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June 16, 2014



Loren, what's the definition of success that you're proposing as you discuss Cochran & Harpending's research? Would you care to interrogate the merits of this definition in a future column?

For example, are you defining success only in terms of genetic continuance via endogamous breeding and strictly limited interactions with outsiders? If so, what do you think that implies for Adventists, who may still recommend endogamous breeding as a church manual ideal but don't strictly enforce the rule, and also frequently interact with non-Adventists and non-Adventist culture, ethics, and entertainment outside the context of the health and educational institutions? Where might non-heterosexual and infertile heterosexual Adventists fit into a genetic-success model of the church? How is our understanding of "the church" impacted by shifting measures of success from spiritual and religious measures to physio-genetic ones?

Might non-genetic definitions of success be more useful for us as onlookers? Adventism hasn't taken the LDS or Quiverfull approach to procreation-as-duty that a community's genetic success requires. Alternate success definitions might include ongoing impact on local, regional, national, or international society; or general adoption of a group's philosophy or beliefs—that is, culture-shaping.


Loren Seibold

I reached for the simplest definition of success: they're growing, and seem like happy, content people, with lots of faith and optimism. (Many say they seem that way to us because they don't let us see inside the the family.) As for other kinds of success, I intended to qualify that with the "more or less". And it must be pointed out that the ecosystem they've been successful in is an ideal one, one they'll not find in many other parts of the world, where they're given wide latitude to do as they like, and lots of help from the communities they're part of. Enough privacy and still enough interaction. Many people depend on the Amish in Holmes County—not just the tourists and non-Amish tourism services—serving needs from medical to drivers to, well, anything they won't do for themselves and are willing to pay for. Fortunately, they're mostly nice people and good neighbors.

Still, imagine a modern church growth plan that said, "You'll succeed by rejecting your personal involvement in the modern world (but letting others use it for you), by sticking to a 19th century lifestyle, using an extinct language, refusing converts, making your strangeness a tourist draw, and refusing to ever talk to your children again if they leave the church."

Yet that's not entirely unlike what the Seventh-day Adventist church was in my childhood—my family had many elements of that parochial set of mind, especially marrying within the faith and rejecting those who left it. In my experience now, that way of thinking is almost entirely gone. And, I think the argument can be made that we did better when we were more sectarian. Our "liberalizing", such as it is, has been the death of us. When our colleges became accredited, when we sent people off to get Ph.D.s in other schools, when our hospitals became not just respectable but respected—we've never been the same, it seems to me.

So what have Seventh-day Adventists contributed? We'd say preventive health, but we're not credited for that. Nor for an eschatological world view, which we were among the first to popularize, but now belongs to many conservative churches. Our name identity in North America has never been lower.

What great questions! Wish we could talking person about them.

By the way, a few years ago I came at this question of success from a slightly different direction: what is the Seventh-day Adventist church, really? To whom does it belong? You can read the essay here.

Loren Seibold

Sorry, the link didn't show up. http://lorenseibold.com/Loren_Seibold/Essays/Entries/2009/11/4_Whose_Church_Is_It%2C_Anyway.html

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