Viewpoint: I Thought About Leaving the Adventist Church

Last April, I thought about leaving the Adventist Church.

I was listening to a report from an "Alternate Sexualities" summit held in South Africa, from which I learned that I still disagreed with my church’s official standing on LGBTQ+ relationships. (See reports here, here, here and here.)

“As Seventh-day Adventists, we are opposed to homosexual relationships and practices.”

“As a church, we will not officiate same-sex marriages, support gay-straight alliances in our schools or participate in any action that could condone same-sex relations.”

I kept hearing this reference to “we:” “We believe…we decided…” and I felt sick because I didn’t believe this. I didn’t decide this.

The report left me with two questions slamming around in my head: Can I still be a part of the Adventist Church if I don’t believe everything the church officially believes? Do I even want to be?

This past summer, many members of my church were heartbroken over the “no” vote in regards to women’s ordination at the General Conference Session. Many of us wondered, can we still be Adventists if we don’t agree with this? Do we even want to be?

I can’t answer this question for everyone, but I’ve answered it for myself.

After listening to the aforementioned report, I poured my heart out to a teacher who listened and then completely changed my perspective. “Sarah,” he said. “You get to decide what Adventism is.”

Before that moment, I viewed Adventism as something someone else decided and controlled. There was one Adventism, one way of doing and believing, and I either fit into that or I didn’t.

But in reality, there are as many different ways of being Adventist as there are people in the Adventist Church.

In a sense, millions of Adventisms exist in our world. If someone asks what books Adventists read, both “The Great Controversy” and “Harry Potter” are viable answers. If someone asks what Adventists do on Sabbath, both “attend church” and “eat at Olive Garden” are accurate.

When people ask what Adventists believe, they often receive a standard answer: Adventists believe in the Sabbath and that Jesus is coming soon.

In reality, Adventist belief differs widely. There are Adventists who believe in the sanctity of same-sex marriage, and there are those who don’t. There are Adventists who don’t believe women should be ordained pastors, and those who do. There are Adventists who believe Jesus is coming really soon, like next Tuesday; Adventists who believe “soon” means in their grandchild’s lifetime; Adventists who believe “soon” might mean the year 3015.

Adventist beliefs are as diverse as the members that make up the church. If Adventism was only one thing, only one way of believing, perceiving and living in the world, I would have to leave because there wouldn’t be room for me. But I’m staying, because there’s room for me and there’s room for you, even if we believe differently in a lot of different areas.

I’m staying because Adventism is mine, and I decide what it looks like. I’m staying because if I left, I would forfeit my ability to grow, shape and shift my church. I’m staying because I’m positively influenced by other Adventists, both similar to and different from me.

I’m staying. Will you?

Sarah Ventura is a senior English major at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. This article first appeared in The Clocktower, the Union College student journal, and is reprinted here by permission.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7153
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Yes, it is good to stay with the church. Sometimes it is hard to sync with our faith group when we are at different wavelengths, bowing out because of our differences sometimes is not the best option. I admire her honesty and her decision to stay. I still think that even if as a church we vote for women to be ordained and we accept homosexual relationships and practices we can still find some issues that we disagree. That is part of us as humans. If each time we disagree and move out from our core group, eventually we will walk alone since there is possibility for one to disagree with one’s friends, spouse or siblings. We don’t cut off relationships with loved ones when we disagree.
God bless her.

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For one month you decided to leave the church? Not a lot of time considering, it seems. Some of us who have left spent years of studying and learning before the final decision was made; it was certainly not made on the spur of the moment.

“You get to decide what Adventism is” become a DIY religious belief, and that means we let our conscience determine what we choose to believe and act. But if so, why identify with a denomination that clearly has very strong doctrinal positions that are in direct conflict with your individual conscience? If asked by someone who knows many of the Adventist Fundamental beliefs, how do you explain not believing many?

It would be simpler to say “I’m a catholic (universal) Christian, believing in the creed of all Christians including the Second Coming.”

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Very stimulating. Being a Christian is one thing to accept the doctrines of Christ and him being the source of salvation. Being an Adventist is another thing of accepting the practices of the church as spelt out from her understanding of the entire Bible. There is nothing like a personalised Adventist or self-styled Adventist. A person is an adventist because he or she is styled within the Adventist doctrines. However, each person has different ways of understanding the church. You can call that theological diversities. But our “personal views”—if it contradicts the standard belief of the church, does not merit to be called Adventism. One is not obliged to agree to everything. Nevertheless, you stay as an Adventist simply because you belief in the greater portion of what the Church teaches and practice as truth.

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Brava, Now tell me how a young SDA pastor should handle some of the same dilemmas.

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I am confused by the wording in the conclusive paragraph that says, “…Adventism is mine, and I decide what it looks like.”

At least for me it doesn’t make a lot of sense when the author says she can define what Adventism is. We sure have points where more than one interpretation of the Bible is accepted, but on others such as Trinity, Sanctuary doctrine, Sabbath keeping, same-sex marriage and young-age earth the position of the church is pretty clear. And when I say church, I’m not refering just to the General Conference, but the majority of the members.

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For any Pastor
I would begin with these.

  1. Jesus- The Red Letter Edition.
  2. The Trinity – the Hebrews edition.
  3. Love the Lord thy God [ALL 3] with all one’s heart [emotions], soul [who I am], mind [intellectually],
  4. Love my neighbor as myself [that means I have to develop a great attitude about WHO I am, and I do that by looking at ME through the Eyes of The Trinity – Father, Son [what was done for me and is being done], Holy Spirit, and through my “angel” watching over me. {by the way, my angel is a great plumber}.

If THESE are not Adventism, then what is?

WHAT IS the Church? Ellen says The Church was Organized for Service. [Acts of Apostles]
That seems to be the ONLY reason for single believers to FORM a Community of Believers.
If your Community of Believers is NOT organized for Service, and doing Service, then it is NOT following Ellen.
In a non-SDA book I read this story. A person told a pastor he wanted to join the Church. The pastor’s FIRST QUESTION was, What Service Group do you want to join?
The person could NOT be a member unless becoming a member of one of the Service Groups.

Being a Seventh day Adventist is so much more than just having one’s name listed in some dusty church file somewhere.
It is so much more than just sitting in a building somewhere for 3 hours once a week and being entertained.
Sarah – your teacher was right – YOU get to decide what Adventism is! It is a very personal gift to yourself. Accept the Gift. Use it. Find a life-time of pleasure using it.

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There is no virtue to either staying with or leaving the SDA denomination. The only virtue is to follow wherever the Spirit of God leads.

One can’t spend too much time in any denomination without coming to the conclusion that no two people accept an entire statement of beliefs in the same manner. That is, unless the doctrinal statement is mercifully brief. If you were to poll all Adventist pastors on their personal harmony with SDA 28 fundamental beliefs, you will not find harmony among them, so why look for it among the general membership? When I look around for a church to join, I look for one that has an understanding of scripture that most closely harmonizes with the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. What else could I possibly do? I know I will never find a church that harmonizes completely with my understanding of scripture, so I choose the one that comes closest to the mark. I also have a second choice in case I ever find the current choice to become too offensive to the reputation of God. I certainly don’t recommend that anyone join or remain in a church where they have strong disagreements with the truly fundamental doctrines - that wouldn’t make much sense. Theologian Herman Hoeh once wrote, “You can’t JOIN the true Church; ONLY GOD CAN PUT YOU INTO IT BY HIS SPIRIT.”

The fact that the SDA church continues to update its statement of fundamental beliefs is proof positive that our understanding of correct doctrine changes through time. Our need to vote on those updates is proof positive that we do not all agree on how those beliefs should be expressed. Some day I’d like to meet a person who has found a church with a completely flawless set of doctrines. I’d like to join it. But I’m afraid that my membership in that church would give me no additional virtues or claims to Christ’s righteousness than I already possess.

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I think she could have stated her position differently. There is no institution of man that is perfect, Hower, at this point in time, I find fellowship open enough for me to continue my membership and fellowship within Adventism as I presently understand it at Union College. tom Z

As I read all of the critical comments to this article I understand why our church is not growing in North America. Christianity and yes, even Adventism is a journey and each person is at a different level of maturity and understanding with their creator…how can we not see that? Last year I brought a friend to church, after they had been coming on a regular basis for 2-3 months someone in our leadership asked me in a very curt way, “so are they coming here to be Adventist or are they just coming to come?” I was floored. Just a couple months into this journey and people in our church wanted them to be Adventists or to not come at all, as if following a set of 28 rules exactly how they are written is really all that is necessary to have a relationship with Christ. People, the work of the Holy Spirit is not our job and we need to give people the space to grow in their understanding, to grow in Christ. I applaud Sarah for asking difficult questions and for wrestling with what she believes (far too many are too afraid to do this and like the Jews in Jesus’ time, . She will stay and hopefully the conversations continue and her understanding will grow with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Matt 23:27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness." Sarah, your heart is open to God, keep seeking Christ, he will not fail you.

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As usual, someone’s heartfelt words are provoking anger and consternation. However, can anyone reading these posts argue that the practice of beliefs in the SDA church is extremely varied? Someone above said that “sadly” going to church and eating out on Sabbath were both practiced. Sadly? Having been raised in a family that ate out rarely, but did so on Sabbath and then marrying into a family that did not, I’m certainly aware that Sabbath observance is a topic on which there are many views. Most Adventists accommodate those who are more conservative, and adhere to the most conservative view when making decisions with a group of friends, out of deference to their friend’s beliefs. But, if one were to take a poll across the NAD on whether members believed in eating out on Sabbath, you would find a variety of beliefs. I have no idea what is thought in other countries–I live in the NAD. And I have heard many ways of thinking on this subject. And this is just one of the hundreds of areas of potential disagreement within our SDA culture. It’s an example of an extra-doctrinal issue that can easily be dragged into the fray.

Recently I read a book on U.S. History which has helped me a great deal in understanding the various cultures which exist within our national borders (and even a little outside our borders). It is “American Nations” by Colin Woodard and it describes the eleven nations which exist within the U.S. It is fascinating and has helped me to understand why people from greater Appalachia are different from the upper mid west and also different parts of the West. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves living in a very different part of the U.S. from where they were raised and who has a hard time understanding the local people with whom they live, worship and do business. It includes historical explanations of our different religions and religious beliefs. Really, it’s eye-opening.

How many times have you heard a pastor say on Pathfinder Sabbath or Education Sabbath, “look at these young people, they are the future of the church”? I’ve heard it all my life. (I have not found it to be exactly true, because it seems to imply involvement and even leadership. And experience has taught me that the church generally preserves any and all positions of authority for those WELL into adulthood (usually manhood), but nonetheless, it is an idea that is frequently expressed.) It sounds to me as if the author is saying that she is the future of the church, she’s just using different words. If she retains membership, she is correct.

Personally, I can only say, I hope the author is able to continue in the SDA church. But it will only become more difficult as she marries and begins to raise children (if she chooses to do either). When I was in college I was determined to be part of the future of my church, too–the church I and generations of my family have lived within. But, the church has changed over the course of my life and has made new decisions and taken itself in new directions. It is not static. New information has become known and has been written about by many within and outside the church, casting new light on long held beliefs and assumptions. Questioning whether to remain a member is a natural response to what Sarah sees going on around her, as it should be for any thoughtful Christian.

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The “church” is a community of believers who are from many time periods and many geographical locations (Hebrews 11:1 to 12:3) Adventism is situated within that wider context… Adventists do not own the gospel message and every person is free to identify with a denomination of their own choice. No denomination is perfect and we have to work with that imperfection. However, there are many opportunities within the wider “church” to use our skills where they are most needed if they are not needed in a particular denomination for whatever reason. We have to go into the world to spread the gospel as individuals and as church organizations. It need not be a crisis of faith to stay or go. If we are in an authentic relationship with Jesus, then we are saved. It is a sign of maturity to work through these issues, regardless of the decision to stay or go. Well done. Blessings from Rene Gale

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Dear Sarah Ventura, You are poised for greater things – become the best human you can be and never betray your aspiration you are first set to do. Yea, stay away from disabling snitch reports - loose lips sink ship. You may not save the world but you maybe one solution to a child hunger. How many angels can you fit on a needle point? You are that one waiting aspiration hugging the angels needle post.

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There was a saying, perhaps after the First World War, that went, You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. The man the boy becomes will always be a farmer even though he only eats what he buys at the grocery or from a restaurant, though the vast majority of farmers do just that from the beginning.

Same with religion. Born a Roman Catholic, always a Catholic, even when for most of one’s life fellowshipping with and as a Seventh-day Adventist.

As Samir Selmanovic affirms in his wonderful book, It’s Really All About God, family spiritual heritage plays an enduring role in every person’s life. And when one seeks to separate from one’s spiritual roots, one’s life is doomed to a less meaningful spiritual experience.

Leaving is a struggle that is as vivid whether the leaving is mindful or physical. And physically leaving is surprisingly entangling in ways contrary to mindfulness, which is at best freeing without leaving. When asked if I was a Seventh-day Adventist I used to coyly reply, “I grew up Seventh-day Adventist and these days I think of myself as on religious hiatus.” Now I’m more comfortable realizing that my experience of faith and trust and indeed love is awash not just in present truth, to plagiarize a little, but in my embraceable heritage as a Seventh-day Adventist having continued from its start all the way back in the 1940s.

The arc of your spiritual life is off to a memorable start, Sarah. It feels like you’ve come to sense it a mistake to think to improve it by trying to forget it. Indeed, experiencing more completely one’s spiritual roots, rather than less, is the path to embracing the patience of the saints. To experience God more authentically rather than more perfectly is to feel the comforts of patience rather than the slog that trudging offers.

I hope you will reflect on the decade past in 2025 and share again with Spectrum readers.

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Great article and thanks for sharing and letting others know that they aren’t alone in the way they feel.
I am proud to be an Adventist, but I’m not proud of the way the Adventist church is operated and governed in all areas of the world.
Most folks love telling others what to do and how to live their lives. This includes what THEY think God wants others to do instead of what the individual’s relationship is with God. It is great to know that Adventism fits everyone, but it is not a one size fits all belief system.

I have no problem with anyone who feels that Adventism is too toxic for them and they need to leave, but I also have no problem with anyone staying in the church who is vastly different than I am.

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No, you don’t. The pillars of our faith are immovable. Ellen White said that not one of them dare be tampered with. This reminds me of what Bill Clinton said at his inaugural address in 1993: “Each generation of Americans must decide what it means to be an American.” Not really; we have a constitution which dictates what this country looks like. In the same way, we have certain non-negotiables in the SDA Church, such as the Sabbath, the Sanctuary doctrine, the State of the Dead, creation, ex nihilo, in 6 literal, 24 hour days, etc.

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I was reminded of Kellogg and EGW

Kellogg held heterodox views on the Trinity and Ellen knew of them. She encouraged him to keep them to himself, but did not reject him, or say he had to break off fellowship. She spent several yrs talking to him on various issues and encouraging him. Eventually he left. A sad day.

Sarah, you have some basic differences with the majority of your fellow believers. That will lead to conflict, as they identify with a different “reality” than you do. In many cases, as with Kellogg, the separation becomes larger over time.

Two problems present themselves, can you be comfortable with a group that has a different mind set, and can you fell comfortable “assenting” to beliefs you don’t really assent to as a “member”? Sometimes honesty requires a break, not that that is the case now. But the time may come when it does. God be with you.

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This should be the biggest “threat” facing our current leaders who have sold their souls to stay in power. One of these days, these upcoming “youngsters” will be our leaders…

Watch out.

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The important thing is that you are part of The Body of Christ, not that you are part of a certain “church”. The most important thing is Love. If Church doctrine or members do not obey the ultimate commandment, then they are not part of it. The church is in ruins.

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