Mr. Wallace Smith created a firestorm with his February 2022 Tomorrow’s World magazine article “The Credibility Crisis.” In it, he wrote that “in the United States, former President Donald Trump divided the nation for four years.” Some subscribers called to vent their wrath and cancel their subscriptions. The number was relatively small, but we know that even a few Church members chafed over that sentence.
What readers did not know was that the article as originally written was too long and needed words to be cut, so some qualifying statements were on the chopping block. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith reviewed the article as cut—and, as the trouper he is, took full responsibility. Of course, I reviewed it as well, and the thought occurred to me that we would get criticism from some who see the former President as a messiah who will save America—so I, too, take some responsibility. On the other hand, “Never Trumpers” no doubt reveled in the comment, especially those who see Tomorrow’s World as too “conservative” and “Republican.”
Interestingly, Mr. Smith later received criticism from a Canadian reader who, with strong emotion, accused him of being a Trump voter—which, of course, he was not. Sometimes you just cannot win. The statement about dividing the nation might have benefited from a little more context, but even Mr. Trump’s supporters see him as “a disrupter”—which sounds a lot like someone willing to create division. Regardless, pleasing our audience is not our goal; we aim to tell the truth.
Mr. Smith is not our only writer to receive some readers’ wrath. We are all targets for criticism. More recently, Mr. Richard Ames may have “bested” Mr. Smith with his January 2023 cover article, in which he asked the question, “Are You Going to Hell?” Church members no doubt read it as giving encouragement to non-members who suffer with their thoughts of “unsaved” loved ones writhing in pain now and forever. But not so for some readers who do not want the wicked “off the hook.” They want them to suffer “until the twelfth of never and that’s a long, long time.” But of course, unlike Johnny Mathis’ popular love song, there is no love in this refrain. Some people simply love fire and punishment—for others!
Yet, while Mr. Ames’ article received some negative reactions, there were others—such as four people who attended one of our Tomorrow’s World presentations—who approached us favorably because of it. They felt enlightened and comforted by the truths of the Bible that Mr. Ames’ article brought out.
Resist the Temptation of Bitterness
Some things must be said, and no articles or telecasts will please everyone—nor should they. Such is the case with my Editorial in this issue of the Living Church News. It will not please everyone, but the Church must take a clear stand on this particular subject, lest we take an unclear stand by ignoring it. “No decision is a decision.”
We all tend to see things myopically, shortsightedly, from our own little world. It is difficult to see the grand picture on almost any subject, and to see it from someone else’s perspective. And even among our most faithful members, we often fail to see that this Work is a worldwide Work involving many nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues. We are all children of Abraham if Christ is living in us, but that does not mean we don’t come from different cultures and different tribes. How you or I personally perceive an issue may not appreciate the bigger picture.
One of the most influential books I ever read is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman describes how television in the second half of the twentieth century transformed the way we think and act. He explored the common expression “A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many of us have repeated that? Yes, a picture may tell us a lot, but it can also be limited by a lack of context. What happened before the instant the shutter opened and closed? What happened after? What was just outside of the picture—to the left, right, top, and bottom?
In this age of instant facts, biased media, and misinformation—deliberate deceptions and carelessly shared messages—we tend to form strong opinions on topics we may not fully understand. Our age, our background, and our ignorance of the world and its history all shape and limit our perspective on many subjects. Since we can’t visibly see the “god of this world,” we may not notice how subtly he “works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
The author of Hebrews, whom we believe was the Apostle Paul, wrote to brethren who had been part of the Church for a long time, some of whom were losing their focus. They were self-satisfied with their understanding and had not grown to the degree their years in the Church would suggest (Hebrews 5:11–14). Paul admonished them to live in peace with one another. He warned them not to allow temporary desires or bitter emotions to blind them from the great prize for which they were called.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:14–17).
Satan is a master of making the worldly course he promotes look good, though it is not. He stirs emotions of lust, anger, and hatred as he appeals to the here and now. He will plant a root of bitterness in us if we allow him to do so—and he will cultivate it, fertilize it, give it plenty of sunshine, and plant more weeds to keep it company.
Never Forget the Big Picture
My Editorial in this Living Church News addresses a most sensitive subject, one that can stir emotions and bitterness for any who let that happen—but we must address it, as by not addressing it, we would be making a statement by default. We will never please everyone, nor should we try to. As Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
I appeal to you, dear brethren—all of you—let us love one another. Let us respect one another. Let us respect the decisions some have made prior to coming into the Church, or even after coming into the Church.
On one occasion, Jesus told His followers, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56). Many of His disciples found this to be a hard saying, were unable to understand it, and were offended by it. This was a turning point for many, a bridge too far.
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66–68).
Notice that Peter and the others did not say that they understood what Jesus was saying, but they saw the big picture. This is a lesson for us. We don’t all understand everything the same way all at once, but we must never forget the big picture—and the Church of God must never be afraid to tell the truth.