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Part 2 of 2: Santiago interviews Will James, an ex-Adventist husband, dad, lawyer, and TikToker based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. We discuss writing wills for SDA church members, Will's deconstruction from Adventism, telling his parents, and navigating his own parental responsibilities after deconstructing at just the right moment.
Will's Law Practice Website
Will's TikTok (@will.i.jam)
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher
Iyanla Vanzant "The past is present"
Rachel Held Evans (Author)
Peter Ennes (Author)
Other Episodes Mentioned:
Melissa Duge Spiers Interview (S1E10 - Part 1)
Melissa Duge Spiers Interview (S1E11 - Part 2)
Matthew Vollmer Interview (S1E16 - Part 1)
Matthew Vollmer Interview (S1E17 - Part 2)
Race, Slavery, and Racism in Christianity and Adventism (S1E19)
The Amalgamation of Man and Beast!? (S1E20)
Adventist Estate Stories:
Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
Welcome to Part 2!
[00:00:16] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago, and this is Part 2 of my conversation with Will James. If you haven't already heard Part 1, please go back to Season 2, Episode 3. This episode has a ton of great information, including parenting and deconstruction advice, so make sure to listen all the way through. Also, don't forget to see the show notes, leave a like on YouTube, and rate the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
[00:00:47] Last, but definitely not least, I want to give a big shout out to the listener who just became a monthly supporter of the show and also donated to help the Dunk family. We're still raising funds for fellow listeners of the show and I'm going to personally match every donation that comes in between now and the end of 2023. So please see the first link in the show notes to help out your fellow listeners.
Will: Ex-SDA Husband, Dad, Lawyer and TikToker
[00:01:17] Will: And I just had no idea the mountain of things I was going to find and questions that I had that I thought no one was asking, that had been asked from the inception of Adventism, over and over again. And I'm like, "Oh, this is out there." We just, when I was a kid or a teenager wondering, there wasn't a resource to find it.
[00:01:42] Like once I found Desmond Ford talk about the Investigative Judgment, or Walter Rea talking about Ellen White's, um, "borrowing issues," since plagiarism is a tough word for people to swallow on that. Like those things were available, they were just there. But no one, you weren't going to find them anywhere.
[00:02:06] And then all of a sudden you could google anything, and there everything was. And I had avoided doing it because the first time... It was WebCrawler, we would call it Googling now, but it was definitely WebCrawler or Meta Crawler, something like that. I Googled or I searched for Seventh-day Adventism, and the only result that came up was "Seventh-day Adventism is a cult."
[00:02:28] And I didn't search it again for decades because I was like, "Oh, the internet is the devil." "Uh, I've got to get off of this thing." It was weird because that was the only thing you could get and I didn't want to look at it. But then you could get so many different ideas of Adventism. Like there are Adventists now, that I would explain what Adventism is to them, and they would not believe me at all. And I'm like, "Where were you guys?" "I might've liked y'alls." "I might've been able to hang!"
[00:03:01] Santiago: I'm glad you mentioned that because I want to bring us back super quick to these nature walks you did and kind of this idea of the Adventism that it sounds like you and I kind of grew up in. You know, I was there a little bit later. I was on the West Coast. I wasn't in Texas and Oklahoma. So, you know, I'm sure there were some differences in that.
[00:03:23] But I hear from progressive Adventists who will say, "Hey, Amazing Facts is fringe." "Ted Wilson is on the fringe of Adventism." "That's fringe Adventism." And I'm like, "Is it though?" Because that's what I, that's what I grew up in. That's all I know. That's what the churches around me that weren't liberal, the "godless liberal churches," maybe were, were, were not like us, but most of the other churches I knew in my West Coast state, were like that.
[00:03:57] And they had Amazing Facts seminars, and then they had the independent evangelists come through who were basically Amazing Facts, maybe a step even further out into the fringe. This is what I know and I feel like a lot of the people who are listening to this probably grew up in something like that, too. So I want to hear, was it just one church where you did these nature walks? Was it multiple churches? What was that like?
[00:04:23] Will: I want to say the nature walks were always at camp meetings. So we did a week in Texas 'cause we were part of the Southwest Region Conference. There was the same campgrounds out that the church bought in Athens, Texas, Tyler, Texas, and we were there for a week.
[00:04:46] My parents taught aerobics every morning and they paid for our lodging, for them doing aerobics. But you're there for the week. And so you just have random people assigned to take care of the youth and the children in these different large tents. And every now and again, I don't know if it was just, they ran out of stuff to do or whatever, but we would go on these hikes on these trails. And you would identify the safe leaves, you know, like, like Boy Scouts almost, or I guess even Pathfinders, but we weren't doing that then.
[00:05:22] And we would look for leaves that were safe to touch and eat. Grasshoppers or whatever wasn't a "unclean insect." So that if you had to run for the woods and you couldn't buy or sell, but you had to eat, you could, you would know what you could eat without eating something unclean and then sinning.
[00:05:45] Because you didn't want to accidentally... To survive on the run, you didn't want to accidentally eat an unclean food if, say, the Holy Spirit had withdrawn and then you can't repent for that. And so you had to know what to eat. You had to know where to go. And it was fun. I mean, it was technically fun. It was gross, 'cause I was like,
[00:06:05] "I'm not eating any," like I would rather die of starvation than eat any bugs. "So I'll just go that way." And they were like, "Well, that doesn't make any sense." I'm like, well, "If they catch us, they're going to kill us, right?" Like, "What difference does it make?" Like, I'd rather just get it over with. I was like, I didn't know about the running out into the woods. I didn't think, I was like, we could just stay at home. Like, I don't understand. They're not gonna come to our house. They don't know. We didn't sign anything that said we're Adventists. There's not like a post outside.
[00:06:38] But it was, yeah, we would do nature walks. There was lots of recipes we would learn. Because we were vegetarian a significant period of time because we wanted to be back to the "garden diet." We were vegetarians until my mom went to some kind of conference or something, and was gone for a couple of days. And had pre-made food, but the last day we were out, and dad went and got Happy Meals.
[00:07:08] And we had cheeseburgers for the first time, and my mom came home while we were eating them. And we were like, "Hey, we can't be vegetarian anymore." "Like, this was amazing, we can't do it." And my dad was like, "I'm sorry." "Like, we ran out of food." "I didn't know what to cook, so I just, I got cheeseburgers." And that was just, that was the choice.
[00:07:30] There wasn't a further discussion. We just stopped being vegetarians. And my mom will dabble in it. My mom dabbles in it from time to time. But she went out of town too long, and we had cheeseburgers, and that was a wrap. And my dad cooks. I think he just, he saw an opening and said, "I'm just going to do it and see what happens." I'm sure I'd had meat, but I didn't remember it.
[00:07:56] And I loved all the fake stuff. Like we would go to the Adventist bookstore and get the like big logs of fake turkey and fake beef and, uh, chicklets and the little fake crab sticks and all the stuff and we'd cook all kinds of casseroles. My mom makes these oatmeal patties that are supposed to be sausage, but it's made out of... I don't, that's the one thing I couldn't get behind.
[00:08:27] I mentioned the last time that big group of people got together, someone had passed. My uncle, he's not my uncle, but I called him uncle Bob. And the church I grew up at moved to a new building. And they had us all over after the funeral for a meal. My friend, Tony was there. And he said, before opening it, 'cause it was the styrofoam closed things,
[00:08:49] he guessed everything that was in there. Like he knew it was going to be the fake Salisbury steak and gravy and rice. And these greens, like he knew, he called every item in it. But the family who lost their dad, none of them touched it because they don't like all of the vegetarian stuff. And I, in my head, I was like,
[00:09:14] "This is such a strange thing, that the church wanted to do something nice for this family, but they did it in a way that served the church, not the family." And they had preemptively had food catered. Like we Airbnb'd them a house and had food catered over there, because they knew they weren't going to eat. So they came and hung out while everyone else ate and they didn't, a single one of them touched the food.
[00:09:43] And I was just, it was such a missed opportunity to love someone the way they needed to be loved, than to be super Adventist in this moment, you know? 'Cause haystacks would have worked fine. We woulda all eaten haystacks. But they didn't go that route. It was fake meat and they were like, "I'm not touching it."
[00:10:04] Santiago: That's so interesting. I want to ask you real quick about kind of those weird cultural Adventist things. Because you've talked about growing up in Texas and Oklahoma. Oklahoma is part of the Bible Belt. Obviously, just like within the US as a whole, Adventists are a minority, so do you feel like you ever experienced culture shock or feeling socially awkward because of your Adventist upbringing, even if you were around other Christians?
[00:10:32] Will: In my hometown, again, like you said, it being the Bible Belt, everyone was a Christian of some kind. I had one Jewish friend. Everyone else was some form of Christian or Catholic. I had Catholic ex-girlfriends. They were always a problem for my family.
[00:10:50] Because it was like, "You know, you know, it's not going to work." But everyone was... No one needed Jesus, right? And so, it was a weird thing where it was like, "Well, I need to teach you the Sabbath though." "Because we have to convert you to being us." But it was like, the fun pitch is, "Hey, you feel bad about yourself." "Someone died for your sins and you can feel good about yourself now." But everyone already heard that pitch. It was, "Hey, you know how you like to watch cartoons on Saturdays or that's when your birthday parties are?" "Uh, stop that immediately." "God's very upset with you."
[00:11:29] There was the whole, you know, "every opportunity not taken is a sin of omission," almost kind of vibe from some of the things we were taught. And so I remember I had written something. I never posted it anywhere, but about my friend, Chad, inviting me to his birthday party when we were like seven or eight. And it was at a bowling alley on a Saturday and I gave him the whole spiel in telling him, "No." That I couldn't go, and why, and what the Sabbath was and when it starts and when it ends and how important it is. And his eyes just glazed over.
[00:12:11] And at the end of it was like, "So you can't come?" And I was like, "No, I can't." He's like, "Okay." And it was just one of those things where if I had gone, like just thinking it out, everything was paid for by his parents ahead of time. We would have shown up, could have bowled, had cake, just had a good time with friends. Nothing about it was inherently sinful, but I needed to tell him how it would be if I went, for me, you know?
[00:12:44] And it was just, I walked away from that like, "How do I even have friends?" "Like, why would anyone put up with me?" So when I went to that high school, it was such a weird thing. There's no cars, no phones, no TV, no interaction with the outside world there. And so you go there because either you need a scholarship to get into a really fancy school,
[00:13:11] or you're running away from home. Like that, that's it. There, there's no in between there. And if you're smart enough, you can get in. There was 50 of us in our class. And I would say half of them were just sheer genius and the other half were all misfits that didn't fit where they were. And my little pod of like two rooms together,
[00:13:40] I had a suite mate that was Hindu, a suite mate that was gay, and then a hardcore something or other, like Presbyterian maybe, and then me. And we had all of these weird conversations, but it was the first time I had ever been around a person that was openly gay. And we counted how many people were open because they outnumbered the Black students. And so I was like, well, this is interesting because I'm like the super minority here as a Black, straight kid in this group of children. And I dated a girl who after maybe a year together, told me she was an atheist. And I had never met any atheists before, either.
[00:14:29] Santiago: Oh, wow.
[00:14:30] Will: And so I'm in this thing where I am in love with someone who I technically don't believe can even know what love is. And she loves me back, and I don't think that's fake. And so I'm trying to convince her she has God in her because we're in this relationship, you know? And she's like, "Yeah, as much as you want to convince me of your God, I want to talk you out of it." "Like however strong you feel, I feel exactly that strong, the opposite way."
[00:15:04] And I didn't know what to do. My Hindu friend, and a Muslim friend in the same pod too, their prayer practices were way better than mine. We'd be in my buddy's room playing cards, and he would climb up in the bunk and do his prayers.
[00:15:24] Like he wouldn't tell us to be quiet or leave, he wouldn't make us feel weird or anything. But he would do the whole thing and then come back down and join right back in. And I was always a little private about it. But I was just like, you know, there are other people that have this connection to something and their way of expressing it isn't less sincere than mine at all.
[00:15:47] But I had come from this idea that like, "Everyone else is just ignorant, they don't know." "And we know stuff and if they knew, they could have these blessings we have." And I'm like, "They look pretty blessed." You know, like however they're doing it, they're, they're all right, you know? And it was like a, it was shaking my understanding of reality. Because I was used to not being around Adventists, but everybody was still Jesusy.
[00:16:17] I wasn't used to being around this many people that could have cared less about any of that, but were not abominations and they weren't evil and they weren't mean. They were better people than me, you know, to some extent. And shifting to college, I joined a fraternity because I figured, what better place to be a witness than Greek life?
[00:16:44] I made a whole thing about it because initiation was on Saturday and I skipped it to go to church. And that made the older guys that had come back to see their sons get initiated very mad. That like, I disrespected the ritual by just not coming and being like, "Look, this is what I do." And so I made a big deal about it.
[00:17:04] And I, you know, I don't drink and I don't party, but I'm going to be here and live here. And that lasted a week, maybe? And then my good friend, I went into his room and they were passing around a bottle of scotch. Glenlivet 12 Year scotch. And asked if I wanted some, I'd never had any and I was like,
[00:17:27] "Yeah sure, whatever, I'll have some." And we sat in a circle. And out of nowhere, they whipped out their Bibles. And my buddy, they're from Altus. They were very hip at the time, a lot of slang. They started talking about how Paul was their favorite author, like in the world. Like, "Paul is so dope with the pen."
[00:17:50] And I was like, "What is happening in here?" Like, I've never heard anyone say anything like that about a Bible. And they were hammered, but we had this like incredibly sincere, deep discussion about what it would be to be Christian in the world and to love your neighbor for real.
[00:18:11] And like all of this stuff that I did not believe people that went to church on Sunday thought, or like had a capacity for. And I was like, "Oh, their understanding of the Bible is no less than mine." "They're just looking at it through a different interpretive lens than I am." And I didn't know that there were interpretive lenses for the Bible.
[00:18:34] I was like, "There's just what the Bible says, which is what Adventists say it says, and everybody else is wrong." And they were, we were sitting there having these discussions and they were making really good points. And I was like, "This isn't supposed to happen." "I'm supposed to win all of these," you know? And I'm not supposed to be shocked at the depth with which they're looking at these scriptures and the openness with which they were able to hold them because they weren't literalists.
[00:19:04] And all of that was like, "I'm looking at this in a way that's way too small-minded." But it didn't lead to questions. It led to me saying "There's good Christians out there and once the Pope and the president shake hands and whatever it is," you know? "Once the Sunday Blue Laws hit they'll know because I told them." And so that became my witness was like, "Oh, well, here's how the world's gonna end." And then they're like "What?"
[00:19:36] Santiago: [Laughing]
[00:19:37] Will: And like, "I don't know, that seems weird that God would really care that much about when you went to church." And I was just like "Yeah, but he does." They're like, "Yeah, but that's weird." And it never occurred to me as weird, you know? Like, no one put the numbers to it.
[00:19:52] And like, I think at the time America was like 77% Christian or maybe higher than that. And so you had all of these millions of people that were confessed Christians in just this one country. So I'm doing the math of there's maybe a million Adventists in America. I know there's, what, 20 maybe in the world?
[00:20:12] First off, the fact that most of the people aren't here and it started here, should be a sign. But I was like, "The numbers are bad." They're real bad. Like if every Adventist was saved, God's win is so small. Like, it's a rounding error. Like you'd still say 100 percent of people were lost if you saved all the Adventists. 'Cause you'd have to round that up.
[00:20:35] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:20:36] Will: And I'm like, that can't, like, something is wrong with the way we're looking at this because why would, why would the system be set up this way?
[00:20:46] Santiago: Right, right.
[00:20:48] Will: These were the weird things that just started allowing me to hold things less tightly so that I could end up shifting away eventually. And it's weird, it's weird to look back at it because you don't look at them as these little moments. But they were where the rules said the world should work, proved the rules didn't work. And I think you can only take so many of those before you have to begin readjusting and calibrating.
[00:21:18] Santiago: Yeah, that's fascinating. I want to pull on a thread you mentioned, that you were outnumbered as a Black student at that school. I think I also saw a TikTok where you talked about how when your sister had her first day at kindergarten, and this is in the early 1980s, she was the first Black student at her school, ever. And you were the first Black male student at that school.
[00:21:43] So, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what that was like and then bringing this back to Adventism, I'm curious to know, like, did you grow up going to predominantly Black churches? And was the separate conference systems a thing in the states you were in?
[00:22:01] Will: So the Southwest Region is like seven states altogether, but, but it's all Black churches. And then the Oklahoma Conference are the, I guess, historically White churches. But Oklahoma is inside of the Southwest Region. So there's no reason really for the two things. It's just, they've been separated.
[00:22:23] And so the one in my hometown is in the Oklahoma Conference, and the one that I grew up in is in Southwest Region. And that was part of why we drove up there, was A, there was a lot of children, but it was a Black church. And that was important for my family because they grew up in Black church, it just wasn't Adventist churches.
[00:22:44] My parents were Baptists, I guess. I know my mom was, I forget what my dad was. But as a culture, Black church, from my experience, is really similar. When we go to my mother's family's church, it's not super different than an Adventist message would be, from Black Adventist side.
[00:23:08] Like it's a lot of hellfire and brimstone, uh, a lot of, "You got to get ready and stay ready because Jesus is coming soon." And so like, that was stuff they were used to hearing. It's just Adventism was able to say, "Here's a matrix to apply all these verses to, to prove it to you more." And so they latched on to that, I think, because it was like,
[00:23:31] "I believe very deeply in hell because I've been grown up worried about it." "Here's people saying, do this and you won't have to go." "Let's latch on." We went to Black churches because, I don't know, it's just, it's very different. The way we would discuss Bible stories was different. The way we would play hymns was different.
[00:23:55] Because we would go back and forth, like when we went on that circle of five churches, those were all in the Oklahoma Conference and were predominantly White churches. And they would play like a traditional Adventist hymn in a major key and fast, upbeat. And then when we would be in the Southwest Region churches, we'd play them in minor keys and slow.
[00:24:20] Michael Gungor, he's a musician. They have a band called Gungor and they deconverted in the midst of being a like spiritual, mystical band. In his discussion with other Black musicians, cycling through churches and then him being a White musician sitting in with them, he was like, "When you're in a Black church, the hymns are hopeful." Like it's something they're longing for, a reality they hope to have.
[00:24:49] And then in White churches, it's a celebration because in church, they feel like they have something. Like, "Jesus is with us, and so we're, we're celebrating." And Black churches are still in this "Save us from Egypt" mentality at church. And so where there's a longing to it, and we talk about the Exodus differently. We talked about being delivered from Egypt all the time, because that's such a cultural thread with those two stories.
[00:25:26] And when we would go to White Adventist churches, it would never come up. And it's not on purpose. It's just, there was always a reason to talk about it in Black churches, you know? And that's a very interesting, it was a weird thing to adjust to because we did, we went to the same church till I was 13, and then started that cycle.
[00:25:45] And then I went back to that other church at 17. And so it was the Black church experience till I was 13, and then something entirely different for four years or so. But not that different because it was still my dad preaching. So like the way service worked was different, but then it was my dad preaching. And so it was always like we brought a little bit of what we were taking from the Southwest Region to the Oklahoma Conference all the time.
[00:26:15] And then now they run a church in the Oklahoma Conference and are having to deal with kind of a Trumpier congregation now. And they are now seeing that like, "Oh, like you can agree with us on our theology and then we can still be not on the same page here." I'm like, "Yeah, that's why the conferences and the regions are..." Like the fact that there is segregation institutionally still, in "the remnant church," is the most bizarre thing in the world to me.
[00:26:51] 'Cause that was one of the things I researched and it was like, Ellen had said, "God will show us a better way" at like one of the last conferences she went to before she died. It was maybe the seventies, they got back together and were like, "God hasn't shown us a better way yet." "So we'll just wait." I remember thinking when she said it, slavery was barely over. Then the entire Civil Rights Movement happened. And then they get back together and say, "We can't figure out how to do anything other than stay segregated." I'm like, the rest of the whole daggum country figured it out. What do you mean? You still can't figure it out? They're like, "Oh, we can't figure it out."
[00:27:33] When I was leaving and my parents were like, "The church needs to be changed from within, don't leave," kind of thing, they sent me to this seminar, not a seminar. There was like a meeting of youth at the Oklahoma Conference office, and they had pulled all these delegates from all of these churches. My parents picked me to be one for some reason, and I was the oldest person in the room, pretty much. Oldest delegate, because I was not a youth anymore, I was 30 something. And I'd written down all these questions I wanted to ask because I had, I was mad. Like this was in my angry part and I was like, "I'm going to embarrass you." "I don't mean to, but I'm going to."
[00:28:15] And a person raised their hand and asked why the churches were segregated. And the president of the Oklahoma Conference office at the time said, "Oh, you know, at first it was like the way it was done." "And then now, you know, the Black churches, they just like it that way." "So that's just the way it is." And I sat there and was like, "Wait, you're going to claim the churches are segregated because Black people wanted it that way?" "And that at some point in time, you came back to us and asked, and we were like, 'Nah, we're good?'" "Like, that's the story you're telling?" I got up and left. I was like, I don't understand how he can't understand, how he doesn't know how this happened, and is just like, "I guess that's how they wanted it."
Note: Further Reading re: SDA Segregation
[00:29:04] Santiago: Just a quick note: if you haven't already heard episodes 19 and 20 from Season 1, go check them out after this. They'll provide a more in-depth look at the history of segregation and anti-Black racism within the Adventist church, and they contain links to great books and other resources. You can find links to these episodes in the show notes.
[00:29:26] As you were going through your angry phase, as you called it, like, what was your take on that? And also growing up like, did you have strong feelings about that? Did you have strong opinions about that? Was it really talked about?
[00:29:39] Will: No, it, we looked at it as separate from Adventism. I did as a kid. I looked at it as "Race is an issue for people, and that's just how it is." And it didn't really click to me that it theoretically should not be, if you are sitting in communion on truth, there should be no reason for it. But it was... It just, I don't know. It never occurred to me that it was an issue, I think, because we moved fluidly among them.
[00:30:14] And my parents were involved in both of them at conference levels. And so it was always like, well, I just went where they went. And my experience was so varied. Like we'd have churches, and we'd have church in jails and shopping malls. And like, we would go help whoever was starting new... Like it's weird. My parents, without ever really being officially anything high up in the organizations of anything, were always the people you called in to help start a new one or keep this one going or do this or take part of this prison ministry or whatever.
[00:30:58] It was always us. And then my sister was off on missionary trips and all over the globe. Like it was always these big things. And then there was me [laughing] who didn't do any of that stuff. But I, you know, I wanted to. I tried to go to Oakwood, honestly. I thought that would be a good idea, but they wouldn't meet my scholarship. So if you got a full ride at a cheaper school, they would give you what that school charged, but you still had to come up with the rest. And, I did not go because they wouldn't match mine at OU.
[00:31:35] Best decision ever. I don't think I would have done well at an Adventist school, because I never did that. I was always in a public school. When I went to Oakwood, when my sister went, we moved her in, and I was walking around the dorm floor the first night, and a kid walked up to me and handed me a blunt. And asked if I wanted to smoke with him, and I was 14.
[00:31:59] Santiago: Oh wow.
[00:32:00] Will: I mean, I did not, I didn't smoke it. I handed it back to him, and I was just like, "I thought this was an Adventist school." And it was the first thing that happened to me there. And I was like, "So these are no different than anywhere else." And so once they wouldn't meet the dollar thing, I was like, well, I'm not going to go do it. 'Cause I already know I'll run into the same thing there I was going to run into anywhere else. And I, I'm thankful for that moment to help me not make that choice.
[00:32:26] I would have had to ask these questions earlier. I was just not asking them. They were always going to be, it was coming and I would have had to ask them there and that would have been terrible for me. I would have gotten in trouble on accident kind of a thing. Like I accidentally revealed what I started not to believe to my parents. Because I started talking about the heavenly sanctuary not really being there. And not even saying, "I don't believe in the Investigative Judgment stuff." I didn't, but I wasn't telling them that yet. And I, we were talking about it and I was talking about how that was like metaphorical because why would there actually be these books and why would there need to be an altar? Why would there need to be a temple for that was used only for sacrifice and atonement in a place where there is no sin?
[00:33:14] So I just casually said that there was no sanctuary in heaven. And my dad cut me off and was like, "What are you talking about?" And I was like, "There's no sanctuary in heaven." And he was like, "What?" And we like had this whole thing and I had forgotten that that had to be literal for them, which I don't think that has to be literal for every Adventist. I imagine you can think of that as a metaphor, as long as you're worried about the books really being there and some sort of record.
[00:33:46] But it was like I'd forgotten what we had accepted were the boundaries and realized I had been out of it long enough that I kind of no longer knew how to speak the code properly without betraying the fact I didn't really believe it anymore. Like I thought I could play along and I was like, "Oh, I'm telling on myself because I've forgotten some of the details from not being there every week." Like you can't say that. Like you can't, I forgot. You can't, can't do that.
[00:34:19] Santiago: It's interesting because the Investigative Judgment was definitely preached at my church. And I even remember our pastor talking about how some other pastors had issues with it. We never got into the details. And he was like, well, "Here's why I think it's true." "And here's why I think it's a good doctrine."
[00:34:39] But I never really looked into it that much. And like you said, why would there need to be a literal, physical sanctuary? Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing God need to have even physical books talking about who is saved and who is not. That's a whole other topic that I would love to get into someday.
[00:35:01] Uh, but yeah, no, that's why the whole Desmond Ford thing happened. That's why — I looked it up, I think it was like somewhere around 40% of the pastors in Australia and New Zealand left the church in the eighties, because of that doctrine and it's really fascinating.
[00:35:21] Will: I think that that swell, that moment in time, is what led to the re-emphasis on seminars and evangelism that led to my parents. 'Cause that, that was right before it was maybe four years before my parents end up with those tapes. Because I've thought about these moments in Adventism where there's been a loud enough voice to say "There might be an issue here," and it seemed like there's always a doubling down after them.
[00:35:57] And it's like had he kept his mouth shut, my parents would have never heard about it. But he had to tell people what he thought and it had to make sense, so that they had to double down. And now I'm where I'm at and it's Desmond Ford's fault.
[00:36:19] Both: [Laughing]
[00:36:20] Will: No, I joke. I'm uh, I actually, I read — his thesis is what, 990 something pages? And I read every line of that thing and like highlighted it and took notes. And was just like, "I have asked all of these questions." You know, and it was just bizarre to me that they had been asked and addressed before I was born, and no one knew about them.
[00:36:46] Santiago: Yeah, I would love to pick your brain on that because I'm still catching up. I know enough to be like, "Come on, guys," but I feel like there's so many details that I still don't know, so I'd love to pick your brain on that at some point.
[00:37:02] Will: That'd be fun.
[00:37:03] Santiago: I wanna move us real quick to your law career and going to college. I saw one of your TikToks about Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and how her story, it sounds like it influenced your decision to become a lawyer. And I thought this was such a interesting piece of history for the state that you're in, in Oklahoma, but US history in general. Can you talk really briefly about who she was and how that impacted your decision to become a lawyer?
[00:37:32] Will: So she and her brother actually, both were applying for, I think they were both trying for law school, if not med school for him. But he was denied and didn't want to deal, like the age he was at, he didn't want to deal with the amount of time it would take to run a lawsuit to be allowed into a White institution.
[00:38:02] And so she decided to do it for him, because she was a couple of years behind. She had enough time to be denied and still get in before she was going to be too old to try to be whatever she wanted to be. And so she was denied access to the University of Oklahoma Law School. And then the Supreme Court determined her being kept out was a violation. And so the state opened a new law school instead of letting her in. So they opened a law school at Langston.
[00:38:43] Santiago: Oh my god, like, can we just pause and, you know that meme of like, men will literally do anything before going to therapy? This is like, the government will literally open another fucking school before letting a Black student in. Wow. And just for everyone listening, for context, this was in 1946 when she applied to the University of Oklahoma and was denied. This is not that long ago.
[00:39:10] Will: Right. And so she, she goes to Langston and declares it insufficient. Like, they threw it, they threw the program together literally to make her shut up. So there was no, it wasn't any good. Like there was no good teachers. Like they just had nothing going. They just had to get this done. So they argued, I believe it was a separate and unequal, argument again with the Supreme Court.
[00:39:38] And finally, she's allowed into the University of Oklahoma's law school, but then they cordoned off her chair, under the guise of protecting her, but she wasn't supposed to leave whenever she was sitting in her desk because she was corded off in a corner by herself, in the cafeteria by herself. And so they tried to make it as unpleasant as possible. And she stuck through, graduated, and there is a garden on campus with a statue of her and a plaque with her story on it and when she got into school.
[00:40:14] And when I, again, growing up thinking the world was going to end, I had not considered what I wanted to be. I had just told people I was going to be a doctor. I'd told people that since I was maybe three years old, I was going to be a doctor. And I'm sitting, I'm two years into undergrad. I've taken all the basic stuff and I'm realizing, A, I cannot stand any of these subjects anymore. I hate blood. I'm super squeamish, I hate hospitals, and I'm like, "Wait a minute, how am I, how am I going to be a doctor?"
[00:40:58] And I, you know, I, but I had never, it was just the thing I told people. And my sister and I are four years apart and argued all the time. And she would occasionally just say, "You should be a lawyer because you love arguing." And that was the only other thing that had ever been in my head. But sitting in that garden and reading about her, I'd felt such a connection to it because I didn't, things weren't hard for me to get into, but I was the first Black person several times in my life. Which was more of a indictment of the towns I lived in. It wasn't like, these weren't achievements.
[00:41:43] Like they were like, I happened to be six and go to this school and like, "Hey, that's the first Black boy to graduate from this kindergarten." And you're like, yeah, it's kindergarten. It wasn't difficult. You just never let anybody in here before. There was not that many Black people in my hometown. There was not that many Black people at this microcosm of a high school I was at. I was one of two Black people in my fraternity. And the other guy was a fifth year senior.
[00:42:09] So he was just there when I was a pledge and then he was gone, and then it was just me. And it was like, I don't know... There was this weird connection with her in that garden, and I chose to try law school out, and much happier than I would have been as a doctor. I'm a little more sane than if I'd been a doctor. But it was just, it was interesting to do that, and then go into public defending, criminal defense, for the first several years, and see how that all applied to my dogma, and how I could navigate that.
[00:42:51] Santiago: Yeah, what was, what was it like? Because when you went into the public defender's office, were you still considering yourself a true, believing Adventist?
[00:43:02] Will: Yeah, I was real into it still, then. And that was kind of our rededication moment 'cause we'd moved back to Oklahoma. We'd been attending a church in St Louis where we lived, but we weren't super involved. Like we were in the choir. But I was ordained as a deacon at like 17, but we, I wasn't doing any of that there.
[00:43:26] And so we were like, "Well, let's get back into it once we move back home." And so I was trying to rededicate then, and then having to deal with like, not really dealing with the work of it all, but the, um, the stories of it. You come home with a lot of really strange stories from public defense. Especially in a, not a metropolitan area, but in a city to where your caseload is so big that inevitably a handful of those cases are going to be horrendous.
[00:43:55] Like just a awful thing that you're having to not defend, 'cause there isn't one, but like minimize how long someone's freedom is about to be taken away. And that was, that was honestly too, like, I got too heavy once the, our son was born. And I had a double murder, an attempted murder, and three accused child molesters on my docket when he was born.
[00:44:27] And I was like, I can't, I can't do this anymore. Like, it's great, people need a competent defense, but I couldn't turn it off. Like I couldn't leave it at work. I couldn't do that. It was just too much. And so when I switched to oil and gas and estate work from there, and then got in with the church, doing estate work for the Southwest Region while I transitioned out of public defense and into oil and gas.
[00:44:59] So that was weird to do. I started writing wills for the people I had grown up going to church camp and seeing. The church I guess at the, at camp meeting, would make these preliminary packets for estate planning. It would ask you, you know, your name, address. It was just all the stuff you would put in the will. And who you would leave things to, what you would, uh, what gifts you would like to leave to any charitable institutions, things like that.
[00:45:29] And the wills that would come in, like they would fill them out on their own, mail them to me. And the conference wanted me to take the packets, write up the will to do what the packet said, send them back to the conference. And then the conference would handle having them executed and hold on to them, instead of the actual member having them.
[00:45:55] Santiago: Like, the physical copy?
[00:45:56] Will: Yeah, or at least a copy of it so that the conference would have your will if you lost yours. And it was one of those things again, like a weird vibe, just like my docket had had. Almost all of the packets I received, there was at least a 10% gift to your local church, and another chunk to the conference. And then a chunk to 3ABN and a chunk to you know, some other Adventist global ministry or whatever, which is fine.
[00:46:30] People can leave their things to whoever they want. It's just, it's, it felt weird to me to know you've received this packet at an Adventist church camp. It had the charitable contributions part in there and you put the church sponsoring that camp in your desires for a will, that church sent it to a lawyer who's a member of that church and part of that conference, to draft that up and then send back to the conference to handle for you.
[00:46:59] And it was just like, there can't, it can't be a coincidence they are finding themselves in these wills. And I eventually told the pastor that was linking me up with them that I couldn't do them anymore. Like I came up with some reason. I think I joined my big firm at that point in time and it was like, "I'm not allowed to do these without doing them through the firm." "And I'd have to charge you the hourly rate."
[00:47:23] Because I was giving them the membership rate, you know, like we were, I was writing those wills for nothing. But it was like a, it was, it felt like a duty, you know? I was a, that was the way I could help the church, was use my law degree to do that. But then it felt exploitative at the same time.
[00:47:42] Santiago: Yeah, I can only imagine. And I've heard more than one or two stories from other people in other parts of the country and other parts of the world where they talk about a challenge with their conference who is, you know, apparently someone somewhere did something with, with their estate planning and now there's a disagreement about who gets what. I gotta imagine that for them, like you said, that feels incredibly exploitative.
[00:48:10] Will: Yeah, my wife had a grandparent who was like a sucker for ordering stuff. I think like maybe Reader's Digest would call him and be like, "Do you want this thing?" Or they were like late night advertisements with 1-800 numbers. And he would always call and just have all this stuff but like, wouldn't remember doing it. And my father-in-law called whoever the company was, 'cause he had a closet full of junk that had never been opened or whatever. And was like, "You are taking advantage — this is elder abuse." "Like, you know, good and well, this person should not be buying all of this stuff."
[00:48:46] And like, it was this whole, he was so mad at them for taking advantage of his dad, like of the dad for being a sucker to some extent from old age. And then I felt like that. I'm like, I'm crafting these elderly people's wills and shoveling their money over to the church because the church told them to do it. I felt like the person answering the phone, taking the order from the old guy who shouldn't be using his credit card anymore.
[00:49:17] Like I felt that and was just like, "Oh, I feel dirty from this thing I'm doing that I think I'm doing to help this church that has meant everything," you know? Which is just weird. It's weird to have your mindsets changing while you're doing something for that organization. And then the positive thing you were doing now looks like something entirely different, when no time has passed at all. You know, it's one day, it's one thing and the next, "Oh no, this is something else."
[00:49:48] Santiago: I'm so glad you mentioned that because you basically described how I felt playing music at church, doing special music, especially getting invited to go to other churches that weren't my home church. And I thought, "What, what am I doing?" I think I've mentioned this before, but I made a CD while going through deconstruction.
[00:50:09] Will: Oh, wow.
[00:50:11] Santiago: And I'm not going to share it publicly. If you're interested, I'll send you a link maybe, but I'm not going to share it. I'm not ready to share that publicly yet. I'm proud of the work I did. I spent a lot of time and effort and money into recording the best thing that I could do and self publishing this. And I was proud of the intent behind it when I was going through deconstruction, you know, having all these questions, all these thoughts and emotions.
[00:50:41] And the musical quality behind the album I could get behind. But some of the lyrics I was like, oh, I don't know. Maybe one of these days I'll talk more about that but it was, it was such a weird and I felt hypocritical, is what it was. I felt hypocritical in that moment. And so, on some level, obviously these are two completely different things. Writing wills for the church and putting music out. But at the same time, it's something that is theoretically supporting and propping up a system that you are now questioning. And it's, it's... It's kind of a bizarre thing to go through.
[00:51:17] Will: Yeah.
[00:51:18] Santiago: But, uh, you know like I got to imagine that's just a tiny sliver of what it feels like to maybe be a pastor or somebody else who's having these questions.
[00:51:28] Will: Yeah.
[00:51:29] Santiago: For people who have family members or friends who have maybe received a packet like this or who have already gone through and signed something, do you have any advice for anybody listening who is going through something like this or may find themselves going through something like this with the Adventist church?
[00:51:48] Will: Yeah, if they keep a copy, like I believe mine did, 'cause you can always change your will. You can just write a new one. And in that, have a clause that says, you know, this revokes any and all previous ones, but you are supposed to try to destroy all the copies of the old one, if you can. So if you do find yourself having left a portion to something you don't want to anymore, you can fix that, but contact that place that is holding it and get that one back.
[00:52:22] If you have not done it yet, this is for people that are in it still, fully. You already tithed your money. When you die, you don't have to do it again. You've already tithed it. It's good, and the people you leave it to don't have to take 10% off of that either. But take care of your family or whoever you want. The churches have plenty. They have plenty. They're not paying taxes on their property, so they are doing just fine.
[00:52:56] And the message you want to go out is going out. Maybe some of us don't need it to go out anymore, but it's going out. You don't have to leave your legacy to doing more of the thing. Like, you're, you're good. And your family will appreciate not having to fight with a church on your way out. So, you know, keep it in the fam. And, if you need any help and you're in Oklahoma, Texas, or Missouri, I can do that for you.
[00:53:27] Santiago: I'll link to your, to your law practice if you'd like me to. Any, any and all things you want me to link to, like your TikTok, great content there, people, go check that out. I really appreciate that because, yeah, take care of your family first and foremost. The institution is going to be okay.
[00:53:46] Will: Absolutely.
[00:53:47] Santiago: I want to transition us back to deconstruction. You posted a video where Iyanla Vanzant is giving advice to a couple, and she says, "As long as you don't deal with it, the past is present." And when I heard that, I was like, "Ooh."
[00:54:05] Will: Yeah.
[00:54:06] Santiago: I thought that's such a great way to capture why talking about our history is important, why deconstruction is important. Because if we don't deal with this stuff in the past, like, it's still maybe affecting us in some ways that we don't even realize.
[00:54:23] The interview I did with Melissa, she talks about that, how she left, I think, when she was like 18, and she thought she was all done with it. But then in her 30s, she's realizing, "Oh no, I have a lot of stuff I haven't processed." So I'm wondering, like, has that idea been a motivating factor in all of the content that you've been creating about Adventism and faith in general?
[00:54:46] Will: Yes. So a lot of it is, I want to make space where people that have those questions in or out, can feel a sense of humor about it and say, "Oh, I understand where that person's coming from." "That joke might be too far," or whatever, "But I, I, I see what they're saying." Because I couldn't find anything when I was deconstructing. Like I had to try to find my story in stories that weren't mine.
[00:55:21] Like I, I remember reading memoirs of former Jehovah's Witnesses. Rachel Held Evans I read a lot of, Pete Enns I've read a lot of. 'Cause I was trying to just find people that were talking about, that were using spiritual language to talk about real things, but they weren't being super literal about it. They weren't holding anything too tightly.
[00:55:46] But it wasn't my story. Like all of them, I was like, "I understand that you're saying you were this intense in what you were doing." "I would have still felt like I had to save you." "So like as severe as you felt like you were coming down, I was still like, 'Yeah, but you still needed to know about the Sabbath,'" you know?
[00:56:05] And so I just, I didn't have that story. I didn't have anyone to say they've been through it too. And I just figured if I just start peppering it out there, people can find it and not feel alone. 'Cause I felt so incredibly alone. Because, like I said, my wife, before we got married, converted to it. So when I started losing my faith in it, I was afraid to tell her.
[00:56:36] Because I was like, "If she's still all in, this could ruin our marriage." "And I'm the one that brought her to this anyway," you know? And as it turned out, she was just waiting for me to say something and was like, "Oh yeah, I'm out, I'm out." 'Cause she's always just sat there quietly with the Ellen stuff. My old church would teach her from the pulpit all the time. And would stop saying it was her. They would say, "Inspiration says," or
[00:57:04] "The Holy Spirit tells us through inspiration," "Spirit of Prophecy," "The testimonies," and she one day was like, "What is that?" And I was like, "Oh, that's Ellen White stuff." And she was like, "Every time they say that, they're talking about Ellen White?"
[00:57:16] Santiago: [Laughing]
[00:57:17] Will: And I was like, "Yeah." She goes, "You don't find that weird?" I was like, "What do you mean?" She's like, "This dude hasn't mentioned the Bible once." "Like he's just been quoting from Ellen White." And I was like, "Oh, well, that's weird." She's like, "This happens a lot." "They just don't say her name." And I was like, "You know, I'd forgotten that that's kind of a thing." And we had a pastor come and he said it outright.
[00:57:42] Like he was like, "You've got to stop quoting Ellen." And I almost jumped out of the pew. Like, "Thank God someone's saying it." And he goes, "You've got to stop quoting Ellen 'cause it makes us look like we worship her." "Say, 'God tells us through inspiration,' 'cause you don't say 'Moses said,' when you quote Genesis." "You say 'God says,' don't you?"
[00:58:03] And I was like, it depends. Like who's talking? Like if it's Moses talking, I would say Moses. And I wouldn't now, but at the time. But he was blatantly saying, "Stop saying her name." "Keep quoting her all the time, just don't say her name so we won't look weird."
[00:58:21] Santiago: Ohhh.
[00:58:23] Will: And I was like another, it was another instance of we are hiding what we're really telling people. You shouldn't do that if you believe in it. Like if you really believe this, there's no reason to hide. And we were hiding so much.
[00:58:37] Santiago: Right.
[00:58:37] Will: And I just, uh, I couldn't, that was too much. It was too much. And so, I don't know, I forget how we got here. I got on a tangent there. What was your question?
[00:58:51] Santiago: [Laughing] All good, just, just talking about, you know, the content you had been making and, and helping people feel heard and seen. I, I'm glad you mentioned that because that's exactly the number one motivating factor for why I'm doing what I'm doing. Because like you, I felt alone. And when I started Googling and when I came across Abby and Ami's podcast, and I heard their friends talking and laughing and them being able to talk about this in a way that wasn't just doom and gloom all the time.
[00:59:25] It wasn't depressing to listen to it. Yeah, there was some heavy shit they talked about, right? But at the same time, I was like, wow, like, I feel like I've sort of in a weird way made friends that I've never met before. And I felt heard and seen in that moment. And that's, again, number one thing I want for this.
[00:59:46] Because you know, I don't hide the fact that I identify as an agnostic atheist. I don't hide the fact that this is a very, very secular perspective that's typically presented in these episodes. But I don't want to prescribe for people, "Hey, this is what you have to do," because that's what we grew up in, right? We were prescribed "This is the one true way, and here are all the reasons why." I'm nobody to tell you what the "one true way" is.
[01:00:15] I can just say, here's what I've read. Here's the experiences we've had. And what I love is that I'm able to have conversations with people who still go to church, right? Like, we were just talking earlier about Matthew and the episodes I did with him. And it's like, I keep going back to this idea of shared values.
[01:00:35] Shared values. We may not believe 100% of the same thing, but those underlying shared values are so, so important. And as long as we have some commonality in those shared values, we can get along. We can make each other's lives a little better and by extension, our communities. And so I'm so glad you mentioned that.
[01:01:00] And I wanted to ask you, because in I think in one of your videos or in one of your posts you mentioned that you're not an atheist. But you have talked about how there's a lot of messed up stuff in the Bible and how you no longer view objective morality as coming from the Bible. So not to put you on the spot, but how would you describe your worldview today?
[01:01:22] Will: That's a really good question because I, I don't know. I'm not huge on having to have a label for it. Like that was kind of my freedom I gave myself when I started this, was I've so much identified as an Adventist. I want to be able to not identify as anything, because I don't know what that feels like.
[01:01:44] Like I obviously grew up inerrant biblical literalist, which I am in no way, shape, or form that anymore. And I think the easiest way to probably answer the question is, an atheist would not call me an atheist, but a Christian probably would.
[01:02:03] Santiago: Hmm.
[01:02:04] Will: Because I don't not believe in the idea that there could be some greater thing than, than us, some collective goodness that we can even potentially tap into. I don't hold really any belief in an individualized entity at all. I don't hold too much belief in an ongoing, interactive, presence. Which is hard for me to admit because of our, my family history is kind of weird. But it's like, I don't believe in any god I've been introduced to. I am not necessarily against the idea of it, but all the ones I've been shown, I'm out on. That's all I, that's the best I can put it.
[01:02:56] Santiago: I love that. I feel like that's such a great, I feel like that's such a great way to put it. Going back to what we were talking about, about how as many people as believe in god, there's just as many versions. I have not studied as much as I would have liked to by this point in my life other non-Abrahamic religious traditions. You know, if I'm being completely honest, I haven't felt this deep need to. I feel like there's a lot of interesting stuff you can gather from that, and I want to be more informed about it.
[01:03:26] But it was never... Growing up Adventist, it's, it's so interesting. I think Ami in an earlier episode, she said something like, you know, "My religious snarkiness is not something that I have because I'm an atheist." "It's because I grew up Adventist." I'm sure it was different in some places, but for a lot of us, I think we grew up with this sense that, "Yeah, they don't have the truth." "We have the truth." "We need to go share the truth with them." And so that automatically cancels out all these other possibilities of faith traditions.
[01:03:55] Will: Yeah, you've, you've, told yourself why every other one is wrong. And so you're only left with the one. And then when you're like, "Well, I don't believe this one either," there's nowhere left.
[01:04:04] Santiago: Yeah, yeah.
[01:04:05] Will: You've ruled it all out. It's weird. 'Cause we, we tried, we tried, uh, like a big box non-denominational thing for a while. And were horrified at some of the stuff we were hearing there. And we're like, "Well, we can't do this, either." And then we, we've been involved with this group called The Table, here in Oklahoma City. And it's not a church, but it's like a community of people that get together. We used to once a month, and it was almost like church. Like we'd have music, there'd be a little talk, and we would take communion.
[01:04:46] But I would, I think almost everyone in that group would describe themselves as agnostic. Like, nobody was, like everyone was coming from something fundamental and was not there anymore, but there was still so much juice to squeeze from like a non literal, like using the Bible as just pure literature instead of the "God-breathed word of truth."
[01:05:18] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[01:05:19] Will: It was fun to take the Abrahamic tradition I held real tight, and then be able to say, well, let's just flip the story over and see what it could say here and how that could be helpful. And we don't have to believe it. We don't have to hold on to it. But it was like, that's the language I speak.
[01:05:38] And so there are practices we've looked at from other things of like, meditation and centering ourselves. Not to really connect to anything, other than to ourselves. Because I'm, I feel like I needed to do some work being a human again because I was so detached from myself, of like "Flesh is sin," you know? I need to live inside of this thing and the in, the indwelling, and I would...
[01:06:08] It was easy for me to dissociate from a room and to like, to have these practices now that are centered around breathing, to just feel present in a room. Not for forgiveness, not for anything other than to, "Hey, I feel like I spaced out for a bit." "I would like to be present with the family." "I'm going to do this thing," and that'd be almost the full extent of any spiritual practice I would have now.
[01:06:36] And it's like, I still enjoy the Bible because I've read the stories so many times. And I now like to find the little gaps and the weird things, like how Jacob gets the, gets a new name twice. He's named Israel, and then he moves along, and then he's named Israel again. Because you've got two stories laid on top of each other, as opposed to this real, true, one, singular, flowing story. And it's fun for me to find that and say, "Oh, this is a story some, a group of people held for a number of years." "And then another group of people held a different version of that story." They mixed them together and they came up with societal boundaries around these common myths.
[01:07:21] And I think that that, there's still value there once you take away the like punishment reward system and you're just looking at how to operate as a human in society. I'm not an afterlife person anymore, like, in any real way. Like, I just think whatever happens, happens. But like the idea of "Oh, I'm going to get to be this person in a perfect version of this, without bad people," is just like a useless metaphor for me. Like I have no use for that metaphor. And so we just don't deal with it anymore. And there's no fear surrounding it anymore. At the same time, it's like, uh, you know, I was in my early thirties before I realized I'm going to die of old age if I'm lucky.
[01:08:13] Santiago: Hmm.
[01:08:13] Will: You know, like I've been in my head in this bonus time for so long. And now it's like, oh you get to just live. You get to actually just live. Not be tested, not be on guard for all of these thoughts and opportunities. You can just literally enjoy the life you've been given. And I know that like being appreciative of the now is like the opposite of Adventism.
[01:08:42] It's, you know, "This is terrible." "And it's the world and the world sucks." "And we just need to wait for the end and then we can actually finally live." That's a hard way to get through the day for me. And so I don't miss that at all. And I was terrified of that when I was like, "I don't know if I believe these things." And now I just, I feel so much, a lot more peace about it because there's not, that ticking clock isn't over my head.
[01:09:11] Santiago: Right.
[01:09:12] Will: And it's, you know, you can slow down and just breathe. And not constantly working, working, working. For a person like me that carries anxiety like me, was just, uh, it was close to unbearable to do it well. And that in and of itself was terrifying. 'Cause I'm like, if I'm struggling this hard to kind of be passable as an Adventist, how's everyone else doing it? I know you're not supposed to compare like that. But it's just, it was, it was too much to wear all of that.
[01:09:50] And I just, I, that's the thing I worry so much about people in it. The anxiety is a lot for some people, some people, doesn't matter. Like the stuff that bothers me, does not bother my parents whatsoever. Like I'll tell them a detailed thing and they're like, "Yeah, no, I don't even worry about that."
[01:10:07] And I don't know how. I don't know how they've done 30 something years of Adventism without these worries, but they don't have them. And so I'm like, great. Good for you guys. Like I'm not, I don't want to talk you out of anything. I'm not, that's never my goal. I just don't want you worried about me. Like I don't want you going into your twilight years, worried your son's going to be lost because I'm not going to the Adventist church. And they've told me they're not worried about it.
[01:10:38] Santiago: I think that's probably the best we could hope for if we still have Adventist parents, right? I wanted to say I appreciate you bringing up the point of feeling peace, because that is one of the things I highlighted to them. That's still very true for me. I feel so much more at peace than I did when I was trying really hard to lean into my faith and really seeking and doing the things that you're supposed to do. Reading your Bible and praying, asking for wisdom, asking for the Holy Spirit to be in your life and for God to have his will done in your life.
[01:11:19] I prayed that so much leading up to and initially during my deconstruction. And so, I'm so glad you highlighted that, and hopefully for the people that are listening, they can relate to that. I've heard from some folks who have gone through divorce, who have gone through some really dark stuff as a result of their leaving Adventism.
[01:11:44] And I think there's a lot of stuff you have to process when you have a very, very traumatic breakup with family, friends, and acquaintances. I feel incredibly fortunate that I personally... A lot of the stuff that I went through was in my head, and coming to terms with things. And so I feel for people who have had these deep ties severed, or really damaged as a result of deconstruction. But, I really resonate with what you said about peace, because that is, that is absolutely true for, for me and my own personal experience.
[01:12:20] Will: Yeah, it took me forever. I did like the, I would take a question I had already had and researched and decided I no longer believed and then would call my mom and ask her the question to see what she would say. Like, do you have a good reason for believing this? And it was always like, "Call one of your sister's pastor friends."
[01:12:46] Or call this pastor that used to be, like, call this person, they'll be able to explain it. And it was always, I'd already gone that route, like I'd already, I just wanted to know. And I had asked her so many things that I was like, eventually she's going to realize these aren't real questions. And I was like, I have to say something.
[01:13:05] And so I, I've, I did it over the phone with my mom. But my mom is like the middleman of information for the family. Everyone tells her stuff and she disperses it to everyone else. So I honestly do not know what my dad knows. I know what I've told my mom and my sister, and I know that they've talked to him.
[01:13:31] I've talked to him a little bit, but I don't know how much my mom kept close to the vest, thinking, "Well, he'll change his mind eventually." And, like, it's this weird thing where it was out in the air, and now we're not talking about it. And we're not not talking about it because I don't want to. Like, it's... I'm open to, but it's just, I don't really want to, and I don't want to get into the details of it. 'Cause I'm like, I don't really want to tell you too much cause it'll mess with your head. And you guys are comfortable, you know?
[01:14:04] Like I, I don't want to disrupt your comfort. The way that they Adventist isn't outwardly harmful to anybody else. You know, like they're not doing anything really. I mean, obviously there's probably some weird anti Catholic sentiment that's still there from childhood because it was heavy in the 80s. I know that's died down some.
[01:14:26] But we just don't, we just don't talk about it. And my daughter always tell, like my daughter asked them what an Adventist was before I had gotten to tell them we weren't going really. But we were home and she, my mom said something about it. And my daughter was like, "What's a Seventh-day Adventist?"
[01:14:47] And my mom looked at me and I was like, "Caitlin, you know what an Adventist is!" And she was like, "No, I don't." And my, my wife was like, yeah, "I don't think she's ever been." And I go, "We never took her?" And she was like, "We've been with your sister, to your sister's church, we've been to your parents church." But she was like, "We never took Caitlin, ever." And I was like, "Really?" "We've been out that long?" She was like, "Yeah, we've never, she's never even been."
[01:15:14] And I hadn't, it hadn't occurred to me. Like, we were, it was such a thing I was still dealing with mentally on how to tell people that we'd been gone for a few years. And I just was sitting on it, but for, you know, Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever, we would just we would go if we were there over the weekend. And then I started planning our breaks to where we just wouldn't be there on Saturday. Like we would, we'd come earlier in the week and have to leave Friday or we'd come Saturday evening and stay till through Monday.
[01:15:48] Like we would find a way to avoid making the kids go because we couldn't tell what they'd hear. And then eventually, my daughter was just like, "I don't know what that is." And she's, she's debated them. When she was like five, they got in a debate over evolution and dinosaurs and creationism at, uh, it was like mother's day dinner.
[01:16:10] We went down to my mom's and we took her out to a restaurant and my daughter was just like, "The earth can't possibly be only 6,000 years old." "That's crazy, because dinosaurs were around, there's trees that are older..." I'm like, "How do you know that?" "How do you, the five year old, know that?" "And why are you so willing to tell them this?" Like this, you're...
[01:16:30] Santiago: [Laughing]
[01:16:31] Will: "You are proving I'm a terrible dad," like in their eyes, at least. I'm like, I'm really glad that you were comfortable having this conversation with them. Because she'll tell them, she, I mean, she doesn't believe in anything. And because we've let, we have let them, whatever you want, we will give you the information you want.
[01:16:48] You do whatever you want with it. We haven't indoctrinated anything in them by design, but then we're like, whatever you want to do. And so our son, our oldest was kind of spiritual. And now they like, they believe in kind of things, but none of it's solid. None of it is that important. It's very loose.
[01:17:14] And our daughter is like, she meditates every night. Like, she has like, a mystical practice, all her own, not tied to anything. But has always been, we wouldn't have been able to teach it to her. Like, she would have never taken it. She would have been like, "No, I'm out."
[01:17:32] We are so fortunate, my wife and I, that we started to deconstruct when we did because our kids, as we've come to know them, could not have had Adventist parents. It wouldn't have worked. It would have been bad for them. They would have been scarred. And there'd have been no way to avoid it. And we did not know that's what was going on.
[01:17:56] Our son is non-binary and uses they / them pronouns. And has always been this way. Since they were six, has been like, "I don't feel that boy encompasses me, or girl." And I say "son," 'cause they told me to. I know that that's technically gendered, but that's how they want it.
[01:18:17] And like, we were at home with it for a little bit. And then when it was for sure sticking a few years later, I had to, like, that was the thing I did in person. Like, I went home to my parents and was like, "Listen, this is what's going on." "These are their pronouns." "You will use them and we will not have any kind of argument or discussion about it." Like this is what's happening and I'm telling you because I need them to feel comfortable with you because you're their grandparents.
[01:18:50] It was weird, it was my 20th high school reunion. So I went home by myself to go to that. And then the next day I just sat them down and was like, "I need to tell you this, 'cause this is what we're doing." And they're not super progressive in that area. They're like the "Love the sinner, hate the sin" vibe, a little bit better than that, but still kind of in that vein.
[01:19:14] And so I was like, we're not doing that with my children. So like, I need you to, whatever you have to do to be able to fake it or accept it. I don't care, but you have to. Because if, if I don't feel like they're safe here, we won't come. Like, this is just how it's going to be. And that went fine. Like it went okay. They are still a little odd about it. And it creates communication breakdowns because they do not think I mean just our son when I say "they" and "them," you know?
[01:19:51] Santiago: Mmm, mm-hmm, like the singular they.
[01:19:54] Will: Right, I have to clarify that I'm not talking about both kids. But they took that really, took it better than I thought they were going to. But that was the one thing where I was like, this can't be played around with. I can't dance around it. I can dance around telling them about me, but like to protect our kids, you know?
[01:20:13] And it's just, if we hadn't, if we had our child a few years earlier, we wouldn't have been there yet. And we would have been where my parents were dealing with that firsthand. I would have messed that up. And would have done irreparable harm, in my belief, I would have. And it's like, things happened when they needed to for us. I don't know why they happened, but I'm glad, I'm thankful that they did.
[01:20:43] Santiago: Yeah, wow. If you're comfortable, you can totally say no, and that's okay. I want to ask you about what that's been like for you as a parent, and then generally speaking, we're going to get into parenting a little bit more if you're okay with that.
[01:20:59] There's this conversation in the United States, and I think within a lot of different countries, people who consider themselves Christian, especially, talking about how children are being "indoctrinated" in this. And they're throwing out really gross and defamatory terms like "grooming."
[01:21:19] So as the parent of a kid who identifies as non-binary, what is it like today hearing this language and what was your experience like? What is your lived experience as the parent of somebody who does not fit within the binary?
[01:21:37] Will: It was, it was funny, honestly. Because like I said, when they told us, my first reaction was, "Oh, thank god I no longer have my old belief system, or this would have been a big problem." But the thing that I think was interesting for us is we were, we were hoping to raise children that were accepting of everyone. So we gave them language that we didn't have growing up, for people's differences.
[01:22:15] Where when I was a kid, you were "weird," or you were "cool." And everything that wasn't right down-the-middle "normal," was just weird. And having language for all of these things allows people to... It's the same thing as finding your podcast or finding a TikTok about it's, it's, "That's the language I needed to describe how I've been feeling." Like, they've shown those charts of these increases and how that the, the growth looks the same as left handedness.
[01:22:54] Santiago: Right, yep.
[01:22:55] Will: And so when left handedness was demonized, nobody was left handed. When it stopped being demonized, all of a sudden, a bunch of people were left handed and it wasn't an increase in actual left handedness. It was the increase in the ability to publicly be left handed.
[01:23:11] And so we are seeing society say, "People are people, however they come." And that freedom is allowing people to find an identity that fits them better. And these aren't even options we had growing up, but they have them. And so when our son first mentioned it,
[01:23:37] it was like, "Oh, maybe we have talked about gender roles too much." Like we didn't want them to feel like you have to have blue and you have to play with these types of toys and you have to be an athlete. It was like, "Do whatever."
[01:23:56] And so then we, we initially thought, "Oh, maybe, it's just kind of stereotypes." Like, they're learning stereotypes, and they learn that they don't fit them, and this is how they're articulating it. And then they developed their own language to talk about it better, and it became very much more obvious that it wasn't just stereotypes and things. It was a literal, I, we're learning language still. 'Cause they're still pretty young, you know?
[01:24:23] But it's been really interesting to see in a family like ours, where everyone has been pretty by-the-book Bible teetotaler stuff, that that didn't create some insulation to this "weird, mysterious thing" that's sweeping the nation. You know, it's just people are who they are. And it's your job. It's your job to support your child in the way they need it. To be human, like to be themselves. Like to, to not be able to be what you should be so that you can satisfy some list of do's and don'ts, just doesn't make any sense.
[01:25:12] And I don't, I don't understand, I've never really understood the like rejection of one's own family over a sentence or two, that we can all, we can all agree we don't have perfect context for. But it's like this game of, "Well, I don't want to risk not telling you something was wrong." And that's worth like ruining your life and your experiences, you know?
[01:25:42] High school, college, those experiences prepared my openness to be ready to be the parent I needed to be, despite the dogma that told me not to be that way, you know? Our child is the, the genesis of the deconstruction, but it had nothing to do with that. And then when that came up, it was like, thank god you started us down this path or, you know? It's hard to navigate the world though, in the Bible Belt, still. Because it's, it's still something
[01:26:18] no one around here gets or understands and thinks is real, you know? And our son is like, just brave, you know? Has a pronouns pin that they wear, so everyone knows, you know? And it was like, "I'm doing this this year." Like it was just, they decided "I am going to fully be me how I am me." "And if people have questions they can ask and I'll tell them and we'll just keep moving." And I couldn't be more proud of a person than I am of our son, because I couldn't do what they're doing. I couldn't be an individual of any kind, really. And to be out like that. Like just outwardly an individual.
[01:27:08] And they refuse to be boxed in by anything. And whenever they want to do whatever, they let us know and do it, you know? And it's just, you learn a lot about being a good parent from letting your kids be your kids, as opposed to, "These are spawns of us and we need to shape them into new versions of us." It's like, no, they are their own fully formed human right out the gate. They just can't express it all yet. And you're just supposed to give them room to do that. And so our, like my idea of parenting has shifted entirely, from crafting a "great Adventist" to putting a valuable human into the world.
[01:27:59] Santiago: Wow.
[01:28:00] Will: And those two things didn't necessarily coexist. And that was a weird realization to deal with, but it was like, one of these is more important than the other. And putting the fully fledged, good human in the world is going to take that priority. And we haven't looked back.
[01:28:17] Santiago: Wow. There's, there's so much to unpack in what you just shared, and I really appreciate that perspective. I, I saw one of your videos where you talked about this idea of needing to be both parent and friend, not just one or the other. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that.
[01:28:38] For anyone who's maybe struggled with that idea, or is actively working through and thinking about this, what would you say to a parent who's kind of been on, "What do I need to be more?" "Do I need to be more of a parent and kind of an enforcer, or a friend?" And how do you find balance with that?
[01:28:57] Will: To be honest, it's all kid-specific. If you're lucky enough, fortunate enough to have room... My wife always says that rules need to make sense. They can't just be rules to have rules. I grew up in a house where you couldn't really ask "Why?" Like, "Why I gotta?" "'Cause I said so," and we moved on. And so my wife was always like, that's never a good enough response to our children.
[01:29:24] If they ask us "Why," we have to tell them. And if we don't have a good reason for it, it can't just be "Because I don't want you to do that." Like it, you know, "It's dangerous," or whatever. And so we established this thing where if you're not going to hurt yourself or someone else, we're going to tell you, "Yes," but ask.
[01:29:45] And so we've created this open dialogue to where they will ask us literally anything because they know if they have any reason behind it, we'll listen to them. May not let them do it, but we're definitely going to listen to them. And if there's no good reason to say no, we're not going to say no. And setting that as the rule of like, "The rule is you tell us what you want to do and we'll see if that makes sense," as opposed to "These are the things you can't do,"
[01:30:15] creates a space where they want to tell us all the stuff that happens to them. Or they want to share things with us because we've been open to whatever they bring to us. And that is a more "friend" move than a parenting move, because it's a little bit of like "Call me and let me complain, and I'll tell you you're right." You know, like a friend would and then we can talk about where to go from there.
[01:30:42] My thing is you should never be just one of them. There's never a moment where it's like "I'm only your parent now," because why? Like why would, why would you separate the idea of friendship from parenting? Like I've, when I'm your parent, I can only be the rule guy? Like that's no fun and that's no good for anybody. And so it's just, it's a constant, we're all like, we're homies. Like it's a, we're a group of friends. They just have to listen to the tall people. It's just kind of how it, it works for now.
[01:31:16] And we've been fortunate that they're, you know, they take to that. There's not a lot of, there's not a lot of fighting, you know, or in fighting 'cause we don't have weird rules that don't make sense. And again, it goes back to like your job, in my opinion, is not to sculpt, it's to create space.
[01:31:36] And if you can get out of the mindset of sculpting the "perfect offspring" and saying, "I'm going to enjoy watching this person become," it doesn't feel like parenting anymore. It just feels like friendship, to me. Our kids are us, like they're our personalities mixed up. So we kind of know how to deal with each other. 'Cause it's like, "Your mom does that." "And I know why your mom does that." And so we like seeing each other in them, we can then lend that empathy we have for each other to them.
[01:32:16] Santiago: Yeah, it sounds like there's an incredible amount of grace. You used the word empathy which, if anybody's listened to even a couple of episodes, they know I love to talk about empathy. But I feel like that's so important, so I'm so glad you mentioned that.
[01:32:33] You talked about being grateful that you went through deconstruction when you did, given all of these changes, but especially given your kids. And I'm wondering, how would you describe the shift in your morals and ethics since leaving Adventism?
[01:32:53] Will: I don't feel like too much changed. Which I think is confusing to a lot of people that are looking at whether or not they should go down the question line. But ultimately I feel like when you go through that process, you come out the other end saying, "If I was being the good person I was simply because this book told me to, or simply because I was worried about burning in hell, then I was never the good person I thought I was, anyway."
[01:33:29] And so pulling away from "objective truth" or whatever, didn't impact — if they impacted them, it made them, in my opinion, better. Because there are not moral difficulties I have to explain away anymore from a literalist historical perspective. Myth can be myth and tell a story and it's, it is what it is.
[01:33:54] This is how a story was told at this time or whatever. And so I'm not hamstrung by the handful of verses I didn't really agree with in the first place. Like I always had trouble with the hammer verses because it just didn't make sense that there was a type of person that god makes in a way that he just doesn't like off the bat.
[01:34:22] I never was a person that thought anything other than everyone's born how they're going to be born. So it was all, it was never a, I never believed the idea of, I mean, they're terrible to even mention, but that "people were assaulted, that's how all of this has happened."
[01:34:42] And so that's always been a problem for me to have and to say like, well, there's five or six verses. That if you strain yourself to try to make them say these things, they say these things. But the overwhelming rest of the evidence would suggest we're probably reading that wrong in terms of how we're talking about this loving Jesus that loved everyone and "Love your neighbor" and all this stuff.
[01:35:08] And so it was like, but I still had to deal with those verses. It was me saying, "I believe this is okay." "And I know I'm saying the Bible's wrong," and then feeling the guilt of saying the Bible's wrong in these places. To where now it's, it's more right? Like, I don't know how to articulate that, but it's, I feel more justified in my positions that I had already, because I don't have the Bible verses I have to explain away to hold them.
[01:35:47] You know, it's not a, it's not a, it's not a practice I have to do anymore. I don't have to use, I don't have to use a thing that tells me I'm wrong and then tell you why the thing that tells me I'm wrong isn't right, to make my point. I can simply say, "These are my morals now." And they're the same. I just, they're just not buttressed. They're not built on a deck of cards.
[01:36:12] Like it was a whole house of cards that it was just not sustainable, but the table it was on was fine, you know? And so just shake the cards off and this table's still there. And we've built from that table and it's been a better adjustment, I think for us.
[01:36:33] I think honestly, my family is more open to my spiritual intellectual thinking on this side, than they were when we all agreed all the time. It's like they look at me as having an opinion that's valuable because they wouldn't have it. And so they might not hold on to it. Personal experience, lived experience and meeting people that are not like me was a, to me, a better moral guide than how I was using the Bible before, if that makes sense.
[01:37:17] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. I think a lot of people could probably relate to that. I know Melissa talked about how her morals got, how they got clearer when she had to define them for herself.
[01:37:29] Last question I want to ask you is, having gone through this whole experience, is there any piece of advice that you'd want to give to someone listening right now, going through deconstruction or still actively processing years later?
[01:37:45] Will: Any god worth worship is big enough to handle you asking questions. And if it's not there anymore at the end of those questions, that's fine. But the idea that our questioning is so scary and tough for a powerful, all-knowing God, is, it's absurd. It's absurd.
[01:38:20] If there are questions to seek in your brain, seek them and be comfortable with the answer you find. Be comfortable with it leading to more questions. And be comfortable continuing to look. Because again, if there is something worth that love and adoration and worship, it can accept you wanting to look deeper into it.
[01:38:45] Santiago: Wow, I love that and I completely agree.
[01:38:51] Will: That's the best advice I could give.
[01:38:54] Santiago: Awesome, well, Will, it has been fantastic speaking with you. Thank you so much for coming on here, answering all of my questions, sharing what I truly believe to be great advice, and just your life story. I appreciate it so much.
[01:39:11] Will: Oh, thank you for having me, this was really fun. We'll have to do it again. Get in some real nitty gritty stuff sometime.
[01:39:18] Santiago: 100%, I'm going to take you up on that.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[01:39:21] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!