Catholic or Adventist? Abuse in Common

I have an amazing friend named Sandi,* someone I call “a real Roman Catholic” (as opposed to my father, but that’s another story). Sandi has a consecrated space in her living room devoted to daily Scripture reading and prayer. Centering her contemplation is an icon of Jesus she received in Rome. Sandi distributes Holy Communion to shut-ins. She has traveled El Camino de Santiago in pilgrimage. Most important, she is a Benedictine oblate, a layperson who has committed to following the Rule of St. Benedict: ora et labora (pray and work). I understand the labora part since Sandi is one of the most prolific academic writers in my field. I struggle to keep up when she deigns to collaborate with me. But it’s the ora aspect of Sandi’s life that fascinates me, and the fact that this faithful woman struggles to pray today.

Not long ago, Sandi learned that the Bishop of her former diocese in Pennsylvania, Ronald A. Gainer, had released a list of 300 priests and seminarians accused of the sexual abuse of parishioners — including a priest who had served her local congregation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed more than 30 years of diocesan documents totaling 500,000 pages detailing the accusations of more than 1,000 survivors and the ensuing cover-ups. Friends, I give you Spotlight on steroids.

Sandi went to share her shock and outrage with her current pastor. His message? “Trust God. He’ll work everything out.” For a real Catholic like Sandi, this amounted to an insult to her intelligence and spiritual betrayal. True, God would work things out, but probably not in this lifetime. Sandi wants justice now for the victims. She wants punishment for the perpetrators, who have sullied the name and character of the Jesus she loves so much. And until she sees both justice and punishment, it is difficult for her to pray.

We Adventists think we understand Catholicism: It’s the little horn of Daniel 7, the antichrist of 1 John 2, the whore of Revelation 17. Having grown up Catholic and been schooled in Catholic theology, I can tell you that there is some truth to the syncretism, authoritarianism, fundamentalism, and overreach of Rome. Yet on another level the Catholic Church, just like the Adventist Church, lives in and through its individual parishes and congregations. Many Catholics, just like many Adventists, love Jesus and their churches, wonder about salvation, struggle with sin, disagree with one another, and sometimes eat their pastors for Sabbath (or Sunday) lunch. Both our churches have histories, including some parts that we’d rather not share with outsiders, along with fallible human leadership and followership, as George Knight has detailed in his recent book.

What we also have in common is our membership in abusive organizations from the highest to the lowest levels. Anne Wilson Shaef and Diane Fassel, analysts of organizational culture, detail how addictive, abusive organizations function: The organization’s “mission, centrality, its products…and the loyalty it expects” dominate members’ lives (p. 8). Even religious organizations, purportedly “more moral” than other institutions, are “frequently deceptive about participative management” (p. 17). Organizations also function like “active addicts” in that they “perpetuate and patch up problems instead of facing and solving them” (p. 9). To maintain control and power at the top, addictive, abusive organizations engage in “planning” while fomenting denial, fear, isolation, dishonesty, projection, disrespect, and gossip at all levels to distract from the real issues.

So let’s talk about abuse in the Adventist Church. According to, abuse (n.) has three senses:

1. to use wrongly or improperly; misuse (to abuse one’s authority)

2. to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way (to abuse one’s eyesight)

3. to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile, malign

To illustrate (1), consider that GC President Ted Wilson sent a statement to the delegates who elected Pastor Sandra Roberts President of the Southeastern California Conference explaining that she would not be recognized in her new office by the world church. It is an abuse of authority to improperly intercede in a legitimately constituted, delegate governed, conference level procedure that followed the Church Manual to a “t.”

To illustrate (2), consider my own experience as a member in an Adventist church not long ago. In that congregation, women were not allowed on the platform, not allowed to do anything during the service but lead congregational singing. No praying, no Scripture reading, no nothing. When I questioned the head elder, he told me I obviously hadn’t read the Bible or the Church Manual. End of discussion. Soon after, I was removed as adult Sabbath School teacher.

To illustrate (3), consider our fascination with “historical” Adventist women Ellen White, Sojourner Truth, Ana Stahl, and Anna Knight while persecuting Adventist pastors Patricia Wilkinson Bunker, Janice Daffern, Frances Weigand, and Alicia Johnston. These able women no longer serve the church, and in two cases are no longer members.

Yes, Jesus did say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). This is no easy piety. I’m inspired by Claira Eastwood, who wrote in Adventist Today:

There were people in [my church] who were hurt by this [the anti-ordination] vote, myself included. There were people in that room who will not rest until a solution has been found. There were people in that room who will still love, and love, and love, and love with all their hearts. I promise to be one of those people…To the Seventh-day Adventist church leaders: you have messed with the wrong generation. And we will not hesitate to let our voices be heard.

I am not equating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church with our Church’s abuse of women — the majority of our membership — through lack of recognition and downright hostility. What I am saying is that both are abuse, and both have the power to destroy lives.

The Adventist Church has reached a turning point, I believe — or at least some of its members have. Will we continue to participate in an abusive organization? I, for one, am choosing to remain a member of my local Adventist congregation as long as they’ll have me. Like Sandi, I will ora and labora, calling out abusive words and behavior wherever they arise, including in myself.

Notes & References:

*A pseudonym

“Abuse.” Retrieved from

Church Manual, Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Retrieved from

Day, J. (2016, August 24). Ora et labora 101. Catholic Exchange. Retrieved from

Eastwood, C. (2018, October 23). I am Claira Eastwood, and I am Angry. Adventist Today. Retrieved from

Hilde, S. (2013, October 27). Sandy Roberts Voted SECC President. Advindicate. Retrieved from

Holy Bible. New International Version (NIV). Biblica, Inc., 2011.

Knight, G. (2017). Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination, and the Roman Catholic Temptation. Pacific Union Conference of SDAs: Oak and Acorn Publishing.

Schaef, A. W., & Fassel, D. (1990). The Addictive Organization. New York: HarperCollins.

Terese Thonus is a linguist who directs the Writing Program at the University of Baltimore. Previously, she taught at Southwestern Adventist College, East Carolina University, California State University-Fresno, and the University of Kansas. She is mother to David, 21, and Cassandra, 23.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The purge at Southern following Glacier View abetted by the Cookie Monster and usurpted by Neal Wilson did not raise the furor of today’s reaction. Some outstanding scholars were throttled. it took a heavy toll on their lives as well as their careers. I took a walk at that time. I was invited to teach a Sunday School class at St James BaotistChurch. Then at St Marks MethodistbChurch. I finally found a home at Reid Menorisl presbyterian Church. I taughtnSunday School At Brandon Wilde until my age and infirmaries took over. now I blog.



We don’t even have to “allegorize” abuse. Just looking at the ratio of sexual abuse by Catholic priests (how many perpetrators actually are known in comparison to the overall number of priests) and comparing those figures to the ratio of Adventist perpetrators among pastors might reveal - shall we say - sobering results. But then … we are too busy with doctrinal hairsplitting, to even take notice.


I noticed that the writer Only had SPACE for One type of Church Abuse.
One not having space for is Abuse of GL’s and others related.
The Church has taught many parents, members, and former friends of
these persons to be careful in their acceptance, to be careful in even being
If a child growing up in Church “comes out” their membership is suspect.
So these persons come to Church in FEAR – Fear of their Family, Fear of
the Members, FEAR of GOD not liking them.
If these persons find a Way Out of Fear – they usually have to go to a different
Religion where they are taught that God Loves and Accepts them.
YES!! THIS is a Huge ABUSE problem in the SDA church!!


One day in Riverside, CA over lunch and in a candid moment, Miriam Wood, who wrote a regular column in the Review and Herald, said that the most tragic letters she received were from readers who had suffered abuse. Cover up of abuse by the church hierarchy is not limited to the Catholic Church. A colleague one day poured out his experience which was shoved under the rug and resulted in a private agreement to pay his entire college tuition as a means of “settling” the matter. It was clear that very little had been settled emotionally, but the conference officials had made the case go away as far as they were concerned.


The greatest abuse in the Adventist Church is preventing members from uniting with Christ in the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit so we can be enabled to experience the redemption God offers us and then testify from our experience with God so that others will be drawn to Him. I choose to minister God’s incredible love and encourage others to do the same in spite of whatever misguided decisions church leaders may make.


An abusive organization-yes. That’s why after being a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, at the age of 69, I have had my name removed from church membership. This is the email I sent to my local church after Annual Council this year:
It is with great sadness and sorrow, but also with a great sense of peace, that I tell you that in good conscience I can no longer belong to an organization that is sexist, misogynistic, racist, follows its own fundamental beliefs only when convenient, and now plans to persecute those of its members who differ not on fundamental beliefs, but on policy alone. I have fought the good fight battling the wrongs from the inside, but to no good effect. I can no longer endorse this organization and I am ashamed to be a part of it. For all these reasons, I ask you to remove my name as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Please do not contact me further regarding this matter as this request is my long-considered and final answer.


Janet, was your local congregation complicit in what has happened? Do they affirm women as elders? Has your union made any effort to support women’s ordination? Your post made me sad. Some will indeed leave.

I so hope, though, that your need to leave will be the exception in North America. Nothing will change/improve if we all leave the room.


You are not trying to minimize the horrible kinds of abuse that happen in real life to those who we call “victims,” are you?

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So, have you been already “dismembered?”… :roll_eyes: :innocent:

No. Definitely not. Many levels of abuse.

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Yes. I have been “dismembered” .


I left the Denomination about 38 years ago… when I emotionally disconnected from it, no longer feeling that I belonged to it (after Glacier View). It was only an emotional departure from the Denomination, since the GC has no registered members.

I keep my membership in a local church where I can exercise my Christian faith without being bothered by SDA idiosyncrasies.


I am not urging anyone else to do what I did. Just for me the dissonance became too great. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a crusader for change and justice and love for a very long time–even while I was employed by the church. But the church of my youth which seemed to be moving forward is now moving backward and so I no longer believe I can make a difference within the church. For my own sanity and integrity I need to walk away. My own local church has women elders and an associate woman pastor, all of which I strongly support. My union is against the compliance document and supposedly for WO, but there is no talk of “ordaining” women in our union that I am aware of.


Acolades to you Janet for taking stand. Maybe one third or more newly baptized members into the SDA church leave within one year. Is that because reality was far different from what was promised? In the NAD 67 % of churches are in decline. I recently saw a(n on line) wooden legalistic uninspiring sermon by pastor Ted Wilson that he presented at TransEuropian Division Pastors Council last summer. I thought he was self righteous and demeaning. He is a very good speaker but that doesn’t make up for his attitudes. I take comfort in knowing that all leaders have a limited shelf life. In my own local conference, British Columbia, the leadership will not properly deal will pastors who definitely should not be pastors. Rest assured your salvation is not dependent upon being a member of the SDA church. Pastor Ted Wilson seems obsessed with how “great” the SDA church is. Does that mean this Laodecean church is great?


Thank you for your blazing, blinding, incandescent analysis and comparison of abuse in Catholism and Adventism.

With each new astounding, convulsive, revelation of egregious pedophilia in Catholicism, I wonder when this “wound to the beast “ will demolish the entire papal structure. No other church/ organization / institution would survive such scandal. However Catholicism continues, although I believe in Ireland, once a Catholic citadel, its influence has hugely waned.

Has EGW’s anti catholic stance been proved insightful?

Your incisive, scathing analysis of Adventism’s abuse of its women,
is right on !!!


Not at all. Just pointing-out the worst abuse of all because it is so effective at preventing people from knowing God as He wants or doing what He wants us to do.


I also have wondered if it would be possible to remain a member of the church. Fortunately, I am part of a very loving congregation and our conference leadership is very supportive of women in ministry so I have no reason to leave. Without them I might be close behind you.


Could you please be more specific? I cannot pinpoint exactly what you mean. What is that abuse, that prevents people from knowing God as He wants?

The things I speak of may not match the clinical definition of “abuse” but are consistent with the basic concept of abuse being acts, words or teachings that are different from established social or spiritual principles of behaviors. What am I including? Failure to teach about the Holy Spirit being present and available to us today, that God wants us performing the same miracles that He told the disciples to be doing, that inspiration is available to all believers instead of restricted to just Ellen White, focus on specific doctrines while minimizing the immenseness of God’s love, etc. The list is long.