’m not sure why, but it seems there’s a new avocation among some Adventists, including one I see in the mirror every morning: we’re quick to take offense at something someone says, or does, or believes—the latter referring to, say, politics, sports teams, or how best to prepare haystacks.
Of course, it runs deeper than that, and wider too: society seems rife with those who are easily provoked over this or that matter. It’s not that we merely disagree with something; we have to be sure that the other person knows they have offended us, and perhaps every known standard of decency as well.
I started noticing this a few years back when the U.S. Postal Service banned the use of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” signs in postal stations, forbade employees from saying those words, and pulled back from issuing a “Madonna and Child” artwork Christmas stamp—arguably the top-selling adhesive each year, behind those sporting the American flag.
And speaking of the flag, there was the student athlete at Manhattanville College in Purchase, 50 miles north of New York City, who turned her back on the flag during the singing of the national anthem. There was no religious objection here; the young woman just didn’t like the flag and felt “offended” by it during the run-up to the Iraq war.
Finally, there’s the outdoor restaurant in Kennebunk, Maine (just south of famed Kennebunkport), where the owner had to spray paint over the words “Hebrew National” on patio umbrellas. The town claimed he had too many “signs” on his property; the café owner said a city official claimed the umbrellas were, you guessed it, offensive.
Society can count one clear victory from these three cases. The athlete turned her back, but fans from opposing schools waved miniature American flags when she took to the floor; let’s call that a draw. The restaurateur lost his case in federal court and had to cover up the advertising.
But after national outrage, and under threat of a presidential tongue-lashing and congressional action, the U.S. Postal Service reversed itself and has, since 1995, continued to issue the religiously themed Christmas stamp. Adhesives honoring Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday, are also now available.
We can chuckle over some of these things, and perhaps a centuries-old painting isn’t your choice for Christmas décor, or even holiday mailings. The question remains, however, as to how far we should seek to impose our personal tastes on others, perhaps especially within the church.
As I understand it, the church is designed to be a family, by which I mean we look out for one another, and even “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other[s] better than themselves,” as Philippians 2:3 is rendered in the Authorized Version.
That means you can root for the Dallas Cowboys, and I, a Washington Redskins fan, can take it with a smile, however gritted my teeth may be. Do you prefer relish on your Veja-Links? That’s OK; I like sauerkraut. Are you voting for so-and-so? Fair enough; I support what’s-their-name.
When we encounter opinions and options and expressions that differ from our own tastes, I believe the Lord would have us think twice—maybe three times—before reacting with offense. Reacting quickly and taking offense is what the world does, and does rather well. We’re supposed to do better; or, as one wise Christian leader said to me long ago, we are “not expected just to do good, but to be good.”
I’ve long said, and still maintain, that Galatians 6:10 is one of the least-worn-out verses for many Christians: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Instead of jumping to take offense, how about leaping to love?
Mark Kellner is news editor of the Adventist Review.