With Ben Carson’s surge in the Republican race for the White House, the world is suddenly fascinated by Seventh-day Adventists.
A small, American-born sect of Christianity that arose in New England in the early 1800s, my former church teaches that the United States will play a key role in the earth’s final events, with its government destined to conspire with the Catholic church and other apostates to bring about the demise of the planet and the return of Jesus to set up God’s eternal kingdom here.
I am deeply concerned that allowing these religious views to lead the nation would amplify rather than ameliorate the crisis faced by our socially and economically unjust country and our ecologically fragile world.
By Carson’s own admission, he believes in much of the church’s dogma – theGenesis account of creation, for example, rather than the scientific account of human evolution. He has said that Darwin developed the theory of evolution under the influence of Satan. He doesn’t believe the scientific consensus on climate change and he apparently thinks the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain as part of the biblical story of Joseph saving Egypt from a 14-year famine. And like much of his party, Carson apparently sees this rejection of the scientific consensus as central to his platform.
All of this is troubling. Of course, Ben Carson’s religion is his own private business. We should not require a test of faith or non-faith for elected officials. He can believe whatever he wants – in private.
Because of their minority position as observers of the Jewish Sabbath, the Adventist church has, from its beginnings, staunchly defended the wall of separation between religion and state. Though this wall has at times shown cracks, such as in 2008 when the church’s west coast religious liberty organization endorsed Proposition 8, the principle of religious freedom is central to Carson’s religious tradition. The church also has a history of pacifism and conscientious objection to war.
But as with any religious group, the Adventist church has changed drastically in the past 150 years. Its theology has grown with the times and changed to meet new challenges. There is also no monolithic Seventh-day Adventism. There are strong fundamentalists who think that no one beside Adventists are safe from the judgment. There are moderates who appear as evangelicals, concerned more for conservative values, church growth and institutional survival than hewing to 19th-century social codes and fringe end-of-the-world predictions. There is also a small group of progressives, many of whom believe in a scientific account of human evolution, inclusion of LGBT individuals in the church and inter-religious dialogue.
But nothing is more important in order to fulfill their calling as God’s remnant (read: chosen) people than warning the world of impending judgment and the soon return of Jesus. Would Carson be guided by his church’s historic support for freedom of and from religion, or would he follow the evangelistic side of the church and see his role as fulfillment of Bible prophecy? I have little doubt that the apocalyptic vision he inherited from his indoctrination as an Adventist and his view that the Bible is a higher source of truth than science and human reason are deeply ingrained in him and will not change.
Though his rise from childhood poverty and urban violence to his place in medical history is the stuff of legend – through a combination of hard work, a loving mother who refused to give up and, according to Carson, God’s providence, he overcame his past – I do not think it is in our country or the world’s best interest for Ben Carson to be president. It is difficult to separate Carson’s religion from his politics because the two are so intertwined, as they are with all fundamentalists.
And this is precisely the problem. His metaphysical views prevent him from dealing seriously with the world at it is – the only world we elect a president to serve.