The Shaking Of Adventism – October 27, 1979

The first person to ignite my love for reading was Joan Patrick at Avondale College. Before I even started school in second grade, I was at her home (she and her husband Arthur had about five kids) and she gave me books to read and I loved them. And I kept coming back to her home and borrowing books.

Joan Patrick was my teacher for third and fourth grade.

One day in third grade, she taught our room a song for the school concert. When she heard how far I was out of tune, she asked me to stay after school so she could work with me.

I remember we gathered around the piano and she’d strike a key on the piano and I’d try to match it. I couldn’t get close. After a couple of these lessons, Mrs. Patrick gave up and suggested I mime.

She gave me a great story for life.

The Patricks were the pinnacle of Adventist society in my community. They were just the coolest people around. All their children were handsome and intelligent and graceful.

I don’t have many happy memories of Avondale College, where my dad chaired the Religion department, but what I did get from the place was a very sure sense of coming from something distinct (a la A Cry in the Dark). I’ll never be confused about the identity of my childhood — I was raised a good Seventh-Day Adventist.

The older I got at Avondale, the happier I got. I began to make more friends. I moved up out the loser position in class. Girls started paying attention to me in fifth grade. I sensed erotic possibilities.

So why wasn’t I particularly happy at Avondale? Why did I take more strongly to Pacific Union College (PUC), the Adventist school in the Napa Valley where I went to sixth through eighth grade and a couple of summers during high school than I did to Avondale? I think because people were nicer and more open at PUC. Avondale was grim while PUC seemed luxurious. California Adventism was a much more easy-going and open religion than the Australian Adventism I knew. California Adventists frequently drink coffee, eat meat, dance, enjoy pre-marital sex, and go to movies, practices that are regarded as sinful down under.

Several of my classmates from Avondale went on to commit suicide. That didn’t happen at PUC.

I remember hanging out at the PUC pool in the late ’70s and the lifeguards were talking about their experiences in discos, dens of iniquity according to the traditional Avondale perspective.

A lot of the friends I grew up with at Avondale have gone back to the college and none enjoyed it. Yes, they’re all ex-Adventists and none are favorably disposed to Adventism. On the other hand, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying a trip back to PUC. I always get such a lump in my throat when I begin that climb up Howell Mountain.

On March 5, I got notified that Arthur Patrick was dying. On March 7, I heard he died. Then someone sent me a link to his blog. He made his last post on March 3 and it was largely about my dad.

Dr. Patrick wrote:

Since I first met Desmond Ford early in 1950, and he recommended me for acceptance as an Andrews University student in 1967, and called me as a member of his Department of Theology staff in 1973, we were comparatively close associates during the crises years of the South Pacific Division from 1974. The issues at that particular time clustered around Righteousness by Faith, the Sanctuary, Ellen White and the Age of the Earth. I saw the development of the “Concerned Brethren” party, and sat through the interminable Biblical Research Committee meetings before and after the Palmdale Conference of 1976. I was by conviction within the Church’s Community of Faith, and certainly no partisan of its most brilliant son, Desmond Ford, and never did I unthinkingly support Desmond Ford. Hence I applauded the consummate wisdom of the Righteousness by Faith consultation and its report entitled the “Dynamics of Salvation,” first published in Review and Herald 31 July 1980. I distinctly remember the Division President, Pr Keith Parmenter, asking my opinion about Dr Ford’s transfer to Pacific Union College. I agreed with him that such a change might give Desmond a fresh opportunity to express his talents for the benefit of the Church, and I settled down to engage with teaching under the chairmanship of Gordon Balharrie. There was a pervasive sense of bereavement in the Department of Theology due to Des’s enforced absence, but in essence the work of the Department continued strongly.

I had critically reviewed Desmond Ford’s book, Daniel, before it saw the light of day in 1978, and rated it as far the most useful volume on Daniel produced by the Church since the tome from Uriah Smith’s pen about a hundred years earlier. Even after the debacle of Desmond Ford’s address on 27 October 1979, only about 2 per cent of his Daniel needed any revision. To read his 900 page submission is to become aware he is a loyal son of the Church who was desperately trying to solve issues that were proved unsolvable during years of committee meetings under the leadership of President R. R. Figuhr. Ford should have been acclaimed for his sterling effort in writing the Glacier View manuscript, instead he was “de-frocked”, sacked and spurned in disgrace.

The Church failed to observe where the controversy relating to the Sanctuary had arrived, and it misread the strength of Robert Brinsmead’s anti-1844 thrust. How different it would have been had the Church even been able to read Desmond Ford’s (1979) book on Ellen White. It was totally oblivious to the short chance it had to engage its young people in serious Bible study, especially focused on the meaning of Daniel and Hebrews. Shortly after Glacier View, I along with a party of other Avondalians, stayed at a wonderful retreat in the Blue Mountains. There I read the Glacier View consensus statements with my RSV Bible open in my right hand, and was amazed that for the first time the Church I deeply loved was actually helping (not hindering) me from understanding the book of Hebrews.

These remarks are written to provide a very brief frame of reference for the document posted here, entitled “Australasian Seventh-day Adventists and 1980: Toward an Historical Perspective and the Normalisation of Relationships.”

On 11 February 2013, Joan and I (with our daughter Zanita) returned two days earlier than expected from our New Zealand holiday. The Chemotherapy from August to January was clearly successful, but from the end of January I was aware of a new enemy within, which turns out to be peritoneal carcinoma of vigorous type, untreatable.

Here’s a man who’s led a full and rich life, is surrounded by his loving wife and family, and is devoting his final writings, in large part, to seeking a reconciliation between my father and the Seventh-Day Adventist church.

As a convert to Orthodox Judaism, I have no dog in the fight between my father and the Adventist church. As a human being, however, who knew Arthur Patrick and his family, I’m moved that he devoted his final energies to his blog on my father’s controversies.

Dr. Patrick signs off:

This is my LAST POST!

…You may email me at arthur.patrick@bigpond.com but I expect to be unable to answer beyond 4 March 2013. Hence this website has reached its terminus.

My God, the man was blogging to the end, and yet what he said was phrased in the most academic of jargon, as in: “It is with some satisfaction that I re-iterate the value of a transformationist stance toward the issues involved.”

I’d like to understand what happened on October 27, 1979. On that Sabbath afternoon, my father gave a lecture that would convulse the church and lead to our family’s exit (along with thousands of others).

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on this topic:

In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Sanctuary Review Committee was a group of biblical scholars and administrators which met to decide the church’s response to theologian Desmond Ford, who had challenged details of the church’s “investigative judgment” teaching. The meeting was held from 11–15 August 1980, at the Glacier View Ranch, a church-owned spiritual retreat and conference centre in Colorado, United States. The event is referred to informally as “Glacier View”. The outcome was Ford losing his job.
It was also the largest investment of money and time of church workers ever given to a doctrinal issue in Adventist history.[1] At the time, one scholar stated it was the most significant Adventist meeting of its type since the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference Session. Ford’s firing was a controversial and emotionally charged issue, and the church experienced the largest exit of teachers and ministers in its history. One modern commentator describes ‘Glacier View’ as “Adventist shorthand for pain, dissension and division”.

And who was that modern commentator? Arthur Patrick.

Dr. Patrick was a scholar and he wrote as an academic. I’m not an academic and I’m not a scholar. I have little interest in the theological battles described. I just have the human interest of someone there at ground zero whose life was profoundly affected by these arguments.

I don’t understand this controversy as primarily a theological one, even though this was how it was experienced by all of its participants. I view it as a manifestation of emotion.

This description of of the controversy as “Adventist shorthand for pain, dissension and division” could just as accurately be applied to many of my father’s controversies long before this one and to many of my controversies long after the 1980 shaking of Adventism. On the face of it, my struggles and my father’s struggles have nothing in common. My father is a Christian clergyman and I’m a notorious blogger who converted to Orthodox Judaism. But these differences are merely on the surface. The psychologies of my father and I are very similar. They just manifest differently in superficial ways.

I agree with the following analysis by a Seventh Day Adventist Bible scholar who emailed me in 1998:

You father “knows” too much for me to tell him anything. Including about you. It will never happen.

…Knowing too much, summarizing too fast, summing up too quickly, is a weakness he has. It’s a way that you and he are terrifically alike.

…By the way, you enjoy controversy and driving people nuts way too much. Both of you. What is the blessing in “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Jesus knew at least as much about Judaism as you do….) Part of what makes you ill at ease in the self/world dichotomy is this approach toward the outside world as the enemy to be debunked.

Hiding behind “journalism” as the reason for this cynicism just won’t do. I ain’t convinced! There are lots of “journalists” who do have the same problem with their approach, but there are lots that don’t. It’s not endemic to journalism to have to drive people nuts, to be cynical, and to print what MAY be someone’s screwup and assume it’s true until proven otherwise. The theory of the law, “Innocent until proven guilty” would help in your approach to your journalism. But of course you became this sort of journalist as a result of an already existing cynicism, not the reverse. You have charm and intelligence and good looks, and I can see that it is dangerously easy for you to mislead people about yourself–even when you know you’re doing it. Careful, this can make for a hollow feeling and dis-ease.

…Now, what your father [two Ph.Ds in Christianity] was exposed to was “readings” in the British style. Not the original materials, but readings of not-very-good European writers, whose writings couldn’t even be taken seriously (since they’re relatively ignorant of the details) in American Biblical Studies. Out of this study of generally poor secondary sources your father got the impression he was something of an expert in theology. From this weak background, with most of his questions unanswered, he launched into doing what only someone who didn’t know what he didn’t know would do: he tried to write a commentary on Daniel. It was a terrible mishmash of preterism, historicism, and futurism without any understanding of how these systems complement and clash. There was no understanding of their history, of the sameness and difference involved in them.. And much of the book was unedited quotes from other sources strung together in ways that didn’t fit at all. It became apparent to me after only a few minutes that your father didn’t have the foggiest notion of the Book of Daniel, and shouldn’t even be teaching an academy class on the subject, much less writing a book about it. That a Seventh Day Adventist publishing house published this mess, virtually unedited, and with even the Hebrew title screwed up, showed the blind leading the blind.

You write very much in the style of your father. Like him, you tie together long quotes, with rather poor segues and transitions. This is so evident in your website that I marvel that I didn’t get it sooner. And you’ve gotten the same kind of accurate and strong criticism your father got for what passes for writing. And the same kind of “this guy really didn’t take the time to know what he was talking about before he became a legend in his own mind” criticism.

On October 27, 1979, I’m 13 years old and a few weeks into eighth grade. I sensed a growing excitement in my home over my father’s lecture this Sabbath afternoon. This would be like the Seventh-Day Adventist Super Bowl. It would pit my father the reformer versus the traditionalists in the church. Dad believed he was on a righteous mission. He viewed himself as standing up for the Truth and for Jesus Christ as against faulty man-made tradition.

I had long since ceased to care about anything my father said from the pulpit. I’d been forced to listen to thousands of hours of his sermons and I was completely insensate to his rhetoric, just as I was insensate to the thousands of pages of Christian apologetics he had forced me to read. I had no doubt my father was a great man because everyone told me so. I could see the awe that thousands of people had for him but my father’s teachings meant nothing to me. I didn’t care about the mechanics of salvation. I didn’t care about religious controversies. I cared about girls and sports.

I am aware of the controversy that my father throws off in his wake and a sense that things must come to a head.

I learned from my dad an ability to convulse people, to figure out their weak points and with innocent appearance, to put my finger on their wounds and to rouse them to fury while simultaneously protesting my innocence. “What do you mean? All I did was X.”

My dad is the rock star of the Church. As Protestants, Adventists have few rituals, so what unites them is the desire for a good sermon and my father knew how to give a good sermon promising Christians what they most want — forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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