Controversy Creates Change


Controversy is often framed as the boogie-man of religious institutions. Fear of iconoclasts, heretics, radicals, and fanatics usually move sainted administrators to completely taboo any and all controversy. “Team players” are defined as those who don’t rock the boat. Promotions are reserved for those who would never upset the status quo. If you aren’t a company woman or company man, don’t even think about upward mobility. Success within an institution is not designated for the ‘movers & shakers’ because institutions exist to do one thing—perpetuate themselves. And nothing threatens self-preservation like a healthy dose of controversy.

I have to admit it; I can’t blame religious institutions for their obsessive distaste for controversy. I think they recognize its natural progression: Controversy creates change. But institutions are allergic to change. When your primary focus is to preserve or perpetuate, change only portends the possibility of an institution’s demise. If innovation is allowed, an institution might become obsolete. If evolution is not stifled, an institution might fund its own expiration. So the unconventional thinkers find themselves persecuted with extreme prejudice. They are muzzled in order to preserve the people, practices, and procedures that have maintained the current paradigm. Without fail, religious institutions lean on tradition to justify their viability in a changing world—never noticing that their firm grip on the past causes them to relinquish a promising future. Or as Jesus prophesied: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it” (Matthew 16:25).

Here lies the tremendous irony of controversy intolerance: As an institution obsesses over eradicating controversy, they sign their own death warrant. If controversy is suppressed, meaningful change becomes less and less probable. And if an institution does not change, it can only digress into a toxic irrelevance that will poison any sign of refreshing variance. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Each man kills the thing he loves.” And religious institutions are not exempt from this criticism. All of them love to exist! Yet, they undermine their own liveliness whenever they strangle new ideas, new approaches, new people, and new processes.  

This is why I joined AdventistRevolution. This is why I am supporting the call for a controversial shift to take place.  The Seventh-day Adventist institution is killing the Seventh-day Adventist movement. The moratorium against controversy is yielding a cancerous rigidity that prohibits our message from properly progressing with the times. Our transformational message is being undermined by an obsession with “the good ole’ days.” And as we continue to push people towards remembering what was, we forfeit the opportunity to dream about what could be. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is no longer a progenitor of the vibrant, the vivacious, and the vivid; it is an establishment that refuses to be relevant because it refuses to embrace one undeniable truth—change is impossible without controversy.

As I see it, we could use some great controversy  in today’s Adventism. No, not a reprint of the epic work by Ellen G. White, but a group of Adventists who won’t allow the institutional hierarchy to continue suffocating the creativity and innovation that will yield change. I think it is time to start embracing controversy, because we desperately need a revitalizing rebrand. I think the time for change is now! And I think the way to spark said change is to ignite an AdventistRevolution.

- Michael Polite