March 1, 2022 | Raymond Waller | Elder, Vassar SDA
In 2017, the state of Michigan legalized the delivery of alcohol by mail. The following year, Michigan voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana. And then came the pandemic. Ever since early 2020, alcohol and marijuana use has been skyrocketing. Take marijuana for instance, which saw $135 million in Michigan sales in December 2021 alone.
For the Vassar church, this issue is literally inescapable, as an abandoned factory near the center of town is being converted into a marijuana commerce park, complete with outdoor shopping, café, private smoking rooms and a cannabis beverage factory. The new venture demonstrates the aggressiveness of the alcohol and marijuana industries. As a church, we felt we had to respond.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have an incredible history of leadership around the issue of temperance. Ellen White was a known and sought after speaker on temperance issues. And due to her inspired counsels, Adventists had a broad based platform from which they could address the topic – understanding that the roots of alcoholism can “be traced to the home table” (Temperance, p. 156).
This history, while implying a moral obligation to inform others, has provided a tremendous opportunity, and indeed privilege, of educating the world on public health issues. This is especially true in crises that, if left unchecked, would make it impossible for individuals to understand our distinctive message of hope.
To be sure, there are many Christian groups that share our concerns about the recreational use of marijuana. However, effective education on marijuana is hard to find due to the permissive stance of many Christians on alcohol. Adventists may be the only large Christian group well positioned to speak on the inherent dangers of both of these substances.
The development of this large-scale marijuana manufacturing and grow site, in a rural town like Vassar, and right next to rail for quick movement of large quantities, says a lot. Jesus, John and Paul all warned the church that deception would escalate just prior to Christ’s second coming. One way in which this is occurring is in methods of deception that people ask for and love. Addictions provide the allure of fun and the seeming promise of a temporary escape from reality; until one wants to stop, but discovers they’re enslaved.
Our need to respond wasn’t self-generated. Rather, God wanted to respond, for He loves people. So, starting with a small committee, we began designing a simple poster, essay and oratorical contest, targeting 7th – 12th graders across our region. The idea quickly developed, gaining church support and several volunteers. Thanks to the quick work of pastors Dick Bullock and Fred Calkins, we also gained the support of other local Adventist churches. Together, we knew that reaching young people was key, because through them we could also reach their parents. It made sense to allocate a portion of the church evangelism budget for the cash awards given to the contest winners.
To promote the contest, a group of church volunteers emailed every sheriff, mayor, city manager, judge, school principal, Art teacher, English teacher and head Librarian in Huron, Port Sanilac and Tuscola counties. Along with the supportive responses we received, these emails provided an opportunity to introduce our Adventist churches to regional thought leaders.
And, the results are in! The first place winner for the oratorical contest was Maze Gusa, a senior at Ubly High School. The first place winner for the essay contest was Julian Gerstenberger, a home-school student in the 8th grade. Both young people represented their families well.
“Of all who claim to be numbered among the friends of temperance, Seventh-day Adventists should stand in the front ranks” (Gospel Workers, p. 384). As Seventh-day Adventists, temperance should be in our DNA. And, knowing the downstream collateral damage that addictive substances inflict on communities and individual homes, the volume of our collective voice on this topic needs to increase in a marked way. While thrilled for our contest winners, it would be an even greater thrill to see similar temperance activities elevated across our conference.
Now that the contest has ended, we’re considering doing the contest again next year. We don’t want to be known merely for our stance on temperance, however. Our health message is broad based. We’ve partnered with an Adventist non-profit called Lifestyle By Design Health (www.lifestylebydesignhealth.org) that produces an all-natural Immune Care Box as a health evangelism tool. Our members are prayerfully giving boxes to neighbors, family and friends, with the intent of promoting strong immune health and educating on right health principals.
And the next time an announcement is made for an evangelistic harvesting series, the individuals we’re now praying about, fasting over and studying with will respond to the disinterested kindness revealed through us from our heavenly Father.