16 September 2020  |

My Political Evolution as an Adventist Christian

Article to read for this discussion:

Excerpt:

In 1984, having been promoted to full professor and received tenure, I felt safe in launching a long-planned sociological study of global Adventism. One of my foci was social issues within the church: the inequality of women, racial minorities, LGBT youth and members, the divorced and single, unmarried mothers, the sexually and physically bullied and abused, and Adventists with AIDS. 

I also studied Adventists and politics, and was dismayed to discover that the Adventist Church regularly felt more comfortable relating to dictators, ranging from Hitler and Stalin to the military rulers in Latin America and South Korea, than democratic regimes. I interviewed dozens of Adventists who had climbed to positions of political influence and power in developing nations such as Jamaica, Uganda, and Papua-New Guinea, and discovered that when I asked them how their faith had influenced the policies they pursued they looked at me blankly: they had not even considered that possibility. 

I was also dismayed to realize that most Adventists in democracies seemed to vote without considering to what extent the policies advocated were attuned to the principles that Jesus had enunciated, or the lives lived by the candidates. Unless, of course, a Presidential candidate happened to be a Catholic!

I have now lived in the US for nearly 50 years, and I have dual Australian and American citizenship. I have been upset many times because almost every president has gotten us engaged in wars; by the willingness of presidents to lie to us—e.g., in order to gain support in invading Iraq; and by their reluctance to welcome the needy and strangers. 

I was excited by Obama’s election, because of his intelligence, his wish to expand the coverage of medical insurance, and as a symbolic break in the widespread discrimination against blacks here—but I wish he had been less timid in choosing what policies to pusue. I realized that the way my understandings have developed, and the influence of my faith on this, has placed me somewhat to the left of the Democratic party. This did not seem so unusual in New York City, or in the Adventist Forum community there, which was my main reference group there, for the whole time I lived there—45 years. 

Because of living in New York City, I hadn’t known a committed Republican well. However, after my move to Asheville, North Carolina in 2015, I was amazed to find that a large majority of the white Adventists in that heavily Democratic city had voted for Donald Trump in spite of his lowlife remarks about women, his hatred of refugees, his rejection of young non-citizens who had lived in the US since they were very young, his readiness to dismantle programs protecting the environment and people with pre-existing medical conditions, and his fanning of the flames of racial conflict. Asheville is the headquarters of the Billy Graham organization, and I was hurt and astonished when many Evangelicals embraced Donald Trump. But why Seventh-day Adventists, whose prophetic beliefs should have made them cautious of such ideas? 

I should make it clear that I have never been an activist for a particular political party, nor do I support any party financially. I am expressing my surprise that Adventists usually do not weigh the policies embraced by political candidates against the basic teaching of Jesus and the Bible.

It would be good to discuss the principles we as Adventist Christians would use as standards against which to evaluate candidates. I would suggest that based on the principles of loving our neighbors as ourselves, treating all equally, and taking special care of strangers and the poor, these should include policies towards refugees and immigrants, policies that impact the status of women, racial minorities, and other groups that face discrimination, and that protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse. 

As Adventists who believe that God cares about health, and who appoints us as stewards of creation as we remember the Sabbath, we should be concerned with the provision of health insurance, responding with determination to diseases that threaten the health of the population and the economy, such as COVID-19, as well as maintaining policies that protect the environment. 

We would also be concerned to evaluate the lives of candidates in terms of honesty, truthfulness, stability, unselfishness, and how they treat others, especially those vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. 

I am sure that you will be able to think of other important measuring rods for us to employ as we make our decisions concerning who most deserves our support as followers of Christ.

Guest:

Ronald Lawson was Professor in the Department of Urban Studies at ­Queens College, the City University of New York, where he taught courses focusing on the sociology of religion and political ­sociology. He is also the President of the Metro New York ­Adventist Forum, a position he held for 41 years. He is ­completing a book, Apocalypse Postponed, that will give a­ sociological account of international Adventism, the first major ­study of a global church

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Loren Seibold, AT Editor

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Coming up:

9/26: Loren Seibold, “The Church: Love It or Leave It?”

10/3:

10/10: Alvin Masarira: Adventism in Africa

10/17: Denis Fortin: What kind of ecclesiastical structure does our denomination have—and what should we have?


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