November 5, 2015: Because one of the top candidates for President of the United States is an Adventist physician and another candidate is a celebrity billionaire who questioned the doctor’s faith, opportunities to share their faith are opening up for many others. Dr. Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon, and the well-known land developer and “reality TV” star Donald Trump are the top two candidates at the moment for the nomination of the Republican Party. Trump told reporters that he is a Presbyterian and noted that Carson is an Adventist, then said, “I don’t know about them.”
Many voices in American media have jumped in to help Trump’s ignorance. One is an Adventist who works as a journalist and has for three decades at some of the top newspapers in America. The other is the senior pastor of the church on the campus of the denomination’s Walla Walla University in Washington State. Newspapers are also interviewing Adventist spokespersons in many other communities.
Mark A. Kellner is not an official spokesperson for the denomination. He just happens to be perhaps the most prominent journalist in America who belongs to the faith. He did a column for USA Today last week in which he noted that that Trump’s comment may be an attempt to manipulate conservative Christian voters who actually have less in common with Trump’s professed Presbyterian religion than Carson’s Adventist faith.
He profiled the faith as “a Christian movement organized 152 years ago [that] has already touched the lives of multiple millions, even if they don’t realize it.” Most Americans have cereal for breakfast, which Kellner pointed out was invented by an Adventist. He did not mention that in Australia the denomination still owns the largest producer of breakfast cereal, Sanitarium Foods.
“Do you know an infant who received a heart transplant?” It is possible because of the pioneering work of Dr. Leonard Bailey and others at the denomination’s health sciences university in Loma Linda, California. Proton therapy for prostate cancer is another Loma Linda University development and it saves the lives of large numbers of men.
“The Adventist lifestyle, which encourages abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and meat is credited with extending the lifespan. On average, studies including the famous ‘Blue Zone’ project reveal, Seventh-day Adventists who follow the guidelines live seven years longer than the general population,” Kellner wrote.
Kellner went into more detail about the Sabbath, the second coming and doctrines. He stated that he joined the denomination in 1999 in Los Angeles. He is a national reporter for Deseret News, the daily paper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor and was editor of PC Portables magazine, as well as a staff writer for a number of trade journals in Washington, DC. For seven years Kellner worked for the denomination at the Adventist News Network and then as news editor of the Adventist Review. He has published three books, including the widely read God on the Internet about how religion is communicated and discussed on the Web.
Pastor Takes the Moment
At least one Adventist pastor immediately saw the opportunity and contacted his local paper, which ended up publishing a big article on page 3 headlined, “An SDA pastor’s open letter to Donald Trump.” It appeared Sunday in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Pastor Alex Bryan, senior pastor at the large University Church on the campus of Walla Walla University, an Adventist institution, wrote to Trump, “since you seem sincerely curious about my religion I would like to offer a brief sketch.” And in a genuine, although perhaps hopeless attempt at really connecting, ended by offering his Email address and to travel anywhere to talk to Trump. Of course the subtle message here is for all the onlookers. Bryan would be happy to have a conversation with any of the 31,825 residents of his town or any other bystander overhearing the dialog.
Bryan began by touching on the common humanity of Adventists and everyone else in the world. “We Adventists are thoroughly human. … What we have in common with the whole of the human family far outweighs our differences: we love, we laugh, we work, we dream, we do good and sometimes we don’t.”
Adventists constitute “a Christian denomination. We are Christians. Presbyterians (your tribe) and Adventists share about 98 percent the same beliefs and values. What we have in common,” Bryan wrote, “far outstrips our differences.”
“We believe in the Deity described by Jesus Christ, a God who created the world, a God who is deeply involved in the affairs of our globe, a God who sets the highest possible moral standard for how we earthlings should live, and particularly how we should speak and act toward one another.”
“Adventists have a long tradition of investing in such love,” Bryan stated, “in meaningful humanitarian concern. We have built one of the largest and most respected health-care systems in the world. … We have built the largest Protestant educational system in the world [and] one of the most successful global relief agencies.”
All of this activity, Bryan points out, simply means “we wish to care for those who are sick … we wish to provide a quality education for the world’s children … we wish to bring hope and healing amid chaos and tragedy. … to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to love the world as He did (John 3:16).”
Bryan went on to point out that the key parts of the denomination’s name highlight two beliefs that are most cherished and different from many other Christians: the Sabbath and the second coming of Jesus. The Advent is about “the end of suffering and death, a dawn of immeasurable joy and limitless life,” he culminated the concise message. And then he verbally stuck his hand out to shake Trump’s hand with the offering to travel so they could talk personally and with his Email address.
An observer pointed out to Adventist Today: “These guys demonstrated something a lot of Adventists need to learn: You don’t have to go into a lot of boring detail that is over the heads of the average person or get all preachy to share the message.” Perhaps that is the reason that these things are happening as much as to make the Adventist faith more widely known.