The Seventh-day Adventist Church has come to express its assessments of different social issues, including political questions, through official statements, as often from the General Conference as from some of the church divisions or unions.
If there is a theme that Spaniards, and much of humanity, worries about today, it is the serious economic crisis that we are suffering in many countries across the world. Given the huge ethical, and therefore, spiritual, implications, it would be interesting if the church, at one of the aforementioned administrative levels, had made an official statement about it. Along these lines, Spanish Evangelicals have published various documents in recent months that may serve as inspiration for us.
In June 2012, Protestante Digital reported on the document “Ante el rescate del sistema financiero español” (“Before the rescue of the Spanish financial system”), distributed by the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). This evangelical publication emphasized how “for many years now, the Spanish Evangelistic Alliance has dismissed this idea that Christian ethics are surrounded with questions about sexual ethics, or at most a certain sense of social work. Through its group that participates in public life, it has written reports and statements about different ethical, political and social justice issues from a biblical perspective or worldview.” The document demands transparency from the Spanish government in regard to the possible financial rescue that Spain faces: “The leaders exercise their role by delegation, and therefore, have a moral and political obligation to provide detailed explanations for citizens, honestly informing them; it is not an option nor a gesture; it is an obligation.” Emphasizing the Protestant roots of the systems of equilibrium and control by the state powers, the document states that “we should not simply bring bailout money from Europe without also bringing the best habits of the countries with the oldest democratic traditions, those of the Protestant culture; in the present case, we should import the habit of detailed and frequent accountability.”
This document, which was luckily reported by the Spanish Adventist Union’s news service, joined a long list of AEE official communications about sociopolitical issues. Among them I will highlight the most recent one, about the Eurovegas construction project in Madrid(see ANN), a Las Vegas-like project promoted by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest men in the world and according to The New York Times, “the single biggest political contributor in history during the 2012 [US] elections.” In this project, the evangelical leaders note that “installing a complex whose focus is gambling, based on the number of job openings that it would create and on the money that would change hands because of it, is a short-term vision, which would produce more negative consequences than benefits.” Later, they add (bold text mine), “Before accepting income from this type of business (which is little for most of us, given that the money comes with the assumption that the business is a financial paradise for those who benefit from it, for a minimum of 10 years), one must consider the costs.” Continuing, they point out the expenses for public security, the degradation of the natural environment and especially, the costs in terms of public health and families affected by addictions to gambling, alcohol and/or drugs. “In fact, the only ones that gain actual income from this business are its owners; we are left with the expenses.” They respond to the argument that there will be significant benefit in the form of job openings, reminding us, “The ‘businesses’ that produce the most money and ‘employment’ in the entire world are human trafficking, the traffic and sale of narcotics, and the arms trade.” “There are red lines that we don’t want to cross, even though they might result in money and ‘employment,’ because we value a culture of values, since it supports society and, in the medium and long term, yields a better result.”
In agreement with these brothers, “Another danger no less serious is that the country would be put on its knees before large foreign corporations. If we proceed to change laws or to create legal loopholes because of pressure from large multinational companies, which are permitted to make exceptions to the rules that apply to everyone, we actually lose sovereignty, and we give it to the multinational corporations.”
The announcement concludes with a most interesting general consideration: “Crisis situations reveal what we are based upon, bringing out the best and the worst of being human. We need people, and therefore, leaders, with sound judgment, whom we can trust. When they stop guiding us, mainly, with such short-term solutions, we realize that pragmatism without principles is rising and that ethics, truth and the common good are being sold at a low price.”
It would be sad if the Adventist Church, which has always exposed the dangers of gambling (which include almost every type of game, and as should be recognized, sometimes to the extremes of Puritan excess), we do not take the time to make a public statement about this project of gambling addictions, drugs and prostitution that threatens Madrid. Social collectives, which we might imagine have a lower ethical awareness, are already doing so, in campaigns such as Plataforma Eurovegas No. We should remember that one of the laws that the government hopes to amend is the law that prohibits smoking in public spaces. Nicotine poisoning is one of the main themes of our social awareness activities. Aren’t we capable of making a statement about this issue?
For its part, in May 2012 the Spanish Evangelical Church distributed a press release about the crisis, denouncing the political decisions that imply “an uncritical obedience to a European policy based on criteria dictated by the most conservative economic thought and the financial powers that are undermining the European social model.” They believe that “we find ourselves before a crisis provoked by the social neoliberal model that is derived from a savage capitalism, which no one is putting a stop to,” and they paraphrase the words of Jesus: “A man cannot serve two masters; he cannot serve his neighbor (the image of God in the world) and the markets.”
In December 2011, the European Evangelical Alliance published a document written by Pablo Martínez Vila, “Ethics for the Christian in public life” (“Una ética para el cristiano en la vida pública”). In an interview with Protestante Digital, the author points out the error of “believing that evangelism’s social and political implications are not our problem, that as Christians we should be concerned with the fundamentals of saving souls (on which we agree), but it is evident that the Gospel has some clear social consequences.” Having said that, “The world’s ambition is the ambition to power, while the believer’s ambition is the ambition to serve.” “In the past we have thought that being meek signifies being mute, but no, being meek means speaking with grace, with the appropriate amount of salt.”
Among those who recommend this document is the general secretary of the Czech Evangelical Alliance, Jiri Unger, who explains that “the European Evangelical Alliance bases its sociopolitical focus on the belief that we can be radical and faithful to the scriptures as a whole without being extremist, superficial or liberal, and at the same time participatein the inevitable confrontations in a relationship-based and respectful way.” The document has had certain social and political repercussions in Spain.
It is sad to realize how the Adventist Church, which from its beginnings has put so much emphasis on social themes like health and nutrition, education, civic values, religious liberty and ethical integrity, seems to be inclined to remain in a denominational bubble, in a “ghetto”, from which it is difficult to be socially relevant. In this way, we realize how others occasionally gain an advantage over us, openly giving a message that as Adventists we can offer the world; a message that must be accompanied by a true and material commitment toward the needy. Before a society that grows more disoriented and tense, before daily tragedies like evictions and rampant misery, should we limit ourselves to say, like others, that we pray for God to help the needy? As our brother Keith Burton asks, “Must we remain silent?”
The only recent official statement that we can confirm comes from the president of the Spanish Union, regarding the end of violence by the ETA in October 2011. I am sure that it had the best intentions, but is this matter so important that it merits being emphasized above other issues?
Now that the Spanish Union has proposed “to encourage our societal relevance” as one of its five objectives for the quinquennium, it is worth the effort to consider developing documents for public distribution, solidly based in the Word of God and its principles, which avoid any partisanship and politicking, but still don’t consider it taboo to deal with matters in the social realm. Our official position isn’t an issue of opinion, but rather a part of our testimony, and therefore our mission, and a way to offer the world the evangelical alternative of peace, justice, respect, equality, and encouraging a better society. There is a lack of statements that are well documented, accurately developed and clear in their principles, written in consultation with experts that can advise on key issues. And, given that the communication technologies of today have for some years permitted us to have an unimaginable collective interaction, why aren’t we generating a storm of ideas and discussions prior to the development of these documents, so that the group of brothers can participate by providing their support?
Editor’s note: This article was translated by Midori Yoshimura. The original article in Spanish was published on Spectrum, on Feb. 21, 2013.