Tuesday, August 9, 2011


When I grew up, Keene was a dinky, eccentric town of about four thousand Seventh-day Adventists (the few who weren’t SDA, were married to one). About monthly, we would drive the hour south from Dallas to see our family in this quirky, folksy and safe Mayberrry look-a-like. Our family had a lot of big and little fish in this pond: aunt Lilabeth Creel, widowed schoolmarm; the Hopps family cousins--with John as principle of Chisholm Trail Academy. My aunt Maddie Crawford was known for making good veggie burgers in one of the little vegetarian restaurants.
It felt quiet and safe there, so simple.

Keene had begun as a center of education for Adventist offspring in 1890. It had only one church--SDA. Because of its proud religious standards, nowhere in the city could you purchase meat or fish, alcohol, cigarettes or tobacco products. There was no theater and everything was closed on “the sabbath” meaning to a SDA--on Saturday. The United States postal service, as a special religious dispensation, granted that no mail be delivered on Saturday in Keene. Nowhere else in the U.S. was this permitted.
On my extended visits to my aunt Lila Beth’s during summer camp meetings, all my peers were third and fourth generation Adventists going to Keene Adventist Elementary School.
The 1960's and 1970's
I was there and saw it, close up and from the eye of a Adventist youth--the cultural tsunami that hit the quaint, naive town in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970s that changed Keene forever. Oh, everyone saw it coming, they had been preaching the end of the world since 1830’s. They were just looking in the wrong place, for they expected it to be from Catholics carrying guns coming to take away their sabbath. They were looking up for the ten commandments in the sky with the "golden halo" around the sabbath comandment, when they should have been watching their kids.
The whole western culture has felt the lasting devastation of those years, but in Keene, the kids were particularly vulnerable. There, a concentration of the deadly influences didn’t just wash over and retreat, but pooled leaving a poisoned swamp the children played in. The sweet “Holy City” never recovered and I lived there for twenty years to watch the effects.
Why was Keene more vulnerable than the rest of the society? It was full of good, respectable, kind-hearted citizens who birthed nice children. What went wrong? How could a town of parents who were grieving over the rumor that the city’s worst crime was the black market of Dr. Pepper, really be oblivious to the disturbing, unrestrained drug use and sexual promiscuity? Keene catastrophically collapsed--morally and spiritually. As the older generation stood in church singing, “Jesus is Coming Again” the youth in the balcony were gambling, snickering about what Twyla and Totsie were wearing and passing around joints. All the parents knew was that their kids were in church on Sabbath. That alone made them safe--religiously safe.

For years, living in the Holy City, I sat next to the Keene survivors of the 70's dutifully bringing their toddlers to Sabbath School. I smiled watching their children waddle up in excitement to put animal felt cut-outs on the felt board and sing “Sabbath is a Happy Day!” Then watch them, with agony, grow into rebellious, cynical and disrespectful teenagers, just to have my heart torn out as they end up in jail, in early abusive marriages, divorced, unhappy, suicidal.
These nice Keenite families are still dumbfounded as to what happens to their children and resign the problem to either that the Devil is working harder on the children of the blessed remnant or passively surrender to the culture and assume their kids are no worse than the rest of the “world.”
For years, I have pondered that question of what happened to Keene and here is my assessment:
While America was being rent in two with the 1960’s and 70’s racial tensions, war and the hippie culture, Adventists, instead of seeing it as their religious and patriotic responsibility to stand against the flood of evil, took these as signs of the last days. Those Adventist who had been rather liberal in the past, hunkered down and clung ever more closely to the church’s teachings seeing these events as “signs of the times.”
The world was about to end, so they didn’t feel the urgency or need, or even have the tools in which to teach their children how to cope with the temptations of this new drug-infested and sexually permissive culture. They kept trying to bandage the wrong wound. While they were cauterizing what they thought were the sinful sins of attending a theater to watch Disney’s “Love Bug”, drinking caffeinated beverages and eating out at Jose’s Mexican Restaurant on Sabbath, blood was draining out of the vital organs as Bible teachers were sneaking high school girls out to get abortions, children were being sexually abused, dropping acid and there was a thriving drug market selling from inside the little town.
The Keene kids felt abandon and alienated from their parents. The parents protected the church more than their own children. Parents would not see the changes in Keene and wanted it to be the charming, safe, sweet little city it had been before.
Rather than stand as heroes for their children and fight for the right; the passive, conscientious-objecting mindset of the Adventists turned them inward, shunning the “worldly.” They acquiesced in religious apathy. This was foretold, they pointed out, so what were they supposed to do about it?
The Keene SDA kids were emotionally and spiritually abandoned in the new environment as their parents became detached from reality, finding their solace in prophecy.
Adventist doctrine itself wasn’t immune to the western crisis of values. Everything was being critically examined. From the 1950’s on a slowly creeping questioning of some of the pillars of the faith caused the church to react. At the same time that it was preaching end-times prophesy seminars, some of the prominent SDA scholars were seeking mainstream status and watering down the pillars of faith so that they would no longer be considered a cult. SDA kids were exposed to this internal struggle over doctrine, were shown some of the hypocrisy of the rules and began questioning themselves. “Why can’t we wear earrings, but old ladies can wear ornate pins and expensive watches and drive luxury cars? Why can’t I drink coffee when we can drink hot chocolate which has caffeine? Why can I wade in water on Sabbath, but not swim?”
In the 1960’s and 1970’s Keene was full of second, third and even fourth generation Adventists, who had little contact with non-Adventist and certainly had not been confronted about their doctrines. They had been educated in Keene SDA institutions and had trusted their families and teachers and pastors to be telling them the truth. After all, these were sweet people, they wouldn’t lie! These were the remnant living in the Holy City.
They had not been a questioning generation. And these parents were totally unprepared to deal with their children’s inquiries about their faith. Now both parents were working to be able to afford to send them through SDA private elementary school and high school and college, they were too tired, too stressed to even have the time for this. After all, isn’t that why their grandparents and parents had moved to the Holy City--to send their kids to get an SDA education so they wouldn’t have to be the ones answering these questions? Keene was supposed to spiritually protect them.
Parents reacted by either disregarding their children or making them feel guilty for not passively accepting the church’s teaching.
Keene Left Vulnerable
The greatest problem of all, which permeated all facets of Keene, was that these sweet and innocent people were easy prey for the lion seeking whom he may devour. They had been raised with the idea they were different. They were God’s special remnant and although they eagerly preached and anticipated an imminent Second Return, they also knew that before that, their very lives would be at stake in a world-wide manhunt. Other Christians, who did not accept the saving “Everlasting Gospel” of Adventism were soon to reject God and spill their wrath upon the Adventists for keeping the Sabbath holy. For over a hundred years they had been preparing themselves and their children for martyrdom for the holy Sabbath.

Adventists are raised in distrust and paranoia of other Christians. When evidence of their deep dysfunction was exposed their only salve was secrecy and plunging ever more into deeper spiritual dysfunction. They have no outside remedy--for all other people do not have the truth. They see all others as lesser Christians that may unwittingly and with all sincerity deceive them if they leave the protection of Adventism.
No Escape
Other than faulty doctrine, Keene had relied totally on its sandy foundation of nice people. While other Christians survived the cultural onslaught of the 1960‘s and 1970‘s forever crippled, Keene didn’t withstand Satan’s brutal attack and collapsed. The golden years of the Holy City are only a memory now and it is sweet to recall those innocent days.
What is dangerous is that those in Keene today are still in oblivious denial. They know something happened to their precious little safe town, but they cannot deal with the reality of it and change. For to do so, they would have to deny the very reason for Keene--to prepare a people to preach the Everlasting Gospel of Adventism.

They would have to step into the real gospel of Jesus Christ and let go of their remnant-hood. They would have to unite with the Body of Christ and release their delusional futuristic persecution complex. They would have to be more than a one-commandment church. They would have to reject fear and embrace God’s love.
Keene, we who once walked your safe and quirky streets going to Sabbath School, who fed the ducks at the Duck Pond and sneaked up onto Leiske-Pultar auditorium after a hot camp-meeting night to watch the stars, we are so privileged to pray for you and ask the Lord to grant you the knowledge of the true gospel so that we will no longer grieve your stolen children, your stolen innocence and your stolen lives.


Pheeki said...

Wow. That was insightful. Having grown up there also, I can tell you that when I left CTA and went into "the world" Cleburne High School...I was totally shocked to see kids carrying bibles to school and being REAL Christian witnesses. I didn't see much of that at CTA! And people were paying a lot of money for what they thought their children were getting. Moving out of Keene was the best thing my parents ever did. I wouldn't raise my children there, no way! I do think the expectations of our church and parents totally contributed to the over the top outrageous behavior of the kids in Keene. We couldn't be normal kids, that wasn't even allowed!
Thanks for your thoughts!

dpm said...

is this why this town depresses me so much? The "nice parts" have "Adventist" written all over it and we know how ugly that is. *sigh*

MarysRoses said...

This makes sense to me. I lived in Keene for 5 months in 1982. I survived one semester at SAC. I survived, but my Adventism didn't, which in the end was not a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

I went to SAC for one year, and in that time I saw/felt such an oppressive spirit! I heard so much about occult things in the area that whenever I think back to my year there I get a really dark feeling. I will say there are some very nice people who live there though.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Keene, Texas, when I was 13 with my parents. They were outsiders trying to enter the church. They where treated with disrespect. I was sent to public school. I was not accepted into the "mainstream" Adventsit society, no matter how hard my parents tried. We could not play basketball on friday nights, nor on saturday due to the culture of the town. I love the fact that Culture has the word cult in it, because that is excatly what Keene, Texas is. A big Cult. This was public school, not private, but being run as if it were private. There is so much I can say about the town, that I can not post it all here. I know of no other place that has the rules and punishments that this place has for its "followers". I am not an Adventist now and will never be. I am proud of that!

Anonymous said...

Im very proud to say to anyone I meet that I'm an Adventist. I also attended SWAU and I am most certainly proud to say I'm still an Adventist and will always be! God is my Saviour and It is my hope that I will meet you in heaven!!!!

Teresa Beem said...

So if you are so proud why didn't you leave your name instead of posting under anonymous?

I do hope you know the post is written out of love and concern for those I LOVE in Keene. Keene has some really spiritually darkness. We point it out because we love Keene, not to hurt them.

Can't wait to meet you in heaven. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

The pioneers of the SDA and the current SDA church are two totally different things.

Stay away from contemplative prayer and ecumenism.

Just stick with the pioneers .
Avoid Kellogg.

The trinity is a 2nd century heresy.

Anonymous said...

The problem here in Keene is the strictness of the law enforcement, tickets, citations for anything. The place is so small that your every move is watched and you will pay a high price in their stupid court.

phaedra muirhead said...

p.s. "stay away from contemplative prayer" is probably the most outrageously stupid spiritual advice I have ever heard in my life. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Time will tell. God has a church and is the Adventist church, perfect is not, but sill God's church.

Leslie Burris said...

Wow, I have wondered all these years what was up with this sweet little town. My great-grandfather was a teacher back when the church began. My mother and most of her side of family is buried there; and I will be too.
Thanks for enlightening me with your inside perspective. I have never espoused being an Adventist, and was never forced. However, my mother lived in a fog after growing up SDA.
May you find peace if not already in the saving faith of Jesus Christ. No religion or religious group is safe from this world. That is why Jesus is the only way!

Anonymous said...

Did you happen to know a girl named Brenda? I'm trying to find out more about this girl who ended her life shortly after starting school at SAC in either 1982,1993, or possibly 1984. I think she had graduated from Jefferson Academy.

Bob Campell said...

I found your article interesting and I found myself agreeing with parts of it. As a matter of full disclosure I grew up in an extremely loving and accepting Adventist home in rural East Texas. But I'm a far cry from your average Adventist. Living near Keene now I sent my kids to Chisolm Trail Academy and we believe they obtained an excellent education and they made lifelong friends with some great kids. I believe with any small, somewhat homogenous society you will find some weird quirks and Keene is no exception. But do you really think the same mentality doesn't develope in small Amish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu or any other close knit religious community? I don't live in Keene but I know a lot of people who do and they are some of the finest and most generous people I know. I'm in my 40's now and the older I get the more believe people find what they look for. Sincerely Bob Campbell.