Sunday, August 12, 2007

Love and Grace Without Inclusion and Tolerance?

- The purpose and manner of the church social committee

Here's an issue I've been dealing with lately: Liberals in the church want to preach about love and grace and "we've got to learn to get along with each other" all the time...except during a meeting. These same people during a meeting will repeat that the execution of an item doesn't matter to them, and that it's no big deal to them, then turn around and refuse to allow it to be executed in a manner that makes some more comfortable. My issue is: if it doesn't matter to you, but it does to someone else, why not do it their way?

It seems there is a legalism to liberalism. We are so caught up in our grace and freedom from the old law, that we cannot, under any circumstances, do things in any way that even remotely hint at legalism. Liberals preach love and grace and tolerance and not being a stumbling block to their brothers and sisters, then turn around and exclude their conservative brothers and sisters, saying, "Well, if they don't want to come, they don't have to." The thing is, though, that their conservative brothers and sisters want to come, just on a different day - and there are six others to choose from, or in a slightly different method (and there's no way to count those). But those same preachers of love, grace and tolerance cannot tolerate to do things in any way other than their own - all the while claiming it doesn't matter.

Most recently, I saw this issue in a Sabbath-keeping Seventh-day Adventist church where a planning session was being held for the social committee. It had been agreed that a swimming party at a local pool would be in order. The issue came when it was time to decide the day for the event. You see, there are many in the Adventist church that believe that swimming is not an appropriate Sabbath activity (in fact, it has been a commonly-held view of the church as a whole since its inception). The majority consensus at the meeting was that it didn't matter whether or not you swim on Sabbath. When it was pointed out that there are some in the local congregation that wouldn't be comfortable coming to the event on Sabbath, the response was, "Well, if they don't want to come, they don't have to." The thing is, though (as mentioned earlier), that those people want to come, just on a different day. The overwhelming attitude of the preachers of love, grace, and "we've got to learn to get along" seemed to be a resounding, "We'll do it on Sabbath, and they can just stay home." I'm forced to ask, "But I thought you said it didn't matter to you?" If it doesn't matter to you, and it does to someone else, why would anyone not want to do it in the way that makes the most people comfortable participating?

The best explanation I've found of this principle is found in the 2001 edition of the Adventist Youth Honors Answer Book:
Proper Sabbath observance

As an outdoor leader, you need to remember that the people you are leading will have different ways of observing the Sabbath. Most Adventist children of Pathfinder age will observe it as they have been taught by their parents, and it is important that you not undermine the parents' teaching in this regard. "Liberal" parents will not mind if you lead their children in conservative Sabbath observance, but "conservative" parents are likely to get very upset if engage in activities they are forbidden to do at home. Because of this, you are encouraged to adopt a conservative approach to Sabbath observance when you are leading them. You should do this even if none of the children in your care come from conservative homes, because if a new one joins you who is conservative, you will put that child at a serious disadvantage when you suddenly have to change the "rules". The Sabbath will then become a burden both to the new child and to the others who have been in the club for a while.

Whether or not it "matters" is not the question here. It is a question of inclusion. The aim and purpose of the social committee is to provide wholesome recreation and fellowship for the church as a whole, not just for any one segment of the congregation, whether young, old, liberal, or conservative. All members should feel comfortable participating in social events, whatever their personal beliefs on Sabbath observance (or any other church doctrine, for that matter). The social committee should aim to be as inclusive as possible. While there are some that won't come to events nomatter what, there are many that feel they are not welcome by their more liberal counterparts because events are continually planned which make them uncomfortable. Their concerns have been voiced, but no reconciliatory action has been made. Events keep being planned for days and activities that they feel they cannot, in good conscience, participate in in the manner planned.

This is not only an Adventist concern - it rears its ugly head in Baptist churches, LDS churches, and Catholic churches. If we are truly free in Christ as so many claim, why are we not free from intolerance to conservatives? They love the same Jesus we do, they worship the same God we do, and they read the same Bible we do. It seems the liberals preach love, grace, and tolerance to everyone and practice it on everyone but the conservatives.

It will not be until the liberals reach out to the conservatives in loving tolerance of their stricter beliefs that the Adventist church will finally be healed. Think about it: in society as a whole, do we exclude Jews from events because of their stricter beliefs? Muslims? Buddhists? No, not at all. Because while we don't feel those rules are necessary, those people do, and we will accommodate them in order to reach out to them and create a community. This isn't saying that the church should bow to the conservatives in all cases; it is saying that we must practice what we preach: true love, unrestrained grace, and unconditional tolerance.

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