Monday, December 13, 2010

How The Church Failed Me

I was recently asked "How did the church fail you?"

It was in response to someone discovering a lifestyle decision I had made. This decision, which I won't get into here (as I don't want to distract from the conversation that needs to be happening), was something that not only went against the things they believed, but went against the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a denomination that not only was I brought up in, but one I still belong to.

My response to this person was, "it hasn't." I was responding to the notion that the church had somehow failed to communicate what it thought on the subject. I was well aware of what the church's official stance was. I knew the dangers -- as exaggerated as they may be -- that the church preached.

"Then why are you doing this?"

That's when I realized how the church failed me. That's when I realized how the church is continuing to fail its children and its older members. That's when I realized what we need to fix if we are going to stay relevant in the twenty-first century.

Before I continue, let me absolutely clear: This is not an attack on the Seventh-Day Adventist Church or any other organized religion. I still count myself as a Seventh-Day Adventist and I whole-heartedly approve the concept of organized religion. This is the recognition of a weakness. This is a confession. To the offended, this is a request for forgiveness. To those of us in the church, it is a challenge to do better in the future.

In the war between Heaven and Hell, the church is a front line triage unit. The hurt, the crippled, the maimed and the dying hobble in, seeking solace and sanctuary. We do our best to patch them up, to the heal wounds, and prepare them for tomorrow's attack. Historically, that's what we've done. But as time marches on, as the war continues to rage, we're getting tired. Our friends are dying. Our loved ones are giving up. The hope that the war would be over by Christmas is fading. And as all of these things take their toll, our work suffers. We get sloppy. It's not that we don't care, it's that we've lost focus. What ends up happening is a man comes in with a gaping wound in his chest, we pop a couple Ibuprofen in his mouth, call it a day, and then wonder why he doesn't come back when his wound begins to fester.

We seem to believe that since there are two sides to this war that every decision and every moral dilemma we face is a simple one: It's either black or white. Good or bad. Heaven or Hell. Everything is to be praised or condemned. Every action is to be endorsed or shunned. Nothing is neither. When we do this, we create for ourselves battlefields where there need not be any.

Let's talk about sex.

Having sex will get you kicked out of private school. The appearance or the unprovable theory that you had sex will get you fired from a Christian summer camp. As a youth pastor, speaking approvingly of sex will get you reprimanded and possibly removed from your position. As a principal of a boarding school, if you take your teenage child to a movie that has sex in it, your ability to lead will be called into question. These are all experiences I have witnessed firsthand.

The truth about sex, as I have come to learn, is that it is a multifaceted thing that doesn't ruin or save a relationship. It multiplies that which you already have. If a couple that was already on shaky ground introduces sex to the relationship, fighting increases, resentment rises, unhappiness ensues and a break-up is just around the corner. When a couple that is in love and has a caring and balanced relationship, sex is a celebration of love, lust, and life.

The reason for this is sex is a thing of raw intimacy. No matter how carnally or how casually one might treat it, there's a great amount of naked trust in the act and that trust must be upheld in all other aspects of the relationship.

I've often wondered why someone might think their failing relationship could be saved by sex. It's not medicine for what ails you. It's desert. Desert after a great meal is perfect. Desert after eating too much just makes you feel sick.

That's what I would tell someone about sex. But those are grey, weighty concepts that can be hard to explain. It's just easier to say, "you can get pregnant, you can get STD's, and it'll change the relationship and he'll break up with you." This course of action doesn't give us what we need to know about sex. It doesn't arm us with knowledge that there are ways to prevent STD's and pregnancy. It doesn't even prepare us for sex after marriage, the thing the church wants the most. All it does is lamely try to scare and/or guilt kids out of having sex. And when that tactic fails, and a person has sex, and they don't get pregnant or get an STD . . . a great undermining of church authority takes place.

It's not the "sexual deviant" that undermines the church, it's the church itself. As children, we are told that life is black and white. But when we step out into the world, we discover it is actually every shade of grey one could imagine -- ranging from the whitest white to the blackest black. Upon that discovery, the church is made a liar. It lies with good intention, but it lies nonetheless.

This is how the church has failed me. It has concerned itself with inward and trivial matters, while ignoring the bigger issues that surround it. When it does address those bigger issues, it addresses it in demeaning and trivial ways. It's almost as if the church sees its entire congregation as children, not adults.

We are taught abstinence, not responsibility. We are taught avoidance, not temperance.

It's a matter of great frustration for me. We get so caught up in "being in the world but not of the world," that we don't actually prepare anyone for the world. It is something I've vowed to not pass on to the next generation.

I live in this world. I don't count it as my home. I'm a pilgrim passing through. The only trouble with that is there's nothing I can do to make that passing any faster. I can't reach my destination until my Heavenly Father says so. So in the meantime, I'm setting up camp here. This is my temporary home and as such, I'm going to try to make it as warm, as comfortable, as welcoming and as loving as I can. I'm going to fight for Truth and Justice. I'm going to battle the darkness by shedding as much light as I can. I'm going to be responsible and conduct myself in a way that brings glory to my Heavenly Father.

Even if that means I fail my church.


  1. I don't know where to reply, I think I will on FB too, but I do want to affirm what you're saying bro. You know a lot more than a lot of people my personal journey, and a quick update will prove that where I was 3 years ago is definitely not where I am now. I don't want to blame the church, but I feel it's the same opinion, I feel as if this organization I joined, eventually on my own whims, has failed me by not being the support group it claimed it would be. I wish there was a quick and easy answer bro, let me know when you're on to something.

  2. Would you believe that Ellen White gave council to the very thing you just shared? I just read it this morning in Testimonies, vol 1.

    "I saw that all the religion a few poor souls have consists in watching the garments and acts of others, and finding fault with them. Unless they reform, there will be no place in heaven for them, for they would find fault with the Lord Himself."

    So, yes, I agree with most of what you say here. What I do disagree with is the part about setting up camp here and making yourself as comfortable as possible. As I've begun reading the Testimonies, I see that Ellen White makes a distinction between those who are concerned with making themselves comfortable and those who are willing to suffer here on Earth while focusing their eyes on heaven.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Sadly, it is impossible for Seventh-day Adventists to understand regeneration (being born again) due to their unbiblical view of the nature of man. If one doesn't get Genesis right, it clouds their entire view of Scripture. Therefore, it is not surprising that Adventist dogma is primarily PHYSICAL in nature (i.e., vegetarianism, tithing, sabbathing, footwashing, veganism, only two meals a day, clean and unclean food lists, no life insurance, no family photos, no bicycles, no ankle exposure for women, no jewelry, no coffee, no tea, no condiments, no alcoholic beverages, no cola drinks, no eggs for children, no masturbating, no sex on Sabbath, no ice cream due to its sugar/dairy combination, ad nauseum).

    Without their cognitive dissonance (referring to their unusual ability to believe in two contradicting views at the same), SDA members would enter into complete insanity. Seventh-day Adventists would be unable to live without non-Adventists doing all their Sabbath work (akin to Gentiles doing all the Sabbath work for Jews).

    Dennis Fischer

  4. Lori - My comment about being comfortable was more in regards to life on Earth, not necessarily my housing arrangement. As comfortable as I like to be, I'm more concerned with everybody being having the right to pursue happiness -- that's the comfortably I refer to.

    Dennis - I think you might be mixing religions. While some of the things you describe certainly apply, I don't know any Adventists who only eat two meals a day, have no life insurance, have no family photos, have no bicycles (unless they don't want them or can't afford them), condemn ankle exposure for women, don't use condiments, who outlaw eggs for children (unless they're a vegan family) who don't have sex on Sabbath, and have ever even mentioned sugar sugar/dairy combination.

    I'm not saying they don't exist, but those statements do not describe the church as a whole. You might have come into contact with one particular group and/or sect, but that's not Adventism.