When trying to determine what to ask the founders about their views and their ministry, I first thought of compiling a list of questions and asking each one the same thing. After thinking about it, I realized that it would be tedious for the readers to read slight variations of answers on the same topic, so I decided to go with a different approach. I composed 100 different questions and divided the questions evenly among the five founders. I estimated that the interviews would last for about 40 minutes each (two minutes per question) which would provide for a good conversation and not be too much of a distraction from their conference and work in general.
Someone once said, that the best-laid plans become irrelevant the minute the action starts. My first interview was with Pastor Sam Leonor, February 15, 2016 at the Westin Hotel during Gathering, a One Project event. We tried to find a quiet place to talk but it turned out that there was only one bench available and it near a major throughway for everyone at the conference. And of course, passing attendees would reach out during our conversation to shake hands, or Pastor Leonor being the gregarious person he is, would leap up to say “hi” to someone he knew. Then there was the matter of recording the interview. My questions were on my iPad but I was using both my iPad and iPhone to record. Our “interview” was more of a conversation as both he and I were reacting in real time simultaneously to everything happening around us and the substance of our conversation.
Edits to This Interview
Pastor Leonor graciously and enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed on the record and I offered him the opportunity to edit the record if he wanted to.[i] My reasons for extending the founders the opportunity to edit the record was that I wanted to capture from them the clearest exposition of their thoughts without a filter.[ii]
Below is the transcript of the interview[iii] with a few post-interview edits from Pastor Leonor and a few edits of myself when I at times, cut into his answers. Also, in the interests of readability and at Pastor Leonor’s request, I cut the last few minutes of the interview out of the edited transcript reproduced here. Other edits were made for readability and flow without changing the contents of Pastor Leonor’s answers by the Compass staff and their additions to the text in parenthesis are helpful context that they feel would aid the reader.
In all my interviews, the conversation naturally continued after we stopped recording and were heading back to the main conference hall. Those conversations are referred to as after the interview conversations and are clearly cited as such.
I share my reactions to this conversation at the end of this article.
A Note About Citing This Interview:
A word to those who may want to use this interview for their own purposes: If you are going to use this material from this interview please include in your citations, a link to the original series published at The Compass Magazine as we are covering the One Project and also to Intelligent Adventist where we are simultaneously covering issues related to the Emergent Church, so that your audience can get the full context.
The Interview (February 15, 2016 – Seattle, WA)
Adrian Zahid: Okay, so hopefully it’s recording. Alright, so this is an interview with doctor, right?
Pr. Sam Leonor: No, no, not yet. ABD [All But Dissertation], man.
Adrian Zahid: Okay.
Pr. Sam Leonor: When I get that dissertation done, in another year maybe, maybe.
Adrian Zahid: So tell me about your background.
Pr. Sam Leonor: All of it, or ministry?
Adrian Zahid: Did you grow up Adventist?
Pr. Sam Leonor: The abbreviation, yeah, my folks are missionaries. In Central America, in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico. So I was raised in the medical mission world of the church. And came to the U.S. at 13 to learn English, and I was called to ministry after college, after Southern Adventist University. I worked in [the] Carolina Conference for two years, [and then attended] seminary for two years.
Adrian Zahid: Where’d you go to seminary?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Andrews.
Adrian Zahid: MDiv?
Pr. Sam Leonor: MDiv, yeah. And so, my trajectory was self-supporting academy: Fletcher Academy, North Carolina, Southern, Andrews, MDiv, and then the rest at La Sierra University.
Adrian Zahid: Did you go to George Fox University as well?
Pr. Sam Leonor: I did. That is where my doctoral degree is right now.
Adrian Zahid: So what led you to consider that university over something like, say, Fuller or even Andrews?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Well, for one thing Fox is more conservative than Fuller. It’s a great misconception [among Adventists]. Fuller, for years has been sort of the Adventist “baptized” option, or other option, if you’re going to step out of the Adventist system. But as I looked at all the options available to me, Fuller [at] first was attractive because of their hybrid on-campus/off-campus model. Lately I have been hearing it [Fuller] in a really negative light. Fox is evangelical. They care that the gospel is proclaimed in all the world. So I chose them for that, and also I was interested in Len Sweet. I’ve been reading Len since I was at Southern. And when I knew that he was offering a cohort that he would lead, I was really interested in that. And all my friends were involved. So if all your friends…
Adrian Zahid: So you guys [the One Project founders] were all one cohort that went through?
Pr. Sam Leonor: No.Tim and I were [together]. Terry and Alex were [together]. So I want to address the question that has not been asked very often, but needs to be asked. And that is, there’s just [this] notion that Fox shaped our common mission, understanding, theology, all that. No, that was shaped before Fox. We were all friends and all this was forged together before we all said, “Hey, Fox, okay let’s do Fox together.” So here’s the difference, that we’re disciples of Jesus and we made that decision before we went to Fox.
Adrian Zahid: Correct me if I’m wrong, is Fox, a Quaker university?
Pr. Sam Leonor: No. Well, yes and no. The university has very loose Quaker roots, very, very loose. From [the] Northwest sort of Quaker movement, but the seminary was actually Methodist. And the seminary was bought by George Fox 10 years ago maybe, 15 years ago. And none of the staff are Quaker—none.
Adrian Zahid: In your experience, what were the people you interacted with denominationally?
Pr. Sam Leonor: My cohort or the leaders?
Adrian Zahid: The leaders.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Well, Len has Methodist roots, strong Methodist roots. The rest were just a mishmash of something, non denoms [non-denominational]. There were some Brethren. One of our professors was Wesleyan.
Adrian Zahid: I’m trying to get the timeline, you guys went to Fox and then you started the One Project or this was during?
Pr. Sam Leonor: During. Well, Alex was done. Terry was done.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Tim and I, we started in ’09, he’s done, he finished it immediately because he writes recreationally. I’m still there, I’m not there, I’m ABD, which means whenever I get this dissertation done then…
Adrian Zahid: What’s your dissertation on?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Mine is on the One Project. A D.Min. [Doctor of Ministry] is as a practical, professional degree, so you have to have some kind of artifact that you, a project you present. And this is mine.
Adrian Zahid: So have you written anything or are you still…
Pr. Sam Leonor: Is this your way of encouraging a brother to…[chuckle] No, no. I fear that question because it just reminds me that I need to [finish]. Yeah, I’ve got a couple chapters done but I’m way, way off, that’s my thing, it’s going take a long time to get this done.
Adrian Zahid: Since the One Project has started, there seems to be a more centrist tone at this conference that I’m attending than in the past. So I’m wondering, has the One Project matured since its inception? And I see a lot of top brass here, some conference presidents and that sort of thing. So I’m wondering, has it shifted or is this a natural outgrowth of the same thing?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Well, first of all, we didn’t have a five year plan. We had really a one-event plan, that was it. When the five of us got together in Denver, our experience was so powerful that we just knew, let’s do this again with a few friends, and Atlanta turned out to be… The great revelation of Atlanta was that, “Oh, there’s a lot of other people who are where we are. Let’s do it again next year.” Japhet probably is the one with the most concise vision of the future, what we should accomplish in five years. The rest of us honestly are just doing this year-by-year. And so what we’re covering every year, I didn’t know we… This is the first time I’ve heard that.
Adrian Zahid: That’s fine. I’m kind of used to listening to sermons and giving, just objectively analyzing it for style, content, delivery, tone, that sort of thing. So it was just an observation.
Pr. Sam Leonor: I will say that we are aware that as we’ve grown, the first One Project was really 172 of our closest friends who we had been talking with for years. And what we did know is that these people can handle some of the sarcasm and some of the loving critique of the church, because they know our commitment to the church, that’s assumed. Now the feedback we heard after the second one was, “Hey, there’s 700 people here now and not everyone is where you guys are.”
Adrian Zahid: Let’s explore that.
Pr. Sam Leonor: So it is best to not assume that they all know you’re just being sarcastic and funny sometimes and taking… Some of the critiques are… We’re convicted that some changes need to happen, but now that there’s 1,200 people in the room we cannot assume that everyone understands our motivation or our…
Adrian Zahid: Inside jokes, even.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah, exactly. So you may have noticed there’s less of that. But I don’t think we’ve ever sat in a room and said, “Hey, let’s be less critical, or less this, or more this.”
Adrian Zahid: Okay. So talking about the pioneers, you mentioned several touch points, like 1844, 1888, and that sort of thing, what’s your view of Ellen White?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah, one common critique has been that… I want to either revise history, or cast doubt on some of the things that have made us who we are as Adventists, that we learned in those big pivot points, but not at all. I want them to be more meaningful. And I work with young adults who just really don’t even know what our history is, and I want it to matter to them. I work with young adults who have never read Ellen White. There’s a whole generation that… She disappeared, partly because…
[INTERRUPTION FROM A PASSERBY]
Adrian Zahid: So we were talking about history.
Pr. Sam Leonor: So Ellen White. I want to make sure I finish this, and I know I’m making this interview way longer than it probably should be. Young adults don’t read her, period. Because there was a boomer generation that went through their problems with Ellen White in the ’70s, they ignored her so much so, that now we don’t have her present at all in any capacity. So I’m interested in young adults finding her amazing and valuable, and her writings beautiful, as I have found them.
Adrian Zahid: So what’s the [One Project’s] relationship with the church? I know you guys are part of the church. I’ll probably ask Japhet more of that since he’s with the conference here. But Adventist Today said that you guys were being investigated by the BRI [Biblical Research Intsitute] or something like that? Or what was that?
Pr. Sam Leonor: I think probably Japhet and Alex should be the ones that speak more to that.
I’ll simply say that we’re eager for the BRI to deliver whatever the report is. We were all interviewed. We all sat with them. They traveled and met with all of us, together and individually. We’ve answered every question they have, and we’re actually now waiting for them to say something, because the rumor that we’re being investigated…
Adrian Zahid: Is damaging. Yeah. I understand.
Pr. Sam Leonor: And by the way, the interview was really… I would say it was a beautiful time of fellowship between brothers, all brothers, no sisters, who just love Jesus. And when they’d sort of came to that conclusion within an hour being together, we all knew we’re wasting tithe payers money right now.
Adrian Zahid: So you mentioned fear-based evangelism in your talks. How does the One Project propose an alternative to some of the stuff that has been done in the past?
Pr. Sam Leonor: So you listened to my Chicago sermon, and I also did it in Sydney. My intention was not, I’ve heard lot of critique of that, not to say that… I wasn’t saying abandon our prophetic heritage at all. That is why I’m Adventist. What I was saying is, we have to lead with the gospel. That’s it. That was my intention and that’s what we’re proposing.
Adrian Zahid: So how does leading with the gospel mean in a… I don’t know, do we still do an evangelistic series, 21 days series, or do we do more relationship-based stuff?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Those are some logistics that are… I mean, we can discuss that ad nauseam. I see great examples everywhere happening right now, of models different than just, “Hey, let me prove to you why the world’s ending soon from, our sacred text, and why what you believe is wrong.” We’re way past that now, and I’m glad for that. And there’s great models everywhere, so it’s less about how, like the mechanics of how we do it, more about the posture with which we come to evangelism, which is, we’re in the world now in our culture now, that is not choosing between which kind of Christian I’m going be. I think our struggle now is going to be secular or faith? And that’s the wave that hit Europe and it’s starting here in the U.S. And as I look at both of these, the real question is, “Can you believe in Jesus?” And then we’ll get to the other…But our leading with our prophetic heritage really presupposes that the argument is whether your church has it right, or my church has it right. That’s the 19th century when everyone was basically Christian.
Adrian Zahid: What do you do with people who don’t go to church at all? How do you begin with them?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Where I work and live, that is the issue. You know.
Adrian Zahid: The emergent church, everyone seems to mention it in conjunction with you guys. Is that a guiding influence, or are you guys emergent?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Everyone has an opinion on what the emerging church actually is, and no one can actually… I can’t find two or three who would agree.
Adrian Zahid: Sure. I don’t think the emergent church guys can agree on their own thing. But I don’t know if they want anyone to agree, because it seems like they don’t want to be defined. They kind of run away from definition. Right?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Exactly. They want to be described but not defined. And so when someone says to me, “Are you emergent?” I’d say, “What do you think emergent means?” ‘Cause if you mean, I’m saying, “He [Jesus] must increase, we must decrease,” does that make me emergent? Okay. Yes. Then I come to Seattle and meet with people who are willing to do this for two days of their lives, and invest in singing together. So no, I’ve read interesting evaluations or definitions of the emergent movement by lots of brothers and sisters, that I would say clearly, “No, we’re not that”. Absolutely.
Adrian Zahid: Okay. So, here’s the question. What in the emergent church that you’ve read is not compatible…
Pr. Sam Leonor: Truth-relative.
Adrian Zahid: Not compatible with Adventism?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah. Relativity.
Pr. Sam Leonor: [A] Hermeneutic that is submitted to the prevailing culture as we’d approached Scripture? I would say that that is emergent, and we’re not that, at least as I encounter whatever emergent is.
Pr. Sam Leonor: A universalism, the ecumenical movement that disrespects our prophetic calling and our end-time prophetic remnant calling. We’re not that, we’re Adventist.
Adrian Zahid: Sure. Now, this is more a question for Alex [a cofounder of the One Project], which I hope to ask him at some point. He talks about “generous ecclesiology.”
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah.
Adrian Zahid: And Brian McLaren talks about “generous orthodoxy” in his book.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yes.
Adrian Zahid: My question is, in the generous ecclesiology, is there room for, “Come out of her, my people… “, the whole Revelation 14 thing? What would you say to that? How do you balance that?
[NOTE: At this point in the interview I mistakenly thought Pr. Leonor was referring to Alex Bryan (a founder of the One Project) but his comments were actually about Brian McLaren (a promoter of the emergent church ideology).]
Pr. Sam Leonor: I’m super nervous when Brian’s [McLaren] name comes up, because he is… And whereas our name, all of us have been associated with him. Len Sweet has been tied… We are pretty far from where Brian [McLaren] is. I mean, as far as you can get. From lots of his positions on most things. I think you’ll find all of us, every single one of us, will say the exact same thing.
Adrian Zahid: Why is that?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Why is our name sort of tied to his?
Adrian Zahid: Why are you different from him?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Brian [McLaren], well, first he is radical universalist. Also, he’s really committed to the… We’re talking about a person I’ve spoken to several times, and I have taken the time to ask him the questions that I’ve had. And his answers were deeply unsatisfying. He sees absolute truth as a cancer that must be remedied by the radiation of relativism. So, that we can arrive at something more viable, a more viable way forward. But there are absolutes. And when you’re convicted of those, you can’t see them as a dangerous cancer that must be cured through radiation. And what he’s doing is actually killing people’s faith, with his radiation. That’s what I believe. So, yeah.
Adrian Zahid: That’s kind of strong for one of the members of your team. But, okay. [NOTE: I mistakenly thought Pr. Leonor was talking about Alex Bryan but he was actually referring to Brian McLaren.]
Pr. Sam Leonor: I think he’s [Brian McLaren] been helpful in some regards to a lot of people who I interact with, because he’s [Brian McLaren] given them a way to think about faith that is better. But in other ways he’s [Brian McLaren] destroyed lots of people’s faith completely. He’s [Brian McLaren] led them to deconstruct it in a way that there’s nothing left. There’s nowhere to begin to reconstruct anything.
Adrian Zahid: How can someone like that be part of the One Project?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Brian McLaren?
Adrian Zahid: Alex Bryan.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Oh, I’ve been telling you about, Brian McLaren, not Alex, no. Alex is…
Adrian Zahid: I’m glad we cleared that up for a second.
Pr. Sam Leonor: I was talking about Brian McLaren, not Alex Bryan.
Adrian Zahid: Thank you. Thank you. [laughter]
Pr. Sam Leonor: I wouldn’t be doing this, man.
Adrian Zahid: Of course.
Pr. Sam Leonor: A person I just said a lot about. I don’t think that person would be here.
He would find a whole lot of this offensive…What happens here.
Adrian Zahid: Sure. Okay. So, now that we’ve cleared that up. But, thank you.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Adrian Zahid: But going back to… I’m talking about Alex Bryan’s generous ecclesiology. And the One Project and Revelation 14, which says, “Come out of her my people… Babylon… “, and some people see that as a exclusivist thing with other churches, like the remnant. What’s the concept of the remnant versus…
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah.
Adrian Zahid: How does the One Project handle that?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Okay. And I think we’ve arrived at… You’re digging deep into our personal circle now, and what I believe are… All of us have some emphasis that we bring to the table, all of us.
Adrian Zahid: Sure.
Pr. Sam Leonor: And if you talk to all of us, you’ll notice it.
Adrian Zahid: I will.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Terry, is this deeply relational… His pathway to knowing God is people and knowing you deeply. Japhet takes weird pleasure in precision, in organization, and that is… Alex wants a more winsome, beautiful expression of Adventism. And I think what he would say is that, we cannot call people to come out of Babylon if we have positioned ourselves to do battle with it. The time he spent out of [the] denomination pastoring, taught him that you cannot, until you’ve paid a relational rent with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, you will never have any… We just can’t bring up Revelation 14.
Adrian Zahid: To me that is more of a tactic or a strategy. But what I’m talking about is more of a positional understanding, like this is who we are versus this is what the Bible says they are, or anybody is, that manifests those characteristics that are targeted as Babylon in the Bible. That’s a little bit different. We can talk about how best to reach other churches, and how best to communicate with them and that sort of thing. And I’m all for that. What I’m asking is, how does the One Project deal with Revelation 14, the Three Angels’ Messages, the whole connotation that that brings up?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Well, you’ll have to ask Alex. I probably shouldn’t speak for Alex anymore.
Adrian Zahid: But for you.
Pr. Sam Leonor: I believe that Revelation 14 is less about calling other good Christians out of being Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, etc. And it is more about calling people out of a world and systems that are increasingly anti-Gospel, anti-God and are drawing humanity away from salvation. I’m not saying Revelation 14 is not about calling people “out of Babylon,” I’m saying we need to think about who and what Babylon is. Again, I think it is less about my Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan brothers and sisters, and more about other systems and powers that are drawing people away from God.
Adrian Zahid: Someone asked me to ask you this. Is Sabbath going be a final test?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yes, without a doubt. I was taken horribly and maliciously out of context in a recent presentation by a colleague who I’ve tried to engage in conversation with, about this.
Adrian Zahid: Speaking of, some of the people that have criticized you from the conservative side of the church, have those people reached out to you personally?
Pr. Sam Leonor: By the way, I am a conservative part of the church, so I reject that label as a way to place me on the continuum. And I’m not joking, I am. Listen, I know liberals, if we’re going to use these terms. And if they’re plotted on the same continuum, I am an Adventist who believes in God as Creator, virgin birth, resurrection, a literal second coming of Jesus.
Adrian Zahid: Yeah. My question, have those people reached out to you? Like Stephen Bohr.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Not a single one.
Adrian Zahid: Not a single one, okay.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Not one. Occasionally I get an e-mail from somebody who has read or seen one of the presentations. However, I have contacted personally every single person that has spoken about the One Project or about me personally, every single one of them.
Adrian Zahid: And?
Pr. Sam Leonor: It has yielded some interesting results. My friends, by the way, think I am nuts for doing this. But I just think that when I hear something that is blatantly false, I want to be able to say, “I disagree with you, we disagree, we honor Christ because we had this conversation, let’s go our separate ways.” But when I hear something that is just false, like, “Sam doesn’t believe in Sabbath.” It’s like “Okay… ” So I have e-mailed, text, called 30, 40 people. I’d say roughly a third of them have responded, and I’d say probably a third of those have agreed to a personal meeting.
Adrian Zahid: But they did not proactively reach out to you first?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Not one.
Adrian Zahid: Okay.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Some of them have not responded, and one of them did respond and said, “You’re harassing me.” [chuckle] ‘Cause I made it a matter of spiritual discipline to spend time in prayer for him, and I would call him and text him for every week for almost six months.
Adrian Zahid: Okay, okay. Alright…
Pr. Sam Leonor: I don’t know if I want all that printed.
Adrian Zahid: No, no, no. No. I think it’s important and I’ll tell you why. I’m going ask every one of you guys whether they have reached out. And my point is, that if this [the One Project] is such a dangerous thing, wouldn’t you have a concern for a brother and reach out to him and follow Matthew 18, or any sort of thing? And that’s what I want to figure out.
Pr. Sam Leonor: One of these people looked into a camera, and said to me by name, “Stay away from my children.” Now I actually, I went home and I spent a few days in prayer, thinking, “Lord Jesus, am I leading kids astray? And if I am, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. Because heaven forbid that anything I say should lead one precious soul to anything but life with you”, and at the end of that, that is in prayer, my only impression was, “Reach out to this individual.” Anyway.
Adrian Zahid: Alright. Good, good. They didn’t respond?
Pr. Sam Leonor: That specific person didn’t, but I found the Lord led us to each other. He will not discuss it, but I prayed with him and for him, and I don’t know, I don’t know what else to do. No, I want to say that there has been incredible beautiful encounters with some that have actually said, “Okay, well, tell me what you actually meant”. And when you get a chance to do that with a brother or sister, wow. Real, yeah, ecclesia happens.
Adrian Zahid: Yeah, okay. Alright. So what would you say to members who watch that stuff [anti-One Project presentations] and are concerned? What would you say personally to them?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Call me. Text me. Reach out. I am super available. Nothing gives me more pleasure and more joy than to actually have someone ask me a question and allow me to explain. Also, I would say, “Could you begin with a presupposition that I want the same thing you want, the salvation of every person on earth, people in love with Jesus. Try to begin with that presupposition, and I think you’ll hear us differently.” But when you begin with the weird conspiracy, crazy, cuckoo, banana stuff, these guys are Jesuits, emergent, whatever that means, that they’ve been fooled or deluded, or they don’t believe in Scripture, or Ellen White, or they’re abandoning the mission of our church. When you begin with all that, then everything we say is suspicious, [I could say] “The… “, and people will go, ‘There it is, he said “the”.’
Adrian Zahid: Few more questions, and then we’re done.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I make you skip our…
Adrian Zahid: Yeah. I don’t care. I’m enjoying this, actually. I prefer having this one-on-one… So, I’m talking in terms of their recording.
Pr. Sam Leonor: Sure. Sure.
Adrian Zahid: So, did the One Project… Is it a reaction to GYC?
Pr. Sam Leonor: Thank you for asking that. Thank you for asking that. I don’t have any… No. If there was a stronger way to say, “No”, I would use that.
Adrian Zahid: Have you been to GYC?
Pr. Sam Leonor: I have been to GYC. I have sponsored students to attend the GYC. I have had some of the most magnificent, powerful encounters with the Living Jesus at the GYC. I, to this day, I sat through a seminar at a GYC in Baltimore that is probably one of the best things that has happened in my life, where I became aware of a great sin our church is committing, that we need to repent of, and is a great blight in a… It compromises our witness.
Adrian Zahid: What is it [the sin]?
Pr. Sam Leonor: It was a presentation on our regional conferences [overlapping Adventist conferences in North America, separated along predominantly racial lines].
Adrian Zahid: Oh, okay.
Pr. Sam Leonor: I just was not aware of that. So here’s the thing. The common, and you’ve heard it, “This is the reaction, this is the alternative to the GYC.” Nothing can be further from the truth. Not only are we not a youth movement thing, we’re also not… The GYC is a massive, massive thing.
Adrian Zahid: Well, you guys are on your way.
Pr. Sam Leonor: With seminars, and no…
Adrian Zahid: 1,000 people at the conference here, come on. That’s success.
Pr. Sam Leonor: By massive, I mean, you go to the GYC and there’s 100 different workshops on how to go home and do. We’ve always said, “That’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here. We just want to get together with people, speak of Jesus in a way that we miss speaking about him since we were juniors in our Sabbath schools. Yeah, we want people to walk out of here more in love with Jesus, not knowing how to do evangelism, which is the question you’re asking me. We have full-time jobs, and we come here to just get centered theologically and with each other, and then we go do our work. The GYC is a whole other thing. And plus it’s a youth movement. We’re not. Look at the average age in there. Plus, we have the GYC leadership here. And we’ve been there, and they’ve been here, and it’s not the same goals.
Adrian Zahid: Okay, yeah. So what would you say…
Pr. Sam Leonor: Do we have differences? Of course. This would never fly at the GYC. Our music would never fly at the GYC. Do some of us have a… There are some differences, final generation theology. Some of us just don’t think that is the way the world is going to be reached. And some of us don’t believe that the perfecting of our character is… I mean there are some, but I would call those nuances. I wouldn’t call them pivotal to whether you can say you’re Adventist or not.
Adrian Zahid: Alright so…
Pr. Sam Leonor: And we have the same mission, I believe, as GYC.
[4.8.2017 – Due to an oversight in the final editing process by the author, an additional edit was made to this transcript after publication.]
Reactions to the Interview
Pastor Leonor’s Background: It is worth noting that Pr. Leonor corrected the widespread idea that they were influenced theologically, by their education at George Fox University when in fact, their “common mission, understanding, and theology” was formed before they ever considered going to George Fox. It undercuts much of the reasoning behind many of the presentations put forward regarding the One Project and the accusation that it is influenced by emergent ideology.
The Centrist Tone at Seattle: I noted that there was a marked contrast to Gathering than what had been done before and there was more of a centrist tone. He agreed that as they had grown, they had organically made some changes. I find that to be normal for any organization that has grown successfully in its reach and popularity.
Comparisons to GYC (Generation. Youth. Christ.): He rejected any comparisons to GYC while later asserting that both ministries share the same mission in the Church.[iv] His perception of GYC and its connection to Last-Generation Theology, is a perception that many in the Church hold, but is not correct. GYC is not monolithic in its beliefs. For that matter, neither is the One Project monolithic in its beliefs even though it is characterized as being such.
Posture Taken when Evangelizing and a Difference of Emphasis on Beliefs: I agreed with him that we need to take a posture in our evangelism that is most conducive to helping someone receive truth. Pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness have no place in God’s work. After clearing up my misunderstanding on the two “Brians” he went on to describe what he termed as a difference of emphasis on fundamental beliefs between the founders. To me, if a ministry claims that it is part of the Church or is the Church, (which the One Project has claimed) then a greater integration of its system of beliefs should be evident in their ministry and worldview.
His Characterization of the 3 Angels’ Message: I found Pr. Leonor’s answer about his views of Eschatological Babylon and the Three Angels’ Messages to be significant on several levels. I will explore his views in a future article but suffice it to say, there is a distinction to be made here between Pr. Leonor’s answer and the historical positions the Church has held on these issues, which others have correctly noted as well.[v]
The Conservative Reaction: I was personally saddened to hear that no one from the conservative side that had publically leveled attacks at the founders of the One Project had taken the time to talk with them personally. I feel that in skipping this step an opportunity was lost. Leonor’s personal attempts to reach out to these individuals are exemplary and are to be commended.
After the Interview: After the interview ended, as we continued to talk, I asked him to clarify a statement he had made regarding some of the detractors of the One Project, where he said the Lord had led “them” together. He revealed that he had in fact met with Pastor Steve Wohlberg, at his own initiation, during which he discussed much of what Wohlberg had raised in his seminars and clarified what he believed on certain issues. According to Leonor, Pastor Wohlberg left that meeting convinced that Leonor’s and the One Project’s views were indeed Adventist, if perhaps a little more liberal than his own, and said so to Leonor. As of publication, no public retraction to the claims against the One Project have been made. I interviewed Pastor Wohlberg, earlier this week, to get his side of this conversation and will publish his thoughts on the conversation between him and Pr. Leonor as a part of this series.
[i] My guidelines for post-interview editing by the subject are on the condition: 1) I get the clearest expression of their thought. 2)Their edits don’t “make new news” meaning they don’t substantially change their answer from what they said in the interview unless they are okay with me reporting on that change. In this interview, Leonor didn’t make any substantial changes that would merit a reappraisal of his stated views.
[ii] When I say “filter,” I mean that there are various levels of “scriptedness” or precision. For example, a sermon is usually prepared well in advance but will most likely not be as precise as a theological academic peer-reviewed paper; a written interview is more precise than an oral interview etc. I’m purposely limiting my reactions to the interview to the bare minimum so as to let the conversation between Leonor and me stand alone as it is.
[iii] The interview was transcribed by a professional transcription firm.
[iv] In this series when I refer to the “Church” I am referring to the global Seventh-day Adventist Church and not the globally inclusive formal theological classification of all Christians.
[v] Zahid, Adrian. ‘What Others are Saying About the ONE Project.’ Inteligent Adventist. http://intelligentadventist.com/2017/04/03/what-others-have-said-about-the-one-project-2/