to be right—chose to vote “Yes”.
For some, however, an opinion contrary to their own was unacceptable. The mindset instead was, How dare you think that way. That’s not good enough. You’re wrong. And worse still, I will show you, prove to you and convince you why I am right and you are wrong. One only needed a passing interest in the plebiscite to know that “agreeing to disagree” was not a popular option.
The vote, by its very nature, was destined to be polarising. The “how dare you” type of thinking, though, is perhaps more prevalent than we might admit, even within the context of our own Adventist community.
A few years ago a pastor told me the story of a young woman who came up to him distraught because a senior church member, armed with a number of Ellen White quotes, informed her she wasn’t going to heaven because she ate meat. Like the pastor, I was—am—baffled that somebody would make such a claim.
The irony is Mrs White herself warns against using her words in this manner. “And here is [what] the health reform [fanatic says]: ‘Now I have told you Sister White did not eat meat. Now I want you not to eat meat, because Sister White does not eat it.’
“Well, I would . . . not care a farthing for anything like that. If you have not got any better conviction—you won’t eat meat because Sister White does not eat any—if I am the authority, I would not give a farthing for your health reform.”1
But, you may counter, the health benefits of a plant-based diet are scientifically proven.
Sure. Yet the same can be said of the life-shortening effects of limited sleep, “workaholism” and sitting too much. When was the last—or first—time you heard somebody make the connection between a desk job and eternal life?
Don’t get me wrong—I am all for passion and personal conviction. As the saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” If it is on your mind and heart to be a vegetarian, fantastic. Own that. The same goes for your personal beliefs about how to keep the Sabbath, the best way to serve or what constitutes good stewardship.
I’m not opposed to people sharing their convictions. The issue is when we go so far as to condemn a person for having an opinion or making a choice contrary to our own. How dare you think and act like that. It’s my way or the highway (to hell, apparently). Fall in line, or fall out of God’s grace.
I thought this Mrs White quote to be rather pertinent: “While ministers”—which we all are—“preach the plain, cutting truth, they must let the truth do the cutting and hewing, not do it themselves.”2 Paul also advises in Ephesians to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (4:29,31).
Notice that robust discussion, disagreements and personal differences are not part of that list.
Some of you may be concerned with how I quoted Mrs White (regarding meat consumption). Fair enough. She does indeed say more . . .
“What I want [is] that every one of you should stand in your individual dignity before God, in your individual consecration to God, that the soul-temple shall be dedicated to God . . . Now I want you to think of these things, and do not make any human being your criterion.”3
When Peter inquired about the fate of John, Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22, italics added).
Christ’s call was, is and always will be a personal invitation. It is not enough for me to follow you following Him, or vice versa.
Let us each own our walk with Christ, and let those around us do the same ( . . . albeit differently).