Out of the Box


I was the first born child of a newly baptized "legalistic, perfectionist" mother and an "unbelieving" father. This created a lot of confusion for me growing up. My earliest memories were that I was encouraged to pray for my Dad who smoked, drank and by Adventist standards was quite wordly. The prayer was that he would accept "The Truth." As I was able to reason things out for myself I thought it strange that my unchurched Dad always let me know how special I was, loved me unconditionally and told me til the day he died that "The day I was born was the happiest day of his life." What an affirmation that was for me as a child and an adult to understand God's love! I just didn't find it in the Adventist church or schools. I was terrified of the last day events and time of trouble and felt I could never be good enough to go to heaven. My view of God was that he was stern and harsh and was keeping track of all my sins and if there was one unconfessed sin when I died or when the time of trouble came I would miss out on heaven. What a heavy load to carry for a child or an adult! No wonder they are called "Sadventists."

I believe that all of us long for a spiritual connection even though we don't realize it and go about it in the wrong way many times. My way of trying to find it was marrying someone who was studying for the ministry and seemed to know the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy and could quote passages and seemed to answer any religious question that was asked. His charisma and enthusiasm for the Adventist message literally swept me off my feet. Shortly after our marriage however I had a rude awakening when I realized he was extremely controlling and moody and had an enormous amount of anger and rage. Our marriage was not easy but I didn't believe in divorce so I stayed with him and tried to pretend to family and friends that all was well. There were times when things would go ok for awhile and then as typical of abusers something would set him off and I would walk on eggshells til the storm passed. He was never physically abusive but the verbal and emotional abuse left deep scars. He was also a very harsh disciplinarian with our three children, especially our son. He suffered unspeakable trauma and both of the youngest children have been through years of therapy and I'm happy to say have become very emotionally healthy and are compassionate professional people. However the scars don't ever really go away that are suffered in a dysfunctional family. My one regret is that I didn't stand up to my husband but I felt very threatened by his anger.

In 1977 Dr. and Mrs. Ed Banks from Andrews University held a Marriage Enrichment Seminar in Collegedale where we lived and even though my husband was very reluctant about going he did finally agree to attend. That wk. end was the beginning of my new life. The Banks' were very spiritual and yet Dr. Banks gave a lot of food for thought about the inconsistencies in Adventism. I saw God in a way I had never seen Him before during that wk. end. It also seemed to renew our marriage for a time.I was so enthused about what these seminars could do to heal Adventist marriages that I wanted to help getting these seminars together in the Collegedale area and as a result my husband and I got the training to conduct seminars. I became very obsessed with spirituality and read Ellen White books as never before and became a crusader in opposition to the "New Theology" that was threatening to split the Adventist church. We had a minister at the time at the Collegedale church who became a close personal friend and he was rather liberal and sympathetic to Des Ford and some of the Theology teachers who were making waves. He gave me a lot to think about as far as the Adventist church was concerned. It was so new to me to question what I had always believed were absolute truths in the Adventist church. I began to become angry about the things that were said in Sabbath School classes and the hypocrisy I saw in a lot of the members.

In 1991 I was excited about a "Celebration" type church that was being established in the Chattanooga area. I was tired of the dead routine services that seemed to be the norm in most Adventist churches. I became very involved in helping with the start of this church and actively invited people whom I knew were also looking for something more. My husband was very reluctant to be involved in this new church. He was still very traditional and legalistic. His work in the medical field kept him from attending church most Sabbaths so I became very involved. It was very refreshing to have music that was alive and enthusiastic and the skits were really timely. The minister and some of his friends that were involved since the church's beginning had all been to Willow Creek and were patterning this church after the methods they had learned there. Even though this was a great experience attending a much less legalistic church, there was still something bothering me. I felt that the minister and some of the leaders were afraid to offend the conference by straying too far from the accepted rules. The conference seemed to be happy with the backslidden Adventists that were attending, but there were limits to what they considered acceptable within the framework of the church.

My marriage was continuing to deteriorate and being in therapy helped me to realize I had to leave this marriage to survive. Shortly after my divorce I moved to Hendersonville NC where my daughter had already moved a short time before. I found a church in Asheville that was similar to the one I had left in Chattanooga. There were still many nagging questions about Adventism and what I really believed. I went with the pastor and other members to Willow Creek for the second time and it really solidified a lot of things for me. I realized that these thousands of people from other countries and other churches loved God and there was a definite presence of the Holy Spirit during the training session that we attended. I noticed that the Adventists tended to stay in their comfort zone of being with Adventists primarily instead of mingling and sharing with other christians who have so much to teach us about love, forgiveness and acceptance.

Shortly after returning from Willow Creek I made a very difficult decision to climb out of the box and not look back. This was more difficult in many ways than leaving my marriage. I sobbed all the way home the day I left the Adventist church and knew I wouldn't be returning. It has been 5 years since I made the decision to have my name removed from the church. This is a decision I have never regretted. My spiritual journey has brought some wonderful helpful people into my life. I attended some other denominations at first but as time has gone by I realize that organized religion is not the path I have chosen for my spiritual development. My time spent in quiet reflection and listening to God are what seem to benefit me the most on my journey. I have a peace and joy that I never felt in the years that I felt trapped in the Adventist Box. I now realize that I wasn't trapped at all. All I had to do was open up the box and walk away.

Arlene Gerrez


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