Do you feel more comfortable with people who share your faith, but not your politics, or do you feel more comfortable with people who share your politics, but not your faith? In 2016, after Dr. Ben Carson’s announcement that he would seek the Republican Party Nomination for U.S. president, a number of studies produced some insightful statistics on Adventists and politics in North America.
In a study released June 11, 2017, researchers from Yale and Harvard concluded that Seventh-day Adventist clergy in the United States are the most evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to politics. As far as the membership of the denomination goes, 35% of Seventh-day Adventists identify with or lean toward the Republican party, while 45% lean toward the Democratic. Nineteen percent identify as political independents or do not lean toward either party.
How has this divide along party lines affected our churches? Well, apparently not significantly. Unlike many Protestant denominations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has managed to stay together. One possible reason may be explained by a retired Adventist pastor who reflects on how he, as a minister for the denomination, engaged with politics. “I had been taught as a young pastor that politics was one thing I could never have a public opinion about. It’s a minefield. Don’t tear your congregation apart over mere politics. It doesn’t matter very much compared to our end-time message, they said, which is far more important than than anything happening in the political world.”
In 2016, the North American Division, in response to Dr. Ben Carson’s announcement that he would seek the Republican Party Nomination for U.S. president, released the following: “The Adventist Church has a longstanding position of not supporting or opposing any candidate for elected office.”
Fearing that Adventists would move towards the idea that the kingdom of God could be hastened by “the gateway of politics,” F.D. Nichol, long-time editor of the Adventist Review, wrote in 1935 that however laudable such goals as slum eradication and world peace were, Adventists “do not belong to that large group of religionists who think of moral betterment chiefly in terms of legislation that can be enacted.”
As good as this passive approach to politics sounds for maintaining unity in the church, in regards to segregationist policies, Seventh-day Adventists in North America closely followed national trends in the early twentieth century. The church’s policy on church and state made Adventists of all races reluctant to speak out on racial injustice. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America failed, as a diverse community of faith, to model the social ideals of peace and justice.
Perhaps there is wisdom in not dividing our congregations over political questions, but in an age of COVID-19, racial tensions and social media, our churches are having difficulty avoiding divisions along political party lines. Should the church be a safe place for honest dialogue about topics that are occupying the minds of the world around us? Should not Jesus’ followers do all they can, with the resources provided them, to relieve the sufferings of people? Does the Bible provide a framework with which to evaluate the issues of our time?
I believe the answer to these questions is YES.
Please join me as we explore the topic of Christians and Politics at Chapel Oaks during the month of September. If you missed our first installment last week, click here.