Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ben Carson's 7th Day Adventism Is Not a Big Issue

Donald Trump and Mother Jones seem to be making a big deal about Ben Carson's 7th Day Adventist Faith,  Here is David Corn of Mother Jones, appearing last night on Hardball with Chris Matthews:

And here is Trump on Carson's faith:

I would love to ask Trump what it means for him to be a Presbyterian and what has attracted him to this church over others.  I am convinced he knows nothing about religion.  Is this enough to convince evangelicals to abandon their support for him? I'm not sure. I spend a lot of time with evangelical Christians, but don't know many who like Trump.

Meanwhile, Corn says that because Carson believes in "end times prophecies" he is dangerous.  More on that below.

I agree with both Trump and Corn on the fact that few Americans are familiar with Seventh Day Adventism. Those who want to split theological hairs can certainly come up with 7th Day Adventist beliefs that are uncommon in the long history of Christian orthodoxy or 20th century evangelicalism. The belief in the 7th Day Sabbath come to mind on this front.  So do a few others. I do not want to downplay these differences, but they are more theological and ecclesiastical than political.

From a political standpoint, the 7th Day Adventist Church should be treated by the press and the American people the same way they treat the evangelicalism of Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, or any other Christian Right candidate.  If Corn or Trump have a problem with the way evangelical GOP candidates  apply their faith to their politics they are free to express their disagreements.  Secularists have been criticizing the Christian Right on this front for a long time.  But let's not paint Carson as something worse than a conservative evangelical because he is a member of the 7th Day Adventist Church. His beliefs about religion and politics, and his commitment to the idea of America as "Christian nation," like them or not, are the same as the other evangelical candidates and Carson should be treated as one of them.

Those who want to single out Carson for his faith need to also attack the others on the same grounds. (And they have).  But this specific attack on Carson's faith is purely political.  If he was not leading in Iowa no one would care.

And just a word for David Corn.  There is nothing unique about a GOP Christian candidate believing in the "end times."  As  Matt Sutton has recently reminded us, evangelicals also believe in "end times prophecies."  Why single out Carson?  I am sure some of the other evangelical candidates have similar views about the rapture or the imminent return of Jesus.

If you want to critique Carson's Christian approach to politics then stick with his comments about Islam or the Christian nation rhetoric found in his new book One Nation.  There is a lot to criticize there.

Are 7th Day Adventists evangelicals?  The church seems to be divided over this issue.  (Just Google the question).  The denomination is not connected with the National Association of Evangelicals and, according to Christianity Today, will not be joining any time soon.  But there has been a long history of cooperation between 7th Day Adventists and evangelicals,.  According to the Seventh Day Adventist wikipedia page (for what it's worth--you can follow-up on the footnotes) Billy Graham welcomed the leaders of the denominations into his evangelistic campaigns. Famed evangelical Presbyterian Donald Gray Barnhouse accepted them as Christians. And evangelicals have been in dialogue with them since the 1950s.

Do 7th Day Adventists believe that evangelicals are going to hell unless they accept the seventh-day Sabbath and other doctrines?  (This is what Corn suggests here).  I don't know.  Most of the Adventists who I know do not believe this.

Theologically and socially, Carson has more in common with the evangelicals than he does with Donald Trump's very nominal Presbyterian identity.  I would even say that conservative evangelicals had more in common with Mitt Romney's Mormonism in 2012 than they do with Donald Trump's Presbyterian identity in 2015.

Carson is just your average, run of the mill, Christian Right candidate.