Some background for Godbeat pros: What is Seventh-day Adventism?


Since Donald Trump brought Ben Carson’s religion to the forefront, can you tell us more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church?


Presidential candidate Trump contrasted his own “middle of the road” Presbyterian Church (USA) with Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist Church as a religion “I don’t know about.” That suggested the SDA denomination is not just lesser-known but on the cultural margins and possibly suspect.

This born-in-America faith is indeed distinctive. It’s also a notable success story (while Trump’s “mainline” church declines). SDA global membership reached a million in 1955, 92 years after the founding.

Today the Maryland-based church boasts 18.7 million followers, 94 percent of them outside North America. It gains a million adherents a year through immersion baptisms of youths and adults. It operates 7,579 schools and colleges with 1.8 million students, and 627 healthcare institutions, among the largest such global networks. Members’ tithing is a major emphasis -- and strength. The notably diverse U.S. contingent is 37 percent white.

Carson is, yes, loyally Adventist, though he says that he regrets that his church doesn’t ordain women. Trump’s taunt provoked an article by Utah newsman and adult convert Mark "former GetReligionista" Kellner. Carson is a famed brain surgeon, Kellner noted, but SDA ranks have also included the first surgeon to implant a baboon heart in an infant, the originator of “Tommy John surgery,” and the inventors of proton therapy for breast cancer.

The faith’s 19th Century founders were disciples of self-taught Bible teacher William Miller who believed Jesus Christ’s Second coming would occur on Oct. 22, 1844, a non-event called the “Great Disappointment.” The Adventist faction said Miller was correct that God restored his “sanctuary” in 1844, calculated from biblical Daniel 8:14 with “days” meaning “years.” But they decided Miller was mistaken that Daniel predicted an earthly event. Rather, 1844 marked Christ’s entry into a heavenly sanctuary to begin “investigative judgment” of humans to prepare his Second Coming, to occur soon at a date unknown.

Preacher’s wife Ellen G. White (1827-1915) experienced numerous visions regarded as messages from God and became the Adventists’ prime teacher. SDAs believe God provided her gift of prophecy as “an identifying mark of the remnant church” of the “last days” that will faithfully keep God’s commandments (see Revelation 12:17).

White emphasized that the Ten Commandments’ Sabbath must be observed on Saturday as in Old Testament times, rejecting Christianity’s Sunday worship. The church links this with insistence that God created the heavens and the earth “during six literal days” that adding the Sabbath are “the same unit of time that we call a week today.” SDA literalism rules out an ancient earth, Darwin’s theory and “theistic evolution.”

The 1863 “health reform” vision meant White taught the simplest possible preparations of “grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator.” Therefore, many SDAs are ovo-lacto vegetarians. White also opposed condiments, spices, coffee and tea, along with more customary Protestant hostility toward tobacco and alcohol. The Adventist Kellogg brothers invented corn flakes, and an associate’s rival Post company developed the coffee substitute Postum. Studies show that health-conscious SDAs on average live years longer than the general population.

The church advocates “nonviolence, peacemaking, conflict resolution and reconciliation” among nations. Decisions on military service are up to the individual, but the church urges adherents never to bear arms. It differs from pacifist churches where conscientious objectors shun all military participation. Instead, SDA teaching says believers “accept the obligation of citizenship” that “requires them willingly to serve the state in any noncombatant capacity” that helps saves lives. SDAs typically seek service as unarmed medics. Adventist Desmond Doss, a heroic Army medical corpsman in World War II, was the first noncombatant to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The church fervently advocates religious liberty and separation of church and state. A May 4 headquarters statement called it “crucial” that churches “remain a neutral space when it comes to elections” and urged “extreme care” to avoid association with any candidate, Carson included. However, the church often pronounces on public issues. Typical declarations include:

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