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Report on the Seventh-day Adventist Identity Survey

Sensing that the big questions in the church are really questions about what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist, my graduate school friends and I set out to find out how other Seventh-day Adventists defined themselves. We authored an online survey and released it to the world. The Spectrum community soon became involved when a link to the survey was published on the Spectrum Blog. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared with us their feedback.
We are happy to finally announce our results. I hope you will take some time to browse our full report and share your thoughts in the comments. Unfortunately there is more information there than I can conveniently include in this space. Instead I will tell you some things about the data and about what I found interesting.
We received 511 responses in two different stages. For stage one, a link to the survey was sent out on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the authors. The link to the survey began to get passed around on these social networks and through email. This stage took in 151 responses which were very young and very educated. For stage two, a link was published on the Spectrum Blog. This stage took in 360 responses which were older, more international, and also very educated. One of the limitations of this survey, of course, is that there was no attempt to sample randomly from the global church population. You can compare and contrast the responses of these two groups in the full report.
For me, the single most important question is this one:
9. Which phrase best completes the following sentence? The 28 Fundamental Beliefs are…

  • Prescriptive rather than descriptive. They prescribe what Seventh-day Adventists should believe.
  • Descriptive rather than prescriptive. They describe what most Seventh-day Adventists do believe.
  • Neither of the above statements are accurate.
  • Both statements are equally accurate.
  • I don’t know.

I expected the results to justify my own strongly held opinion about this issue by revealing that my fellow church members overwhelmingly agree with my point of view. If we take the reasonable step of comparing the number of “descriptive” responses to the sum of the “prescriptive” and “both” responses (since “both” and “prescriptive” logically imply each other) then we see that opinion is split on this issue indicating that it is currently a live issue within the church. In any case, I certainly failed to receive the validation I expected.
Another surprise for me is the apparent overwhelming support for gender equality in the church despite headlines in Adventist media of division over this issue. One should be careful to note that there is no question explicitly asking about women’s ordination. I am at a loss as to how to explain these lopsided numbers in the face of such heated debate even among North Americans over the church’s policies limiting the opportunities of women in the church. (A more focused survey specifically about women’s ordination is being conducted by the Council for Family Research.)
It is interesting to see that some lifestyle issues are still very much a part of Seventh-day Adventist identity while others no longer seem important, according to respondents. Among the lifestyles issues presented, only wearing jewelry and drinking coffee saw significantly divided responses, and even then only among stage one respondents. The unimportant issues are theater attendance, vegetarianism, wearing makeup, and dancing. Still important are not working on the Sabbath, regular church attendance, paying tithe, and abstaining from alcohol.
This survey is in no way scientific. Even so, my hope is that it helps us appreciate more fully the diversity of opinion within our church and keeps us from the trap of thinking that we speak for all Seventh-day Adventists. It is all too easy to believe that a Seventh-day Adventist should be defined as someone who thinks like I do. Also common is the claim that what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist is obvious. May this survey be a source of humility for us as we grapple with challenging questions about the future direction of our denomination.
Robert Jacobson is a Ph.D. student in mathematics at Texas A&M University. He graduated from Southern Adventist University in 2004.
Alexander here: Read, no really you should read the whole report here. It provides a very interesting glimpse into our church, as well as the beliefs of the Spectrum community beyond what we read in the comments. Great graphs too. What do you find interesting as you examine the data?

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