The Self-Murdering Church

Epilogue

by Suzanne Ocsai

Note: I wrote this first part in the summer of 2011 after I finished writing my manuscript on the first 10 years of GYC history. I was trying to sort through everything I’d learned about the behind the scenes workings of GYC, my Church Youth Department, and the Church as a whole.

Our Church is dying. No, it’s not just dying . . . it’s killing itself.

How? You ask. I’ll tell you how. I was faced with the how the entire time I was writing this book. I didn’t see it at first. I didn’t even realize our Church was dying when I started the project, but soon enough I saw it. And it made my heart break.

I’ll be honest, writing this book depressed me. Oh, yes there were high points. I loved seeing how GYC was able to begin against the odds of not having enough money or support from their local conference in California. I also loved the time my Church youth leaders gave me to interview them—talking with them was truly inspiring.

But in the end, I came back to the same realization that undoubtedly MOST people in our Church have, yet aren’t talking about or doing ANYTHING to remedy! The Divide. Yes, we are a divided Church that will not stand unless we decide to start working together for the common goal of seeing Jesus return in our lifetime. I mean, is anyone really that thrilled about living on a planet where children are sold into slavery, women are abused, and men are destroyed by the other men seeking more power than they deserve? Really?! No. Don’t even call yourself Adventist. Because we, by our very own name, are seeking the Second Advent of Christ.

We are divided over many things. But it all comes down to this . . . it’s not what we view as the correct form of worship that divides. It’s not our varying views of theology that divides us. It’s not dress reform that divides us. It isn’t any of that . . . while the fact that we vary on all of those points probably doesn’t help . . . that ISN’T what divides us. What divides our Church is our pride. It is our pride in each one of those areas. We say, “I’m better than you because I only sing out of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.” We say, “I’m better than you because I wear dresses . . . I’m not causing my brother to stumble.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t exclude people who live alternative lifestyles.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t condemn people for praising God with drums and contemporary Christian music.” We say a lot of stuff that doesn’t mean anything!

But what we don’t say a lot of is this, “I love you even though I don’t agree. I love you even though I think you are wrong. I love you and I know that I don’t have everything completely correct either, but you know what, I am, and I believe you are too, still searching for how God would have us be. How can we work TOGETHER to find HIS ideal?

While writing this book I saw how the two sides (GYC verses the Church Youth Department) couldn’t get along–leadership on one side seemed overly condemning while leadership on the other side wasn’t willing to confront the condemnation head on, and so the young people were caught in the middle to clean up the political mess.

In every generation this happens. 1888 . . . remember the story of that GC session? Pride. And the young people were let down.

When I saw this happening to my generation, I cried. I was so angry and hurt. Why haven’t we grown past this? Why aren’t the youth the most important segment of our Church? Why are our Church leaders on both sides making us choose between the left and the right?

I love my Church. But as I’ve grown up in it I’ve come to see that this judging back and forth is not just something solely between GYC and the Youth Department but something that spans the entire spectrum of Adventism. From GYC to JCI, from the chaplains offices to the youth ministries office, from Women’s Ministries to Pastoral Ministries, from the General Conference to the North American Division and all the other Divisions, from the Michigan Conference to Southeastern California Conference. We are divided. We are separate. We love to point fingers and call each other out. I know . . . I’ve done it. I’ve been overwhelmed with anger and hatred for the side I thought was against me.

But what made me cry that day in my room was obviously not the good I saw on any of the sides. It was the fact that because of pride and personal differences, the good of both sides was not able to be measured together. I believe God ordained people on both sides for a special work. But I don’t believe He ordained one side above another. When I came to the end of the book, what I discovered made me angry because I felt like I had to choose one side over the other.

WE’RE ONE BODY, I wanted to shout . . . Please, get your act together or you won’t have young people to pass your offices to. And I’m talking to the left and the right! This IS NOT one sided. It takes two to tango, whether you dance or not.

In my frustration a question popped into my mind. If we are divided, will we not be attacked? But . . . you don’t often hear about countries in civil wars being attacked. Why not, they’re wide open . . . Why didn’t England attack the United States during the Civil War?

I did some research into this and discovered the reason . . . and that reason . . . made me even angrier.

England didn’t attack the United States for several reasons. 1. England was conflicted as to which side it really wanted to support publically. 2. It was thought that dealing with two separate republics would be easier than one. And then came the third reason . . . the worst reason. They were selling weapons to both sides. They were making money off us . . . while we were destroying ourselves! We weren’t a threat . . . so there was no need to fight us . . . so they decided to make money off us as we killed ourselves for them.

If they were to join a side they would have lost money by entering the war; supporting their soldiers while losing one side of “clients.”

Now, I love my English friends, but this just made me slightly upset . . . to say the least . . . they were making money . . . MONEY . . . off us, while we were killing ourselves.

And then I saw the analogy. We, the Seventh-day Adventist Church are in a Civil War. We are fighting each other for our own agendas while the Devil makes money off us in the form of souls we are neglecting.

Because, while I interviewed each side of the “war” I heard one resounding theme. “We want to be the last generation on earth; we want to reach the world for Christ.”

Really?

Because as long as we continue to fight ourselves we will NEVER be a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Until we can come together and become a united force, we will continue to lose valuable souls that Christ died on a cross for.

Obviously we’re really good at fighting, what if we took that passion and turned it toward the real enemy. Not each other, but to Satan. What if we could unite against the real traitor? How much could we accomplish?

How can we unify? Only through Christ and getting into His Word. Only through daily seeking God in our own lives can our hearts be humbled and changed. By beholding we become changed. And when we start to behold God above ourselves and our agendas and even our personal viewpoints can we become that united Church that can be a threat to the enemy.

In the end, I refuse to choose a side. I will continue to attend and support GYC as I will continue to attend and support my Church youth events. If there is something I don’t agree with at either, I will voice those concerns to the appropriate people and dialog with them about why that was chosen. While understanding there is a Divide in my Church, I refuse to acknowledge its power. Because to me, it has none. I am a Seventh-day Adventist. Not a right-wing Adventist or a left-wing Adventist. Not a Spectrum Adventist, not a GYC-Adventist, not a One Project Adventist, not a Michigan Conference Adventist . . . because I don’t believe God cares if I read Spectrum or if I attend GYC or any other event the church has to offer. What I believe He cares about is whether I have a personal relationship with Him . . . because that’s what guarantees He’ll be able to spend eternity with me . . . the whole reason He came to earth and died on a cross and in three days rose again . . . so I could live with Him forever.

So, until we can set aside our pride and come together with the single goal of getting addicted to the Word of God, we can forget about being the last generation on this earth.

Three Years Later

My journey with my church has morphed and grown since writing this in 2011. I’ve become involved heavily within my church. Through interning two summers at the North American Division headquarters in the General Conference building, through becoming an NAD senior youth volunteer coordinator, through joining the board of the Society of Adventist Communicators—all these things gave me greater insight into my church but also allowed me to see more of what I disdained about my church through allowing me an up-close vantage point.

I’ve found myself more than once being dishonest to the words I wrote in this piece. I’ve picked sides. I’ve neglected relationships based on what side I thought a person was on. And in the end, I’ve found that this is a lonely and broken way to live. This piece was written out of love and youthful idealism for my church. Part of which turned to cold cynicism when I saw more things wrong than ways to fix them—when I saw church leaders continue brushing things under the rug.

Then I looked in the mirror, and I saw my church staring back at me. Yes, church can be defined in many ways . . . the structure . . . the people . . . the building . . . but I choose to believe it is all three and maybe more . . . and I am part of that composition. I am the church. And what I do and say does play a role no matter how small that is. If I choose to bad mouth one organization and uplift another I am in fact tearing down my church. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was doing just that. Someone who hated a brother just because he identified himself with an organization I disagreed with. Someone who disdained a sister because she felt compelled to live a more restricted life. I was someone who was quick to judge others yet even faster to defend myself and my shortcomings.

I am my church and I am human and I am failing. I am killing it. And I am ready to now take responsibility for that. By God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and direction . . . through putting down my man-made idols and walls built from bitterness and pride, hopefully I can become a healer and not a killer. Someone who binds up wounds instead of constantly pouring salt into them. Someone who is a unifier and not a divider. Someone who lets others grow at their own pace just as I want others to allow me to grow at my own pace. Someone who loves and doesn’t hate the people who also look into their mirrors and also call themselves the church. Someone who is like Jesus to the world. This is my prayer. This is my wish. This is my continuing story.

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43 Comments

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43 responses to “The Self-Murdering Church

  1. simonemarshall

    Let’s go on this journey together, Suzanne. Me, you and anyone else who cares to join, to be the change in the church and spur the love of Christ in lives everywhere. Love you and love your message. This was beautiful.

  2. nanosaurus

    I’m with you Suzanne! Thanks for the depth you bring to the conversation. God bless HIS Church.

  3. Carla

    Thank you for your article Suzanne! It was well written and well expressed! I love watching your growth from a bit of a distance! May our God use this article for good! 😊

  4. A_T_T

    We’re motivated a lot by a fear of hell.
    Many people distill the SDA message down to:
    You must get all the facts right or else you’ll go to hell. With motivations like that, all kinds of self-preserving behaviours become acceptable; and unity is no longer a concern. (This is not unique to SDAs).

  5. Dear Suzanne:

    I often have trouble getting adjusted to new blog sites, as I suspect others also do. Hopefully this post will be successful.

    Perhaps you’ve already seen my post over at Spectrum, in reply to your article there. If you have, it would seem you have already answered my question as to whether or not you have attended GYC. As one who has attended them all since the movement began, I can attest both to their positive tone as well as the clarity with which denominational issues are addressed on the basis of Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.

    I really do feel your pain. You give every evidence of speaking from the depths of a breaking heart. You want to see the Lord’s coming hastened and our God-given work as Seventh-day Adventists completed. I couldn’t agree more! I found your references to the Civil War most interesting and relevant also. But I fear that perhaps you haven’t truly considered the implications of what you’ve referred to, so far as these past and future events are concerned.

    The Civil War was a bloody and terrible event, but most historians recognize it was also unavoidable—that the contrasting visions of the two sections of our country could not peacefully live together, and that despite the pain and horror of the struggle that followed, America was both stronger and greater as a result. I believe the same holds true for the future of Adventism, especially when we read Ellen White’s inspired account of end-time events.

    In those inspired writings, the modern prophet is clear that before the church finishes its God-given task in the world, there will be a great shaking—a rending conflict in which sides will be chosen and the great majority depart from among us. In Ellen White’s own words, “The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out, the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place” (2SM 380).

    As with the Civil War, great internal conflict will precede the ultimate accomplishment of our mission as a people. I truly fear that far too many of us have embraced the postmodern mindset of peace at any price, with its self-accommodating spirituality, that the worldview found in Scripture and the writings of Ellen White has been badly obscured.

    I agree with you that we must get back into the Word, even become “addicted” to it, as you say. And I agree that a personal relationship with God is of paramount importance. But such a relationship cannot occur apart from faithfulness to the Word. I want you to consider that the reason for the conflict between GYC and its allies on the one hand, and such groups as Spectrum and the One Project, etc, on the other hand, is precisely because one side is seeking a wholehearted return to the Word, while the other is undermining that Word with culture, higher criticism, and experience-driven spirituality.

    I would love to communicate with you privately, and hear more of your thoughts. I sense you have a heart tender toward the Lord. Feel free to write me privately. I would covet the opportunity for further dialogue.

    God bless!

    Pastor Kevin Paulson

    • Paul Ogaga

      I would like to acknowledge the honesty of Suzanne and at the same time say thank you, to Pastor Kelvin for his inspired response. I also like your insight concerning the civil war. I thought for a moment as to how to reply and had organized my thoughts when I decided to read a few of the responses and came across this one.

      Might I say, that the enemy, the Devil, has kept us so busy fighting each other for a while now and it’s time for us to wake up as a prophetic people. We have a job to do and the whole world is awaiting the manifestation of the glory/character/image of our Lord Jesus in us. I agree we need to be more tolerant of each other, but tolerance does not mean public embrace or acceptance of what we know to be wrong. Political correctness and fear of being called or labelled different from the world, has contributed to the problem in Adventism today. Where do we draw the line? Were it not for scripture, would we even know that there is a line to be drawn? I realize now that when people seek higher standard to live by, those who are not ready to go higher look for ways to pull down others aspiring to. GYC has always encouraged a bulb local perspective in responding to issues raised in the church and outside it too. They have always sought to do things by the “Book” (Bible). As you may be aware, I have attended two GYC sessions, 2008, and 2010, I was totally sold out. I remember at the end of the meetings the leaders of GYC always asked the attendees to go back to their local churches and work with them. I believe that in itself shows a desire to work collectively with the church leaders in finishing this work.

      Isaiah 58 is for me the practical demonstration of the character of God we all need to display and as we all engage in social justice and the evengelistical message by “loosing the bands of wickedness, dealing our bread to the hungry and not hiding ourselves from our own flesh” (including our Adventist brethren, whoever they may be) we will come to the true rest spoken of in Vs 13.

      I do not believe in unity at all cost. I believe that we all must take a stand for or against the truth. I agree that we are all sinners but we must at the same time be aspiring for perfection, and by God’s grace, that day will come in our lifetime, as the last generation to witness His soon return.

      • Paul Ogaga

        I meant to say GYC has always encouraged a biblical perspective. Not a “bulb local”. Thank you.

    • Kev

      Pastor Kevin Paulson,
      Respectfully, I think you miss Suzanne’s point. She is tired of choosing “sides” because it only increases the “killing” and your suggestion that there is a side for her to choose only compounds the problem for her. She wants to choose Jesus and His people and not groups and organizations. Listen to her words “…hopefully I can become a healer and not a killer. Someone who binds up wounds instead of constantly pouring salt into them. Someone who is a unifier and not a divider. Someone who lets others grow at their own pace just as I want others to allow me to grow at my own pace. Someone who loves and doesn’t hate the people who also look into their mirrors and also call themselves the church.”

    • Ralph

      Thank you Pastor Paulson for your encouraging words.
      Maranatha!

  6. Great article. It’s encouraging to encounter others of like mind. There seem to be a growing number of us still clinging to the church. I’m coming more and more to believe that the core of the Great Controversy is about how God treat his enemies and how we treat our enemies–those who are most different from us. That’s what Adventism has to offer and it’s exactly what we are most at risk of forgetting.

  7. A rare moment of clarity. Thank you for this.

  8. Suzanne, thanks so much for this!

  9. Suzanne, thank you for this insightful and honest analysis. It took courage to write that when you looked in the mirror, you saw your church – the church you criticized staring back at you.
    If the rest of us could only be as honest, our church would be different. It could be a haven for sinners, rather than a fortress for quarreling saints.
    For this transformation, Jesus is waiting with longing desire ..

  10. Lela

    Suzanne, great insight,I am a 3rd generation raised SDA and went to all SDA schools and have a grandfather that was an SDA minister(he has since passed). I have taken my name off the SDA books mainly out of anger because a So. Cal. conference president lied to my face at a church mediation situation. He just cinched it for me. I no longer am angry, but deeply hurt. I now am able to finely pray for all the conference officers and can now put them into Gods hands. I do not believe in a religion, because it brings out a lot of religiosity and not the good in people! I know I was raised to believe that if I was not SDA and attend church I would not make it to heaven. I think I have lost all the jewels on my crown in heaven for not obeying. My mom (bless her heart) use to tell my girls when little that if their mom didn’t start taking them to church they wouldn’t get to go to heaven. So sad, but at 91 she still believes this way. Ask my mom if she is saved and she will say “i hope so”. How sad to believe that way, she still lives in fear of not knowing. I do go to church and I love my God and Jesus so much more then I knew was ever possible. My church is not a denomination but very much Kingdom church. We love everyone no matter who they are or where they come from. Just because I took my name off the books I would never put down SDA or any other religion, I know God loves them and that is what I am to do also. Even the organizations that hate and put down SDA’s as ex SDA do, I feel sad for them because they have been hurt, but have yet learned how to forgive, but I know God loves them and is still working on their hearts as He is all of us. But loving on them will work wonders so much faster then teaming with their hurts. even those that bash EG White, tho I myself don’t believe most writings I know God loved her as He does me and she had a purpose in this crazy world!!!! sorry for such a long reply, I basically just wanted to say thankyou for your words above, your analogy of the war was right on but goes on in all denominations and even other organizations! thanks

    • Oh my goodness . . . your comment both breaks and warms my heart. First I want to apologize for not responding sooner. I’ve been in the midst of graduating college, out of town, and moving out of my house so things have been a bit crazy!

      What you said is so important and needs to be said and heard! Thank you so much for sharing this with me and anyone else who will read it here! Love and blessings!

  11. stunning! Thanks so much for this.

  12. Cal

    Beautiful. Convicting. True. Thank you, sister. I needed to read this, and by God’s grace, be changed.

  13. I would like to share this post on my blog. Would you be OK with that?

    • Yes, feel free to share it.

      • Marcos Torres

        Hi Suzanne! Its amazing how an article you wrote so long ago is still making the rounds! haha. I am going to share this post as a guest blog at thehaystack.tv as well (i manage their blog). We usually have a little pic and bio of the author of any article we share. its not a must but would be nice if we could get yours! You can contact me via the contact tab at pomopastor.com (id give you my email but this is a public message, lol). Thanks suzzane!

  14. was just having this same discussion with a friend of mine last night, who was wondering why we can’t pull together. it alarms me because the Holy Spirit unites; if there is a lack of unity there is a lack of the Holy Spirit and we cannot accomplish anything without the power and love of the Holy Spirit. thanks for taking the time to write this out. I will be referring people to it and asking the Trinity to help me make connections wherever I go, no matter how hard it can be to refuse to take sides. I will ask every Adventist I know to pray for and be used by God to create unity and squash pride so our differences can be put to death and not our movement as the one united people Jesus will soon come back for.

  15. John

    Hi Suzanne,

    “I wrote this first part in the summer of 2011 after I finished writing my manuscript on the first 10 years of GYC history.”

    Is this manuscript/book available anywhere? I am interested in reading it.

  16. Patti

    Suzanne, your thoughts in The Self-Murdering Church have affected me so profoundly that I can’t possibly comment on each point individually. You have precisely applied the appropriate words to so many feelings I feel about “the church.” Thank you for adding so much “red meat” into my rather “vegan” spiritual experience. God bless you and all who seek to introduce others to a genuine relationship with Christ, not just a tired old list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”

  17. Samantha

    Suzanne, thank you SO MUCh for these thoughts. You’ve captured the zeitgeist of our church, and really tapped into so many things here.

  18. My dear sister Suzanne, your post blew my mind and blessed me on so many levels.

    After reading your words, some of Jesus’ words came to mind that I’ll meditate on this sabbath. It’s about a brother doing God’s work apart from the 12 disciples:

    “For he who is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:40

    “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30

  19. Ray Hartwell

    Thanks for your spiritual courage to be authentic. I share your yearning.

  20. This is such an incredible article. Thank you so much for sharing it Suzanne. I think you have identified and articulated the problem well, but more importantly you are allowing God to use you to bring about a solution (by being the solution). I am both inspired and challenged by your words. As I grow as a Chrustian, I realize more and more, that God calls us to unity not uniformity. And as an Adventist, Unity is one of our fundamental beliefs. In the words if Jesus, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 3:35).
    #LookingInTheMirror

  21. Melva Garrett

    Suzanne,
    Thank you. I could have written that article myself as everything you have said about the happenings in our church I, too, have observed. My heart has also been breaking for years. Like you, I have to keep looking into the mirror only to find, at times, that I become part of the problem.

    So proud of you. May God continue to keep you heart and eyes open to His calling for us as individuals and as a church. Mel

  22. Justin

    This, what you have said, is exactely the message Paul was trying to get across when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians. Good job with bringing this same message to the present.

  23. Thanks for being honest and sharing your heart. This was very thought-provoking.

  24. ian

    although you wrote this ten months ago, i’m just reading it now. Wonderful article! i too won’t choose sides; i’ll choose both sides, and i’ll choose love. May God continue to bless you for sharing this with us!

  25. Cristian

    The only way to unite is to follow Jesus on his mission. He is the one who will unite us. Anything else we focus on will divide us. Every effort on our part to tear down the divide will end up in building a new divide. Let him unite us if we choose to focus on his mission.

  26. Marvin Marcelino

    in 1993, an AY church leader came to me, and asked to help the conflict among young people of that church. So they went for a retreat, i though i knew all the answer as young Theologian, so I drop the best prescription, “love one another.” The next thing they said shocked me to my core belief and knowledge. I They threw the hardest question, “HOW?”

    I got obsessed and did not stop searching the answer, but i knew where to start – the Bible. after many years the material was born. ONE ANOTHERING, a Biblical Guide To A Better Christian Relations. I tested the biblical principles at the first school where the students reports and discipline is coming of the chart. I told my co-Bible teachers. You teach the vertical principle (man to God) and i will teach the horizontal principles (man to man). praise God student disciplines went down, school atmosphere is lovely. I used the material in the church being the chaplain too.

    In short, we are all too good on doctrines and must one do, but lacking in “how to” and applications. It is high time to bring this in front and talk about it, as we did in that Adventist school in the Philippines.

    I have not stopped, i actually brought the material here in Thailand for the church to learn and have a better relationship to each other. you may want to test it in a small church in your place and see true change.

  27. Abner L. Perales

    Would you let me translate this to Spanish? I think we are as divided overseas. And yet, there are a lot more like you, wanting to have a true relationship with God. May He continue carrying you in this hard to walk road.

    • O

      Hi Abner! Yes, feel free to translate it into Spanish and share the article. I’m thankful you found this helpful. May God bless you as well!

  28. Phil

    How to kill the church in one easy step: “Keep doing what you’ve been doing.” I’ve done a bit of reading on the topic of bullying over the years. Since adventists are human they are not immune to this scourge that affects our population. Bullying in school continues to injure young people. In the wider world, students grow into adults and leave the bullies of the schoolyard behind. In the SDA world, we grow up with the church bullies and then we all live in close contact because of the subculture of adventism. Adventists bully each other without mercy. It happens to pastors. It happens to teachers. It happens to local church leaders, and yes, the youth. It can come from the congregation or from the conference office. Or it can come from the pulpit. Kindness and compassion are often absent. I’ve seen this in board meetings and hallway meetings. After all, there are agendas to be moved forward. The gospel should be our only agenda. The adventist message WILL endure to the end. The Adventist Church? Prophecy IS conditional! It’s tragic that we have to ask “how do we show love?” Are we so far off the path that we don’t know how to love? If we don’t have love, then we are no different than the world. It is politics as usual. A sad commentary. We are indeed heading into a time of agonizing conflict. We know the wheat and tares must grow together. Choose to be the wheat. Choose to love. Choose kindness and compassion. Stop the bullying and start the healing.

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