Ben Carson, Seventh-day Adventist

October 27th, 2015

The Seventh-day Adventist church I grew up in didn’t prepare me for a Ben Carson presidential candidacy. I’m not talking about Carson’s penchant for dismissing civil rights concerns or using Obamacare to make ridiculous comparisons.

I’m talking about the idea that it might be possible for the nation to elect a president who observes the Saturday-Sabbath, believes in the imminent return of Jesus Christ and that it will be precipitated by religious persecution of Sabbath keepers. And the idea that the Vatican, in collusion with some “apostate” Protestant leaders, will be the architects of this persecution. And that along with all of this, occultic practices and beliefs will become very influential in our society and contribute to this persecution.

These are the last days, preached evangelists with thundering voices. Jesus will be coming back anytime now, warned our earnest Sabbath School and academy Bible teachers.

So there was no room for political candidacies. No time for presidential ambitions. No thought, not even remotely, that one day a Seventh-day Adventist named Ben Carson would be leading polls in anticipation of the 2016 Iowa Caucus.

So what does the Carson candidacy mean for the typical Seventh-day Adventist? It depends upon whom you ask.

And perhaps we should start with the idea that there may not be any such thing as a typical Adventist. In my experience, we SDAs are many things theologically, culturally and politically speaking: liberal, moderate, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent.

According to the Pew Research Center, we also are the most racially diverse religious group in the nation. We are almost evenly split between whites and blacks (37 percent to 32 percent), with a sizable percentage of Hispanics (15 percent), Asians (8 percent) and others/mixed race persons (8 percent).

I don’t know how we SDAs break down in terms of the ideological and political labels. It’s doubtful that any serious study of that has ever been done, due to the traditional Adventist belief about the imminent return of Jesus and the wariness of politics and political activism that often came along with it.

Many of my SDA friends — most of whom, like me, are African-American — seem to be supporters of President Obama and, if not hardcore Democrats, moderate-to-liberal independents. But I have some white SDA friends who are liberal Democrats as well as some who are conservative Republicans. And some of my black SDA friends are conservative Republicans.

Few in my circle support Carson. While we very much admire his powerful personal story and amazing professional achievements, we strongly disagree with his political views. But my circle is not necessarily representative of any other grouping of Adventists.

It’s wise, in my opinion, for our church leaders to refrain from either endorsing or denouncing Carson. He is not running as a representative of the church. His views are his own.

But it will be impossible to separate Carson’s candidacy from the history and traditions of our denomination. And if his campaign continues to surge, he will have to answer questions about his religious beliefs and practices just as Mitt Romney and former President John F. Kennedy did.

I have my answers, some of which won’t line up with traditional SDA views. So I hope Carson is prepared to answer when asked about persecution, the Vatican, so-called “apostate” Protestant leaders or any other prickly topic. Whatever his opinions, he will owe it to the American people to explain what he believes and why.   

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