by Stephen Ferguson  |  1 November 2020  |

As I finish writing this piece, Justice Amy Coney Barrett has just been confirmed as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. Not only is her nomination by President Trump likely to have lasting impact for the Supreme Court, I suspect it is going to have lasting impact on Adventist-Catholic relations. In a good way. Probably in a very good way.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Justice Barrett will be a good judge or a bad judge, for that matter. You can make up your own mind about all that political stuff.

To be clear, I have nothing personally against President Trump’s choice – or President Trump himself – when it comes to this matter. That isn’t my point. Rather, the point I am making is about people who share my own religion, but who spend their lives warning us laxer Adventists and the world about an imminent Catholic threat. Perhaps let me back up a little and explain.

Like many of you, I am routinely bombarded with a screed of what can only be considered conspiracy Adventism. Only last week, our local Adventist congregation received an unsolicited package, from an unnamed Adventist source, of what seemed to be a mixture of Ellen White quotes and photographs of world leaders making the satanic devil sign. There was Benny Hinn, Pope Benedict, President Bush and President Obama. The only world leader whose photograph was noticeably absent was the current leader of the Free World, a relevant point further explored in this essay.

Getting into conspiracy theories is all the rage now, but we Adventists were doing it first – and doing it best – long before it became cool. My good friend Dr. Anthony MacPherson has already written about the phenomenon, as has Adventist Today’s own Dr. Loren Seibold. As many of our brethren know, if it isn’t President Trump being targeted by the deep state for standing against a world-wide vampire-paedophile ring run out of a D.C. pizzeria, it is Ted Wilson secretly conspiring with the World Council of Churches to introduce mandatory square dancing.

Oh, and Jesuits are everywhere.

My Facebook account continually comes up with posts to the effect that if the Pope sneezes, then a Sunday law must be just around the corner. It was therefore with great anticipation, then, that I witnessed Justice Barrett’s nomination.

As most of you are aware, Amy Barrett is a woman of deep Roman Catholic faith. As Senator Dianne Feinstein once said of her during an earlier confirmation hearing in 2017, perhaps unfairly, “The dogma lives loudly in you”.

As already has also been widely reported in the media, Justice Barrett belongs to the parachurch organisation known as People of Praise. Part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, this group seems to combine aspects of Pentecostalism, Ecumenicalism and Conservative Headship theology. With its headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, this group is eerily close to Adventism’s own mecca at Andrews University.

So no mere Christmas-and-Easter Catholic here. Justice Barrett is a true believer. It was like watching Ellen White’s prediction from Great Controversy, page 588, but live on ESPN:

“The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience.”

So I waited with bated breath for how my Conspiracy-Adventist sources were going to deal with Justice Barrett’s confirmation. As even comedian Bill Maher alluded to, surely this was some not-so-secret plot to take over America, noting Barrett would make the sixth Catholic justice out of a total of nine judges (the remaining three judges including two Jews and an Episcopalian raised as a Catholic)? Was it time to pack up my belongings and flee the city for my rural bunker (I would have left earlier because of the coronavirus, but was assured by my sources it wasn’t a real disease but a ploy by Bill Gates to introduce mandatory vaccinations)?

As politicians were continuing to complain, “We have a right to know more about Barrett”, were my brethren going to wonder about Justice Barrett’s stance on the important question of cheese and flesh foods, the nadir of Adventist doctrine? Were my conspiracist-Adventist friends going to warn the world about these very important issues in that uniquely Adventist way, which is to say, through some unsolicited mass mail-out, or alternatively (because the post can no longer be trusted) through some ridiculously giant billboard?

Instead I got…nothing. Not a peep. Not a whip. Not a pop. Not a blip. Nothing. Nothing about Justice Barrett’s appointment at all! My Conspiracy-Adventist friends were totally silent.

I began to panic. Had Facebook, Twitter and Google intervened to censor my brethren from warning the world about Amy Barrett’s dangerous nomination, just as they had buried the Hunter Biden story?

Then it dawned on me… it wasn’t social media. Arguably, the enthronement of the most powerful Catholic in modern times, and my conspiracist-Adventist friends were being silent – deliberately so!

Finally, a minority of my brethren had the bravery to speak. Thank heaven, a true remnant were willing to warn about the Roman Catholic takeover of the judiciary! But then I read what they had to say, and I confess it greatly disturbed me:

“It is beyond clear that Barrett is superbly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, both academically and by judicial temperament, but the question most Seventh-day Adventists will be concerned about is: Will she protect religious liberty? Barrett has been on the appellate bench for only three years and she does not have an extensive record of opinions, but I think she will be fine on religious liberty questions, for several reasons… Barrett is Roman Catholic, the largest denomination, but she is also part of a small group called “People of Praise,” founded in 1971 by two charismatic Catholics… Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that her own experience as a religious believer, and a member of a small, unpopular sect, will not be a factor in cases involving freedom of religion.”

Say what? Weren’t Catholic leaders part of a plot to introduce Sunday law and deprive us Adventists of our religious liberty? Growing up within the SDA Church, this is what I had been told virtually my entire life. Surely, wouldn’t a Charismatic Catholic, who was also a Pentecostal that spoke in tongues, and who actively promoted Ecumenicalism, kind of be the living embodiment of fears by traditional, conservative and historic Adventism?

Turns out none of those traditional, conservative and historic Adventist concerns seem to apply anymore, because something had changed. That something was the fact Justice Barrett had been nominated by President Donald Trump. Which changed everything – apparently.

Incidentally, while this was all going on, I just happened to read Pope Francis supported civil unions for same-sex couples. Luckily, this of course was proof the end times, which were off again, were back on again. In fact, the very same independent Adventist-affiliated site, which not a few days before had just praised Justice Barrett’s appointment, would return to well-trodden ground of anti-Catholicism:

“This Pope is regarded by many as antichrist in his beliefs and actions. You cannot reject the words of Christ in the Bible and say you are speaking for Christ at the same time… Pray for many honest-hearted Catholics who will ‘Come out of her” (Revelation 18:4).’

Perplexed by this realignment in Adventist thinking, I had to ask a friend who uniquely loves President Trump but sensibly denies most conspiracy theories. I asked him: “Presuming Donald Trump was God’s own anointed (people often say a modern-day Cyrus the Great), and if President Trump had appointed Amy Barrett, and if Justice Barrett was a hard-core Charismatic Catholic tongue-speaking devotee of Pentecostalism and Ecumenicalism, then did that mean not all Charismatic Catholic tongue-speaking devotees of Pentecostalism and Ecumenicalism were bad?” And further: “Can we even appreciate the irony that whether you love or hate him, President Trump has appointed a Roman Catholic to help secure his legacy, while his presidential opponent – Joe Biden – is the actual Catholic on the ticket?”

My friend affirmed my suspicions. President Trump’s nomination had indeed changed everything. Not all hard-core Catholics are evil or trying to bring in Sunday law. Some are now even our friends, set up to protect us from the nefarious plots of other Catholics.

Adventist-Catholic relations may never be the same again. In my respectful view, that, at least, is a very good thing.

Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church. 

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