Marcos Torres shares the following reflection on social action. Torres is currently pursuing a BA in Theology at Southern Adventist University. His biggest passion in life is to help people realize that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with a relational God. This post originally appeared on Torres’ blog, Jesus, Adventism, And I.
Nothing annoys me more in the context of activism than Christian activists who send a message of hate to the culture around them. You know what I am talking about: Picketers at LGBT events that hold up signs about how God hates homosexuals (though they usually use much more offensive terms), or crowds who come out from the local evangelical churches to yell hateful slurs at pregnant women as they enter abortion clinics. This type of activism may make us feel like we are doing God a favor. It makes us feel like we are standing up for him and doing the right thing. But the more I read the Bible the more difficult I find it to picture the God who constantly rebuked the “religious” while hanging out with the “others” at one of these events.
However, I do believe Christians should be activists. This is something I have come to really embrace recently. For example, I am a Seventh-day Adventist. As a Seventh-day Adventist many of my beliefs actually encourage activism. Here are some examples:
Creation: The belief that we were created by a loving God, in his image, for the purpose of relationship shows that all of human life is valuable and precious. As a result Adventists should stand for human rights and equality among all of humanity including equality of women and children. We should also be active in the fight against slavery (surprisingly prevalent in the world today especially in the context of sexual slavery), child labor, abortion, human trafficking, domestic and workplace abuse, bullying, racism etc. We should be deeply involved in supporting ministries for the homeless, the abused, the battered women shelters, and should sound a loud cry against genocides, war crimes (such as what we see in Syria right now), and the mistreatment of any human being whether they be an illegal immigrant, an atheist, a Muslim, a criminal, a homosexual, or anything else.* According to the creation model, all humanity is Gods creation and regardless of our choices we all deserve basic human rights. This also calls us to be stewards of our environment and stand against Corporate Climate Silence, support the EPA, and join the Going Green movement.
Sabbath: The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation. As a result, everything said above applies. However, the Sabbath commandment also highlights the value of foreigners and animals. As a result, Adventists should stand for the fair treatment of immigrants and animal rights. While we may be polarized as to how we deal with the whole “immigration problem” we should not be polarized as to how we deal with immigrants. They, as much as anyone else, are human beings and deserve to be treated with love and respect. Servants were not allowed to work on the Sabbath in Israel either. This calls us to stand for the fair treatment of workers including fair wages, hours, and time off. Growing up, it seems like the only thing the Sabbath got Adventists involved in was the fight for Religious Liberty. And that’s awesome! We totally need that and have done pretty well at it. But religious liberty only benefits the religious. We need to take a stand that will make this world a better place and the Sabbath calls us to much more than just religious liberty. The Sabbath is all about rest. Part of it is a call to rest in Gods finished work of creation. This calls us to stand up for environmental issues and the conservation of wildlife, parks, and endangered species. The Sabbath is also a day God set apart for us. We don’t do God a favor when we keep the Sabbath, he does us a favor. The Sabbath is a day that God connects with humanity on a deeper level than throughout the week without the distractions of work and bills. This highlights the fact that God loves to mingle with people. The ultimate revelation of that is the incarnation of Christ who “dwelt among us” and calls us to be likewise incarnational. Incarnational ministry follows Jesus model of becoming a man and dwelling among us. Adventists are known more by their attempt to get away from every one than for their attempt to mingle. But the Sabbath calls us to be incarnational. To live in the cities, the suburbs, the mountains, the country and to mingle with those around us and seek intimacy with them. This calls us once again to stand for the equality of humanity by standing against exclusivism, elitism, racism, prejudice, feminism, chauvinism, sexism, discrimination and bigotry.
Christs Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the Second Coming: The teaching that Christ began his final work for humanity in 1844 and whose second coming is now at hand has serious implications for our culture. Firstly, it is a huge call to missions and gospel centered humanitarian work of which Adventists do very well at internationally. However, looking at the churches around me here in America I would never even come close to guessing that we have such an urgent message for the world as 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming. As a matter of fact, it would seem that the rest of the evangelical world is the one that has that package simply by the way many of them do church. Many of our churches are dead. Many of them are not preparing anyone for the judgment or the second coming. On the flip side, many evangelical churches are community centers that reach out and heal the broken through divorce ministries, addiction recovery, teen outreach, friendship evangelism, health evangelism, etc. while many SDA churches are simply Sabbath morning clubs. 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming call us to step out of our spiritual myopia and become actively involved in helping the addicted, the broken, the lonely. It is a call to reach out to this lost world with more urgency than ever before that they may come to know Christ and his cleansing blood. However, we don’t just do that by going into a city and hosting an evangelistic series at a church no one wants to go to. We do this by making our churches centers of healing and hope and by going out into the community and meeting their needs, supporting their children’s education and schools, teaming up with agencies like the food bank and providing food for the hungry and help for the poor. In doing so we will open the doors to prepare people to face the judgment with joy and meet Jesus with dancing.
Christian Behavior: This doctrine calls Christians to live lives that honor God. This includes choosing amusement, entertainment, dress, and foods that honor God. Herein is so much we can stand for. While the rest of the evangelical world is making leaps and bounds in creating high-quality Christian entertainment including movies and music Adventists seem to be lagging way behind. How about creating an Adventist fashion line that makes modest but trendy clothes (it seems like most modest clothes was pulled out of grandmas closet)? Ever heard of Modest is Hottest? It is a Christian ministry that takes a stand against the objectification of women and seeks to help young girls find their true value in Christ. Adventists should be active in the fight against the adult industry which breeds objectification and is linked to crimes such as rape and sexual slavery. And what about food? Adventists have been preaching the health message for decades now, but we have dropped the ball on it. For many of us the health message consists of “don’t eat unclean meats, drink, or smoke and you are healthy” while nothing could be further from the truth. Many vegetarian and vegan Adventists are just as obese and unhealthy as meat eaters. In addition, many who are healthy are not really healthy. This is because health is not only physical but social, mental, spiritual, and sexual. In addition, Adventists should have been leading the way in health evangelism, however, a recent article in Christianity Today shows that it is the rest of the evangelical world that is doing so.** They are publishing best sellers and some churches are even building fitness facilities. One such church built a fitness facility for the community and went from 200 members to 8,000 in six years. Now, I am not suggesting that this is a competition and that everyone else is beating us at it so we need to run faster. I am simply suggesting that we have had this message all along and have not done what we could with it. And its not just our brothers and sisters from other denominations doing this, its the secular world as well. Our culture is enamored with preventative medicine right now. Awesome documentaries about health, longevity, the food industry, and the benefits of vegetarianism are all being made by agencies who have no burden for Christ and his salvation. We need to take a more active stand against obesity and sugar, the unethical practices of the food industry, and better nutrition and fitness programs for public schools.
So the question now is, how can we take a stand on all of these issues and at the same time not become those hate spewing activists that I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The answer is found in the following Adventist doctrine:
Great Controversy: The belief that humanity is deeply involved in a war between Christ and Satan should influence the way we interact with our culture. Every ounce of wickedness in this world is a symptom of this horrendous war. And at the center of this war is a distortion of the character of God. It is this distortion that keeps so many people away from God and causes the culture to despise God. As a result, while Adventists should be activists and take a stand on many relevant issues we must always do it with the Great Controversy in mind – remembering that our enemy is not sinners but sin, not humans but demons. Our responsibility in being activists is not to show the world what we are against but to show them what we are for. To show them the love of God in a way that has never been seen before. This is what Jesus did. While he hated sin he always showed love to the sinner. The character of God has been so maligned over the centuries that being an activist with a hateful “me vs. you” attitude will only hurt more than it will heal. God is calling us to reveal his character of love to the world. This must be our main priority. No matter what cause we choose to engage in and support the people on the “other side” must never get the impression that we hate them. In addition, the Great Controversy helps us to remember what is really important. Many people involved in activism become obsessed with their cause. Christians cannot afford to do this. Jesus and his saving grace should be the our theme and song. It is not healthy to approach any of these causes with an obsessive legalistic attitude that breeds elitism, bigotry, and conspiracy theorizing which leads to the demonization of everything and everyone in our culture. Jesus. His love. His grace. His power. His love. This is to be the heart beat of our activism. If it is, I believe we can engage in these causes in a way that will promote healing, kindness, and love. That would be awesome.
* For the sake of clarity, let it be known that I am in no way shape or form equating any of the practices and lifestyles mentioned in this statement with one another.