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Our Special K

While surfing instead of studying – on my lazy Sunday afternoon – I saw a clip of Road to Wellville (1994) over at Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog and was reminded of what Dr. John Harvey Kellogg means to Seventh-day Adventists.

Born in Michigan in 1852, Dr. Kellogg came of age along with the Seventh-day Adventist flock. He was our first international star – part Dr. Leonard L. Bailey, part Danny Shelton.

Beyond the individual, like what Kellogg embodied, our institutional makeup is a mix of deep dedication to spiritual, mental, and physical well-being; concentrations of Adventism like Loma Linda University Medical Center and Andrews University (ol’ Battle Creek College) can both be traced back to the sanitarium he dominated.

As Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart write in Seeking a Sanctuary (2007) “Kellogg’s Adventism revolved around an almost fanatical devotion to health reform.” This evangelistic hope in physical culture springs among us: Weimar Institute, that eternal font of hydrotherapy now restarted as Amazing Fact’s College of Evangelism and Dr. Hans Diehl’s CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project) programs sweeping through churches around North America.

Like many an Adventist, Kellogg was a writer. In fact, consumers of the world wide web of blogs would find a kindred spirit in his penchant for stringing together quotes from other people to support his strong opinion. On that note, gentle reader, have you read Plain Facts for Old and Young (1881)? One of my favorite passages:

If a child is begotten in lust, its lower passions will as certainly be abnormally developed as peas will produce peas, or potatoes produce potatoes. If the child does not become a rake or a prostitute, it will be because of uncommonly fortunate surroundings, or a miracle of divine grace. But even then, what terrible struggles with sin and vice, with foul thoughts and lewd imaginations–the product of a naturally abnormal mind–must such an individual suffer!

Well, that explains a lot.

Dr. Kellogg’s obsession with sex (he preached abstinence), while rarely echoed today – beyond Adventist college dorm policies – can still be heard in many a sermon in which “sexual temptation” and “masturbation” could be substituted each time the preacher says “sin.” Even his break with General Conference President A. G. Daniels and Ellen White over theological ideas has been repeated thousands of times, notably around Desmond Ford, as individuals struggle to thread new ideas between church administration and the power of testimony with a capital “T”. He, like many others, slid more forward.

Although they reject the new “pantheistic” theology that caused the trouble, the entrepreneurial brio of independent Adventist ministry leaders often mimics the inventive doctor. A walk through any Adventist Services and Layman’s Industries (ASI) convention or exhibits at General Conference sessions show that free associative salesman spirit reincarnated in thousands of hawkers of remedies, gizmos, and healthy foods.

But even beyond the zany, but sometimes brilliant emphasis on the physical – he did live to almost 92 – Kellogg’s social goals continue to live on as well. As Bull and Lockhart note, “In 1897 he declared, much to the consternation of the Adventist leaders, that the work of the sanitarium was ‘of an undenominational, unsectarian, humanitarian and philanthropic nature'” (303).

About 110 years later when Dr. Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, became president of Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center, the subtitle for the Adventist News Network story identified him as an “academician, humanitarian” and continued:

Hart is largely responsible for launching many of Loma Linda’s humanitarian efforts around the world. He has consulted for the World Health Organization in Zimbabwe and Nigeria and served as a maternal and child health advisor to the Tanzanian government. He is also founder and president of Social Action Community Health System, a low-cost primary health care network serving Southern California.

That probably had Dr. John Harvey Kellogg doing jumping jacks in his grave.

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