Is the Adventist Church Getting Too Political?


(system) #1

UK-based law student, Torsten Pedersen, expresses frustration over the political tone in a Roy Adams editorial.

In the Review, Roy asks Adventists living in Maryland to vote to keep 15,000 slot machines out of the state. Adams writes:

I’m not sure how many Adventists of voting age we have in Maryland, but the number has got to be in the tens of thousands. Should we all choose to exercise our right to vote—and assuming we all oppose the measure—it could make a huge difference on election day, when combined with the opposition of other equally concerned citizens.

That’s what I’m hoping for, given the gravity of the issue. According to a respected study conducted in the mid-1990s and cited in the Post editorial, the anticipated results of bringing gambling into the state will be “a substantial increase in crime.” It says there’d be “more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime.” All leading the Post editorial to suggest that “[what] seems to promise quick cash on easy terms [is] in fact . . . a raw deal.” One legislator called slot machines “the crack cocaine of gambling.”

In Ellen G. White’s time the big issue was temperance legislation, and she couldn’t be clearer on what the responsibility of Adventists should be: “Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping [society’s] very foundations,” she said. “Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 8, 1881).

I believe the same argument is relevant to the issue before us. It’s unconscionable when governments seek to balance their budgets by destroying the lives of the most vulnerable of their citizens, leading many into dependency and addiction. No voting Adventist in Maryland can in good conscience refuse to stand up and be counted this November.

Torsten responds:

Gambling does ruin lives and it saddens me every time I walk past the bookmaker that is located less than 100 meters from my front door. Neither do I object to Adventists, laypersons as well as ministers, advocating for or against certain political propositions, although I'm not certain I agree with Adams that gambling should be illegal.

What I object to is the church, or officials acting on behalf of the church, advocating specific political positions. The church can and should speak up on political issues concerning freedom of conscience and religion, but should not engage in, or become part of, the political discourse. Church members can and should be politically active, but not the church.

I have for a long time considered whether I should be a member of the Adventist church, now I think I should resign my membership. I maintain my belief in the core Adventist beliefs and seek the 'faith of Jesus,' but the church is becoming more like other evangelical churches that seek political influence and see themselves as moral guardians of society. I, however, cannot feel at home in a church that engages in politics.

- 24.01.2008, Update - I've regretted writing the last paragraph since posting this entry late last night (at 03.00 AM). I'm not going to resign my membership of the Adventist church, and I shouldn't have suggested that disagreement with the church is a good reason to do so. The church is a fellowship of believers and what connects us is a belief in Jesus, not agreement over politics. I'll keep advocating that the church shouldn't engage in politics, but they are going to have to throw me out for me to leave.

In the comments, Johnny responds:

In Remnant and Republic by Charles Teel (and also the books by Doug Morgan and Edwin Hernandez) you can read about Adventist involvement on specific political propositions counselling the entire church to vote a certain way on bills and part of the political discourse. An example would be our contributing significantly to the defeat of a California law which sought to ban alcohol sales on their Sabbath (Sunday). We even all but explicitly endorsed President Harding in the Review actually. And Paulsen has spoken out pretty strongly against Iraq in reminding Adventists that it's against our faith to bear arms in his call for peacemaking. So this isn't something new, no.

I echo the worry that our church might sully itself in the manner of many Christians of the last few decades. However, I can't conceive of a perfectly apolitical position for any organization.

As he intimates, writing for the official church organ complicates things. For instance, if Roy felt that District of Columbia residents (or homosexuals) should have the right to vote (marry) and advocated for it in the Review, while he could also draw upon the same Adventist history arguments justifying his outspokenness, the majority of Adventists would feel confused or worse. He might even make a human and religious liberty argument but many would bemoan the politicization of the church.

So, in that case, the disagreement would appear because the members were not political enough in the majoritarian sense.

As Torsten intimates, a lot of Adventists are used to thinking of the church the way that Dick Cheney defines conservation (a sign of personal virtue). This has saved us from some messy fights (like abortion) but we've also been way too silent on issues of civil rights around the world. For most Adventists, being a member of the church allows them to signify personal virtue. But what happens when the virtuous means working together, publicly?

Should we, like a quiet family, tamp down our differences? Too repressive, I'd say. Should we, like the Religious Right, organize our church into single or double issue voting blocks? No, it's spiritually disastrous and clearly corrupting. What are a few guidelines or principles that you think the official church should heed in our public moral witness?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/627