Harold Alomia is one of the youngest pastors to lead the College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, the largest Adventist church in the Mid-America Union. He’s also their first pastor from South America.

OUTLOOK’s editor Brenda Dickerson recently sat down with him to discuss some of the significant cultural and spiritual challenges facing the Adventist church in 2015.

 One of our most pressing issues this year is to settle the question of whether or not to ordain women. However, regardless of how the vote goes in July, the reality is there will still be disagreement. How can we continue working together to further the mission of the church?

Everyone has his or her take on what this topic is really about. Some will say it’s about tradition, some hermeneutics, or that it’s about erosion of Adventism’s true interpretation of the Bible. The fact is that we’ve arrived at different conclusions based on the same Book and the same beliefs. Both sides have biblical basis and Ellen White basis.

For some people it is a biblical issue. It’s considered the gateway drug. Once you ordain women the church will erode and we will have all kinds of problems.

I know that it wouldn’t work in my home country of Peru. But just like they wouldn’t want the NAD imposing policies on them, we should be able to expect them not to impose on us. We work differently in different regions. Take China, for example. The largest congregation in the world is led by a woman. That’s proof positive that the church has not imploded because of a woman in a pastoral position because over the years it has shown signals of growth, rather than declining.

It’s just difficult right now because we’re so fragmented and the rhetoric on social media and in general has become so inflammatory. It’s a cesspool of negativity. I’m right and you’re wrong.

Will this question fracture our church?

I don’t know. Either side could say, “To your tents, O Israel. What do we have to do with the house of Jesse?” But I don’t see why we would split over this. We’ve been through 1888, which still influences the way we deal with some things. And look at the Kellogg saga. That could have split us, but it didn’t. God took care of it. I don’t know what He’s going to do in San Antonio. I’m not a delegate—just a guy in a church.

We just need to calm down, pray and remember He is always at the helm of the church. At some point I have to believe in the super natural intervention of God.

As I understand it, the wording of the proposal is not proscriptive. It would simply allow for women’s ordination to happen in areas that vote to do it.

Yet some view that as a step toward congregationalism and causing disunity. However, that argument doesn’t’ really hold, because we’ve had diversity for over 30 years. Every local church decides if they will have women elders. Every church and conference is currently managing this in some way.

We might suffer for a while if members take their money and leave. But we will recover. What makes it difficult is that campaigning will continue, regardless of the vote.

If vote doesn’t go according to my beliefs, Will I pack up my books and go? Will I say God didn’t lead? Or will I say maybe this isn’t the time? How loyal are we to the organization and to God?

If you cannot accept the vote the organization took maybe you are not as loyal to the organization as you say.

In North America we have an interesting dichotomy where we don’t believe God is in this organization. God is everywhere, so I can do my own things. Church is just a human organization. I have to wonder, if God is not leading this organization, what am I doing here?

It’s not perfect, because it’s filled with humans. But I go back to the statement that as enfeebled and imperfect as she is, the church is still the object of God’s supreme care on this earth.

Do you understand that to mean the Christian church or the Adventist church?

Why couldn’t it be both? We don’t need to dismiss the importance of this movement in order to be inclusive. We tend to react against the statement of Adventists being the remnant because it seems arrogant. I perceive arrogance as an attitude rather than a factual statement or an understanding from Scripture. We have had that problem, but in reacting to our attitude we go to the other extreme of hiding the fact that this is a special movement.

We’re called a movement for a reason.

I personally stay in the denomination because we have something special. We’ve always been at the edge. We are a catalyst towards God’s final drive.

It goes back to the idea of God doing something supernatural before and after San Antonio. He can allow us to be less fragmented—not a reflection of society, which is polarized politically as we see during election years. We as a movement can be different than the polarization of our country. The question remains as to whether we will let Him make that change.

What might it look like if God does something supernaturally different in our movement?

I think the reality is more that God wants us to be different. Less polarized. Less extreme in ourselves. Yes, Jesus was a radical. But I love how He was radical to meet needs. Not to be disrespectful.

He was radical in his teachings because He needed to refute what was currently being taught. But His statements were no more radical that what we read about God saying at Mt. Sinai.

Or in the Torah. He was going back to the basics of the Torah. We’re the ones who need to go back to the basic principles.

We need more Holy Spirit and less holier-than-thou.

We need to converse, to talk, to allow more freedom in the non-essentials. You know the saying: in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity (Rupertus Meldenius, circa 1627).

We shouldn’t concede on the essentials of our faith—Sabbath, sanctuary, second coming—but in other things, why do we need to be having such a strong stance on topics like women in ministry and music and worship?

I have this friend in Germany who is both a pastor and a professional musician. If you didn’t know him you might think he was worldly because of the places he plays his music. But in fact, he has a unique ministry. It’s very different and works in an unusual way. But God does use him and his ministry in a wonderfully creative way of reaching out and spreading the gospel that you don’t see everyday.

How can we evaluate things that are different than what we’re used to?

We have to be willing to take the necessary time to see the fruits. And that’s not easy, because sometimes it takes a long time. And we think we don’t have time because Christ’s return is imminent. But in truth, we don’t know God’s timetable. We don’t know His schedule.

But back to the example of my friend. If I just thought that because he’s a “jazz musician: who plays in “bars” he can’t be a good pastor, I would miss the point of the seeds that he is planting and the fruit that is ripening.

The same with the church in China. It’s the largest congregation in the world and growing in an environment that isn’t friendly to women leaders. But fruits can be false, you may say. Yes, they can. And they can look very much the same. My experience has been that the churches that languish the most are the ones that fight the most, about pretty much everything, and fighting, last time I checked, is not one of the fruits of the Spirit.

How is the fragmentation effecting our youth?

Not that I’m a parent, but I recall from my own childhood that on the few occasions that my parents had tension between them, I felt it. And it was uncomfortable. I didn’t like it.

I think our young people feel the same way. When we as the leaders of the church are fighting and there is tension among us, they feel it. And they don’t like it.

We are preaching brotherly love but we don’t like each other.

They don’t care for our drama. I don’t care for it either. It’s a waste of time, an energy drainer. Our millennials—and that whole other generation behind them of 12-18-year-olds that we’re not paying nearly enough attention to—feel that it’s a waste of energy. Maybe that’s why many leave the church. What we’re modeling isn’t congruent with the messages we’re preaching. It’s dissonant.

Recent research is showing that young adults are leaving the church structure, but they are not unspiritual. In fact, they are often more spiritual than older generations.

They remind me of what the call is about. We forget in our stuffy little offices what were really here to do. But they are out there in the world seeing the needs and meeting them. They are doing it—not to testify or report but because it’s the Christian’s call.

I just wish that sometimes they would stay to influence the rest of us instead of losing patience with us. Again that’s the balance we need to strike between saying, I’m done with this and I’m off to do my own thing and staying and causing change from within.

Some would say, Well, Luther got tired and left the Roman Church. And was Jesus trying to reform Judaism or start His own church? It was partly a little of both. He said He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.

Did He fail? I wish sometimes that those who leave would give us another chance. And that we would actually learn from those who stay. That we’d say, You’re right—we need to be more compassionate, more active in our community, to help people on the street.

I’m fascinated with the Holy Spirit because I know there’s so much I don’t understand. Yet we know that’s where the power lies. What is the role of the Spirit in our individual and corporate experience?

 I think Acts is a good book for trying to understand what the Holy Spirit actually does. In the life of the believer the Holy Spirit seems to be the connection, the impetus that drives us to follow, to obey, to love and to connect. It’s Him in us. “Do you not know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit?”

And then it leads me to, Oh man, I have a dirty house. The stuff I put in my brain sometimes, in my body sometimes—it’s bad. So it kind of hits me once in a while. I think God likes to use the way we are wired with our personalities and our experiences. The way He would work with me is not the way He would work with you because we are wired differently. So it’s the way we connect with Him. But it’s not a once connected always connected deal. It’s a relationship that you have to build. It’s not automatic regeneration. He leaves the responsibility to us to have that relationship with Him.

Like marriage. I married my wife, but we’ve had to work at keeping our love vibrant through nine years of marriage. The old I told you I loved you at the altar joke applies here. Rosie and I have our rough patches but they don’t last long because I love that woman and I would gladly put my life down for her.

I think it’s the same with the Spirit. At baptism we publicly accept Him into our lives. We go through our rough patches where we don’t talk to Him; sometimes we are angry with Him for whatever reason. Yet it’s that relationship of daily getting to know Him through the Word, prayer, song, thoughts—that is what prepares us for experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we could get to the point where the daily experience with the Holy Spirit was our gauge of spirituality how would that help us?

Sometimes we just neglect talking to the Spirit. We’re busy, stressed, distracted. If I spent my time preaching, but totally neglected Him that would be my error, not His, because He never neglects me. He is always there, patiently waiting. Nothing can separate me from the love of God…

Neglect can be gradual. One day you wake up and you still have a label of Seventh-day Adventist, of Christian, but you don’t really know Him. That would be every pastor’s tragedy. So invested in the Word, in preaching, but my own spirituality or my family’s would be dormant.

What other challenges does the church need to talk about?

 The war on Christmas. No, not really. But did you see Seth Pierce’s article about that? The comments, Oh my! Anyway…

One of the obvious things, especially in North America is human sexuality. It’s huge here. It’s divisive because it seems that it’s impossible to have middle ground these days. You just can’t have a balance. Either you are a heathen, anti-Bible person who accepts every aspect of sin, or you are a closed-minded bigot.

For example, the recent sermon by a chaplain at PUC brought two responses. Either people loved it or they hated it.

The reactions on Advindicate and Spectrum were unbelievable. The guy needs to be fired! Really? He preaches one sermon that echoes across the Adventist blogosphere and we’re calling for his head? We haven’t sat down with him, we haven’t talked with him, we haven’t said, What were your thought processes here? He wasn’t even saying what we should or shouldn’t do—he was just saying the thing we all agree on: love everyone. Nobody can disagree with that. That’s like disagreeing to have world peace.

I don’t know him, and I just heard one sermon from him, and some of the stuff he said was brilliant. But I didn’t quite agree with the exegetical conclusions and how he handled the text. I’m not going to disagree with his final point of showing mercy and understanding, but the route that he took to get there is not one I would take.

There’s another popular televangelist who preached this really bad sermon on 28 reasons why women can’t be pastors and nobody asked for him to be fired. So why is it that this guy preaches one sermon and we ask for his head? That, for me, is an overreaction and shows how the discussions reveal something else about us—our total inability to talk about things. You can’t say anything in this era where everything is scrutinized by the media—the Adventist media—and people just go at each other’s necks sometimes.

Talking about human sexuality is a conversation we need to have as a church, but before we can do that we must reevaluate how we react to statements because, once again, we can’t even talk.

It’s not that I don’t have anything so say, but before I talk I want to make sure it’s going to actually be a conversation.

I understand the frustration of millennials in our society because they have a completely different mindset and it’s difficult to bring in the theological aspect of what the Book says and putting it into practice in the 21st century in a polarized context and in a post-Christian generation that looks at the Bible as an antiquated, chauvinistic book. It’s really complicated. But it’s not impossible to make sense of Biblical writ, especially when we engage in open ways with it.

We don’t have much of a model for that.

No, we don’t. Neither in society nor in the church. And that’s where the hermeneutics plays in. So what do I say without offending? I don’t want to offend. But I do want to be biblical. It’s not just black and white, as much as we’d like it to be. There’s a whole lot of gray—throughout the entire Bible.

There are so many angry Christians out there. Regardless of whether the topic is human sexuality, women in ministry, our identity as Adventist Christians or the role of the Holy Spirit in our corporate movement, we’re struggling because we can’t communicate honestly or kindly enough with each other.

One of my biggest goals as a pastor is to create an environment where we can just talk and not judge or be judged. Because it goes both ways.

It would help us with all our issues at this point if we, as Christians, could create and foster an environment that is not so quick to amputate but to rehabilitate.

If we can provide an environment where we can wrestle with the texts and ideas and find a way to practice the principles, I believe the Holy Spirit will guide us to take care of the rest.

A condensed version of this interview was also published in March/April 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK.