The Race to Define Seventh-day Adventists for the Public

With Dr. Ben Carson narrowly, but undeniably in the lead among Republican contenders for the White House, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America finds itself in a somewhat precarious new place. Thanks in part to a backhanded comment from Donald Trump suggesting that Carson’s Adventist faith was suspect, Adventists have the attention of the national media and a large portion of the American electorate. The opportunity and challenge of defining the denomination for the public has landed squarely at the feet of the North American Church.

Adventists have held high public offices elsewhere around the world, of course. Jioji K. “George” Konrote, the newly-elected president of Fiji, is a Seventh-day Adventist.

In Jamaica, the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, is an Adventist minister, and Floyd Morris, the president of the Jamaican Senate is also an Adventist.

In the United States, Adventists in public service include Senate Chaplain Barry Black, and Reps Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA) in the United States House of Representatives.

Still, the Adventist Church remains unknown to most Americans, and following Trump’s comments, the race to define Adventism has begun.

Speaking on Glenn Beck’s talk radio program on October 22, Alex Bryant, Secretary of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists described Adventists primarily in terms of their Christocentric theology.

We believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again. We’re part of the Christian faith community. We believe that God’s grace encompasses all of humankind, their entire world. And that God loves everyone. We are Bible-believing people. We base our beliefs, our faith, our actions, and our behavior on the Bible. We’re also Seventh-day Adventist, where we keep the Sabbath and we believe in a second coming of Christ. But we’re part of the larger Christian community and the Christian family who uplifts the name of Jesus Christ. And we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to lift humanity into hope and wholeness out of our brokenness.”

Beck asked Bryant whether Adventists believe that we are literally living in the latter days (Beck is a Mormon, he stated before asking). “Absolutely. We believe that we’re living in the last days,” Bryant said.

Beck asked if Adventists believe in the antichrist and the devil and “all of that stuff from the Book of Revelation.”

Bryant said of Ben Carson, “...his life has been very inspiring to us from the beginning, even before the run for presidency. And we are very proud of what God has done through him. And how God has used him.”

Bryant spoke to NPR for a piece published October 27th examining the Adventist denomination in greater depth, including its emergence from Millenarian Millerism.

“How many Seventh-day Adventists are there?” the article asked. “What makes Adventists unique?” “Are Adventists forbidden to do anything on Saturdays and to eat any meat?” “Do their beliefs differ from traditional evangelicals?” “Where does the church stand on abortion and other social issues?” “Does the Adventist Church endorse Carson?”

Bryant spoke with the New York Times as well, casting Carson’s candidacy as a moment ripe for evangelizing:

“We do not endorse any candidates, and we do not use our church for political reasons,” Alex Bryant, the secretary of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said of Mr. Carson’s candidacy. “But we do look at it as an opportunity to tell the world, tell this country about Seventh-day Adventism, our beliefs and our desire to lift up Jesus Christ.”

On Meet the Press Bryant told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that the Adventist Church fits within the Protestant tradition in the United States, and “believes strongly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and Salvation only through him.”

If Alex Bryant has become an official spokesperson for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, he’s not the only one defining Adventism to the media and to the American public.

Mark A. Kellner, former news editor for the Adventist Review, most recently affiliated with the Deseret News Service, wrote a guest editorial first published in USA Today and subsequently picked up by numerous news outlets. In his article, Kellner highlighted the positive contributions Adventists have made not only in the United States, but also around the world.

Adventists have given the world breakfast cereal (thanks Kelloggs for that). Adventists are leaders in health care, Kellner pointed out. And Adventists are not just healthy people, they are Blue Zone healthy, outliving their peers by as much as seven years. Kellner highlighted Adventist education and its ability to lift people out of poverty. Concerning Adventist religious belief and practice, Kellner noted Adventist adherence to Scripture, buttressed by Ellen White’s prolific pen, and he extolled Adventists’ commitment to religious liberty.

With Carson enjoying newly-found frontrunner publicity, there will be many more opportunities for the Adventist Church in North America to tell its story on one of the world’s largest platforms.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7154
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My thanks to Jared Wright and Spectrum for their kind mention of my USAToday.com op-ed, which has received a very gratifying amount of exposure. The piece was not a political statement, but rather an attempt to clarify what Seventh-day Adventists are as opposed to what I called a “dog whistle” message from Donald J. Trump.

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Not one mention of our belief about God. Nothing about a war over God’s character and government and everything about us.

We seem to be more worried that people agree we’re not wackos rather than take the focus completely off us and unto God.

I’m with Maxwell on this, “God’s friends today want to speak well and truly of our Heavenly Father”.

I wish that was what Adventism focused on.

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Ben Carson’s position in the GOP is shining the spotlight on Seventh-day Adventism but within the media it is clearly a two edge sword that will be defined by partisanship. This article highlights the positive opportunities that the church has to declare the best intentions of Adventism. However, earlier this month, Mother Jones Magazine led their story with the headline Ben Carson and the Satanic Sabbath Persecution Conspiracy.

Because our faith has become associated with a very bizarre primary season (for both parties) there will be the spinning of two tales of Adventism as long as Ben Carson is standing on the stage.

1 - One story (framed this article) will emphasize the compassionate engagement of Seventh-day Adventists with a large humanitarian, healthcare, and Christ-centric approach that embraces tolerance and connecting faith with action.

2 - The other story that is starting to unravel will be supported by many, many YouTube evangelistic sound bites. SDA’s will be portrayed as a fearful and conspiracy thinking marginalized denomination --a wacky cult willing to label Pope Francis as the antichrist and sewing ascension robes while eating soy meat as they wait for the Lord to come any day now… no really… ANY DAY NOW… (truly astute journalists understanding our bent towards literally applying Revelation to a narrowly defined and specific geopolitical narrative will truly open the door for even more Halloween frightful characterizations of our church).

At the heart of this unfolding story spinning will be the relevancy of the church. For social conservatives, I believe that the church could emerge either perceived as more relevant if the first narrative dominates and less relevant (if not marginalized) if the second story dominates. For liberal leaning Seventh-day Adventists, the prominence of Ben Cason has the potential to be a no win situation that drives a deeper wedge within our church body politic, leading to the question “Is there room for me?”

In the end, I am glad to see our leaders making an attempt to get out in front of what has the potential to be a disastrous public relations challenge to our organization.

PM

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i think this whole ben carson thing is such an excellent development…our church now has the ability to craft a comprehensive image that all can become familiar with…further individual investigation will likely lead to mixed results, but there will be some who are sincere seekers, who will weigh things thoughtfully and objectively…we may finally see an uptick in baptisms on n. american soil that can help balance our delegate picture come general conference time…

one thing’s for sure: politics is how a knowledge of god came to the world anciently, through heroes like abraham, daniel and esther…let’s hope and pray we can rise to this incredible challenge and opportunity…

I wonder how long it will take before the topic about how the world Adventist church esteems their Adventist women will come up on the world stage as we are seeing divisions in the church regarding ordination?

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Fascinating times. I enjoyed your article btw. I guess if they dig deep enough the media will find the more bizarre aspects of SDAism: LGT and the massive Catholic persecution complex, IJ etc.

The SDA belief in the prophetic significance of the USA will be an exciting find for some lucky journalist: “And the would-be president of the USA believes this?!”

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How nice to see God’s essence represented so succinctly in the media. Alex Bryant did a great job putting Jesus in the center of it all.

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A very nice piece summarizing some of the press coverage this week. I’m glad that the reporting thus far has been pretty accurate, and not from either fringe of the church.

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It was my feeling that we should clap for Donald Trump, not to condemn him. He asked a legitimate question, truly our faith is unknown to many and we know. They publicity that has generated from this is huge, Dan Weber and his team at NAD also did good job by taking opportunity to let the public know more about Adventism. As we are taking advantage to share our faith because of Dr. Carson’s involvement in this we should not hide when bad news comes in. The church does not endorse him, but we should not discourage him or question his loyalty to the faith. More of this will follow.

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Tuffour, if all Donald Trump said was that he doesnt know anything about the SdAC, that would be a fair question. But he did more than that. Look how he starts it off:

“I’m Presbyterian. Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist I don’t know about.”

“That’s down the middle of the road,” meaning the SdAC is not. He’s fighting for the Evangelical vote here, by trying to get them to question Carson’s not “down the middle of the road” faith. While no one here, at least, is condemning him, I dont believe we should be praising him either.

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Yeah, exactly my thought, at some point we are going to see this headline: “Church founded by a Women votes to ban Women Preachers” Followed by details of all the nutty things EGW said about Catholics.

It is actually a testament to how dumb Trump and his advisers are that they haven’t yet realized that they could peel the entire conservative Catholic vote off of Carson if they simply knew his religion.

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Many here seem to be suggesting that Ted Wilson is a fringe Adventist. Please consider this video in relation to what Dr. Carson and Ted Wilson believe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIEGUI1OVZY

Adventist headquarters has been removing transcripts of speeches shown in this video:

1 - Transcript removed here: http://perspectives.adventist.org/sermons/sermons/go/2014-10-12/gods-prophetic-movement-message-and-mission-and-their-attempted-neutralization-by-the-devil/

Google: “Their Attempted Neutralization by the Devil” transcript and you’ll see that the transcript was hosted on adventist.org beginning Aug. 10th.

2 - Transcript removed here: http://perspectives.adventist.org/sermons/sermons/go/2010-10-22/remember-your-name/

But in the cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:fnZYzrZdogcJ:https://perspectives.adventist.org/sermons/sermons/go/2010-10-22/remember-your-name/

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Well, who wouda thunk!

Carson was given little chance of becoming a front runner, but by some polls he is the top guy nationally!

I don’t think he is prepared for the position, but certainly has brought SDAism to the fore.

I think his religious beliefs will get little press, as Romney’s Mormonism was not a factor in his campaign except to highlight family values etc. It looks mean-spirited to criticize a candidate’s religion, so I think Trump’s criticism will only hurt him.

Specturmites beware! A Carson presidency could lead to conservatives taking over the Spectrum board! Er, Ah, well, maybe getting a position there?

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It’s irrelevant; otherwise, every Catholic which has run, or is running, would be vilified for “oppression of women.” No one bothered Kerry about it when he ran; neither was it an issue when the 6 Catholics currently serving on the Supreme Court were appointed. Joe Biden got to be vice-president while being a Catholic “oppressor of women.” It’s just not an issue for the public.

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Jared Wright wrote:
Bryant spoke with the New York Times as well, casting Carson’s candidacy as a moment ripe for evangelizing:
In the NY Times article it was also pointed out how Dr. Ben Carson’s comments and views do NOT represent many Adventists. The article stated:
“On the other hand, some Adventists have been disappointed in a perceived lack of tolerance regarding Islam from Mr. Carson, who said recently that he did not think a Muslim should be able to be president. His fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which he has compared to slavery, has also rankled some in the community who say the law is in keeping with the religion’s focus on promoting health.
“It was certainly disappointing for me,” Sam Geli, a retired Adventist chaplain who considers himself an independent, said of Mr. Carson’s remarks about Muslims. “It was very sad.”

Ephesians 5:13-English Standard Version
“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible…”

As with all candidates, continued media exposure, will present a more complete picture of where they stand on important issues. Presently there are three current lead articles on Dr. Ben Carson in Spectrum. Let us be careful to present a balanced and authentic picture of his, and any candidates views.

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Perhaps all this publicity should cause us to stop and consider — What exactly DO we want people to know about us as SDAs?
Just that we have a bunch of hospitals here and there? That we have so many members in so many countries of the world? That we are Vegetarians and live a couple years longer than someone else?
Or do we want people to know that we are a people of The Book? We do things because the Holy Spirit has changed our lives, and we want others to enjoy what he has done for us?
If we dont offer “Changed Lives, and living more abundantly” then we have nothing to offer that IS different than Donald Trump’s Presbyterianism or someone’s Catholic traditions.
Perhaps our relationships with our women of the church shows we are NOT a people of The Book.
Perhaps our relationships with certain segments of society shows we are NOT a people of The Book.
Perhaps we are NOT a people of The Book and that is our failure.
And so we have to rely on our Creeds [28+] and our Rules and Regulations.

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Does anyone deny that the Mother Jones article accurately portrayed Adventism as millions have heard and understood? This is the chilling question as he is running for President: Does he believe that Satanic forces will compel all the U.S. to observe Sabbath? Or does he believe all Sabbath observers will be persecuted by the people, supported by the government.

Does he believe that the U.S. is Adventists’ biggest future persecutor and not the Islamic State? And what does he plan to do to postpone persecution of Sabbath observers if it happens on his watch as the government’s Chief Executive?

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That the Denomination’s historical and traditional stand on the ethics of vegetarianism did not come up in Bryant’s statements is a great disappointment. Vegetarianism is not simply an issue of health, and most of us who grew up (and whose parents were raised) in the church understand that. Bryant barely eeked out the word “steward.” The interviewer’s remark that he thought he might be the only conservative who is a vegetarian is also an interesting insight into cultural politics, hinting at the statistical relationships among political conservatism, environmental pillaging, and the right to breed and kill animals because they taste good and keep an economy running. Short term. I imagine that few apologists for the Denomination will bring this up.

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Dr Carson seems to be a nice bloke but I am a little shocked he buys into the Sabbath Sunday issue. An issue that is purely speculative from a prophet that has never been right on anything predictive.
I believe Dr Carson would make a great president but he has to come clean with the American people. That is only the honest thing to do.
The good Dr needs to analyse his position and think seriously about some cultic positions he holds before he can for the good of everyone contemplate the highest position of the free world.
Thats my opinion and I’m not an American only Americans can decide.

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