This editorial was written at the last minute. The rest of the magazine was edited, designed, and final read before I sat down to "pen" these words. Still I waited. I waited until my associate editor sent an urgent plea to me on voice mail: "Please write the editorial so we can print." I used to schedule all the editorial productions at a largish publishing house, so I know the implications as much as anyone. Since 9/11 I have waited as long as I can before writing the editorial, for the simple fact that the news cycle had shrunk so much and the unexpected keeps happening.
I have been hoping for another "scoop" this issue. (With a bimonthly magazine the term "scoop" has a more sedate turn to be sure. But for me it has every bit the underscore of the daily press, but with a little more certainty.) Finally I am quite sure we have it.
In this issue we have been able to include an interview with the newly elected world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Dr. Ted Wilson. He was elected back in June. There, you have our lead time! I was at the world conference of the church held in Atlanta, Georgia. I was among the 70,000 in attendance the last weekend. I heard his sermon that Saturday Sabbath. And I was determined to get the interview for Liberty as soon as possible.
July 5 was my first day back in the office at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. I went looking for "Ted," as he still wants to be called. I found him alone in his old, rather small office. The new reality had not yet quite overtaken him. We were able to talk a little, and I was able to line up the interview as well as a video promo spot for our annual fund-raiser in January.
We talked about his sermon in Atlanta. "Like Adventism coming out of exile," is how I characterized it to him.
We spoke of religious liberty. After all, Dr. Wilson had included religious liberty in that sermon as an important element of what Seventh-day Adventists are about. This was my chance to remind him of what our Liberty readers know well: that over a century ago the Seventh-day Adventist Church led the way in defending freedom of worship. I reminded him of how influential American Sentinel editor Alonzo Jones was at the forefront of a monumental battle to head off a national Sunday law in the United States. It was a battle to assert the separation of church and state. A battle to defend the rights of religious minorities. And a race against time to inhibit the United States from inadvertently fulfilling the prophecy of Revelation 13, which speaks of a church-state coalition at the end of time, which will compel all to a particular form of worship.
For the editor of the precursor magazine to Liberty, the equation was straightforward: we were looking at a major prophetic moment. If prophecy is fulfilling so clearly, it demands a corollary in the church—a revival. As a key speaker at the next two General Conference sessions, Editor Jones agitated powerfully for revival, and his sermons stirred many. In some ways the spiritual shivers of that time can still be sensed in Adventism. But it was not quite the moment Jones expected. The Sunday law was defeated and the revival became more an argument than a persuasion.
I told Dr. Wilson that we are arguably at another of those crossroads; another prophetic moment and the need for revival. It seems he has come into office with a clear agenda for revival: remarkable mostly because it has been so long coming.
When we had our editorial conference for this issue there was considerable discussion about its overtly Adventist tone. Well, the magazine is produced by Seventh-day Adventists, after all. Our regular readers know we defend religious freedom of all—no exceptions. They know we are committed to historical accuracy in telling the story of freedom. They need to know we are interested in religious liberty from a practical and prophetic viewpoint. It is great that Jefferson so nicely framed the secular principle of religious freedom, but it is sublime that Jesus began His earthly ministry with a call to His kingdom that proclaimed freedom/liberty.
So this issue is more about us than usual. There will be other issues covering other topics and other faiths; but no apologies about this one. Adventist visionary Ellen White once admonished editor Jones to "unfurl your colors" because "the world has a right to know what Adventists believe."
These are not "the best of times" for our world; certainly not for the United States. In the 44 years since I first came to the U.S. to live I have never seen such a malaise, loss of direction, and inward reproach. The recession may be fading for the number crunchers, but there is a growing fear that things are slipping toward the void; that the American dream is no more. Endless wars, endless political battles, endlessly climbing debts, social change that no one seems to control, natural calamities and ecological meltdown; these are the adverbs to our state of being—fear.
Desperate times always bring forth desperate measures. Not the best of times for religious freedom, I fear. Vigilance is called for. And godly fear. And a revival of godliness among individuals across the land. For only with truly spiritual sensibility can we head off those who always use religion to nefarious ends.
I want to tell you that my church is stirring with revival. In mid-October hundreds of leaders of our world church gathered in Washington for an Annual Council. It's usually a time for lots of policy work and much male bonding (there are more than a few women leading out these days, of course). This year things took a different turn. President Wilson laid out the case for reformation and revival. Others responded. I watched the dam begin to burst. It was a little like the stirrings my generation felt in the "flower power" era, when the Jesus movement reached into self-satisfied middle America. I believe—and I am praying for it to be true—that many of my fellow Seventh-day Adventists are in the process of recharging their spiritual batteries. Keep an eye out for them, dear Liberty reader. Anytime the kingdom of God takes center stage it will necessarily involve a proclamation of true religious liberty.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."