Breaking into the Adventist Clique

I went to public school.

Those five words are easy enough. All of my pre-university friends would say “Okay, and?” and remind me I’m not special. Most people attend public school. For example, my friends and family. Now, having attended an Adventist university and making Adventist friends, I think there really is more to it. There is something to be said for being raised (barely) Adventist by a former Baptist and an agnostic, and getting a public education in schools filled with Mormons (should I refer to them as Latter-Day Saints?). There is, perhaps, something to be said against the Adventist education system — she’s cliquey.

I will admit that I’m biased against Adventist education, particularly the academies. They seem… weird. I love La Sierra University, and all of the people I’ve met there — professors, fellow students, staff members — but I never expected to attend an Adventist university. In elementary and middle school, when my siblings and I got bad grades or complained about our classes, my mom would threaten to send us to the local Adventist school, Tri-City Junior Academy (now called Tri-City Adventist School, or TCAS), where polo shirts are compulsory and, presumably, one has to learn Bible verses and join bell choir. At ten years old, I already considered myself biblically illiterate (it was obviously too late to learn), and I didn’t want to go. Besides, I wanted to be in Marimba Band, and TCAS didn’t have one of those. I straightened myself out, but I never did learn to play marimbas.

From my local junior academy, students usually attend the Upper Columbia Academy (UCA) in Spangle, or sometimes, Walla Walla Valley Academy (WWVA) in College Place. Kids who attended these academies have gone on to earn degrees in engineering, music, theology, and nursing from Adventist universities. Then, they often go on to teach in other Adventist academies, preach in Adventist churches, and practice in Adventist hospitals. They spend their time with the same people they always have, or with people who are friends of their friends.

I never thought I wanted that. In fact, it’s the exact reason I’m at La Sierra now. I didn’t want to attend a school where I would know anyone else going in. Of course, that made adjusting to college life difficult, especially college life in an Adventist school where everyone I met knew at least three other people on campus. As the youngest of seven, every teacher I had from kindergarten until I graduated had had at least one of my siblings in previous classes, and plenty of assumptions were made about my work ethic. (During roll-call on the first day of eighth grade algebra, my teacher looked at me for a long moment before finally saying, “Yeah, you look like a Knopp.” He never did tell me what that meant.) I was tired of it. So, after high school, I left the old me a thousand miles behind and found someone better, or at the very least unknown. Anonymous. But that might have been a mistake. I found anonymity in a crowd where everyone was already friends.

Maybe it’s the fact that I felt judged by my church friends for attending band festivals on Saturdays, or having to explain over and over that I don’t eat pork and so no, I won’t share a Hawaiian pizza, Annie, but I’ve always found the Adventist life bothersome. It seems so narrow and undesirable, and yet I’m jealous for it. I’ve always straddled two incompatible worlds — Adventist, but not really. I thought it was annoying that all of the other kids in my church shared teachers and anecdotes that I didn’t know and couldn’t laugh along with. I have friends who have traveled Europe, moving from couch to couch, family friend to family friend. No one has to describe haystacks to anyone else. It’s inconceivable, and weird, and I find I want in. I don’t want anonymity anymore; I want to know where I stand in this community.

That’s not to say I haven’t made friends, but I feel behind. I’ve felt like I’ve been running, out of breath and shaky-legged, trying to catch up for four years, when I had never needed to before. In 2016, I was an unknown in an unfamiliar place, and I connected with other “outsiders” — international students, Catholic students, and others discontent with the apparent exclusivity of the church. I’ve realized that while I wasn’t shunned or unaccepted, the clique that is Adventism was intimidating. Coming to La Sierra, I felt trapped in a deep well of misunderstanding, and I’ve not quite crawled out of it. I don’t have a comfortable place to end this. At least, not yet. I’m still learning to get out there, to find how Adventism can work for me. For now, I’m just climbing.


Born and raised in Kennewick, Washington, Melissa Knopp is the youngest of seven children. Her writing is deeply rooted in Eastern Washington life, as well as the interesting dynamics that result from being part of a large family. Melissa is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at La Sierra University.

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash


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As a convert and a grad of SDA college, I know exactly what you mean; all the way from the “how cute” remarks to the “bug inspector” look.
Just know you’re not alone and your article is a gift.
Hang in there, life is really big and great!


I can relate! I joined the church when I was 24. This was in 1976…yep, I’m old. :wink:

It was really like entering an alternate universe. I married a generational SDA, who also began working for the church as a teacher, so I was really in it. It was a very mixed bag of good and not so good. I won’t write a long treatise on this, I’ve shared my story many times here, so I won’t bore others with it again.

Suffice it to say, you may, in the future, realize that you don’t really want to be in the Adventist clique. Having It as a segment of your life will be quite sufficient. Maybe just being friends with some Sevies will be where Adventism fits in your life.

I didn’t notice this bit of info in your piece, but are you a Christian? Feel free to answer, or not. :slightly_smiling_face:

Just an FYI, I’m a former SDA. Our family left almost 20 years ago. But, I certainly relate to being a stranger in a strange land.


Another way to experience isolation in the Adventist Church is to question long-held Shibboleths. It seems present truth isn’t supposed to contradict anything we’ve believed since the 19th century. I don’t dare elaborate.


"I’m still learning to get out there, to find how Adventism can work for me."

It may…or it may not.

However, you can’t go wrong with finding ways to “grow” your spirituality. Of course, it seems a given that Adventism should be able to help you spiritually mature- but time will tell if it can. Just keep an open mind and heart as prerequisites to growth.

Thank-you for sharing your thoughts because it is important.


I love that marimba band. They have been here in Baker City (eastern Oregon) several times.

I attended public school. I’m glad I did. There were advantages and disadvantages. The principal advantage was the fact that our local SDA school was terrible at academics; most graduates, even those with stellar grades at the “academy” struggled hopelessly at university. The public school also had a full athletic programme. The main disadvantage was that I was a serious SdA at the time, so my social life was stunted. Take a bookish socially awkward “nerd”, and then tell him it’s “sin” to go to the school dance, attend the Saturday chess tournament or even have lunch with a friend (there might be pork!!!), and you have a recipe for social disfunction.

On the other hand, looking back 35 years later, I now appreciate how weird, cliquish, cultish and psychologically unhealthy much of SdA culture is. Having attended public school and having interacted with people of other backgrounds helped me recognize how out to lunch the traditional SdA mindset is, with its crazy apocalyptic teachings. The public school experience helped in the deprogramming process.


Being Adventist has many facets and includes social interaction and acceptance. The social “family” idea is very strong and a powerful force. We do, however, need to realize the reason we’re in this family is to worship together. To do that "in one “accord” you need to be able to accept each other, warts and all. That’s the easy part. When, however, you may find your way of living your life, and your understanding of God isn’t what the rest of the “family” agrees with, there can be strong pressure, from yourself, to give in to the crowd (peer pressure). We are used to talking about peer pressure in terms of kids giving in to bad influences, but there is also, within the church, pressure to conform to the point where you don’t trust your own thoughts and opinions because the rest of the “family” will reject you. Our dependency needs to be directed to God, and our personal accountability is to Him. Cozy comfort within the church is secondary to our experience with God. Sometimes you can’t have both.


I share the experince of pierrepaul, with the additional trouble of the double binds from home and Church : With : Earnesty make use of the potentials in your career - esspecially when good for the Church - but do - a meek, humble follower of Christ - NOT be ambituous !! Have the stories with troubles in social life through five ( ! ) generations of SDA troubles n social life of the Environment always in mind !.

And then -I could and would not make the Career from Bogenhofen (SDA academy here) to Andrews or BRI - my professional environment asked and invited me to run for elections : And I was in the local labour union committee of the Hospital and the upper committee covering all Viennese Health Institutions. - By Chance and Gods grace a first I was in one of the top state - operated colleges (simply, it was the nearest and took me with “Sabbaths off”!)- and I did not join my classmates to the Vienneses clssic dancing school - - o, how many painful stuations through the decades afterwards ! _ Be invited by a lady politician of my age for knowing a lot of Insider informatins about Health politics and recommendet : "Alumnus of the xxx College ! - - " she invited me for a talk in the cafe of Hotel “Imperial” - no, here the handkiss is expected, but without having learned this at the downtown dancing School Elmayr you better leave it - - Some honourable title, given by the President of the Republic, - my responding bow, demonstrating my "Thank you " was not correct, and I was happy that the photo of the press was not in the newspapers. - by other connections I was at this very presidents dinner table , invited for three ( ! ) times, once i his Downtown Palace, two times in his official retreat house in the mountains. : Well, how to handle the cutlery I had trained as a student at my fathers expense in downtown upper class restaurants, single, alone on a table in the back corner - - and not with my colleagues at the “mensa”.

Having been one of the librarians of our college I personally knew all of the some 500 students. O could I begin once again, I would at first go t the dancing school and second to the annual ball to meet many of them, my lawyer, my notary, my former teachers - and get acquainted with their families ! - W ell, I had kicked myself out of societies and businesses world !

I do neither Play Bridge - nor Rook !


I shared the exact same experience as the author, only at SAU. I’d been an Adventist my whole life, just at public school. When I transferred in from community college, it was like, “Who’s this hillbilly idiot?”

I was fortunate in that there are several other Christian colleges in that area, and I met people from those. But no fooling, it hurt that they were happy to accept me, while the members of my own religion thought I was some kind of godless tainted outsider.

Yeah, that’s really well said. But I’m convinced it’s narrow and undesirable because the people make it narrow and undesirable. The message should be “So an unfathomably loving God made an unbelievable sacrifice, because He wants to spend eternity with mankind.” Instead the focus is so often a bunch of laws and rules (written and unwritten), cliques, in-fighting, and Ellen White Says™.

Maybe it’s easier to huddle in Adventist circles, and not interact with much of anyone else, I don’t know. But the church shouldn’t wonder why it seems so unappealing and isn’t growing (and no, existing members shuffling in from other SDA congregations doesn’t count.)


About the SDA environment - rather the bubble : well, except for being the janitor I would have loved the languages of the Bible - with a Sound Knowledge, obtained only at a state University - and then teaching in an Adventist School. Anyhow : My strictly upheld principles :Never say aything from the rostrum or in a serioius discussion group or write it for a periodical - that could not meet “worldly standards”.- But, I tell you, People rather like to have fakes and fancy stories presented !


I’ve come to the conclusion that Adventism, taken to its traditional and logical ends, is a cult. Like JWs and Latter Day Saints. Lots of nice people along the way, but the belief system fosters not only a clique mentality, but a fortress mentality to ward off the world. All conservative religions have that element of high boundaries. And boundaries are necessary. But the boundary markers and watchers In Adventism create suspicion of anyone who not only doesn’t come from within its walls, but who dares question its belief system or in house prophet from within those walls.

I had a friend who used to say that people in the church who were so hung up over Adventist picayune issues, and all the freight attached, ought to go eat a ham sandwich and relax.

Wise words!



You nailed it, Frank.
I came at Adventism from the opposite perspective from Ms. Knoop; born and raised in SDA, attended their schools for 12 years, baptized at age eleven, joined Pathfinders, went to M.V. Services on Friday Evening, did literature evangelism on Saturday Afternoons after vegan potluck suppers, ingathered each fall, etc., and still had absolutely no confidence that I was good enough to be considered a “good” Adventist by at least 50% of the people around me in church on Saturday and sincerely doubted that Jesus would find me “worthy” of a place in heaven, if and when he ever did show up.
At 25 I realized I’d been a jackass chasing an apple on a stick all my life and gave up.
Has life been a bed of roses every since?
Of course not, but moving forward and away from the End-Time Prepper, All-Encompassing Nannyish mindset of EGW and her Cult of Constant Criticism has provided me a seemingly endless list of things I no longer worry about!


Do Groups of like-minded folks support the group-think and stifle independent thought? If that were true, our church could be in real trouble.

The interrogative is rhetorical, right?

But does what I find to be the easy affirmative answer necessarily mean that god’s self-proclaimed “remnant church” is “in trouble”?

My equally unnecessary response is another rhetorical question.

Would the people in that, or any other “echo chamber of a church”, be able to hear the warning signs all around them if, rather than being destined for an eternal heaven, they were headed toward inevitable doom? (With apologies to Russell Crow’s “Gladiator” character when speaking of The Roman Empire,)

Further, and while I know that free advice is almost invariably worth exactly what one pays for it, it seems to me that if one wants to avoid going down with what I deem to be a moribund ship of overly smug SDA Sycophants, one should consider “coming out” of the “Babbling-Ons” of that cult’s prophetess and her preachers, given that they will undoubtedly insist, even if they are only going to their graves, that they were, and are god’s only “true”—if merely self-anointed and essentially temporary—“middle persons”
(And okay, I get it. Too smug and flowery with too many quotation marks. However, please note that I’m copyrighting the term “Babbling-On”, as I’ve used it before in this forum, and am pretty sure it’s about to “go viral”, at least with ex-SDA’s like myself!!!)


We nowadays quite often meet : A Group of disinguished elderly gentlemen, the rest of the “Class of 1956” - at anothe ones funeral.

They all were a great troubling disappointment for me in 1948 ! Out of the SDA bubble I at once was amidst “worldlings”, students and teachers. And quite a number of them were and are ( ! ) a for me very necessary example of upright, friendly, kind, engaged, compassionate character - It was quite hard for me to get rid of the hostile attitude I had learned in early SDA childhood ! And shamefully learn from their virtues - ntilnow ? (Who are the ones caring for two inbetween disabled ?)


My dad had a bad educational experience in a one-room, 10 grade Adventist school, then left the church as a teen. Because of his discontent with Adventist education which he deemed inferior, he would not allow me and my siblings to attend Adventist schools after my mother converted to Adventist from membership in the Lutheran denomination. Therefore, I attended public school K-12.

I had a great schooling experience with many friends. In a very large high school there were 2 of us Adventists in my class. My friends were every belief: Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, non-denominational, I suppose non “religious” as well.

I was actively involved in school activities, especially music, drama, and after school sports, as were many of my friends. We had a busy social life, having parties with food, fun, and dancing to the latest pop music. My friends were cognizant of my Sabbath principles as an Adventist and did not plan parties, etc, for Friday evenings. I never participated in any school event that was on a Friday, even the Senior Class play in which I had the leading role. The drama teacher was Jewish and said she understood, so felt there would be no problem changing the traditional Friday evening play performance to a Thursday to accommodate me not wishing to participate on Sabbath. The principal had other ideas and in a meeting in his office, raked me over the coals, accusing me of having created discord among the cast by my stand on not participating on Friday evening. I had asked the drama teacher during try outs for the play not to choose me if my Sabbath principle would be an issue. Because she anticipated no problem changing the date, she chose me for the part anyway. The principal, with a gritty voice tone, extremely firmly gave me an ultimatum that I “get a dispensation from my priest” to participate, or I was out. I explained to him I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission, that my belief was one of conscience, obeying God.

Result? I was out of the play to my drama teacher’s enormous embarrassment. She apologized profusely and said to make it up to me, she wanted me to be her assistant as student director, which I did. However, I did not attend the Friday evening performance, nor the Friday evening Senior Prom which I struggled over whether or not to attend. In talking to my Mom about it, she commented only by saying, “I am confident you will make the right decision.”

My dad said we could attend any college we wished. We lived only 20 miles from an Adventist college which 3 of us 4 siblings attended. I had a wonderful experience there, enjoying dormitory life, learning to eat more healthfully as a vegetarian, learning so much about Adventist history, and making life-long friends. Coming to college without the usual background available to those who attend denominational schools through academy, I appreciated being exposed more deeply to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy resulting in expanding my belief system spiritually.

After graduation, I taught in public school for several years but had a strong desire to be part of the Adventist educational system. An opportunity for doing so came when, as newly-weds, my wife and I “received a call” to teach in the Adventist school system which I did for the next 42 years. What a gratifying experience. Sure, amid the plethora of ups, there were some downs but this is earth and I am human, certainly not immune from trials. However, definitely overall, my church-related vocation brought great personal joy and satisfaction. I have loved the family aspect of Adventism.

As musicians, my family and I have been actively involved in secular community musical events making rewarding friendships outside the church, and as church musicians, also equally involved in the music ministry of the Adventist churches where we have lived, and in “Sunday” churches where we have been employed and made many more special friends.

So, although a product of public school education, and with understanding friends acceptant of my religious beliefs, I have greatly appreciated the fact that I was also able to find an identity within the Adventist world, and found my denominational education provided in college and graduate school far from inferior.

By the way, my dad returned to join the church family in his late 80s! He was impressed with the education we received and proud of our accomplishments in our vocations.

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I went to public school until my family joined the church and I attended a boarding academy in 12th grade. Growing up the only child at home with older parents, mine was an isolated life. The local church felt sorry for me and helped me attend academy for my last year. I owe them everything, and the school for this new lease in life. Yes there were cliques in my class; most knew each other. But I found a few other new girls who became life-long friends. Thank you Nancy, Sylvia, Chizuko, and Judy. Because of the academy, I followed my class to college. When we got together for our 50th, we were no longer in cliques.

At the public school–a huge place–I knew hardly anyone except for a girl I ate lunch with most days–she taught me a four-letter word I still remember at frustrating times. The academy was also ahead scholastically with more choices.

One negative thing stands out in college and academy. For extremely shy students like me, we were not taught how to make friends with the opposite sex. We were kept apart as much as possible. I am sure this is no longer true. The guys would find a “steady” and never look at anyone else. It was rare to have a date in college for many girls. So when I left, I moved to California and married a Catholic/Jew a couple years later. For the past 50 some years, he has been a faithful helpful Christian husband who kind of hangs on the shirttails of the SDA church through friendships and attending LLU. He sees similarities with the Catholic church he left behind, but doesn’t join groups or unions.He is now considers himself the outsider.

I went to public school from K to 12. I was baptized at age 13 and joined the SDA church with my mom.

We were occasional church goers, but deep down somewhere in my brain I felt attached to the Adventist church.

In high school I ran cross-country and played on the tennis team because there was no competition on Friday night or Saturday (unless we good enough to make playoff competition.

After high school I joined the Army (1966) and chose to bear arms. I did not attend church for four years.

When I got out of the Army in 1970 I started attending church because I wanted my younger sister (12 years younger) to attend. I felt at home.

I then went to college and received a BS and an MA from an Adventist college and an Adventist University. I was an Adventist teacher for 27 years.

That is the short story.

Now I am almost 74 years old and I am still a member of the SDA church, but I pretty much sit on the sidelines. I am a serious Bible student and have a problem with a few teachings like the Investigative Judgment and the role of Ellen White.

I am thankful for my overall experience in the church and for my SDA family.

I met Jesus along the way and am thankful for His amazing grace.



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