Is a story ever too good not to be true? Seventh-day Adventists pride themselves on believing the truth. However, good beliefs require support. In some far-quarters of conservative Adventism, the anecdotes used to build up faith are so faith-affirming that it’s almost heartless to ask too many questions. But perhaps the real harm lies in not probing these popular mysteries carefully.
In January of 2022, the Village Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, held a Religious Liberty Weekend event that pitted church against the state of public health science and focused mostly on questioning the science around COVID vaccines.
A few months earlier, the Village Church also hosted a weekend focused on changing LGBTQ+ lives by Know His Love Ministries.* On night four, co-founder of the organization Michael Carducci introduced speaker Stephen Lewis by sharing how Carducci had been personally saved by Lewis’s “gritty gospel” during an evangelistic series. Listed as the pastor of the Glenville Present Truth Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lewis is also a televangelist and has an independent media ministry called The Present Truth. His website states about himself:
Because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Lewis is fulfilling the prophetic word found in Malachi 4:5: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD."
After Carducci’s endorsement, Lewis talked about growing up in Southern California with Michael Jackson and stated that he was his only friend. He adds, “Michael Jackson was the best, most famous musician this church has ever known and was playing for the mayor of Los Angeles at 3 years old. And Little Richard messed with him.” Lewis stated that Michael Jackson called Lewis to do his funeral, which was conducted in front of 100 other pastors who must have wondered why Lewis was chosen. According to Lewis’s telling, at Michael Jackson’s funeral, Lewis made an appeal and his own mother accepted the message and then died that very night.
This is an amazing story. And I can't even find Lewis’s name mentioned in relation to the Jackson family or the funeral. After a month of pushing the question around, Lewis—I think—finally replied (the email was written in the third person and unsigned) that he had been speaking of a different Michael Jackson. He has not replied with more information. The Village Church senior pastor, Ron Kelly, has not replied to three attempts for comment.
As a newspaper columnist, something similar happened when I prepared to write about Sabbath-keeping bees, a theory promoted by 3ABN, Dr. Sang Lee, and denominational publications. In a 1989 editorial for Ministry magazine, J. R. Spangler wrote, “I witnessed Lee's impressive grasp of the totality of man's being while I attended the NEWSTART program at the Weimar Institute, Weimar, California.” He adds, “His portrayal of the chemical links between the brain and the immune system changed the direction of my thinking, living, and preaching.” An article on Sabbath-keeping bees summarizes Lee’s belief:
On the basis of his studies and observations he was inspired to believe that when in the beginning God created a perfect world, Adam and Eve as well as all the animals, He gave them something he called a Sabbath rest instinct. It means that not only Adam and Eve but also all animals instinctively, or naturally, rested.”
I heard this story at camp meetings and on 3ABN (where I purchased a video about the bees). When I reached out to 3ABN, they refused to do any investigation as to the credibility of the story. They simply referred me to Lee, who has reportedly left Adventism. He has not replied to attempts to contact him via phone, regular mail, and email.
I was still researching the bee question when a well-known evangelist came to town and told a fantastic story of wolves that would not attack newborn caribou calves. This phenomenon, he said, was first reported to him by a biologist and long ago was featured in National Geographic magazine. He and others had observed and photographed about 300 wolves watching as calves were born. The wolves would not cross an invisible line set by God from ancient times, he said, and this was the greatest evidence for the existence of a real God that he had ever seen. All this was revealed to an audience that included non-Adventist pastors.
The evangelist suddenly became almost impossible to contact. This man was a personal friend and my quest for truth became difficult. Long story short (or at least shorter) there were no photos and the people who had been with him, denied his story. I’ve found no National Geographic confirmation. The actual biologist, who worked with the actual caribou herd, told me that wolves tended not to be in the area and had their dens elsewhere. He also said that he was aware of no wolf that would forego a feeding opportunity.
The evangelist said that if I could not find evidence for his claims, I should just drop the story. This man had been willing for me to believe an untruth and would have left me holding the bag—if I had written the story in my column. I became angry (I think it was strong, righteous indignation). He apologized and asked for my forgiveness. I painfully told my friend that it was not my forgiveness that was needed. I told him that he needed to get on his knees and ask God in heaven for forgiveness.
Then there is Ron Wyatt who, with a witching rod, found Noah’s ark—a great archeological discovery. Adventists and non-Adventists are still circulating his claims although they have been debunked as a scam.
In another example, I was in the audience when a conference evangelist publicly stated that because of his special connections, he had been taken to off-limits places in the Vatican, where he had been privileged to see the special tiara with its elusive 666 connection. When I told him that my pastor son who was studying at Andrew’s University would be very interested, as would the theology department—you guessed it—suddenly the evangelist stopped responding.
And in another instance from the animal kingdom, for years now, the story of Sabbath-keeping beavers has circulated on Adventist media—independent and official. Larren Cole, a graduate of Loma Linda University, has appeared on many shows and created his own Desire Media videos about his Sabbatarian beaver studies. In 2018, Richard Davidson, the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, wrote an article in the Adventist Review titled “God’s Sabbath Stamp.” Davidson, who has a PhD from Andrews University, where he has taught for decades, cites “Seventh-day Beavers,” “Sabbathkeeping Bees,” and the “Seventh-day Ox” as evidence.
I have proposed that a researcher visit Larren Cole’s seventh-day observant beaver colony in Northern California. Cole stopped responding to me when I asked for verification of his claims. And the same thing has happened with Sang Lee, Ron Kelly, and Stephen Lewis. We need to remember that if we do not take care of God’s honor, we may be in for a public embarrassment someday. After all, in recent times, whole organizations have been brought down and discredited over issues of integrity, their good work brought to nothing. It has been my experience that many of our Adventist media organizations seem not to care enough about the reputation of their own ministry, our church, or God.
*Correction: due to editorial error, not the author's, this article misidentified the name of the ministry. The person mentioned was at that time partnered with a different ministry than he is now.
Murray McGill is the author of the book Dead Birds Don’t Sing But Witching Rods Talk. He was once taking theology at Walla Walla College but was intimidated by the idea of speech class. His son, Kevin McGill, has become a pastor in his stead. You can check Murray out at his website: http://deadbirdsandwitchingrods.com.
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