The August 13 and 20 issues of The New Yorker magazine in the “Critic at Large” segment published an article by Adam Gopnik in which he compiles a brief summary of what Mormons believe. In the next issue, David Wilcox, in The Mail section, wrote a reply. As a former Mormon, Wilcox, while not taking issue with what Gopnik wrote, asked why he did not address “… the importance of understanding the Republican Presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s core beliefs.” “Voters,” posits Wilcox, “have a right to know whether Romney believes that women should be barred from the priesthood. They should know if he countenanced the barring of African-Americans until 1978, from the priesthood, and whether he believes that Native Americans are descended form Hebrews, despite DNA evidence to the contrary. Does he believe that the Book of Mormon was translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics etched on disappearing golden plates? That his specially blessed underwear protects him form harm? He should be asked if he aspires to be a god with many wives to help populate new worlds in his afterlife. We have a right to know the answers to such questions, which are basic to the teachings of Mormonism.”
Good questions all. As I read them it got me to thinking: What if a Seventh-day Adventist ran for president? Would our theology, our world-view and the message our evangelists proclaim prove insurmountable to the person who aspired for national political office, such as president?
Here’s the scene: An Adventist has thrown the hat into the presidential ring. Now the candidate is seated on the 60 Minute set. On the next chair Scott Pelley begins the interivew. “It is my understanding your church teaches that the Pope of Rome is the anti-Christ? Is this your personal belief, too?”
The interlocutor continues. “Your church has taught that there will come a time when what your church terms ‘Apostate Protestantism’ will reach across a gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism and join with the Roman Catholic Church to enforce a national Sunday law. I read this on page 588 of the book The Great Controversy, a book written by Ellen White, a woman the Adventist church accepts as a prophet. And, I might add, I received this book unsolicited in the mail a few years ago. Does this teaching reflect your belief? If you hold to this belief, can you help us understand, within the context of our laws and practices, how this will come about?”
“As a follow-up, I also read in The Great Controversy and in other Adventist publications that the church believes that a two-horned beast described in Revelation is the United States and that this ‘beast’ will become a persecuting power against those who keep Saturday Sabbath. Is this correct? Then, what is your understanding of how that “beast,” our country, will persecute its people and when do you think this will begin?”
“The question of Sabbath,” we can imagine Pelley asking, “raises another question. How would your observance of Sabbath affect your function as president? Would you lay aside your governmental responsibilities on your Sabbath?”
How, I wondered, would I advise the candidate to respond to these and other potential questions that a careful reporter might ask of an Adventist candidate who is in the presidential race? This thought brought to mind what, to me, is a larger question: does our theology preclude a practicing Adventist from aspiring to the highest office in the land? If so, what does this say about us?
In the bible we find numerous examples of both men and women who, despite the odds, achieved high governmental office or wielded significant political influence: Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther, Debora and others. Granted, none of these people were elected to their power positions. They did not face an electorate, much less the probing questions of a skilled reporter.
Might there exist among those who have contemplated elected office a fear, however quiescent, that they will be asked to explain aspects of their Adventist faith? Yes, I am aware Adventists have been elected to political offices at all levels of government, including Head of State. But the numbers who have achieved these offices are few. In contrast, Mormons, who espouse a theology that is even further removed from main-stream theology, have been appointed and elected to many more governmental offices than Adventists and those from main-line denominations. Mormon youth, in contrast to Advent young people, are encouraged by the church to enter government service and are given the tools and experience to enter the political arena. This effort is obviously successful!
Adventists have traditionally been suspicious of governmental service. Our educational institutions and our pastors have not given encouragement for students to prepare to enter the political arena nor have we helped them hone the necessary skills to be successful should they decide to think of a career in politics. We do not hone student’s debating skills. We have not encouraged our kids to think about a carrier in Foreign Service, apart from a stint as a student missionary. We have not encouraged young people to apply to work in government agencies or run for political office. We take justifiable pride in the accomplishments of the few individuals who have achieved elected office, up to and including a rare Head of State. We also now-and-again are reminded of the one time an Adventist had close contact with presidential power: President Warren G. Harding’s mother, brother and sister were Adventists. His mother's influence apparently was not sufficient to keep the president on the Straight and Narrow. When a list of the most incompetent and corrupt presidencies is published, Harding is often at or near the top.
To come back to a question asked above: does our theology have a significant negative potential that would preclude a practicing Adventist from a successful run for our nation’s highest office?
I confess that I do not have a definitive answer. I have a notion: the reporter who delves into traditional Adventist theology could make any Adventist who aspires for higher office sweat blood. I would not want to sit in that person’s chair! If I am correct in my conclusion that it would be tough for an Adventist to run for presidency, what does this say about us? Have we assigned ourselves to a perpetual political backwater? Are we limited to beating only the religious liberty drum, as important as this may be? Are we satisfied with our side-line position? If not, what can we do to reverse course? Any ideas?