Looking Out: A view from the Outside
Do you believe in Christ?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“But aren’t you a Jewish sect?”
“But you’re conservative.”
“There’s actually a spectrum.”
“You guys don’t wear jewelry, right?”
“Well . . . ”
“Adventists have a really good health message.”
“Is Ellen White a saint?”
“Stefani, why do Adventists call Catholics the mark of the Devil?”
“Do we?” I hesitated, blinking in surprise. “I was not aware of that.”
These are just snapshots of questions I answered while working as a freelance writer for The Adventist Today Foundation at the 2015 San Antonio General Conference. In the city of approximately 1.4 million, expectations and misconceptions ran high as Adventists from all over the world congregated in the city.
“Welcome, Seventh-day Adventists!” greeted billboards along the freeway. These greetings were often followed with invitations to eat great vegetarian food along the San Antonio Riverwalk.
“We have a vegetarian menu just for you!” exclaimed one smiling señorita who spotted my team’s forest green General Conference badges dangling from our necks.
I smiled at the Cafe Olé waitress as I accepted the all-vegetarian Tex-Mex menu, wondering what the restaurant staff would think of Adventists if I ordered a chicken quesadilla.
This was only the beginning of many encounters, including riverboat captains sporting Adventist-specific welcome pins on their uniforms.
“Wow, I’ve never met an Adventist before who is willing to listen,” voiced one Hindu after I took the time to listen to his view on spirituality.
And then there was the dumbfounded non-denominational preacher who stared blankly when I had to explain that Adventists actually don’t worship Ellen White and that we believe Adventists and other Christ-worshipers are all one in Christ, not enemies.
Bombarded by questions and preconceived notions about my faith, I realized those of the Adventist faith are perceived as having a holier-than-thou mentality. I also realized it’s difficult to build a complete understanding of a religion that is not always consistent when things are open to individual interpretation. And, of course, these various interpretations create misconceptions amongst ourselves, too, as Jesse realized last summer.
Looking In: A View from the Inside
I went to Italy this summer and among the many activities I did, I visited the Vatican. I was on edge in the days leading up to the experience, and even as I entered this “Holy Country” I felt I was somehow betraying my religion. I felt uncomfortable.
But then I went into the Sistine Chapel. I thought about all those people I had seen praying to the saints and contemplated how I feel when generalizations are made of me. We are all constantly being put inside boxes, these walls of dos and don’ts.
We are given labels.
In the church, a place where acceptance should reign supreme, we are told of molds we have to fit in.
“You can serve God in ministry through preaching, teaching, or medicine.”
“Other religions are bad.”
We are brought up to view anything else but our own path as the work of the Devil. We become so focused on the fundamentals of our faith that we forget what inspired the fundamentals. We start viewing our own brothers and sisters as inhuman, putting ourselves higher than others.
We are the remnant.
Are we better than the rest of humanity? We have a message to spread, so that must mean we have something they don’t. We are chosen. And to be chosen, we must be of more importance than those around us.
That view is flawed. Every one of us has something our neighbor lacks, and that is wonderful. I go out to eat on the Sabbath, my fellow Adventist friend does not; this is a personal choice. My sister’s ears are pierced, and many Adventists view jewelry as corrupt. Some of us can sing, and some of us can play basketball. We all have differences, but we are made with a plan in mind so we can best serve our Lord. We need to escape the labels and tell the world God made us each in special design.
As I stood and gazed at the portraits of our history up on the ceiling that day I realized it isn’t what denomination we worship God through, the color of hair, or the expectations hounded into our heads. We are all loved children of God. And if we want to love Him back we will grow with Him, accept who we are, and follow His purpose for our lives. This is who we are.
Stefani Leeper (Looking Out) from Northern California is a junior communication major with emphases in journalism and emerging media at Union College. Jesse Evert (Looking In) from Casper, Wyoming is a sophomore language arts education major at Union College. This story is part of a series called “Who are we?” from the February 2016 print edition of OUTLOOK, our annual special issue produced by Union College students.