Retired Seventh-day Adventist neurosurgeon-turned-presidential-candidate, Dr. Benjamin Carson, has proven a polarizing figure among Adventists. While some in the denomination laud his candidacy and his remarkable personal biography that propelled him to fame, others feel his deeply partisan rhetoric since turning to politics negates his legacy as a physician.
On May 4, the day Carson officially announced his candidacy as a Republican hopeful, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists issued a statement asking Church members not to engage in politicking under the auspices of the denomination on behalf of the first ever Adventist presidential candidate:
The Adventist Church has a longstanding position of not supporting or opposing any candidate for elected office. This position is based both on our historical position of separation of church and state and the applicable federal law relating to the church’s tax-exempt status.
The statement, issued on the Adventist Review's website, sought to remind members and leaders at all levels that the Adventist Church has long advocated for a clear separation of church and state, and seeks to defend the religious liberties of people of all faiths. The statement went on,
While individual church members are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, it is crucial that the church as an institution remain neutral on all candidates for office.
For Linda Rosenquist, a Southern California resident, Ben Carson's candidacy was not only worthy of her support, but also of her involvement. Rosenquist volunteered in 2014 for the "Run Ben Run Draft Ben Carson for President Campaign." She connected with a group of activists and supporters who hoped to encourage Carson to run, and to raise money and awareness for his campaign. Rosenquist's enthusiasm for Ben Carson is representative of many Adventists' sentiments:
"He came up from nothing in Detroit and became world-class neurosurgeon. He’s just such an amazing person," Rosenquist said, speaking by phone from her home near Loma Linda.
Rosenquist said that she has followed Carson's career since the 80s or 90s, amazed by his story of overcoming and serving. She admits that in many people's estimation, Carson is a long shot. "In my heart of hearts, I don’t think he has a chance," she said. Then quickly added, "There are a lot of people who aren’t even Adventist praying about this," she said. She is convinced that "if this is the time in history God is leading someone to change the world, then he has a chance."
Rosenquist says she is a registered Republican, and plans to vote for Carson in the California primary election.
Not everyone in the Adventist community shares Rosenquist's enthusiasm. A Facebook group called "Adventists say NO to Benjamin Carson for President" launched in May, 2013, when it became apparent Carson had presidential aspirations. The group has attracted a small but strident following. In response to an article from MSNBC, "Ben Carson: I don't think many people discriminate," posted on the page, Donna Engbertson commented, "He is just soooo embarrassing! I don't want anyone to know that I am of the same denomination he is."
Many Adventists feel that Carson's turn from his celebrated medical career to partisan politics made him a less admirable figure. Among them is Michael T. Nixon. Writing on his blog in a post entitled "Gifted Hands?," Nixon wrote,
I did not have to overcome what he overcame. I have not come close to accomplishing half of what he has accomplished. That being said I can promise you this: I will never forget where I came from. I will never demonize the people who may be struggling currently with what I overcame previously. The same hands that God gifted with the ability to save and transform lives medically are now being used to point down in judgment at the people Dr. Carson was gifted to inspire and save.
Nixon expressed dismay at Carson's apparent turning against the very programs that helped Carson rise out of poverty to be able to become a physician in the first place. Nixon wrote,
Ironically, if he would have followed the advice of the two verses from Proverbs that he read to begin his now infamous comments at that 2013 prayer breakfast, things might be going better for him:
“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” -Proverbs 11:12 (ESV)
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” -Proverbs 11:25 (ESV)
Naomi Johnson, a columnist for The Daily Northwestern, recently wrote in an article entitled "Dr. Ben Carson needs to follow his own advice,"
As a Seventh-day Adventist myself, I grew up going to church every Saturday for most of my life, and it was at church, and through my mom, that I learned about Carson’s inspiring life story.
[ . . . ]
Fast forward 12 years to today, and the only word that I can use to describe my reaction to Carson’s announcement is apprehension. What troubles me is the rhetoric with which he addresses some of the most important issues in America today.
It is disappointing that this inspiring man is also capable of abrasive rhetoric that suggests a tendency toward political polarization. He has grouped “gays” together with those who commit bestiality, accused President Obama of being a “psychopath” and stated that Obamacare is the “worst thing since slavery.”
Love him or hate him, Dr. Carson has changed the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as the denomination's first aspirant for the highest office in the land, and his bid for the White House promises to hold interest for Adventists of all political persuasions, if for very different reasons.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.