I had a very pleasant conversation with one of my neighbors a few weeks ago. He has been attending a local Adventist church for some time with his wife, who has been an Adventist her whole life. Their daughter attends the local Adventist academy.
I was actually surprised when he told me that he was not an Adventist. Since I had seen him from time-to-time at church, I simply assumed that he was a card-carrying member of God's "Remnant" people. What shocked me even more, however, was when he told me how much he enjoyed attending this church. "The people are so accepting," he told me. And then he said, "I grew up in the [fill in the blank with any number of non-Adventist churches] church, and I didn't feel as welcome or loved as I do now."
I just about fell out of my chair. Actually, I was standing up at the time, so I almost fell to the ground. I had never heard such a crazy idea. Usually certain groups within our very own church try to feed us propaganda, telling us that Adventists are the only un-loving denomination on the planet. We hear horror stories of the un-countable masses that have been forced to leave our denomination because of this deep lack of love and acceptance.
To be sure, there are definitely hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals that have been wrongfully and un-lovingly treated within our denominational walls. I've heard the first-hand horror stories from people who have been treated in such a way. I do not want to diminish their reality at all.
But why don't we ever hear the positive stories? Why don't we ever hear the stories of other denominations that are just as guilty as we?
The truth is, I've come to realize that this problem is not peculiar to Adventism. We do not have a monopoly on being un-accepting, no more than other churches have a monopoly on love.
Perhaps - and this is still a working theory in my mind -those who feel the least amount of love and acceptance within our own denomination are those who have grown up in the church. The same can probably be said for individuals - like my neighbor - who grew up in other faith communities. As we grow up and mature and search for our own identity, we struggle to find acceptance and love from those who know us best. Or, at least that's our perception.
Many of us want to retain the cultural Adventism that we grew up with, while at the same time taking part in things that we know contradict that which our cultural community seems to speak against. When these two desires clash, we feel as though we are un-loved and un-accepted.
It's probably fairly rare to find a person who has joined the Adventist church later on in life who feels the same way. They have made a conscious decision to join the church, unlike many of us who were born into it and are now searching for our own identity.
It would be well for us all to remember Paul's beautiful words in Colossians 3:14, "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection."