In 2010, five Seventh-day Adventist pastors got together in Denver, Colorado for rest, honest conversation and revitalization. The group of pastors sought to be better husbands, fathers and leaders by refocusing their spiritual lives during a retreat. What started as a small group of pastors has now become an international phenomenon within the Seventh-day Adventist church -- The One Project.
Centered on the "one," this gathering -- not conference, they're really serious about that -- is all about Jesus. Their mission statement: Jesus. All. Or as said on stage, "Jesus... full-stop. All... full-stop." This is a revival for those of us who want to get back to the root of it all. It's incredibly simple yet revolutionary in a church that is stereotypically legalistic and historically fundamentalist. A born-and-raised Seventh-day Adventist, I found it almost too good to be true. In my experience, I've seen much more focused on the law than on the One.
The 2014 USA One Project Gathering had over 700 current, and former, Seventh-day Adventists meet for two days in Seattle. I was one of those in attendance. Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I've been attending bible camps, theology conferences and camp meetings my entire life. This is by far the best event I've been a part of, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. One of the reasons this gathering was so monumental was in its shift in focus from legalism, to present truth.
Present truth, a concept that began at the very birth of the Seventh-day Adventist church, is a belief that the Holy Spirit will continue to reveal truths to us throughout our time here on earth. Present Truth is a belief that we have not yet discovered everything that there is to be discovered in scripture. It's a belief that started from the beginning and a belief my church leadership has seemingly forgotten. Said Timothy Gillespie, one of the founders of the One Project:
One of the unique things that makes us Seventh-day Adventist is present truth, and that should make us the most inquisitive theologians. Present Truth: a perpetuating relocating theology.
We've become afraid of having questions and asking questions. We've become afraid of doubt and, in its essence; we've become afraid of Present Truth.
As topics like homosexuality (or really same-sex sex) and women's ordination are making strides in other denominations, the Seventh-day Adventist church has barely acknowledged these topics. They refuse to see that these two topics, among others, are causing many SDA's, especially those in my generation, to wonder why we seem so far behind other Christian denominations. Our fundamentalist, literal creation-believing (no, Ken Ham does not speak for me), conservative, biblical literalist beliefs have painted the church as pompously "all-knowing," and somewhat elitist, making the church afraid to ask questions.
Doubt is not an admission of unbelief; they are a statement of our innate need for more. Questioning beliefs is a healthy, natural process. It is only by questioning that we will continue to grow in our faith. When we settle, we become complacent and we lose out on the opportunity to have a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, who is both the message and the messenger. As Christians, if we use present truth as the foundation for our beliefs, we should continue to grow -- not change. This is not a process that ends, but a journey in which we take steps forward into the dark with faith that Jesus is at the beginning and end of it all.
David Ferguson, the Senior Pastor at One Place, a worship service co-founded by One Project co-chair Japhet De Oliveira located at Andrews University, said this about One Place a few Sabbaths ago:
You're safe here to ask. You're safe here to ask those disturbing questions. You're safe here to say you don't believe the same things we do. Even if you don't believe in a God or that God loves you, just know and understand that someone in this congregation loves you. I love you.
A bold statement made in grace. One that creates a safe space for those wrestling with their beliefs, and even pastors who wrestle with beliefs in God, to be there; to be present and honest in a safe space.
Our theological conversations should not be lead with matters of the law. While the law helps us discern sin, it cannot be our focus. There must be a balance and as history shows us, we've continually tipped the scales in favor of legalism and condemnation. While that is not a true representation of those of us still in the pews, it seems the loudest, misogynistic, anti-science, homophobic voices get the microphone in the church. How would the scales tip if our base wasn't a list of "do's and don'ts" but our base was Jesus? If our base was present truth? Where would our emphasis be then?
Would we spend less time keeping sinners out of the church and spend more on bringing them in? At what point will we be able to say that we have truly done all we can "to the least of these?"
Throughout the gathering, attendees were given a chance to share publicly their dream for the church. Here is mine: My dream for the church is that it learn to love and accept those who are fundamentally different than us. My dream is for the church to finally show love, compassion and acceptance of LGBT people. Not just in words, but in action. That we can allow for balanced, honest dialogues to take place without fear. My dream is that we understood our savior was coming not to condemn us but to save us. My dream is that we can accompany each other on the Christian journey, allowing the Holy Spirit to do its job, while completing good works in reflection of God's character. My dream for the church would be to bring it back to the One.