From one reporter to another: An insider's primer on Seventh-day Adventism

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating: At dinner one evening with a Boeing Corporation division president, the topic of my “day job” came up. Because this person, long since retired, was involved with Boeing’s satellite systems, I told him my principal employer at the time had a large satellite network of its own. That employer was the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s world headquarters.

His face lit up: “Oh, you’re the guys with the bicycles.”

I grimaced: this high-level executive, well exposed to the world, thought Adventists tooled around wearing white shirts and name tags. (Nothing wrong with that, but the guys on the bikes most likely are missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a different group.)

His publicist, who was at the table, piped up: “No, you’re the guys with the magazines that go door to door.”

Mercy. This person --  a former Seattle-area television news reporter, no less -- imagines Seventh-day Adventists don’t celebrate birthdays or take blood transfusions.

Well, if Mr. Now-Retired Boeing person is listening, he probably knows a bit more about Adventism and Adventists, thanks to one Donald J. Trump.

Terry Mattingly asked me, a former GetReligionista and former employee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (the Church’s formal name) to offer current Godbeat professionals a few pointers -- from my perspective on both sides of a reporter's notebook -- on covering the religion which claims, among others, Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, M.D., a 2016 GOP Presidential contender, as one of its nearly 19 million members worldwide.

Here goes.

(1) It’s AD-ventists, not Ad-VENT-ists. That’s more for broadcast than print, but also for the rest of us. The emphasis is on “Ad,” and mispronouncing it doesn’t always go over well with members of the Church. Oh, and by the way, “SDA” may be a nice shorthand, but the church prefers it not be used, not least because it would be rendered “ISD” in Spanish and “ISJ” in French. Use “Seventh-day Adventist” on first reference and “Adventist” on subsequent references, please.

(2) We don’t have horns and cloven hooves. Really. Despite the continued bleatings of some evangelical “apologists,” Seventh-day Adventism has long been regarded by many, if not most, evangelicals and mainline Protestants as within the spectrum of the Christian mainstream. As tmatt noted the other day, one Billy Graham gave us a favorable nod, several decades ago.

Yes, there are doctrinal distinctives such as the seventh-day Sabbath (on Saturday), a belief that the dead are asleep until the resurrection and that the unsaved dead are consumed in a final “hell fire,” and not perpetually tortured in flames. There’s also the so-called “Investigative Judgment,” which this website explains quite well. But even given these differences, Adventists are heterodox, not heretical.

(3) Adventism is not a monolith: We have rich people and poor people, conservatives and liberals, and we’re probably one of the most racially and ethnically diverse groups around. Dr. Carson represents one political viewpoint; Adventist members of Congress such as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Rep. Raul Ruiz of California -- both Democrats -- represent another.

(4) We’re really big on religious liberty. It’s part of our heritage going back to a late 19th Century attempt to institute a national Sunday “blue law” that would have criminalized work or trade. Adventists fought that in Congress, winning a victory for Jews, Sabbatarians and others.

(5) We’re big on helping others. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is a major non-governmental organization providing humanitarian assistance worldwide. They’ve helped earthquake victims, displaced persons in Africa and refugees from Syria.

(6) Most of all, we sincerely believe Jesus is returning soon. We don’t set dates, and never have. But we believe the signs of Christ’s soon return are evident, which is why we look forward to the realization of “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

One last point: Some observers still like to cite a 52-year-old evangelical text, “The Four Major Cults” by the late Anthony Hoekema, as a touchstone of evangelical thought on Adventism. Hoekema has passed to his rest, and there are more-recent observers, such as evangelical scholar Ruth A. Tucker, or former Christianity Today editor (and onetime Adventist pastor) David Neff. Talk to them if you want thinking that’s up-to-date. Seek multiple sources and get to know us.

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