Friday, September 12, 2014

Joy to the World

Joy to the World
Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
For Sabbath, September 12, 2014

Texts: Psalm 150, Mark 1:1-12

Thursday morning I wheeled my bicycle out of my office. Before heading outside I stuck my head in the door of the day care room across the hall. I waved to my favorite little guy in the room. (He's my favorite because he knows my name and always waves.) One of the staff people, Kate, came over to say good morning. She was holding a little girl, Ava. Ava is new to day care and she was crying. Kate explained that saying good bye in the morning was sometimes difficult. Little people wanted to stay with mom.

What do you do when you see a little girl crying? You do what you can to cheer her up. I took my helmet off, so I would be less scary. She turned her head to watch this funny old man. She was still sniffling, but at least I hadn't made things worse. Since she was looking my direction, I explained I was going to ride off on my bicycle. Kate carried her out into the hall to show her my bike. I asked Ava if she wanted to ride in the panier on the back of my bike. She shook her head, but I could see she was slowly coming away from the pain of saying goodbye to mom. Kate asked if Ava had a bike at home. She nodded her head. I asked if she had a green bike? She shook her head no. A blue bike? No. A pink bike? She almost smiled. And slowly nodded her head yes.

It was the beginning of joy. A small beginning. Mom was still absent. But there were other facts deserving of her attention. Like pink bicycles and funny old men and a nice woman named Kate who would hold you and let you cry when you needed to.

The sniffles stopped. We talked for a few more minutes. How tall was her bike? Did her brother have a bicycle? Kate talked about her new yellow bike. Someone who was moving out of state had given it to her. Ava finally managed a little bit of smile. Her cuddling in Kate's arms expressed satisfaction rather than grief.

I headed off to work on my sermon rather proud of myself. I had helped put a smile on a little girl's face. That's not bad for a morning's work. Jesus did things like that. He was famous for making people smile.

Once he was teaching in Peter's house in Capernaum. The placed was jammed with people. People eager to learn from this master rabbi. Other people eager to detect error and heresy in Jesus' words. But critic or fan, Jesus mesmerized them all.

Well, he did until there was a commotion on the roof. Dust started drifting down from a spot in the center of the ceiling. People began crowding away from a rain of dust and clods and sticks. Whatever Jesus had been saying was forgotten. What was happening? A minute or two later you could see hands reaching into the growing hole in the ceiling. Hands ripping up the ceiling. The hole got larger. You could see the heads silhouetted against the blinding light of the Mediterranean sky. Finally the destruction stopped. The hole was filled with a lumpy shape as the people on the roof lowered something into the room.

Once the shape was below the ceiling, people could see it was a litter with a person on it. The people on the roof continued feeding rope until the litter was on the floor. On the litter, a paralyzed man.

Jesus stepped over, and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The words surprised the crowd. The man's obvious problem was that he was not ambulatory. He was lying on a litter, apparently carried here by his friends. The man needed healing of some sort. But forgiveness? Where did that come from. The crowd may have been puzzled by this direct, immediate statement by Jesus, but perceptive people in the crowd could see it touched a deep chord in the man.

The man visibly relaxed. A smile spread on his face. The crowd murmured approval.

We love it when we see someone go from tight and pained to ease and comfort. We love it when people are happy.

But not everyone there at Peter's house was happy. The experts in the crowd, the scholars, the brainiacs started muttering to each other: “Who does this guy think he is. Only God can forgive sins.”

Jesus didn't blink. He read the protest in their faces and immediately pushed back.

“What do you think?” he said. “Is it easier to say to someone, 'You're forgiven.' or to say, 'You're healed?'”

It's a fun question full of double meanings.

You could take it to be a simple question about words: In which case, both statements are equally easy. You are forgiven. You are healed. Either way, easy to say. But clearly Jesus meant something more than this.

It could be a question about power. Which takes more power, forgiving someone or healing someone? You could spend all day arguing that. Plus you could argue whether healing and forgiveness are sides of a single coin of human need. Is it easier to heal physical maladies or to lead someone to the full experience of radical forgiveness?

Or it could be a question of authority. If a person has the power to heal, does that confer the authority to forgive? Do humans have the authority to speak forgiveness?

Jesus deliberately stirs all these questions together and throws down his challenge:

I have just announced to this man divine forgiveness. You scholars dispute my authority to pronounce forgiveness. You think only God can do that. Well, watch me do something else only God can do: And he says to the man on the litter. “Get up, pick up your bed and get out of here.”

The man blinked his eyes. Then just like that, he jumped up, grabbed the litter and pushed his way through the crowd out into the sunshine.

Leaving behind a thrilled, happy crowd and some very annoyed brainiacs.

Even after the excitement died down a bit and people were again listening to Jesus teach, the conservative religious leaders were muttering among themselves. “He has no right! That was blasphemous!”

They had a carefully constructed description of reality. Jesus violated that construct. Jesus' words and actions spread contagious joy in a world of pain and hopelessness. The happy effect of the ministry of Jesus was obvious. But these scholars were so committed to their ideological construct, they were blind to the waves of joy swashing around them. They paid more attention to the scowls on the faces of their fellow experts than they did to the smiles on the faces of the crowds of ordinary people who found new life and joy in the ministry of Jesus.

In the past year or so, I've had conversations with two different people who told me they were deeply suspicious of happy people and happy churches because they were afraid these happy people and happy churches were not sufficiently attuned to “the truth.”

We are Christians. The dominant emotion stirred by the ministry of Jesus 2000 years ago was joy. Authentic Christian ministry today should also be characterized by joy. Christian ministry is supremely a message of mercy, grace, welcome, healing, wholeness and hope. Jesus' ministry today is a ministry of joy. It is not the bad news about evil people conspiring to take over the nation or the world. Our message is not that the world is getting worse and worse. If that's true, there's no call for us to announce it. Rather we are called to step into the tears of this world and whisper hope and healing. Our message is the good news that no matter what happens, no matter who wins elections, no matter what calamities erupt, God is at work to bring about the establishment of the kingdom of heaven. And a salient trait of his kingdom is joy.

When is the last time you heard someone tell their story of religious conversion? Was a story of darkness or light? Sadness or happiness? Over and over when I hear these stories, I catch the notes of joy.

On Thursday, I was visiting with someone because a mutual friend wanted us to meet. After we had visited a while I asked this person if she had any interest in church. Nope. She said. Any interest in God? Nope. She said again.

A little later I asked, “Has God ever showed up in your life?” “No,” she said. Then paused, “Well, there was one time.” She told about a crisis that ended with joy. That seemed to her to be God showing up in her life. That story prompted her to think of another, again a tale of crisis and unexpected aid. The mere memory put a smile on her face.

The essence of authentic Christianity is joy

Now let me turn this story about Jesus on its head. The villains in this story are religious conservatives. They are so obsessed with their doctrines, they are blind to the wonder and joy erupted by Jesus' ministry. Using these frowning Pharisees as a negative example, for 2000 years preachers have cautioned against falling into the trap of valuing our religious traditions more than the joy and freedom of Jesus.

But here in Seattle, the greatest risk is that we will be blinded to wonder and joy by fundamentalist scientism. Thorough-going atheism dismisses the ecstasy and bliss of believers as magical thinking. Wishful thinking. Fundamentalist scientism is the gloomy perspective that insists there is no goodness at the heart of reality. Stuff happens. Period. Some of it's pleasant. Some of it's unpleasant.

That's all.

Some of these gloomy atheists sound just like the Pharisees. They are so committed to their ideology they can walk right through the middle of joy and not be touched.

This is tragic. Jesus offers better.

Believers are real people. We know the full range of human experience. Joy and grief. Confidence and fear. Hope and despair. We still live here in this world with all its complications. But when you listen to believers you will find us coming back again and again to the bedrock of faith in God. And when we get there, when faith fills our vision, we experience joy.

Like the little girl at day care, we are grief stricken at times. We are heart broken. Just this week two people closely connected with our church lost parents. That hurts. We keenly feel the pain of loss, of disappointment, of injustice. These things are as real as mom's absence while Ava is at day care. But faith is also a connection with reality.

Faith becomes the bicycle, the vehicle of joy, that takes from grief to joy, from shadows to light. Faith assures us that just as Kate held Ava until she could find a new focus for her life, God holds us in our hard times. Faith is aware of the pain of this world and points to other realities, realities as durable and solid as the things of this world that break our hearts and crush our spirits.

There is no “scientific” proof of the realities seen by faith. That's okay. When we have tasted the joy of the kingdom of God, the cold, rigid structures of Phariseaism and scientism have little appeal. We happily join the crowds cheering the wonders and sweetness of Jesus.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sermon for Sabbath, September 6

Below are two posts. One is an editorial I published in October 2002. The other is the manuscript for today's sermon. The two are related.

The General Conference president is declaring spiritual war on Adventist scientists who point out inconvenient truth in the realm of geology and paleontology. The president thinks the church can solve the  problem by getting rid of the scientists. I think history and the religion of Jesus say otherwise.

First Strike

Note: The editorial below regarding the Iraq War was first published in the October, 2002, Adventist Today. I was editor of the journal at that time. As we respond to the recent, horrific actions of ISIS, we Americans need to keep in mind it was our choice to go to war in Iraq that set up the circumstances which allowed the beheading of journalists by ISIS. The Iraq war resulted in the decimation of the previously thriving Christian community in Iraq and the death of scores or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and a few thousand Americans. Saddam Hussein was a monster, but a lesser monstrosity than that unleashed by our military action.

The Editorial

Through the early months of 1994, the government of Rwanda prepared their people for violent action by an intense information campaign. Through radio station RTLM the Hutu population was reminded of all the bad things Tutsis had done in the past and were warned of Tutsi plots of future hostile action. If the Hutus didn’t eliminate the Tutsis, then surely eventually the Tutsis would harm the Hutus. It was either strike first or be a victim.

The Hutus chose to strike first. In four months, they killed 800,000 Tutsis. With machetes.

This kind of violence is repulsive, repugnant. For Adventists, it is particularly haunting because many of the killers and the killed were Adventists. One of the men accused of taking part in the genocide was a conference president. He is charged with cooperating in the killing of his own pastors and church members who were seeking sanctuary on church property.

In Rwanda, the largest religious body is the Roman Catholic Church. Second largest is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Both are world-wide communions that claim a spiritual identity transcending national, political and tribal identities. Both affirm the teaching of Jesus: “This is how everyone will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But while there were individual acts of great heroism motivated by Christian principle and spiritual identity, in general members of both dominant denominations readily cooperated in the killing of their co-religionists. Adventists who had been baptized together, shared the Lord’s supper and engaged in evangelism together were united in the horror of bloodshed, some as killers, some as victims.

That was 1994 in Africa. Now the president of the United States is doing everything he can to convince the American tribe that we face immediate and dire threats from Saddam Hussein and his tribe of Republican Guards. We are repeatedly reminded of Hussein’s past cruelties. If we do not strike first, we will be struck.

The remedy is to launch a war.

In recent years growing numbers of Adventist young people have been attracted to the US military by its offers of income and education. There are about 200 Seventh-day Adventists in Iraq who enjoy more religious and political freedom than Christians in surrounding nations, some of which are regarded as American allies. So when the United States invades Iraq, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Adventists will be shooting guns, laying mines, dropping bombs. And tragically, Adventists will probably be among their victims. I wonder what will happen to the Adventist churches in Iraq, and to the Adventist children and grandmothers, when the bombs begin to fall?

The United States will not attack Iraq with the blunt edges of machetes. We will use the precise weaponry of modern technology. But the transition from knives to smart bombs is not a moral advance. Of course, the US will attempt to minimize civilian casualties. Even Mr. Bush, in his rhetoric, makes a distinction between the Iraqi people and their evil leader. But war is a terribly blunt instrument, no matter whose hand wields it.

And if the United States attacks Iraq, Adventists will be bombing Adventists.

What can we do? We can implore our president to back away from the rhetoric of war and especially the strong doctrine of first strike. We can renew our historic witness for peace by encouraging our young people to find education and careers outside the military, especially as the nation moves toward an unabashed militaristic stance. We can call our church community to reckon with the teachings of Jesus when debating political issues.

There is plenty of room for argument about just what Jesus meant when he spoke of turning the other cheek when we are struck. But I don’t see how there can be any serious debate among followers of Jesus over whether we should strike first.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friends of Jeremiah

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Sabbath, September 6, 2014

(Note: this is the manuscript that was the basis for my sermon. It is different from what I put in the bulletin. Sorry about that.)

In October of 2002, six months before the United States launched its Tomahawk cruise missiles against Baghdad, I wrote an editorial opposing the war. I pointed out that Adventist soldiers in the American Army would be bombing Adventist Iraq civilians. American Christian soldiers would be shooting Iraq Christian soldiers. I wondered what would happen to Christian children and grandmothers when the bombs began to fall.

Tragically, history has proven me right. Yes, the American army got rid of the monster named Saddam Hussein. But unfortunately our work in Iraq opened the door for the much greater monstrosities of ethnic and religious factionalism and ultimately for the horror of ISIS which demonstrated its true character by beheading two journalists recently.

In 2002, my anti-war stance was wildly unpopular, especially among Christians. Here in America the demographic most in most in favor of starting a war against Iraq was conservative, Protestant Christians. There were members of my congregation who were very troubled that I would challenge the judgment of the president of the county. If he wanted to go to war, then surely war was necessary.

In those days, opposing the war was seen as unpatriotic or even “unChristian.” After all, those Iraqis were Muslims.

Opposing the war was unpopular, “unpatriotic,” maybe “unChristian.” But it was right.

Opposing the American invasion of Iraq was unpopular, but it didn't cost me anything. I didn't lose my job. I didn't got to jail. But sometimes speaking the truth carries great risk.

Consider, the story of Jeremiah the Prophet. He spent most of his very long career saying unpopular things. At least twice that we know of, people tried to silence Jeremiah by killing him. The first time it was the religious leaders who were after him, the second time it was members of the nobility.

This second attempt on his life happened shortly before the nation of Judea was obliterated by the armies of Babylon.

The capitol city, Jerusalem, had been surrounded by the Babylonian army for several years. People were getting hungry. Army morale was flagging. With this as a backdrop, Jeremiah walked into the center of town and delivered this speech:

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’ The LORD also says: ‘The city of Jerusalem will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’” (Jeremiah 38:2, 3 NLT Accessed through Blue Letter

Several influential nobles heard the speech, including Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah. These guys, understandably, were outraged at what Jeremiah was saying. He was undermining morale. He was giving aid and support to the enemy. It was treasonous. They marched off to the king and demanded that he do something. Well, not just “something.” They wanted the king to order Jeremiah executed for treason.

King Zedekiah answered, “He's in your hands. Do what you think necessary. I can't stop you.”

It was not the execution decree they wanted. The only person who could legally order an execution was the king and he pointedly had not given the order. On the other hand, he made it clear he wasn't going to interfere with much else they might have in mind.

So these nobles had Jeremiah arrested and thrown in “jail.” The jail they chose was a cistern that had no water but did have a deep layer of viscous mire. This jail offered a perfect quarantine for containing the prophet's negative words. Jeremiah would be completely cut off from any contact with the people. In the past the prophet had written letters that had powerful impact. The cistern provided absolute containment. The nation would be safe from the dangerous ideas voiced by the prophet.

For the more sadistic of the nobles, the cistern also promised perfect torture. As Jeremiah weakened he would sink into the mud. Eventually he would die, without a mark on him. He would die from asphyxiation maybe, if he couldn't keep his head out of the mud. Or certainly die of starvation as the city ran out of food.

It was the end of the road for Jeremiah. If Jeremiah had been the prophet Elisha, we might wonder if he would work some kind of magic to escape. But in all the stories of Jeremiah's career there is never the least hint of a miracle. Jeremiah's job consisted of telling the truth, usually unpopular truth. He had survived this long only because he had powerful friends in the nobility. But it looked they had finally run out of political capital.

Back in those days, there were all sorts of prophets claiming to speak for God. They frequently contradicted each other. From our position today, we confidently honor Jeremiah as God's spokesperson. Jeremiah was a real man of God. To us it's crystal clear. But think for a minute what you would have thought if you had been living in Jerusalem in those days.

Jeremiah predicted the institutional death of Israel. The nation of Israel was going to suffer utter defeat. And God's will was to surrender to the forces of Babylon.

What would we think today, if a prophet were to stand up and announce, the church is going bankrupt. It cannot be saved as an institution. If you are following God, go join our critics.

How would we respond to a message like this? If a modern Jeremiah stood up and said something like this how long before we got rid of him—with a little torture thrown in, if we had a chance?

We need to understand how radically unpopular, how absolutely unattractive, Jeremiah's words were. If I had been living in Jerusalem back then, I'm afraid I would have been right there with those nobles asking the king to have Jeremiah executed. And I'm afraid many of you would have been there with me. Jeremiah's error would have been so obvious, so egregious, we would not even need any time to think about it. Silence that man! By any means possible.

But what happened in Jeremiah's story. According to the Bible, Jeremiah really was speaking for God. Jeremiah was telling the truth, even though it was a miserable, unpleasant truth.

God needed someone to rescue Jeremiah, but his latest message was so outrageous, so impossbile to believe that God couldn't find an Israelite to take action, so God called a foreigner, a Black man. A eunuch—which means he was not a volunteer. He was a slave.

This slave, named Ebed-Melech—heard about Jeremiah's situation and immediately went to the king.

My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.” (Jeremiah 38:9. NLT Accessed through Blue Letter

Now we see why the king had not ordered Jeremiah executed. The king knew Jeremiah was an honest prophet. Jeremiah's miserable words came from his absolute integrity. They were the words Jeremiah believed came straight from God. The king would not admit publicly Jeremiah was right. That would take far more guts than the king even dreamed of having. Still the king knew Jeremiah was telling the truth. So when someone else showed up willing to be the public face of Jeremiah's defense, the king was only too happy to cooperate. It appears that the courage of Ebed-Melech, the African slave, inspired the king to his own bit of courage.

The king gave a direct order: take thirty men and go rescue Jeremiah from the cistern. This is curious. The king did not simply issue a decree and leave Ebed-Melech, the African to try to persuade the guards at the cistern to let him rescue Jeremiah. The king give the African a force—thirty soldiers. When Ebed-Melech showed up at the cistern, there was no question about whether the jailers were going to allow him access to the prophet.

The rescue was a bit complicated. The cistern was too deep for a ladder. The muck at the bottom was extremely sucky and viscous. Ebed-Melech found old rags and clothing for the prophet to pad his arm pits then had him sling the rope under his arms so they could slowly extract him from terrible mud.

Because of Ebed-melech, the foreign-born slave, Jeremiah, the prophet of God, the person who spoke unpopular, even treasonous truth, lived to continue his ministry.

In this story, nothing is said about the faith of Ebed-melech. Ebed-melech is honored because of his courage and his energy in resisting injustice and saving life. The prophet Jeremiah—God's man—could do his work only because of the courage and force of a man with no religious pedigree.

In this story, the African slave and the Jewish prophet share the honors, with the foreigner getting the brighter glory.

Are you willing to act like Ebed-melech? Are you willing to speak up and take action when you see someone treated unjustly?

School is starting. One of the realities of school life is the development of cliques and in-groups. Some kids are in and some kids are out. Are you willing to speak up when you see another kid treated unfairly? This is the real test of your Christianity. Do you make it a point of being courteous to every student, every classmate?

When it comes to political matters, are we willing to see the humanity of people with whom we disagree? The Bible does not tell us that Ebed-melech agreed with Jeremiah's point of view. Ebed-melech just knew that it was wrong to imprison a man in a cistern because he spoke what he believed to be the word of God. Let's make sure we don't dehumanize people we disagree with politically. Let's make our arguments. Let's voice and vote our convictions. But let's remember those who have differing viewpoints are also motivated by a desire to see our community prosper.

I've been doing a series of sermons on the church and atheists. As I have said over and over, most of the atheists I know are driven by high ideals. Their atheism is driven by a radical commitment to justice and truth. These are values that live at the heart of the vision that gave birth to the church.

It is vital that we recognize that especially among young atheists, their distance from church is correlated to our distance from the ideals of Jesus. The closer we as a community come to living the ideals of the Master, the closer we will be to our young atheist friends. And the closer they will be to us.

It may well be that we will be able to hear God's truth—the new truth, the uncomfortable truth, the truth that is different from what we have always believed—only when we are confronted by “Ethiopians,” outsiders. Maybe our kids. Maybe our good friends. Maybe people who have not been Adventist for generations. Maybe people who are not Adventist at all.

Zedekiah was confronted by Ebed-melech and to his credit, even though he is infamous as a weak, vacillating character, he recognized the truth of Ebed-melech's defense of the prophet and supported Ebed-melech. Let's make sure we respond as well to the challenges of our children and friends.

If we will demonstrate courage and compassion, people sitting on the fence, people who secretly respect the truth, may themselves find courage to speak up, to take action. Our own actions will be multiplied. God's work will advance.

Special note regarding the life of the church beyond my own congregation:

At the recent Faith and Science Conference our General Conference president made very pointed remarks aimed at purging the church of people who point out inconvenient truth regarding geochronology and paleontology. Like King Zedekiah of old, he gave permission to the nobles in the Adventist Church—the bureaucrats and administrators—to eliminate the voices of faithful Adventists who speak or even think inconvenient truths. I pray that the work of any nobles who attempt to implement this immoral permission will be countered by courageous Ethiopians. Opposing the nobles is risky. But standing for truth is part of the essence of real nobility.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Faith and Science

Faith and Science
Sermon manuscript (final revision) for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Sabbath, August 30, 2014

Science is the pursuit of information about what is and of the skills to change the world. Science is the source of the periodic table, the geologic column, improved crop yields, medicine, airplanes, and smart phones. 

Faith is a vision of how things ought to be. Faith is an enduring source of compassion, the pursuit of justice and peace and our reverence for the primacy of love and life. 

Science helps us increase crop production. Faith tells us to share the technology and our own increase. Science gives us medicine. Faith challenges us to make it available to everyone. If we squelch science we are robbing the world of the tools for doing good. If we squelch faith, we are robbing the world of moral and spiritual vision. Both faith and science are gifts from God. We honor God when we encourage the pursuit of both. 

I nearly became famous in the summer of 1971. I was building a fence around a hundred acres of scrub oak and eroded grass land in northern Mississippi. In places the clay was so hard that the tractor mounted auger we were using would simply spin on the surface. We'd have to dig the holes by hand with a digging bar and posthole diggers. We would dig a section then come back the next day to set the posts.

One day early on, as I prepared to drop a post into its hole, I noticed a critter in the bottom of the hole. I pulled it out. It was a shrew. Dead. I presumed starved to death because shrews have to eat all the time and there were no worms in the bottom of this clay-lined hole. At lunch I carried the shrew back to the trailer and got out my Peterson's Guide to North American Mammals. Nothing quite matched. I didn't think too much of it. Maybe it was an immature.

The next day, I found another shrew. It looked just like the first shrew. Again, I pulled out my Peterson's Field Guide, but I could not match up my shrew with any of those in the Field Guide. I found a third shrew. It looked just like the other two.

At this point, I started to get excited. Was it possible I had found a new species? No. Not possible. But just maybe. On the weekend I took my specimens home and gave them to a church member who was on the faculty of the biology department at the University of Memphis.

When I got back to town the next weekend, I called him. (This is in the days before cell phones.) He reported back to me that I was correct. My shrews were not in the Peterson Guide. However, it was not a new species. It was a rare, obscure species no one had studied, so almost nothing was known about it. But it did have a name. It had been catalogued. Still, the department would be happy for any more specimens I could provide.

I was thrilled. It was exciting to be part of science, to be part of the enterprise of expanding our knowledge of mammals.

Confronted with a dead shrew in the bottom of my post hole, my first questions were scientific questions: What is it? What does it eat? What kind of habitat does it live in? (The ground cover and soil type determined whether I would find shrews in my holes or not.)

But after my initial excitement about being part of science, other questions intruded. What about the poor shrews? How much pain and suffering in the shrew world could be justified by human scientific curiosity? How high a price for knowledge could I justify? Once I had the specimens the biology department wanted should I put sticks in the holes to serve as ladders so shrews could climb out?

These are not science questions. They are questions of faith—values, morality, compassion. We are not fully human if we don't ask these questions.

The title of my sermon today is Faith and Science. I'm not going to try to give us precise definitions of the terms. Instead I'm going to explore the respective neighborhoods associated with these words. I see both as divine gifts. To be fully human we must live in both neighborhoods.

Let's leave my shrews for a minute a look at a Bible story that illustrates the difference between faith and science.

One day Jesus and his disciples were walking along. They saw a beggar who had been born blind since birth.

"Rabbi," his disciples asked him, "why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?"
(John 9:2. NLT. Accessed through

These are obviously questions of faith or religion. And Jesus gave the disciples a religious answer:

"It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
[John 9:2-3,NLT. Accessed through]

Having said this, Jesus began mixing science and faith. He stooped down, spat in the dust, then with his finger spread the mud paste on the man's eyes. Then he told him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.”

Jesus' action grosses us out. Yuck. But in that culture spittle was regarded as therapeutic. And the spit of a miracle worker was a common vehicle for the power of healing. So Jesus was doing what a healer would do in that culture. Jesus was practicing medicine, doing applied science.

The man picked himself up and headed off to the spring. Jesus and his disciples kept walking the other direction.

The man got to the spring and washed the mud off his eyes. Then when he opened his eyes, he could see! The spit and mud worked! It was fantastic!

When he got back to his old neighborhood, pandemonium broke out. People shouting and hollering. How could this be? This guy had been blind for decades. They had never seen anything like this. How did it happen, people asked.

“Well,” the formerly blind man said, “The preacher named Jesus put mud on my eyes and told me to go wash my eyes in the Pool of Siloam. When I did, I could see!”

The neighbors were thrilled and a little nervous. This healing happened on the Sabbath and routine healing was prohibited on the Sabbath. So the neighbors and the healed blind man headed off to talk with some conservative religious experts—they were called Pharisees.

The religious experts quizzed the guy. “Tell us what happened.” So he told them.

The experts thought for a minute, then they began arguing. Some of them said, with grave and sober demeanor, “This man Jesus cannot be a man of God. No godly person would heal on the Sabbath.”
Others said, “But how could a sinner do such miraculous signs? He must be a godly man.” The gospel reports there was a deep division of opinion among them.

Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

Notice how this story flips back and forth between questions of science and questions of faith. What happened? That's a science question. How do we know that this is the same man who was born blind?These were questions of fact and observation. They are the kinds of questions a scientist would ask.
What kind of shrew is it? How long is it? How much does it weigh? What does it eat? How long can it survive in a hole without food or water.

Then came the question of faith: What do you think about the man who did this? The formerly blind man gave a statement of faith. “He is a prophet.”

This movement from science—concrete knowledge of the world—to faith—visions of purpose and meaning, obligation and morality is an essential element of being human.

Our Old Testament reading illustrated this. Consider the stars. What does the grand sweep of sky and stars say about the place of humanity and the power that brought us into existence and sustains our lives? Dogmatic atheists insist the meaning of that grand, expansive vista is that there is no meaning, no purpose. Believers insist the meaning of the stars is that infinite power cares about us and intends to do us good.

It is important that a denial of meaning and purpose in the universe is a statement of faith, not a statement of science. Science cannot even ask a question of meaning, much less answer it.

When we come to church and celebrate faith, we are offering one another a vital human service that cannot be provided by any form of service. We are worshiping. We are supporting one another in the grandest human enterprise possible: we are affirming that life—even suffering and pain—have a beautiful purpose. The blind man who declared his healing had been done by a good man, by a prophet, by a person who represented the purpose of God.

And we declare that the beauty of the world, that instances of love and compassion, that our drive for peace and justice—all this is an expression of the highest intent in the universe, the purpose of God.

The religious leaders did not appreciate the blind man's interpretation. They did not approve of his faith.

“The healer cannot be a good man!” the religious leaders insisted. “A prophet would not do such a thing on Sabbath. The healer broke the Sabbath. He must be a sinner.”

The man refused to get sucked into their religious arguments. He retreated to science: “Here's what I know. I was blind and now I see.”

The religious leaders got really annoyed. They tried arguing with the man. “Tell us again just how it happened.”

“Look, I told you already.”

When the religious leaders could not persuade the man to change his story, they kicked him out of the synagogue.

In this story we see the interplay of faith and science. In the end, the science was incontrovertible. A man had been blind for years and now he could see. His healing happened in connection with the activity of a man named Jesus. When the information of science—observable, demonstrable facts—conflicted with the faith of the religious leaders, they did their best to get rid of the inconvenient fact: They kicked the guy out of the synagogue.

We can see that the religious leaders were foolish.

Right now some leaders in the Adventist Church are attempting to repeat this strategy of the Pharisees. Over the last hundred years the scientific evidence of an old earth has become increasingly compelling. Adventist scientists have wrestled with this evidence. And some of them have been quietly pointing out this evidence. In response, some Adventist religious leaders are trying exile these scientists. They figure if they can get rid of most of the scientists in the church, we can keep our historic religion unchanged.

To outsiders, these church leaders look a lot like the Pharisees in John 9.

On the flip side there are strident voices in the world claiming that science is sufficient to answer all questions. Some atheists even go so far as to argue that questions that can't be answered by science are not important. This is just as foolish as the Pharisaical attempt to deny the scientific facts.

In the story of the blind man, the scientific questions were not the most interesting.

What happened?
An un-credentialed rabbi spat in the dust and rubbed the resulting mud on a blind man's eyes. When the blind man washed the mud off at the Pool of Siloam his blindness was cured.
Are you sure the man who can now see is the same man who had been blind for years?

This is all true. There were witnesses. But all this is merely set up or context for the most interesting question of all: What about this healer? How do you explain the healer?

Even in the Gospel of John, this question is understood to be a question of faith. And for 2000 years people have been wrestling with THIS question. It's completely outside science. But if we don't ask it, that would be evidence of our own diminished humanity. It would not be evidence of higher intelligence.

Faith and science ask and answer different questions.

My daughter spent this summer at Rosario Marine Biological Field Station doing research on a sea creature called an isopod. They were barely into the summer when Shelley and her partner, JoAnna Cowles, made a scientific discovery. Current literature says this species of isopod grows to a maximum size of four centimeters. Shelley and JoAnna found one six centimeters long. The complete life cycle of these isopods is not known. Shelley and JoAnna observed babies.

When I visited Rosario, Shelley and Joanna showed me their isopod hotel. Each isopod had its own room, bathed in a constant flow of fresh sea water. I could almost see the smile on their faces. (Well, not exactly.)

Everything I've told you up to this point is scientific—well, except the part about smiles on the isopod faces!

But next comes something utterly non-scientific. At the end of the research instead of dumping the excess isopods on the ground or in the Sound down the beach from the isopod hotel, the women transported the isopods several miles and returned them to their native habitat. Why?

It's an expression of faith, an expression of a value for the natural world that is completely outside the realm of pure science.

Obviously many scientists care deeply about the critters they study. Returning unneeded specimens to their native habitat is standard practice. But the value that drives that kind of behavior is outside the realm of science. Science can answer the question what is likely to happen if an isopod is dumped into salt water that does not have eel grass growing in it. But science cannot tell us we ought to put the isopods in a place where they are likely to thrive. That kind of respect for the life and well-being of a little sea critter comes from faith.

To return to the shrews in my postholes—there is no scientific reason to worry about shrews falling in holes I've dug. Science can tell me how many hours a shrew can go before it starves to death. Science can tell me what shrews eat. Science cannot tell me whether or not I should put sticks in my holes so shrews can climb out and not starve. Science can measure all the specimens I could collect. Science could not make a statement about the value of the life of a shrew.

Or a statement about the value of the life of a human being.

A few years ago a couple of my friends got into a debate about the relative value of religion and science. One of them, a devotee of science, said “If you care about the hungry people of the world, you won't waste your time preaching, you'll give people a science education. It's scientific advances that led to the increase in crop production and the reduction of starvation over the last fifty years. Science feeds people, not religion.”

It was an interesting point. But only partially true. It is true that it is science and technology are the tools that people have used to increase crop production faster than the world's population. But science carries no imperative to share that increased food production with hungry people.

It is faith that teaches us compassion for shrews who fall into post holes and for humans who find themselves in hungry places.

Science is one of the most powerful tools we have for understanding and managing our world. Science gives us medicine and food. It also gives us bombs and IEDs.

It is faith that teaches us to use the tools of science for good. The religion of Jesus calls us to do all in our power to make the world a better place. Science is an indispensable tool in carrying out that mission.

Faith supplies the vision of what that better world looks like.

Faith teaches us to join with God in dreaming of a world beyond pain and suffering, a world where injustice and death has been replaced by harmony and life. It is faith that insists that love is the highest value, that love, in fact, is the best, highest description of God and his universe.

Let us aim for that perfect blend of science and faith that will make us skillful and effective in shaping the world according to the vision of God.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Who Do We Mean, When We Say God?

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Sabbath, August 23, 2014

We've been doing a sermon series inspired my conversations with young atheists. For Americans my age, the word “atheist” is an alien word, a harsh, jagged affront to convention and conviction. But many young people nowadays happily embrace the label. Just last week, sitting on the sidewalk at my favorite table outside Teddy's Bigger Burgers on Green Lake Way, a group of teenagers walked past. One of the guys asked the girl in the group, “So, I hear you're an atheist.” Without the slightest hesitation or awkwardness she launched into an explanation which I did not hear because they had moved beyond my hearing. But I was struck with the casualness of the entire conversation. It is that kind of young, casual atheism that has been in my mind as I've worked on this sermon series.

Once upon a time, a few thousand years ago, the king of Damascus started sending raiding parties into Israel, his neighbor to the south. The story as it comes down to us, does not describe any precipitating event for these raids. The way I imagine it, there was a new king on the throne, a young man. His dad, the old king, had died. Now it was the young buck's turn. He wanted to demonstrate his leadership, so he did what red-blooded kings did in those days. He went to war. Not an all-out, win-it-or-lose- everything war. He wasn't that crazy. But still it was military action that would demonstrate his leadership—and bring in some oil revenue (oops. I should have said olive oil revenue.)

The king led his army in a series of cross-border raids. They set up carefully-planned ambushes. Maybe they were waiting for a wagon train loaded with grain or a camel caravan carrying more expensive stuff. Whatever. They would set up a perfect ambush. The secrecy would absolute. The camouflage flawless. Then nothing would happen. No traffic would come down the road. Not even any Israeli military patrol. Nothing. The raiding party would be sitting there, baking in the sun, eating their own provisions. Bored. Frustrated. And very embarrassed. Because eventually they would head home with nothing to show for their effort.

My guess is the king got mad. (You don't want the king mad!) The king tried different places, different strategies. But every ambush came up empty.

Finally, the king called in all his officers and threw a temper tantrum. “Who is the traitor?” he demanded. “Obviously, one of you is leaking our plans to the enemy. It's the only possible explanation. We have tried every possible method of ambush. Every accessible road across northern Israel. Every time we come up empty. It's crystal clear the enemy is getting inside information. So who is it?”

He stared around the circle of his commanders. It was a pretty tense moment. Each officer knew his own innocence, but still . . . What if someone else suspected him? What if someone started pointing fingers just to divert attention? Maybe some of these officers had Israeli slaves, maybe an Israeli wife or mistress—connections that could look really suspicious if anyone pointed the finger his direction.

People were sweating. The king's eyes were bugging out. “Who? Who is it? You might as well 'fess up because I'm going to find out. Someone is spilling secrets to the Israelis.”

Minutes passed. People didn't move. They scarcely breathed.

Then an old man on the king's right spoke up. He was by far the oldest in the group. Old enough to be the king's father. He had, in fact, served with the king's father for decades.

“Sir, we are your loyal servants. We are not traitors. But I can tell you who is passing secrets.”

He had the king's attention. “So? Who?”

“Sir, it's nobody in this circle. It's a prophet named Elisha. He's amazing. Years ago, before you were born, when your father was king, the commander of our army was diagnosed with leprosy. He had a Jewish servant girl who had claimed that if he went to Samaria there was a prophet there who would cure him. Naaman went down there with a load of gold and came back healed. Sir, his skin was like a baby's skin. I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. That's the kind of power this prophet has. There are even stories of him raising the dead. Elisha can tell the King of Israel what you whisper to your woman when your heads are on one pillow.

“So, be gentle with your men, Sir. They are as hungry for victory and booty as you are.”

I'm always amused by what happens next. To me it is strong evidence that the Damascus king was young and brash.

“Go find out where the prophet is and let's capture him!” The king ordered.

It was a fool's errand, but warriors do as their superiors direct. The Damascus special forces headed south to find Elisha.

They had reports of Elisha being in the town of Dothan. They marched through the night and surrounded the town. Surprisingly, Elisha was still there. God had not alerted him to leave. The soldiers were thrilled. The king was going to be really happy.

Shortly after sunrise an old man appeared on a roof top near the city wall. He looked out their direction, appeared to engage in prayer and that was the last anyone in the army saw. During the prayer, the entire army went blind. They could see nothing. The old man had amazing power.

A little later, an old man approached the army asking to speak to the commander. When the commander was located the old man asked, “What's up?”

“We are looking for the prophet, Elisha.” The commander said.

The old man began laughing. “You've got it all wrong. You're in the wrong place. You're chasing the wrong man.” That much was not all that surprising. The army commander did not really think Elisha would really be sitting in a small walled city waiting for the Damascus special forces to surround it. On the other hand, the power of the old man they had seen to blind the entire army suggested the old man must be the fabled prophet.

The old man told the commander, “Follow me. I'll take you where you need to go.”

What could the commander do? He was blind. His entire army was blind. They were in enemy territory. Following the old man sounded like walking into a trap, but the commander didn't have a lot of options. He was in the heart of enemy territory. Blind. Any moment he expected to feel the edge of a sword against his neck.

So the commander grouped his men. Then hands on shoulders, the mass of warriors shuffled down the road, scared to death, wondering when they were going to fall into a pit, or find themselves on the point of a spear.

For hours, they stumbled along. Hot, thirsty, hungry. Then they could tell they were going through something. A tunnel? A cave entrance? A gate? Maybe this was the end.

A few minutes later, they hear the old man's voice. He addressed his God. “Lord, open their eyes!”

Instantly they could see. The view was not too reassuring. They were staring at the tips of arrows notched in drawn bows, raised swords, pointed spears. This was not good. I'm guessing at this point the soldiers were not too happy with their boy king back in Damascus. What did that fool, the king, imagine he was going to accomplish by messing with the prophet?

Up to this point, this story sounds like other ancient tales of warriors and wizards and magic. But this is not a fairy tale. It is not a story of military folly or magic or romance. It's theology. The story sets up a profound moral lesson.

The King of Israel surveying the band of enemy warriors imprisoned in his town square and says to the prophet Elisha. “Shall I kill them? Shall I obliterate them?”

Imagine for a minute that Elisha was not there. Imagine the king asked you what to do. And your job is to tell the king God's will for this moment. What did God want the king to do?

Remember these Damascus soldiers were part of an army that had been practicing naked aggression. Completely without provocation, they have been crossing Israel's borders aiming to do harm and steal stuff. They came from a nation that had been warring with Israel off and on for generations.

These warriors had been captured on an evil, deadly mission. What should the king do with them? What was God's will?

Among the young people I talk to, the label atheist means a commitment to honesty, justice, and compassion. When they call themselves atheist they are announcing their refusal to agree with the institutional church when it damages people or advocates error. It is a sign that they regard human well-being as a higher value than any dogma, including religious dogma.

So I respect my young atheist friends. But sometimes, when I'm feeling a little grumpy, I challenge them. “Just what kind of atheist are you? The most famous atheists in my life time have not been very nice people.”

When they think of atheists, they think of people like Hemant Mehta who writes a blog called “The Friendly Atheist.” Mehta is generally polite. He seems like a nice guy. But I think of atheists, I think of people like Mao Tse-Tung, Stalin and Pol Pot. Mao killed fifty million Chinese in an engineered famine. Stalin killed twenty million people he didn't think were good for the Soviet Union. Pol Pot thought atheism was the best philosophy for his country and killed twenty-five percent of the population in his zeal to prove that his ideas were the very best.

My young friends get impatient at this point. They would never kill people. They would never approve of the kind of barbarity practiced by Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot.

Still my questions are not irrelevant. Historically speaking, atheism has not always been a bright, shining pursuit of truth and justice. Sometimes it is the name of a dark and evil force.

With this as background, let's go back to our story.

What was God's will for the king of Israel as he surveyed a town square full of dangerous soldiers from an enemy country? What would God do with all these bad men?

This is a tricky question. Our gut tells us that mercy is the right answer, but someone else might argue that God is a stern judge and king. And they could quote Bible verses in support of the king's idea of killing the captives.

They could quote Moses' words about Sihon, King of Hesbon:
And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. Deuteronomy 2:34

Or the report in Joshua about what God's directions regarding the people of Jericho:
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21 (There was an exception made for Rahab and her family, but other than that . . . )

Or the instructions of the Prophet Samuel to King Saul regarding Amalekites:
Now go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 1 Samuel 15:3

If you based your advice to the king on these Bible verses, what would you say? What would be the right answer to the question, “Shall I smite them?”

It is these verses that cause our young atheist friends to challenge us when we say we believe in God. They want to know, just what God do we believe in? The God of hell fire and capital punishment and genocide and the stoning of brides who cannot prove their virginity on the day of their marriage? Is that the God we believe in? Do we believe in the God of Westboro Baptist Church and Mark Driscoll?

It is entirely fair that our young friends ask us this question.

And what is our answer?

We believe in the God of Elisha. Elisha told the king, “If you had captured these soldiers with your own sword, you would remember the rules of war. Captives must be fed. So feed them. Give them something to drink. And send them home to their master.”

The king did what the prophet said. And the story ends—they lived happily ever after. Well, not in those words, but that's the sentiment. Syria quit raiding Israel. Peace was created.

When I tell my young atheist friends about the God I believe in, this is the God I tell them about—the God of peace. The God who forgives. The God whose grand goal is not retribution but reconciliation. The God whose supreme purpose is not appropriate punishment but glorious healing.

The genocide of the Old Testament is not God's ideal. The commandments in the Old Testament to kill people—whether in genocide, stoning for adultery, or blessing soldiers who commit atrocities—these commands do not express the character and purpose of God. Rather they reflect the brokenness of humanity. The highest virtue of religion is to heal that brokenness, to cultivate a vision that is higher and more noble than retribution, condemnation and punishment.

When we say we believe in God, we are declaring our allegiance to God's program to move people away from brokenness toward wholeness, away from anger and alienation toward reconciliation and peace, away from wickedness to goodness, away from fierceness to harmony.

My guess is when we get this right, when we as a people speak the language of justice and peace and live in harmony with the principles of righteousness, our young atheist friends will see what we are doing and will hear what we are saying, and they will say, “Yes. That's what we meant.”

This past Wednesday, I was back at my favorite table on Green Lake Way eating my vegeburger, working on my sermon when another group of teenagers came by. I could hear them coming. They were asking other diners along the sidewalk for a dollar and sixty cents. They needed that much to buy a pizza. No one was buying.

They got to where I was sitting. “Hey, any chance you could give us a dollar and sixty cents? We're that much short for a pizza.”

It was a test. I had wanted the teenagers who walked past the week before, talking about atheism to stop and let me join the conversation. I love getting all philosophical with kids. But, of course, they didn't stop.

Instead the kids who stop are people who are hungry and are looking for money not wisdom. So I walked next door with the kids, had them place their order and put their money on the counter, then I added a couple of bucks to their pile so they could get their pizza.

I didn't know their stories. I don't know how they ended up that afternoon on Green Lake Way, a dollar and sixty cents short the cost of medium pizza. But I had money in my pocket and food in my belly. And the God I believe in says when we have sufficient, we are called to share.

We believe in God, the God of Elisha. The God who helps and heals, who forgives and reconciles, the God who creates peace and harmony. The more deeply we believe in this God and the more consistently we live in harmony with God's glorious ideals, the easier it will be for our young atheist friends to join and say, “We, too, believe.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Curious Conference

A Curious Conference: An analysis of the Faith and Science Conference in St. George, Utah, organized by Leonard Brand, Art Chadwick and Ed Zinke with the blessing of Elder Ted Wilson

This is a revised version of a piece published by the Adventist Today web site.
NOTE: I did NOT attend the conference or talk to conference attendees. This  report is based on information publicly available through the conference web site at the time I wrote. 

Friday, August 15, 2014, was opening day for the “International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation.” The following description is posted on its web site:

The biblical creation is central to the message of salvation found in the Bible and the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The purpose of the International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation is to bring together Adventist educators to explore the creation through both Bible study and study of the creation itself. Ultimately, it is hoped that participants will leave better equipped and inspired to teach about the creation in an informed, responsible and faith-affirming way. Held primarily in St. George, Utah, this conference features Christian speakers and invitees from the global community of faith in the Creator God as revealed in the Bible.

In his opening address, Elder Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference, called on the 350 participants “to be champions of creation based on the Biblical account and reinforced so explicitly by the Spirit of Prophecy.”

This introduces one of several curiosities of this conference. Elder Wilson is quite adamant about the need for Adventist educators to adhere to and wholeheartedly advocate the Biblical account of creation. However, the details of the Adventist interpretation of Genesis 1-9 are in flux.

First curiosity: If we regard the presenters at this faith and science conference as authoritative (and Elder Wilson clearly intends this), Adventists no longer believe God created the heavens and the earth 6000 years ago. Richard Davidson and Randy Younker (and by implication Elder Wilson) believe God created the heavens 14.5 billion years ago. They believe the material of earth coalesced 4.5 billion years ago. They disagree with science only in their dating of the phanerozoic rocks. (To be more precise, in papers presented at earlier faith and science conferences, Davidson and Younker argued that Genesis One gives no information about the date of the creation of extra-terrestrial or pre-biological material, which leaves the conventional dates unchallenged.)

Further, Adventists no longer believe the Flood created all the fossils. Current orthodoxy is that the Flood created only the Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils. The fossils of the Cenozoic (roughly speaking “the age of mammals) were formed after the Flood.

Second curiosity: In his inaugural address, Elder Wilson famously urged Adventists to refrain from reading non-Adventist authors in areas that touch on theology and spiritual life. This conference features presentations by non-Adventists, including John Baumgartner, Kurt Wise, Marcus Ross, and John Whitmore. Most of the other presenters are well-known, long-time stalwarts of Adventist creationism. The only new voices at the conference are these non-Adventists.

Third curiosity: Ed Zinke, one of the organizers of the conference scheduled himself speak seven of the nine days of the conference. These are not seminar or breakout group presentations. They are plenary sessions. His prominence in the conference program is problematic he has not held a pastoral, faculty or elected position in the church in years. I have to wonder how the conference participants who are actually involved in the life of the church will respond to being instructed by a someone who lives and thinks completely outside the accountability structures of the church. Especially in light of Elder Wilson's strident advocacy of accountability.

The other dominant voices at the conference are Leonard Brand, Art Chadwick, Joann and Richard Davidson. Each of these four plus Zinke spoke every day of the conference (except for the field trip days when there were no plenary sessions). This concentration of content delivery in a very small group of friends is highly unusual for a conference with academic or scholarly pretensions.

Fourth curiosity: Secrecy. This from the conference web site:

Resources provided for invitees to the International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation (ICBS) are solely for the use of those who received invitations to attend this conference from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and actually do attend the conference. By accessing these resources you are stating that you are an invitee to the ICBS with permission to access and use them.

All resources linked to from the “ICBS – Materials for Invitees” ( website remain the property of the conference presenter who provided them. They are made available solely for the private use of invited attendees of the Faith and Science Council sponsored “International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation” held in Las Vegas, Nevada, and St. George, Utah, August 14-25, 2014. Those who are not invited attendees may not access these materials and may not be provided with either links to these materials or the passwords necessary to access them. These materials may not be redistributed in any form or via any media without the express written permission of the person who provided them to the conference organizers. By clicking on any of the links in the “ICBS – Materials for Invitees” ( website, you are acknowledging reading and agreeing to these terms.

This secrecy was apparent even before the conference began. There was no general announcement that the church was going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather educators for this conference. In May, I was in the field with an Adventist geologist and met a couple of the organizers at an outcrop in southern Utah. We spent a couple of hours together. They carefully avoided the slightest mention that they were in the area scouting sites for the Faith and Science Conference.

I will refrain from speculating about the reasons for the secrecy, but it is an “in your face” feature of the conference.

A final non-curiosity: If you wish to know the content of the presentations at the conference, all you have to do is google the presenters. They are well-known and their views are readily available.

As of August 21, 2014, you could find the complete schedule here: