I have written about the things I liked about Adventism. One might wonder, Whatever inspired you to leave? You seem to have so many good things to say about the church, why would you quit it? It wasn't easy. There are two reasons for that. First, to leave is to be an apostate. Both my wife and I had been employees of the denomination. I had served as elder in three different congregations. Although not an ordained SDA minister, I had preached a considerable amount. In short, we worried about hurting friends. Second, we had to plan our leaving when we made a move to a different state. Like all fundamentalists, SDA's can't take no for an answer. They would never have left us alone.
In my last posting (1/4), I listed my 7 favorite things about the SDA Church. In keeping with that pattern, I will list the 7 aspects of Adventism I like(d) the least below.
- They are fundamentalists-- Maybe not in the same sense as say, Southern Baptists, but they still are. The basis of fundamentalism is absolute truth claims. Not all Adventists claim that they are in the realm of the absolute. Still, I can't count how many times I heard statements such as "we have all the truth," or "we have the final truth." A court from which there is no appeal.
- Religious bigotry-- Although SDA's claim that they don't believe they are the only ones who are saved, they believe that being a "Sunday keeper" is having, or being precariously close to having, the "mark of beast."
- Strange literalism-- On one hand, you might say that Adventists don't take the Book of Revelation literally. In other ways, their "symbolic literalism" is as strange as any Left Behind book, with Satan faking Christ's second coming by coming to earth in a flying saucer, the US government enforcing Sunday worship, etc.
- Legalism-- Although SDA's talk a good "saved by grace," there is a pretty heavy works trip going on.
- Wedding rings-- Once, after I started teaching college, Irene was still teaching for the church. We had come from a fairly progressive conference to a more traditional one. They (the leadership in our new conference) told her to quit wearing her wedding ring. When she balked at that, they forced her to do so. I took this as a sign of a leadership that was stuck on silly little rules and in a ...
- Power trip-- Leaders are often quite power hungry and seem to be concerned with many things other than just spiritual concerns. For example, SDA's give a lot of money, which is laudable. However, it must be mentioned that they are always being "beaten over the head" to give yet more.
- Dead worship-- It seems that with some folks in the SDA Church, it is a religious principle that God wants churches to be dead. Whenever some "life" comes into the church or the worship, it is quickly stifled.
So, if you have read the three posts concerning Adventism, what do I really think of it all? The SDA Church came along at a point in my life some years after I had abandoned fundamentalism. I was seeking community. It provided that. It provided a place, for a while, where I was nurtured as in the old days. But, a point came that I was going to have to leave or buy into the fundamentalist approach. I have many friends in the SDA Church still trying to "hang in there" in the face of a fundamentalist theology and an authoritarian regime. I just couldn't.
James Alexander is an education professor at a small liberal arts college. He is also a minister.
To read the story of his abandonment of fundamentalism and why he finds it intellectually and morally bankrupt, visit his book web site: www.therecoveringfundamentalist.com.