Feature

Last Word: “Strength to Love”

Dr. Ella Simmons’ final thoughts about the historic Cape Town Summit

At the ‘In God’s Image’: Scripture, Sexuality and Society Summit” held March 17-20, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, General Conference general vice-president Dr. Ella Smith Simmons was scheduled to share a summary “Last Word” at the closing plenary session. Due to a scheduling miscue, she was not able to deliver more than a small portion of her prepared remarks. We publish them in full here, believing that Seventh-day Adventists and readers everywhere will find great value in them.—Editors.

The principal purposes of the In God's Image: Scripture, Sexuality, and Society Summit were to initiate a conversation with key people in the global leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; to gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding alternative sexualities; and to counsel together regarding the challenges the church is facing in this area, with the goal of finding a consistent way to be redemptive as well as obedient to the teachings of Scripture throughout the global Adventist Church. 1

During these past few days, we have recognized, at least to some degree, the vastness of the range of the issues associated with the current topic. We’ve acknowledged our great needs for information, knowledge, and wisdom.

We understand the issues surrounding varied forms of sexuality more than we did, though we need to understand more.

We’ve counseled together regarding the challenges the church is facing in these issues, though we need to engage more.

Now we must find a way to be redemptive as well as obedient to the teachings of Scripture in a more accurate, honest, and consistent manner around the world.

Two principal commitments have shaped our conversation and will shape it going forward. We have committed to: (1) Upholding the Church’s understanding and teaching on this current topic as biblical truth; and (2) Upholding and keeping Christ’s commandment to love our sisters and brothers—all human beings.

What We’ve Learned

In a recent presentation to one of our church’s institutional boards, one of the featured speakers organized her presentation into three parts, each introduced by an essential question. As I’ve listened to our discussions and deliberations during the last three days, I was struck with the applicable similarities of those three concentrations to our purposes here:

1. What world do we live in [as it pertains to our current topic]? What are the needs?

2. How do we want to make an impact on this world [as it pertains to our current topic]? What must we do? How shall we live? What does God expect of us?

3. What is our place in this world [as it pertains to our current topic]? So, what difference do we make? What is God’s purpose for our existence?

The World We Live In

In these “final words” I submit to you that the world we live in as it pertains to our current topic, and in general, is not the world into which most of us were born. George Barna’s 2011 study on religious beliefs and practices of United States populations, stratified by generation, showed that “there has been a lot of realignment taking place” within the segment of the population born from 1965 through 1983. Surprisingly, though, Barna has found through numerous such studies in the last 20 years that it is the generation born from 1946 through 1964, largely the generation of current Church leaders, that has redefined America’s ways of life—including its faith and spirituality. There are indications of similar patterns of transformation for many parts of the world.

In fact, the studies have found that with this 1946 to 1964 generation, there are two religious beliefs that have undergone substantial change in this era:

(1) “Declines in those who hold an orthodox view of God;” and

(2) “A reduction in those who are strongly convinced that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” 2

Again, it is likely that there are similarities in the dynamics of change for many other regions of the world. This world will never again be the world that was reality for most of us in times past. In many ways—and for many of us—that is a good prospect. In many other ways, this is tragic. It seems that we have thrown out the baby with the dirty bath water. Now perhaps we want the baby back, but have not figured out how to avoid retrieving the dirty water along with it.

Recently, there was an intriguing promotion for a television program—a program that I’ve never seen, by the way. The program is entitled “The New Normal.” The promotional photograph depicted both husband and wife—or male and female partners—with significantly protruding, obviously pregnant abdominal midsections.

Is this supposed to be the new “normal,” and who is teaching this lesson? For many of the societies of this world, “normal”—if there ever was such a state—has changed and is ever changing. One observer portrays one area of change this way:

“Secularism is much more aggressive and anti-Christian; the society in general is coarsening; and the moral intuitions of younger people radically vary from their more traditional parents.

Many have called this new state of affairs the “postmodern turn,” though others call our situation “late” modernity, or even “liquid” modernity. Modernity overturned the authority of tradition, revelation, or any authority outside of the internal reason and experience of the self . . .

The “acid” of the modern principle—the autonomous, individual self—seems to have eaten away all stable identities.” 3

Here at these proceedings in Cape Town, Dr. Miroslav Kis addressed this view in his observation that “every issue is subject to change as a result of the pressures of the day, to the point where yesterday’s ‘is’ may become today’s ‘ ought.’ What we do becomes legitimate; the lowest common denominator can become normative.”

Perhaps this is the basis for the new normal. It is into this ever-evolving context of values, according to Sprigg, that “activists pushing for a ‘gay rights’ political agenda, . . . have become increasingly virulent in their attacks upon social conservatives who oppose that agenda, to the degree that one organization in 2010 announced its classification of several pro-family organizations as ‘anti-gay hate groups.’” 4

How the Church Wants to Make an Impact on this World

At times, it appears that while we want to bring people into the Church, we give insufficient attention to making an impact on the world in other ways. This is our Father’s world, and it is the world in which we live. We can’t avoid its challenges, even as they pertain to our current topic. Indeed, these challenges are not just found in the outside world, this world in which we live, but of which, as believers, we are not a part. These same challenges are also found in the Church. They are our challenges.

In some cases they are with us through inserted confrontations by way of legal challenges or social and political pressures. But equally or even more often, they are integral to our identity as Adventists by way of the life circumstances of our members, or members of their families. They exist as part and parcel of Adventism.

However we may differ theologically or philosophically from others in our faith community, we can’t fail to hear them, particularly as respects the way we treat each other. In a recent letter, the president of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, an organization that claims 40 years of work with and for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) individuals who are former and current Seventh-day Adventists, made a plea to the Church:

At the very least, we would like to see our church take a firm stand against demonization of our members and the resulting violation of basic human rights that inevitably follows. . . . It is our deepest wish that regardless of differing theologies regarding sexual minorities, the Seventh-day Adventist Church can truly become a safe place where ALL people responding to the love of Christ can grow in their relationship with God (Letter, Elliott, President, Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, February 20, 2014).

We can’t escape the impression that we who are alive and in positions of responsibility at this time in earth’s history are here for such a time as this.

So, what will be our response? How shall we live with the dilemmas posed by those who identify themselves as Seventh-day Adventists but who live in ways not consistent with our understandings of biblical teachings? How will we move forward from here?

Given the thoughtful presentations and discussions of this week, perhaps the operative question for us to consider is this: How will we affirm the rights of those with whom we disagree while maintaining our religious, theological, and spiritual identity?

Some among us believe that it is impossible to do this as respects our differing understandings of homosexuality and alternative sexualities. But the Scripture that shaped this community of faith teaches us to corporately and individually seek God when we meet these challenges. When faced with a leadership responsibility that seemed to him an impossibility, Solomon asked God for discernment and wisdom, and it was granted. James reminds us that if we ask for wisdom, God will surely give it to us (James 1:5).

Although it is not—and will not be—easy, we need not falter.

Some may argue that it is not the role or function of the Church to become involved in responding to homosexuals or those practicing alternative sexualities at a personal spiritual level, or to be concerned about the manner in which they are treated in both the church and the wider society. But our history as a people, and our recent declarations bear out a different perspective. It is true that the Church has sometimes chosen to avoid certain pressing social issues in the past—sometimes even to our shame. The fact is, though, that we have significant experience with the core dilemma the present topic presents.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church embarked on a path of conscientious and principled protection of maligned and mistreated individuals even before it organized officially. Our church has historically defended the right of expression for those with whom it disagrees theologically, morally, socially, and politically, even while maintaining its own identity and distinct beliefs.

The introduction of the 1888 Blair Sunday Bill which sought to enforce Sunday as a legal holiday led to the founding of the General Conference “Press Committee” on religious liberty. From that reactive beginning, our National Religious Liberty Association was founded in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1889 upon the success of that forerunner. It continues to this day to stand boldly throughout the world and is recognized as a leader in defense of religious liberty for all, regardless of belief and related lifestyle.

The Church’s views on religious liberty were published in 1889 as the “Declaration of Principles” of the National Religious Liberty Association. Its four resolutions directly related to religious liberty were:

  • We believe in supporting the civil government and submitting to its authority;
  • We deny the right of any civil government to legislate on religious questions;
  • We believe it is the right, and should be the privilege, of every man to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience.
  • We also believe it to be our duty to use every lawful and honorable means to prevent religious legislation by the civil government; that we and our fellow citizens may enjoy the inestimable blessings of both civil and religious [rights]” 5

We may fairly conclude that though the organizers of the National Religious Liberty Association 125 years ago certainly did not have today’s issue in mind, the principles they articulated have at least some application to our circumstances today. By its own description, NARLA’s founding principles urge that freedom of religion is best protected when included in the legal safeguards of the state. They recognize that the religious community must always be vigilant to guard and monitor the application of such laws, and should promote religious liberty through judicial and legislative processes. 6

Through its defense of religious liberty the Church has relied on an understanding that the health of liberty depends on the principles, standards, and morals common to all religions. By acknowledging the realm in which reason and faith agree and can cooperate about morality and politics, religious liberty unites civic morality and the moral teachings of religion, thereby establishing common standards to guide private and public life.

The mission of the International Religious Liberty Association, organized by Adventists and other defenders of freedom in 1893, is unapologetically clear in its declaration that it

“will disseminate the principles of religious liberty throughout the world; defend and safeguard the civil right of all people to worship or not to worship, to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, to manifest their religious convictions in observance, promulgation, and teaching, subject only to the respect for the equivalent rights of others . . . .” 7

The spirit of true religious liberty is epitomized in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

So it is clear that we do not lack the intellectual or moral capacities needed for addressing the dilemmas presented by our topic here in Cape Town. But we do need the conviction, the will, and the wisdom to move forward.

We certainly haven’t answered all the questions here at this gathering, even as we have listened to an impressive array of professional presenters and experts. But I hope we have committed to the strength to love. After all, Jesus taught that the greatest commandments, upon which all the others hang, are commandments to love God and love other human beings—all human beings:

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).

As Boyd puts it, “Never is it appropriate to refrain from loving another person. And this command, we must note, is placed above all. Peter agrees, when he writes, above all, maintain constant love for one another.” 8 1 Peter 4:8 NRSV (emphasis supplied) “Our call to love includes everybody. Our love is to ‘abound… for one another and for all " (1 Thess. 3:12) (emphasis supplied). Jesus teaches us that we are to love like the sun shines and like the rain falls—indiscriminately. Since Jesus died for all (1 John 2:2) it's clear God ascribes unsurpassable worth to all.” 9 According to Boyd,we should “reflect this in how we think, speak, and behave toward others. We are thus called to love all people, at all times, in all conditions—no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands,’ or ‘buts.’” 10

Jesus is our pattern and model for how we are to relate to others.

What did Jesus do? How did He relate to “sinners,” even those who were considered the lowest of sinners in His society?

While the Pharisees denounced and dismissed those whose lives spilled outside their parameters, Jesus loved them. He loved them in His heart, yes; but even more so He loved them through the model of living He left for us. Jesus associated with them. He drew them close to Himself, and thereby, He drew them into His kingdom. In so doing He also drew them to Gospel truth with a clear view of their sinful nature and behavior as defined by/through His Word—text and life, the written word and the lived word of God. Then, over time they saw the light and turned from their sinful ways. They were redefined by the Gospel through the love in the words and deeds of Christ. Jesus can and is waiting to do the same through us today.

Our Contribution to the World

Certainly we all agree that the issue we are really considering is much greater than the single topic of how the Church should react to, relate to, and respond to LGBTI individuals. It is about how we choose to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have discussed whether and if LGBTI individuals can change, or should choose to change, or how they should choose to live. This is actually about how we all choose to live; and there’s no question that we have a choice. The controversy, where there is one, is over worldview: epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, and so forth.

In His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:13-14), Jesus laid out His plan for His followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world—to make a difference in this world. We Adventists take seriously Jesus’ charge for ministry to all those who live within our sphere. Most often, many interpret this calling to mean evangelism that takes shape in public preaching and group or individual Bible studies. It focuses on the hereafter.

However, Jesus is clear in the vision He casts. Being light and salt means living a Christ-like life here and now with each other—yes, with an eye to eternity with God—but nonetheless right here and now. A closer look at Scripture challenges us to take an all-inclusive approach to spreading the Gospel.

Bible commentator Charles Ryrie (2008) points out that “Mark’s use of the term gospel uniformly emphasizes the person of Christ (1:1, 14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15). He [Jesus] is the central theme of the good news” (p. 6).

The wider context of Jesus’ ministry is made clear in commentary onLuke’s reference to the Christian’s social responsibility. As He announced His personal mission statement to his home synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus continued His teaching on how we are to live. He said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

1To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19, NKJV)

If we somehow missed that admonition, Jesus reemphasized His expectations of us in an even more powerful message in Matthew 26:31-46. Here He shows that our salvation hinges on a demonstration of the life truths of the gospel. We must take these words seriously as integral to the Gospel Commission. Indeed, this is part of the expectation for sharing the Gospel. Surely this is fundamental to what we mean when we declare our commitment to ministering, in Ellen White’s apt phrase, “in the manner of Jesus” ( Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

I believe we are sincere about our commitment. Yet, there are times when we stumble over just how “the manner of Jesus” looks in everyday life on the ground with real people.

Recently The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership (2013) published an edition focused on health and medical ministry in which it carried an article in its biblical reflection section entitled, “Principles of Jesus’ Healing Ministry,” by Kenneth Tyler. 11 I found this article to be most helpful as we wrestle with the current topic and how we should live and minister in the manner of Jesus.

I recommend a review of Mark’s gospel message coupled with an analytical study of this article. The lessons learned from Jesus’ 13 miracles in Mark, as reflected in Tyler’s article, are a significant and substantive beginning for moving forward from these meetings. These words from the Gospel model are then the last words of this conference.

I quote here from just six of Tyler’s 13 illustrations and insights, but apply the lessons to our specific topic. This is how Jesus ministered to those in need who looked to Him for help.

  1. Appropriate Use of Authority: The Man in the Synagogue with an Unclean Spirit (Mark 1:21-28). “Jesus’ concern for people guided his teaching and healing ministry, particularly for those who were trapped by life circumstances beyond their control. While having great authority and without decrying institutional religion per se, He used it judiciously to promote his Father's kingdom, and to serve disenfranchised and hurting individuals.”
  2. Guarding Modesty While Providing Intimacy: Peter’s mother-in-law healed (Mark 1:29-33). Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up, “modeling a close and personal intervention that typified his ministry, unlike the standoff attitudes demonstrated by many of the religious authorities of his day. While others kept their distance, Jesus modeled genuine spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy. Aswith Jesus, those needing care are given no cause to believe they will be ignored or their need delegitimized.”
  3. Approachability Welcomes Needed Consultations: The Man Afflicted with Leprosy (Mark 1:42-45). Lepers were forbidden “to attend religious services that ordinarily would bring some succor [relief and support] for most situations.” [And remember lepers had to declare themselves unclean publicly, to which others would flee in response.] “Instead of shrinking back, as many did when approached by a leper, Jesus reached out with compassion and touched him, bestowing through word and deed much needed cleansing. Mark's use of the word for cleansing lends credence to the fact that Jesus was meeting the man where his understanding was.” This made the leper more approachable and built trust.
  4. Advocating for the Defenseless: The Man Let Down through the Roof (Mark 2:1-13). Jesus honored the faith of the man and his friends, and noticing that all were not pleased with this occurrence, confronted the “unannounced thoughts and feelings of the unbelieving scribes.” He read the scene with a view of caring for the sick and alienated in order to protect their interests.
  5. Facing the Unimaginable with Positivity: The Demon-Possessed Man (Mark 5:1-20). “It was in the failure of all human methods that Jesus acted decisively.” The man probably was banished for the health and social safety of others. He was loaded with chains, in a vain attempt to curb his inner turmoil by outward restrained. “Jesus was not intimidated by the sight of the man. It appears from the text that he initiated the conversation. Jesus used this worst-case scenario to reveal his compassion for ason of Adam and to release this captive and set him free. As God’s servant, Jesus was once again intervening in the most frightful and stigmatized cases that were brought to His notice. No one and no situation is unimportant in the integrated schema of his life.”
  6. Sensibly Protecting a Person's Privacy: The Deaf and Partially Mute Man (Mark 7:31-37). “[Jesus’] compassionate touch, calming and instructive words, and acknowledgment of His Father as the source of all restoration are the hallmarks of Jesus’ way of caring for the person as a whole human being. Jesus did not shrink from human contact. He conveyed in a very real sense the touch those long alienated by their condition where hungering to receive.” His was whole-person care.

Tyler focused in his excellent article on physical healing in his analysis of Jesus’ miracles in the book of Mark. But the generalizable principles are applicable to all types of healing: physical, spiritual, social, mental, and emotional.

It’s clear from the New Testament record that Jesus’ earliest followers took very seriously these lessons of inclusion, compassion, and care-giving. The apostle James, presumably the brother of Jesus and an accepted leader in the early Christian church, asks an all-important question, and then follows with inspired counsel: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, . . .But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:13-18).

Pure and undefiled religion before God is this, according to James: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (1:27). This goes beyond traditional religious duties, practices, and observances. True religion means control of the tongue (v. 19), taking care of the poor, and rejecting the value system of the world.

James is especially strong on the practice of partiality. He says in chapter 2, verse 1, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” This partiality of which he speaks is plural in the Greek; it indicates various partialities. The word used here can be equated to modern discrimination and snobbery of all kinds: economic, social, educational, physical, health, religious, and so forth. James shows in chapter 2 verse 9 that it is more than a flaw: it is a “sin.” It’s as serious as murder, adultery, or not remembering “the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” 12

Racism, tribal prejudice, ethnic bigotry, and classism as well as religious and nationalistic conflict in any time or place have at their root the sin of partiality and are obnoxious to God who loves all and considers all people to be His children. James then strips away any cover behind which one could hide in the practice of partiality. He gives the Adventist commentary on the matter when he says, building on the teaching of Jesus, that because the law is an expression of God’s character, to ignore one part is to be in violation of His whole law (James 2:10; cf. Matt. 5:18–19; 23:23). 13

Ancient Jewish texts have almost exactly the same illustrations as mentioned here in James of discrimination in a legal proceeding with the same condemnation. The setting here seems to be a court of law between a rich plaintiff and a poor defendant. James’s condemnation is not limited to a worship setting; prejudiced, racist, and class-denigrating attitudes in everyday life have no place in the life of the believer. Moreover, James includes an expectation that believers will actually do something to relieve social and ethical challenges. 14

James makes it clear that we as believers are not ignorant on this matter. He demonstrates that, yes, we really do understand these principles. Perhaps our challenge is application. We stumble as we try to operationalize these principles on a day-to-day basis on the ground with other living, breathing human beings who make mistakes, who are confused, who choose the wrong paths, who are different from us, all who are searching for Christ’s way. We must accept the responsibility for action. We are called to respond to the conditions present in this world that affect the lives of God’s children—meaning all people, no matter what their identity or condition.

So what does this look like? What should this look like in the daily walk?

In my research for these meetings, and this presentation in particular, I read a compilation of sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King on the subject of Christian living for times such as this. Even a cursory analysis of the series made clear the value of some of his applications of theological principle to practical life, wonderfully captured in a little book entitled Strength to Love.15

How do we function in a strength-to-love mode? What would it mean if we stop seeing LGBTI persons as the enemy or a blight on the Church, and begin to relate to them simply as God’s children and our brothers and sisters who need His saving grace as we all do? God is not partial in His offer of salvation. He wants to save them, as He wants to save the rest of us.

One of Dr. King’s assertions with which I agree is that all of us here on earth “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together in a single garment of destiny (not predestination). Whatever affects one, affects all indirectly.” 16 Dr. King held a theological belief in and taught the interdependence of all life.

Then on another point—interestingly, in a sermon on Matthew 10:16 in which Jesus counsels His disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”—he asserts that “life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” 17 Coretta Scott King, the author of the foreword said of King, “It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but, he taught, this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” 18

While Seventh-day Adventists might not agree with all of Dr. King’s theology, we certainly must accept the principles of this view.

The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the truth from the error. There is, King says, an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions in life. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the truth from the error, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. For this present topic of homosexuality and alternative sexualities, that seems to be true on most sides of the issues—and it seems there are many points of view.

Dr. King asserts that there is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice. He makes clear that the shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness. He asserts that “a nation or civilization that continues to produce soft minded people purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” 19

Even when, as Seventh-day Adventists, we have THE truth, we cannot allow ourselves to get caught up in soft-minded thinking.

But, Dr. King continues, we must not stop with the development of a tough mind: we must also have a tender heart. Tough mindedness without soft heartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in “a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.” 20 He declares that “To have serpent-like qualities devoid of dove-like qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dove-like without serpent-like qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless.” 21 The challenges of life today demand that we combine these strongly contrasting elements of character.

Dr. King’s Strength to Love echoes the words of Ellen White. She admonished the Church and individuals:

“Clear-cut messages are to be borne. But guard against arousing antagonism. There are many souls to be saved. Restrain all harsh expressions. In word and deed be wise unto salvation, representing Christ to all with whom you come in contact. Let all see that your feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace and good will to men. Wonderful are the results we shall see if we enter into the work imbued with the Spirit of Christ. Help will come in our necessity if we carry the work forward in righteousness, mercy, and love. Truth will triumph, and bear away the victory.” 22

When all is said and done, whether here at these meetings or future meetings, we must settle on at least one fact. That is, as long as we individual Christians, and particularly as we the Seventh-day Adventist Church—the body of Christ in these last days—are not consistent in our views and handling of Church business, LGBTI persons and those of other groups will not hear us, regardless that we teach and preach Biblical truths. As long as we protect, cover-up, or yes, condone adultery, dishonesty, and other sins that were forbidden by God in the Church and particularly in high places, we will not be able to reach LGBTI with our words that we call truth for the transformation of their lives—in any way.

The greatness of our God, Dr. King says, lies in the fact that He is both tough-minded and tender-hearted. He has qualities both of sternness and gentleness. Scripture stresses both His tough-mindedness in His justice and wrath, and His tenderheartedness in His love and grace. Dr. King said, “He is tough-minded enough to transcend the world; he is tender-hearted enough to live in it.” 23

“Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance, and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in the pathetic minority of two or three.” 24 In spite of the prevailing tendency to conform to popular opinion, Seventh-day Adventists have a mandate to be nonconformists. Ours is a counterculture. As [Seventh-day Adventist] Christians, we must never surrender our supreme loyalty to any time-bound custom or earth-bound idea, for at the heart of our universe is a higher reality—God and His kingdom of love—to which we must be conformed.” 25

Synthesis and Implications

The prophetic voice uniquely gifted to this movement told us years ago:

“The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago—a revelation of Christ. A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished.

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’

There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.” 26

“The first and most fundamental evidence that we are abiding in Christ and participating in the divine nature is that God's self-sacrificial love begins to be manifested in our life. John puts the matter rather bluntly when he says, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8 and NIV). “Those who say, ‘I love God, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars’ (1 John 4:20 NIV).” 27

Scripture is unrelenting in its admonition to love. “Christlike love is our primary witness to the world that Jesus is real. By this, Jesus says, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another .” (John 13:35, NRSV, emphasis supplied) After having learned this lesson himself, Paul urges in his letter to the Galatians that this love that is extended to all is to be unconditional, “Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14, NRSV). 28


  1. Committee on the Seventh-day Adventist Response to Advocacy and/or Legislation Concerning Alternative Sexuality Practices, 2014.
  2. Barna Group, 2011, Barna Describes Religious Changes Among Busters, Boomers, and Elders Since 1991 , State of the Church Series, Part 2: Generational Change, July 27, 2011, Barna Group, Ventura, California, p. 2.
  3. D. A. Carson & Timothy Keller, The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), p. 14.
  4. Peter Sprigg, “Debating Homosexuality: Understanding Two Views” (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council), p. 1.
  5. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol.10 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976), p. 1198.
  6. Ibid., pp. 1158-1164.
  7. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, International Religious Liberty Association, “Mission, Purpose, and Principles: Mission Statement,“ 2013. http://www.irla.org/mission-purpose-and-principles.
  8. Gregory A Boyd, “Living in, and Looking Like, Christ.” Servant God—The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Trustworthiness. (Loma Linda: Loma Linda University Press, 2013), pp. 409-418
  9. Ibid., p. 414.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Kenneth Tyler, “Principles of Jesus’ Healing Ministry,” The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership (2013), pp. 8-20.
  12. Andrews Study Bible , Notes, James 2, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2010).
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2010).
  16. Ibid., p. ix.
  17. Ibid., p. 1.
  18. Ibid., p. 2.
  19. Ibid., p. 5.
  20. Ibid., pp. 5-6.
  21. Ibid., p. 6.
  22. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 6, 1902.
  23. King, p. 9.
  24. Ibid., p. 11.
  25. Ibid., p. 12.
  26. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing , p. 143.
  27. Boyd, p. 412.
  28. Ibid., pp. 412-413.
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