Stories & Commentaries

U.S. Supreme Court Asks Government to Express View on Church Member's Case

U.S. Supreme Court Asks Government to Express View on Church Member's Case
current issues Patterson case


Seventh-day Adventist church member Darrell Patterson’s religious discrimination case against Walgreens continues to gain interest and support. Patterson asked the United States Supreme Court to hear his religious discrimination case (see the September 2018 edition of Adventist Journey for more detail). He was fired by Walgreens in 2011 because he refused to work at a call center on the Sabbath.

Since Patterson’s petition was filed last fall, several encouraging developments have occurred. First, other religious denominations and religious liberty groups filed friend of the court briefs in support. This wide-ranging collation included Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. Second, Walgreens was ordered by the court to respond to Patterson’s request, something it had declined to do on its own.

More good news came in January when four of the justices filed a “statement” concerning a different religious discrimination case dealing with a football coach fired for praying after games. In declining to hear his case, Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh strongly signaled interest in reexamining TWA v. Hardison.

This 1977 case set an extremely harmful legal precedent that religious employees have been fighting ever since. Patterson asked the court to revisit this decision, and the reference to Hardison by the justices was seen as interest in Patterson’s case.

In March the court reinforced its interest by asking the U.S. government to file a brief. This relatively rare request is made when the justices think the government, which has responsibility for enforcing the law, can help inform their decision. This was such a strong indication of interest by the court that it sparked an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (Mar. 22, 2019) by Pepperdine law professor Michael Helfand urging the government to support Patterson.

Darrell Patterson

Darrell Patterson’s religious discrimination case against Walgreens continues to gain interest and support. He was fired by Walgreens in 2011 because he refused to work at a call center on the Sabbath. Photo by Dan Weber

The government is likely to file its recommendation sometime during the summer. The justices will then decide, probably sometime in October or November, whether to take the case. If the Supreme Court does decide to take the case, it likely will be argued in early 2020, with a decision handed down before the end of June 2020.

Of course, none of this guarantees that the court will take Patterson’s case, let alone that he will win if it does. However, for the first time in over 40 years there is a very real opportunity to undo the mistake made in Hardison.

This opportunity did not come about by accident. It is the result of a faithful church member who stood up for the Sabbath eight years ago and a church that invests the resources to defend its members.

— Todd McFarland is associate general counsel for the Office of General Counsel of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; click here for background article and copy of "Cert Petition."

kmaran Wed, 04/17/2019 - 10:12

More Screentime Needed

More Screentime Needed
peoples choice

The 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival People's Choice award winners (students, center) accept their honor during the closing ceremony of the festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

The Sonscreen Film Festival began somewhat inauspiciously in 2002.

Stacia Wright (then Dulan) was finishing up her postgraduate internship in the North American Division’s Vervent office when Director Jere Wallack (who passed away in 2018) said to her, “I have a project specifically for you. I sat down with Ray Tetz and we came up with a name—it’s called SONscreen. But we have not defined what SONscreen is. That’s up to you.”

Wallack explained that the division wanted a project for young creatives across North America to help keep them engaged with the church, and mentor and help develop their creativity through TV or movies, shows or series.

Wright worked with Wallack to define and develop SONscreen, with the support of Kermit Netteburg, NAD assistant to the president for communication, and Debra Brill, NAD vice president.

“It was Jere’s strong desire to create a safe space for young Christian artists and filmmakers to express themselves and his complete faith in Stacia that led to the creation of Sonscreen,” said Julio Muñoz, current director of Sonscreen.

For 18 years the festival has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. Past directors include Wright, Paul Kim, George Johnson, and Dan Weber. The official film selections are divided into six categories: animated short, art/experimental short, dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, and high school short. The festival also includes Sonny Awards given to the best films in several categories.

Muñoz, who is also an associate director for the NAD’s Office of Communication, is wrapping up preparations for the next festival on April 4-6 at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. I sat down with him early in 2019 to talk about film, what’s currently happening with the festival, and what the future might hold.

Julio Munoz and Bill Mechanic during Q&A

At Loma Linda University in California, current festival director Julio Muñoz asks Bill Mechanic, chairman/CEO of Pandemonium Films, former chairman/CEO of 20th Century Fox Studios, and producer of "Hacksaw Ridge,"  questions during a Q&A segment at the 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Do you remember when Sonscreen started?

Yes, back in 2002, the North American Division started something that the church had never done before, and has not to this point attempted again: a film festival sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

It had meager beginnings, and some of the organizers told me that they were prepared to take on pretty much any films that were submitted by young adults.

During that time, while I was a young adult working as a video producer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the festival grew. Slowly and steadily it continued to grow. Years later we now average more than 200 attendees each year, with more than 60 film submissions from across the division.

At each festival we have this multigenerational collaboration between what we call Sonscreen alumni and current film students. We showcase a few professional films, we have a lot of time for interaction, and there is, of course, the jury process. It’s a competition, and the filmmakers get feedback through the process. The festival is a learning opportunity for those who attend.

What’s the draw? Why the continued growth?

It grew, and continues to grow, because filmmaking is a collaborative art form. It’s very difficult, unless you’re making a short film, to do something all by yourself. Creatives and filmmakers seek each other and want to collaborate, want to work together, want to find community—and that’s really what Sonscreen is.

Many of the young filmmakers there at the beginning are now professionals in their own right, and they’re still collaborating. Perhaps the best example of that is Old Fashioned, a feature film released theatrically a few years ago that was produced by various filmmakers who met at Sonscreen in the early days.

Sonscreen is still a community of young Christian filmmakers who, for the most part, attend the Adventist colleges and universities in North America that have film programs. Attendees have that in common, although in the almost five years that I’ve been the director of the festival, the high school segment of filmmakers is growing rapidly with the quality of their films improving. But still, the majority of films are submitted by college- and university-age students.

That bodes well for having the sense of community you mentioned. You have seasoned professionals and university and college and high school students helping each other and working together.

As the festival has grown we have more films submitted than we can possibly show during the festival. But we still plan to include as many high school films as possible because it’s good experience.

We see that kind of mentoring relationship developing between college/university students and high school students. And likewise, many of the young filmmakers involved with Sonscreen from the beginning, now working professionals, continue to come back to the festival. They have good relationships with the colleges and universities, and continue to mentor the younger generations.

How has the film festival transformed in the past few years?

I can think of three things that have changed since I’ve been director. First, the growth of the high school films—in quantity and quality. Second, in general, an increase in the number of quality submissions. Our submission numbers have climbed, but not by a large amount. What has changed is that the majority of films submitted are of a higher quality, so it’s more difficult to pick. They’re good films.

A lot of kids are turning in a lot of good films, and there’s also been an increase in professional submissions as well. We’ve had to become more selective in choosing the official selections for the festival.

The third thing is that the subject matter presented in the films is more representative of the lives of the filmmakers. The real issues that they deal with—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are in these films.

We try to give the filmmakers the creative freedom to express themselves in real and honest ways. These young people have real problems. We all do. We live in the real world with real people who have real troubles, real joys. So we want to encourage the filmmakers to express themselves as honestly as possible.

This has made some of the films challenging for some to watch. But nevertheless, that’s something I have seen in the past four years. The filmmaking has become more honest. Young people are telling their stories, and therefore are able to connect with other young people who are also living those stories.

That’s what film does. It connects people together through storytelling.

The lives of the filmmakers are the content of the films. They’re their stories. And one of the most powerful ways to communicate, to connect, is through story. Expanding on this idea, how important do you see the use of film for the church? And how can Sonscreen be part of a future in which the church uses this tool more effectively?

Historically, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was always at the forefront of using media to engage society, to carry out evangelism. In terms of radio it was through the Voice of Prophecy. H.M.S. Richards was really a visionary. The Adventist Church was one of the first Christian denominations to broadcast nationally on radio. Then the Fagals with Faith for Today became one of the first Christian television broadcasts.

In the 1970s Faith for Today developed its first scripted drama series, a regular TV series about the fictional Westbrook Hospital. This series was broadcast on the networks, through syndication, available to a mass audience.

More important, it was scripted storytelling. It was a drama. It wasn’t a pastor in a studio giving a sermon or giving a talk, or a documentary. It was using storytelling, which, if we look at Jesus as our example, He was the master storyteller. He used parables to make a point. Storytelling has a rich tradition in Christian communication, but our church stopped after Westbrook Hospital in the early 1980s.

We’ve found ourselves in the back of the line—other denominations have used scripted storytelling, dramatic storytelling, as a means to connect with a broader audience. We have not. We’ve fallen behind. A lot of young Adventist filmmakers are very eager to use their talents and abilities in this medium, using dramatic storytelling through film and television to connect with a broader audience.

Many people enjoy the current, traditional church programming. There’s no question that it works with certain groups. But there are also many secular and postmodern people, including Adventists, who will not watch that. They won’t. We have to compete now with the programming on Netflix, on Hulu, HBO, and the like. Many call this the second golden age of television.

That’s what church programming has to compete with. It would behoove the church to use storytelling to create parables—allegories if you will—to connect with this audience. The filmmakers who are part of Sonscreen, and Sonscreen itself, can begin to create more of this type of original programming for the church.

Soncreen 2018 panel discussion

Filmmakers answer audience questions during a panel discussion at the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival held in Columbia, Maryland. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Give some examples of how you see Sonscreen’s future in creating and sharing new content.

We have the film festival now, with film screenings, question-and-answer sessions, panels, and keynote presentations. The second part I’d like to develop more fully is the educational component, at the festival and beyond. For example, in January 2018 we sponsored our first miniworkshop for Hawaiian Mission Academy. Hawaiian Mission Academy has a program that is beginning to grow very quickly, but they don’t have the same resources as other high schools. We helped sponsor a workshop by Southern Adventist University’s film department. Some of its professors came for a two-day workshop.

We want to do more of this, connecting professionals with students, and helping give them access to resources.

The third part is to help create original content. Creating content, scripted drama, short films, feature films, TV shows, etc., takes money. We are blessed with support from the NAD, which helps us fund student attendance to the festival, and we were fortunate to receive a small grant in 2018 from the Versacare Foundation. Part of that grant helped us with the festival; we were also able to fund a short 2018 film on refugees. It was produced by Jefferson Rodrigues, who is a graduate of Southern Adventist University and a Sonscreen alumnus. For this project he worked with students at Southern Adventist University to produce this film on a shoestring budget of $10,000.

That’s one of a few original projects we’ve been developing under Sonscreen Films, the production arm of the festival. And thanks to the NAD, we were able to collaborate with the Walla Walla University Center for Media Ministry, and Rachel Scribner, a graduate student there who adapted the script and produced the NAD’s version of the Web series called Arnion, which means “The Lamb” in Greek. Arnion was originally produced by Stimme der Hoffnung, the European Adventist Media Center. The division purchased the rights to adapt this series on Revelation geared for a postmodern and Adventist audience.

The content is incredibly accessible. The grand themes of revelation, of love, of hope, of salvation are highlighted in the series. I’ve just received what I hope is the final version of the show, and it looks fantastic. It includes 10 eight-minute episodes—short and easy to digest online.

We’ve applied for another grant and we hope it works out. We are also looking to cultivate more partnerships to get additional funding to develop more original programming. And if we create original programming, we need to put it somewhere for people to watch.

We’re working with Haystack TV, which is part of the NAD’s Adventist Learning Community, to develop a platform for Sonscreen—a channel where we can stream a lot of this original content. Our goal is to put it someplace where people who want for this type of programming, the audience we want to connect with, will be looking.

What does Sonscreen look like to you in 2020; and what do you see in 2025?

In 2020 I see the quality of the films submitted continuing to improve, and the festival becoming much more competitive in terms of having a film accepted into the festival—where it is an honor just to be accepted because there are so many good film submissions. In 2025 I would like to see the festival itself not only thriving, but Sonscreen Films, the production arm, being able to produce at least a handful of short films and at least one TV series—a scripted TV drama series we’re creating that will be available for a mass audience to consume.

For several years now we’ve been developing a scripted drama in conjunction with Stimme der Hoffnung. It’s a TV series about chaplains both in a hospital and in a university setting. What makes the series unique is the premise: we want the chaplains depicted as real people, dealing with real issues and encounters in their work.

These characters aren’t perfect people. Chaplains, like any other Christians, have their share of problems, downfalls, so we would show it—make it—as real as possible. That’s a series we’re developing. Of course, creating a series of this high caliber takes a lot of money. Putting the funding together is a challenge. But we are optimistic that the right funding partner(s) will come along to support this endeavor.

Scripted drama, films, and television programs give us a platform by which we can talk about the gospel in present-day language. We can do this in ways that are real to people who are living through challenges, and seeking something, or Someone, beyond themselves.

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of Communication for the North American Division.

kmaran Thu, 04/04/2019 - 11:21

From Chronic Pain to Courage

From Chronic Pain to Courage
Becky Curtis' black jeep, or what's left of it

Becky Curtis’ Jeep shows the damage from her 2005 crash on the way home from the Montana Conference Camp Meeting. Photo provided by the Pacific Union Recorder

During a drive home from the Montana Conference Camp Meeting in 2005, life for Becky Curtis and her family changed dramatically. A car accident left her with a spinal cord injury and the loss of almost all movement on the left side of her body. In the 13 years following the accident, her life has been a journey — from suffering chronic pain to managing her pain and helping others to do the same. Despite the immense challenges, Curtis knows that God had a plan all along.

Curtis and her then 14-years-old son Spencer were driving behind her husband, Barry, on the four-hour trip home to Hamilton, Montana. It had been a long day. She remembers her wheels touching the gravel on the side of the road, a second of overcorrecting, and then 100 yards of rolling. Photos of the totaled Jeep show the intensity of the crash. Spencer sustained a concussion. When the car came to a stop, Curtis knew her neck was broken.

Becky Curtis in neck brace after terrible car accident

After her accident, Becky Curtis is treated for a spinal cord injury. Curtis underwent countless hours of intense rehabilitation to restore her ability to walk. Just when life was returning to normal, she developed an inoperable cyst in the middle of her spinal cord which caused burning nerve pain. Photo provided by the Pacific Union Recorder

Life Changed

“I was a busy mom,” Curtis said, describing life before the accident. “I was a realtor in the Bitterroot, and life was pretty fast paced.” She went from being a busy mom to a bedridden patient. “At best, I was getting around in a wheelchair,” she said.

Curtis continued to gain strength and movement. Two years into recovery, the prognosis looked good. Then, suddenly, she felt a new and overwhelming pain from the neck down. She had developed a syrinx, a cyst in the middle of her spinal cord that caused burning nerve pain. Though doctors tried everything imaginable, nothing could both ease the pain and maintain her quality of life.

Curtis described begging and pleading with her doctor for solutions. “I expected it to get better or that our modern medical world would have a cure for the pain,” she said. Feeling unable to function, Curtis fell into depression. “I had a lifetime of faith reminding me God had a plan, but it was a dark time.”

The pain was immense, and all solutions were out of sight. Her support system of family and friends encouraged her to keep moving forward, but her husband remembers asking, “How can God leave her with all this pain?”

Active Modalities

In 2007, Curtis finally found help at a pain clinic in California. “I discovered that the way to manage pain was no longer going to be on someone else. I did not find a passive cure for my pain. What I did find was active modalities for managing it,” she said.

At the pain clinic, Curtis’s behavioral medicine specialist was Joel O’Beso, an Adventist Doctor of Psychology, who noted her success at adopting pain management techniques, as well as her strong commitment to helping others. O’Beso encouraged her to consider becoming a pain coach someday. Curtis determined that if she could ever get her pain under control, she would help others through this process. 

Not long after implementing the techniques she’d learned, Curtis felt life turning around. Able to better cope with the pain, she started imagining more possibilities. In 2008, she founded Take Courage Coaching, a company now comprising 18 coaches trained to help others manage chronic pain. As part of her work, Curtis travels across the U.S. speaking at health conferences, including Mayo Clinic-sponsored conferences. “My personal journey is no longer focused on my pain but focused on helping others,” she said.

Becky Curtis speaking on panel

At the WorkcompCentral Conference in 2017, Becky Curtis spoke on a panel with several doctors about pain management. Curtis also received an award during this event. Photo provided by the Pacific Union Recorder


Curtis still experiences chronic nerve pain, but manages the pain through exercise, good nutrition, plenty of rest, and guarding herself against negative thinking and stress. Through adaptations in her kitchen, she is able to continue cooking, which she loves. She also goes hiking with her husband and their miniature Australian shepherd, Quigley. “Life is much slower,” Curtis laughed good-naturedly.

Becky Curtis has learned the meaning of Paul’s words, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9, KJV).

In a journal entry right before the accident, Curtis wrote: “Okay God, I don’t know what You want me to do or be, but I’m willing to do whatever You want of me.” Her accident at first made her feel useless, but now she sees what it was all about. “In looking back, I can see His hand, that God had a purpose and a call for me.”

To read more about Curtis’s experience managing her chronic pain, visit her blog on

— Faith Hoyt is a communications intern for the Pacific Union Conference; the article, "Becky Curtis Journeys from Chronic Pain to Courage," used by permission, was originally published in the January 2019 Pacific Union Recorder.

kmaran Mon, 04/01/2019 - 13:20

Responding to the New Zealand Mosque Massacre

Responding to the New Zealand Mosque Massacre
stock photo of two Muslim women talking to third women

Photo from iStock

Following the news of the March 15, 2019, massacre of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, we reached out to our Muslim neighbors and a local mosque. The following two stories share what happened during those visits. — Gabriela Phillips and Gerald Babenezhad. 

Story 1: This Church Knows

As I (Gaby) walked into Jamila’s home, I knew something was seriously wrong. Her usually cheerful self was hiding under puffy eyes and a somber mood. I did not see any of her colorful Kurdish outfits, just black — black robe, black shoes, black memories from a past that, as a refugee, she wanted to keep buried.

Since the mosque mass shootings in New Zealand three days before, her locked-tight grief and fear suddenly now ran loose, untamed. When words failed her, a flood of tears came to her rescue. She has three sons and feared for all of them.

“Why? Why! Why?” Jamila pleaded, as if expecting me to explain why undiluted evil seemed to be winning. “Why? These people only wanted to pray.”

“One of the victims was the son of Jannah, a well-known calligrapher, and there are victims from Pakistan, Iraq, Syria . . .” and the list went on before she paused to gasp for breath. Quietly, her younger son came and tenderly hugged her.

Wishing to say something soothing, I finally spoke. “Sister, all over the world there are many people hurting with you over what happened, even if they seem silent. As believers, we recognize that all humans are given breath by God before they belong to any religion or nationality. But if we allow terrorists to poison our hearts and make us afraid, then they win. The purpose of terrorism is to instill terror. To poison our children to believe that we cannot live together.”

I continued, “As people of faith, we stand shoulder to shoulder together before the same Creator and Father of all. We to ask God to replace fear with His love, so that every time one of us [is attacked], we come closer to each other. Then Shaytan (Satan) loses.” 

Jamila agreed, “We cannot let the terrorists win.” Our friend Fatima was with us, so she and Jamila recited some comforting verses from the Qur’an.

Fatima also told Jamila that we had talked about this very thing earlier in the afternoon, at our monthly gathering of Adventists and Muslims. At this gathering we typically eat, deepen friendships, and share stories of Jesus. But that day there was something extra. A group of teens from the South Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, joined us on behalf of their congregation. Led by Nicole Parker, an elder's wife, and Faith Anderson, the pastor’s wife, the teens brought a handwritten poster board with the words: “We Are One Community.” Many hearts, signatures, and hope-filled comments such as “Love will win” surrounded their message. During the gathering, Nicole said they would stand side by side with our local Muslims and protect them. She rejected violence in no uncertain terms.

I did not realize how important the teens' presence was until I was with Jamila.

Even though Jamila and her family had not attended our gathering this time, someone had already reported to her in great detail. But she had missed an important point. “Gaby,” Jamila said, “I know that your family and the Handals love us, but what about other American people? Can they see that we are here to enrich them too? Do they accept us?”

Fatima nodded as Jamila continued, “We perceive a very strong anti-foreign sentiment — this is my country, these are our jobs, these are our schools, we do not want you to use them. Can they see that we came to add, not to subtract?” 

Both Fatima and I had pictures from our earlier gathering, so I pulled out my phone and said, “This church knows. Look at these young people. They are growing up with another mentality. They came to say that as people of faith they recognize your value and want to tell your children that fear will not win. These are also Americans.”

Jamila wiped her tears, called her younger son and nephew and told them in Arabic what I said. Showing them the picture and pointing to the poster board, she said with a soft smile, “These people want us here. They love us.”

— Gabriela Phillips is the North American Division coordinator for Adventist-Muslim Relations.

Story 2: Do You Have a Word for Us?

After hearing about the shootings in New Zealand, I knew I had to go visit the nearby mosque in Northridge, California, and extend condolences.

As I drove into the parking lot, an elder greeted me. I introduced myself as an Adventist wishing to offer my deepest sympathies after the tragedy. Surprised and touched, he said he would have the imam (pastor) meet me as soon as he arrived. I sat in the mosque and prayed for my Muslim brothers and sisters here and in New Zealand. In a short time, a rather young man, maybe late twenties, walked up and introduced himself as the imam. I expressed sincere condolences and he was quite moved. “Brother,” he said, “would you be interested in sharing a message with us? Do you have a word for our congregation?” I gladly accepted.

Cutting short his sermon (and suffering from a sore throat anyway), the imam introduced me to the 200 men that packed the mosque. With a silent prayer that God would use me I said, “Blessings to you from the Almighty. My name is Gerald Babanezhad and as an Adventist, I am here to extend heartfelt condolences in this time of grief.” 

Most Muslims do not know about Adventists, so I opened their sacred scriptures and recited in Arabic: “So if you are in doubt, about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters” (Yunus 10:94). 

I continued, “You see, there is a people who are reading the previous revelations and can clarify doubts.”

“They are not (all) the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing (in obedience), reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating (in prayer). They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous. And whatever good they do — never will it be removed from them. And Allah is Knowing of the righteous” (Al Imran 3:113-115).

The congregation seemed to connect with those verses for this is a Quranic admonition.

I am certain that it was strange to see an Adventist calling them to seek for the true “People of the Book” in their own scriptures. I added, “Such people are in your midst. I represent a community that adheres to the tenets of God’s revelation, to His law which has not changed.”

I shared further with them that we are followers ofIsa Al Masih (Jesus the Messiah), using Islamic words and phrases they could identify with. I concluded with Jesus' words: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35, KJV). There was a loud response as those gathered resonated with the text. 

As I was returning to my seat, the director of the mosque came to me saying, “I need your phone number. I need to contact you.” Before I left, many came to inquire more and to thank me. I was overwhelmed by the response. 

One man said, “Brother, thank you for preaching for us from the Qur’an. Now we understand who are the People of the Book.”

Another Muslim asked, “Can you explain the meaning of Seventh-day Adventist? I don’t know who you people are.” 

“Our name is a combination of two words,” I said, explaining in Quaranic language the belief in Creation and resting on the seventh day of the week. I also explained the Advent — we believe that Isa Al Masih will soon return. “We are getting ready for it and we are sharing this news with everyone and anyone we possibly can,” I added. The man hugged me in thanks.

Several other Muslims requested my help in finding ways to approach collaborating with other Christian faith groups in their area. I can see clearly now that the Muslim community was/is receptive to what I had to share, and I have already connected the local Adventist pastor with them for follow-up.

We may not know the Qur'an or Arabic, but our presence can minister healing, if we are willing to go and extend a hand of friendship. 

— Gerald Babanezhad is speaker/director for A Sure Harvest Ministries and is on the advisory board of the NAD Adventist-Muslim Relations.

kmaran Thu, 03/28/2019 - 12:47


Related Information

North American Division