7 February 2024 |
For the past 180 years, the Seventh-day Adventist church has published a notably high volume of journals: over 1.3 million pages containing valuable clues about both official and grass-roots theology, culture, and anxieties. Official theology has changed through the years (as should be expected). Indeed, in spite of official doctrinal pronouncements, there is a wide range of beliefs found in the average members today.
The Review & Herald, first published 1850, offers a glimpse into the culture of early Adventism. Its pages showed a remarkable level of candor about the business and finances of the early Advent movement, including travel expense reports of the leaders, and vigorous debates about the smallest point of Biblical interpretation and “sub-doctrine.” In early years, the majority of published space focused upon the Sabbath doctrine, first obsessing about the proper day, and later debating proper Sabbath-keeping.
Through all this ran a sense of urgency about the soon-ness of the second coming. Stiff legalism drowned out any affirmation of God’s love and grace. No wonder early saints were anxious about unconfessed sins!
Mining the obituaries in particular allows us to trace the geographic spread of Adventism from New England across to the upper Midwest, while neglecting the American Deep South until after the Civil War. The obituaries reveal much about grass-roots theology as written by family members and local ministers. We see a number of points of anxiety: a need to demonstrate that the deceased led a good life—good enough to be accepted by God and appear in “the first resurrection.”
Stoicism in the face of pain, suffering, and impending death was also praised in the text. The obituaries also give us useful metrics on cause of death, age, and the size of families. Fortunately for us, all these pages are freely available on the General Conference archives website, and ripe for further exploration and mining.
Michael Scofield, M.B.A. is an expert in data asset management, speaking all over the U.S. and the UK on topics of data quality and data visualization. He has served on several denominational committees on church structure and finance. He has spoken over 150 times to various classes and church audiences about the history and sociology of Adventism.
Raj Attiken is a retired president of the Ohio Conference, now an adjunct professor at Kettering College.
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- Stephen Chavez
- Kart Lazic
- Denis Fortin
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- Reinder Bruinsma