Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Seventh-Day Adventist Candidate

I’ve been wanting to blog about Presidential candidate Ben Carson being a Seventh-Day Adventist.  Now that it is in the news quite a bit, I figure that now is a good time to write this post.  Here are some ramblings.

A.  It interests me that Dr. Ben Carson is a Seventh-Day Adventist, because I myself have a background in seventh-day Sabbatarianism.  I grew up in an offshoot of Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, and I attended Seventh-Day Adventist churches from my time in college until 2004.  People who observed the seventh-day Sabbath and went to church on Saturday were definitely a minority where I grew up: many people where we lived attended church on Sundays and scheduled events on Saturdays.  I was also aware of people in the U.S. who were forced to choose between keeping the Sabbath on Saturday and keeping their jobs, which pressured them to work on Saturdays.  We were marginal and considered strange; in some places, seventh-day Sabbatarians were persecuted.  That is why I feel somewhat of an affinity towards Dr. Ben Carson, even though I am no longer a seventh-day Sabbatarian, and I think that Dr. Carson says some pretty strange things.

B.  In New York City, I attended a liberal Seventh-Day Adventist church.  In 2004, Joe Lieberman was running for the Democratic nomination for President.  Lieberman, of course, is an orthodox Jew, who observes the Sabbath on Saturday.  Someone in my church was doing a presentation on how Lieberman’s Sabbath observance conflicted with his Presidential campaign: Lieberman, for example, could not participate in debates that took place on Saturdays.  Nowadays, it seems to me, that is not a big problem.  I do not know if Dr. Carson does anything for his presidential campaign on Saturdays, or if he takes a break from it on those days, but my understanding is that the Republican debates so far have not taken place on Saturdays, but rather during the week.

C.  Dr. Carson is winning support from evangelicals.  He speaks like he’s a part of the religious right.  From a certain standpoint, that is rather odd for a Seventh-Day Adventist.  For decades, Seventh-Day Adventists have feared that the United States would pass a National Sunday Law that would require people to honor Sunday.  They associate this with the Mark of the Beast of Revelation 13.  While some Seventh-Day Adventists have expected this to occur within a multicultural context of trying to bring the world’s religions together, a number of them have feared that the religious right would bring it about, with all of its attempts to make the United States a Christian nation.  Consequently, SDAs have supported the separation of church from state.  I remember my pastor at an SDA church that I attended in the 1990’s forecasting that the American electorate would be upset at President Bill Clinton on account of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and they would sweep the Republicans into power.  The Republicans then, to appease their religious base, would enact a National Sunday Law.  Well, the Republicans did have a lot of power from 2001-2009.  There was no National Sunday Law.

Is this characterization of the SDAs absolute, though?  Not exactly.  There are exceptions.  I know of someone who visited an SDA church shortly after 9/11, and the pastor there was preaching that 9/11 happened because America took prayer out of public schools.  I should also note that many SDAs are strict young-earth creationists and anti-evolutionists, and that overlaps with elements of the religious right.

In terms of Dr. Carson, he does express support for the separation of church and state.  Still, he speaks like he’s part of the religious right, in terms of the things that he says and the stances that he takes, and he has been gaining support from conservative evangelicals.

D.  I know a Roman Catholic who used to be a Seventh-Day Adventist.  One concern that she has about her former denomination is the performance of abortions at Seventh-Day Adventist hospitals (see here).  At the liberal SDA church that I attended, some lauded the SDA church for having a nuanced stance on abortion (see here), while expressing a wish that it would convey the same sort of thoughtfulness in its stance on homosexuality.  What this has to do with Ben Carson, well, I find it interesting to note.  I do not know how long Dr. Carson has been an SDA; this article says that his mother is an SDA, so maybe he has been an SDA for a long time.  I was watching the news yesterday, and Dr. Carson was talking about how he came to be pro-life on abortion.  I can envision an SDA physician performing abortions, only later to conclude that abortion is wrong because it is taking a human life.  Maybe that fits Dr. Carson, but I do not know for certain.

E.  I do not know for sure if SDA politicians tend to vote or to govern as liberals or as conservatives, but my impression is that there is diversity.  At the first SDA church that I attended, there were political liberals and political conservatives, though one of the political conservatives was concerned that the Christian Coalition could help bring about a National Sunday Law.  When I attended the liberal SDA church, an aide of the mayor of Philadelphia at the time, John F. Street, an SDA, came to speak to us.  My impression was that Mayor Street was liberal on economic issues, but rather conservative on same-sex marriage.

F.  I came across an article yesterday—-and, unfortunately, I cannot find it now—-and it said that it is ironic that Dr. Carson is gaining support from evangelicals, when his own denomination believes that many evangelicals will go to hell for not keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, and for observing Sunday.  There are SDAs who believe that way (of course, they would see hell as a future place of annihilation rather than a place of eternal torment); there are also SDAs, however, who are more tolerant than that, who believe that there are genuine Christians who observe Sunday.  Ellen G. White, the prophetess of early Adventism, expressed a belief in The Great Controversy that there were sincere Christians among Protestants and Catholics, who were keeping Sunday out of ignorance.  The Great Controversy, as a matter of fact, heroized many Protestant heroes in history, such as Martin Luther.   Did White write anything that could form the basis for the views of the SDAs who believe that true Christians observe the Sabbath, and that Sunday-keeping Christians are not true Christians?  It would not surprise me.

I’m sure that more can be written and researched about the relationship between SDAs and politics.  I just wrote this post to convey my own experiences and understanding, based on what I currently know.

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