by Mark Weir
Spokane Valley, Wash., March 12, 2014 - “I will not be attending your Islam and Christianity meetings,” the opening line of an anonymous letter read. I received this letter several days after the beginning of our recent seminar with Tim Roosenberg. As I read on, I began to smile. This anonymous letter was filled with so many assumptions.
We were accused of “stirring the pot” by only focusing on the fringe elements of Islam. We were accused of making demands on society and trying to control people’s behavior. We were told that we offended with our advertising and that we were kooks, especially since our speaker was from Idaho. We were told that our literature was offensive and that we don’t care about the poor.
I decided to read the letter one evening to all the guests who were present. If there had been a name or a phone number, I would have contacted that person privately. But since I couldn’t do that, I shared the letter with the audience because many coming to the seminar had probably heard similar things from their friends.
As I read through the letter, I stopped several times and asked if what was being done in our meetings fit the descriptions found in the letter? Other than our speaker being from Idaho, everyone agreed the accusations did not match reality. Especially since the only literature we used was the Bible.
Over the course of the next couple of days, the letter became a source of good-natured humor. The next night, a guest brought me a cartoon about the origin of religion (based on the Easter Island statues), and with a smile on his face, wanted me to be sure to know that he had signed his letter. Another man gave a sheet of paper with some questions on it just before the meetings began. I had the letter in my hand as I walked to the platform to begin our meeting and upon seeing this, again with good-natured humor, a different man asked if I had gotten another anonymous letter. We all got a good laugh, but it gave me the chance to share a very key truth. The people coming to our seminar are people who are willing to interact, to listen and learn, to dialogue and disagree. I find this to be a very healthy and helpful aspect of life, especially our spiritual life.
On the final night, Tim Roosenberg issued a challenge. People were asked to either a) bring changes within their current church that it would more closely follow the teachings of the Bible; b) join a church that more closely followed the teachings of the Bible; or c) start a church that would more closely follow the teachings of the Bible. Many people indicated their plan to do one of the three, with several saying that this is the church home they want to check out.
On Thursday night, there was a chance for people to ask questions, and did they do that! So many people had something they wanted clarified. A few had certain perspectives they wanted to voice. One individual was wrestling with why Sabbath matters so much to us. He said that everyday is a day of worship to the Lord. He brought up several passages of scripture that he believed challenged the need to worship on Sabbath. Tim Roosenberg read the passages and answered the questions. No anger or hostility. Instead, simply sharing and stating that each person must study for themselves and be convinced in their own minds.
A little later, this same gentleman asked why we say all non-Sabbath keepers are going to hell. I carefully shared that we do not believe all non-Sabbath keepers are going to hell. However, I went on to urge that when it comes to our beliefs and behaviors, we need to make sure we are never in rebellion against God. God is the One to convict hearts. The wonderful thing about the entire interaction was just that. It was Interaction.
When I compare an anonymous letter about what someone thinks is happening to a healthy exchange of ideas and perspectives and implications, I know which I prefer. Ideas,if they have value, can stand scrutiny. And if they don’t have value, they need the scrutiny.
In our society, we are moving away from interaction and towards sound bites and witty, pithy put-downs. How sad. But I am convinced that it doesn’t have to be that way. The visitors who attended our meetings came to interact and gain understanding. From my experience with our church family, I can say with certainty, our church desires the same thing. May we continue to be a people who value interaction over anonymity.
P.S. This story was written by Pastor Mark Weir of Spokane Valley Adventist Church, was published in The Valley Venture, March 2014 Spokane Valley Church Newsletter and reprinted by permission.