By Kelsie Petersen
Here we are, in the harried weeks heading up to Christmas celebrations. “Family” is a word that is hard for many of us who have left the walls of Adventism. For some of us, it means bridges burnt and walls built. For others, it means awkward silence. I’m fortunate enough to belong to a family where we still all “get along,” despite several of us having left Adventism over the last 15 or so years.
The problem is, it can feel like there’s an elephant in the room many times when we are together. For example, I may awkwardly use the phrase “Sunday School” when referring to my kids’ church activities, and my relatives, similarly awkward, use “Sabbath School.” We’ve never talked about the elephant that these phrases conjure, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how to bring up the subject. Recently I’ve been pondering what I would say, if given the chance, and I’m sharing it with you here. It’s my prayer that as we enter the season of celebrating the Incarnate King, the Lord Jesus Christ, that, no matter what your family situation may be, you will find your hope and fullness in the beauty of that Baby born to save us all.
Dear Loved Family Member,
It’s been awhile since we spoke. We see each other at family weddings and funerals, and we certainly don’t get together as much as we did when I was young, but I guess that’s part of what happens when families grow larger and spread out around the continent.
A lot has changed since back then—too much to cover in the time we have when we meet at Grandma’s funeral or a cousin’s wedding; but some things go unsaid because, well, no one knows what TO say.
Everyone knows by now, whether they talk about it or not, that I am no longer a Seventh-day Adventist. There are several of us in the family, now, who have left, but I guess ours is one of those families that doesn’t just come out and ask about things like that. I understand. If the roles were reversed, I would not have known what to say, either. Looking at it from this side, though, I am hesitant to bring it up, not wanting to assume that you know less—or more—than you do about me. And so…here we are. I will tell you what I want you to know.
I want you to know that I still love you as my family member, the same way I always did. Maybe that goes without saying; we’ve been lucky in that we’ve never been the sort of family to cut relationships over these kinds of things. I want you to know that I have so appreciated the warmth I have received, even though we all know I’m not Adventist. I’ve discovered that this acceptance isn’t always the case in this type of situation, and it makes me grateful to be part of this family.
I want you to know that “Sunday churches” aren’t at all what we were taught they were. In my church family, I have found a place where I can be open and vulnerable about my struggles, where we can pray together, where we can worship God together, and where we can encourage each other to deepen our roots down into Christ.
I want you to know that I understand a lot of the things you might think or feel if you begin thinking of the changes I’ve made and of what I’ve become—a former Adventist Christian. I go to church on Sunday. I understand that you might believe I’ve gone down the wrong path, that, even though I am sincere in my new beliefs, I must eventually return to the Sabbath in order to be saved. I understand the dissonance you may have as you think about what you’ve been taught about people like me, and the person you know me to be. I understand the confusion such mental comparisons may bring.
Importantly, I want you to know that it’s ok to ask me questions. I don’t want to argue, and I won’t be angry if we disagree. On the other hand, because I understand the hesitations and uncertainties you might have, I know you might not want to “go there”, and that’s OK, too.
I want you to know that I left not because of how I was treated or because someone hurt my feelings. I left because I discovered the gospel! As an Adventist, I had no idea what the gospel message really was, and I was convinced of the importance of the Three Angels’ Messages. I see now that the biblical gospel—the way TO God through the completed atonement of Jesus on the cross and the new spiritual birth through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—is the ONLY core message of the Christian faith, because it is the message that saves.
I want you to know that I didn’t leave so I could eat what I wanted and do whatever I wished on Saturdays. Maybe that idea hasn’t crossed your mind, but it was what I was told, and thus what I thought, about people who left when I was growing up in Adventism. No, my reasons for leaving are so much deeper than that!
I left because I learned that I am free. Galatians 3:23-25 says, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up UNTIL faith should be revealed. So the law was PUT IN CHARGE to LEAD US TO CHRIST that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are NO LONGER under the supervision of the law” (emphasis mine). Hebrews 12:18-24 has become one of my favorite passages because it paints such a clear picture of our standing in Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant:
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
I want you to know that!