By AT News Team, April 27, 2015: Dr. Ben Carson, an Adventist doctor who is running for president of the United States, has been canceled as a speaker at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference in June, according to Christianity Today, the largest circulation Christian journal in America. The reasons include Carson’s Adventist faith as well as concerns about mixing politics and religion.
Baptist21, an independent group of clergy within the Southern Baptist Convention, objected because Adventists believe those not saved will, in the end, be consumed in “a lake of fire” instead of being tortured in the furnace of “hell” without end; and because they “claim that worshiping on Sunday is sin.” More surprising, they also objected to Carson saying that Christians, Jews and Muslims are “all God’s children.”
“Certainly, we do not all worship the same God,” the group stated on its blog. “The idea that we are all God’s children is at best the type of liberalism the Conservative Resurgence sought to address, and at worst, it is universalism.” An Adventist scholar told Adventist Today that this reflects a new type of Fundamentalism that is emerging among Christians in America.
A concern about Southern Baptists being too closely connected with the Republican Party was also voiced by a Baptist21 leader, as reported by Christianity Today. Yet Mike Huckabee, who has run for president in pastor and been elected governor in Arkansas, spoke at the event in 2009 and 2013, the magazine pointed out. Huckabee has also been a Baptist pastor. White, Evangelical Christians from the southern United States are generally seen as a significant block within the Republican Party.
Pastor Willy Rice, director of the pastor’s conference and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater (Florida), defended the choice of Carson as a speaker. “He has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast twice (the only other person to do so was Billy Graham); he was a frequent guest of James Dobson; he has spoken at several Southern Baptist churches for major events. … He loves Southern Baptists and considers them friends. I believe most Southern Baptists equally respect and appreciate him.”
Carson is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination and retired last year as chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. He has hired campaign staff and launched an exploratory committee in preparation of a run for the presidency, but has not yet officially declared as a candidate. If a significant number of southern Evangelicals will not support him due either to his Adventist faith or his African American race, then his candidacy faces even greater odds than it has due to his lack of a long track record in politics.
The objections to Carson speaking at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference based on his Adventist faith also raise a new specter of negative Evangelical attitudes toward the Adventist denomination. Christianity Today has also recently published an article reporting that the Adventist movement is growing at the rate of one million new members per year and “trying to keep their distinctive beliefs while also moving closer to other evangelicals.”
The article quoted David Neff, a former Adventist minister and a former editor of the magazine: “There has been a continuing tension about whether [Adventists] see themselves as distinct, or as one among many evangelical denominations with a few special emphases. … There’s a dynamic that moves back and forth between those poles.”