It is commonly understood that Seventh-day Adventist theology expects the enactment of a Sunday law in homage to Papal authority in the United States and other nations preceding the second coming of Christ. Furthermore, despite its inevitability according to prophecy, prior to such enactment, we are obligated to do what is reasonably possible to delay it by uplifting the importance of religious liberty.
Contemporary Adventist Perspectives on Religious Liberty and Sunday Laws
Responses by outsiders have been, overall, decidedly mixed in comparison with the Adventist perspective. The issues have become far more complicated since Ellen White’s death in 1915 than they were during the early period of American and Adventist history. Though Sunday laws in earlier periods of history were typically both motivated and sustained exclusively on religious grounds, this is no longer necessarily the case. A variety of complex socio-economic factors are now at play, affecting both the positive and negative sides of the debate concerning the usefulness and validity of any Sunday legislation. Additionally, during the past, there were several times when actual Sunday legislation was being actively discussed at various national or local governments in the United States. Since World War II, however, such discussions have been absent altogether or effecting insignificant attention among government officials in the United States. This makes the traditional Adventist presentation of the future in the United States more challenging for outsiders to accept in the 21st century.
This article, however, will focus on attitudes of prominent conservative Adventist perspectives from the past 15 to 20 years in relation to their non-Adventist peers. Some have been employed by official or influential Adventist institutions of ministry or education. This by no means is meant to imply that their views—or anyone else’s—are to be understood as “official” positions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Rather, the intention is to sample the perspectives of prominent and respected contributors to contemporary mainstream Adventist thinking that are or have been connected with various official branches of the church at one level or another, and who have contributed noteworthy scholarly contributions to the issues of religious liberty and Sunday law legislation in the United States in light of 21st-century events.
Several Adventists have written articles or books that address the possibilities of Sunday legislation in a late 20th- and early 21st-century context. Norman Gulley,1 Marvin Moore,2 and John V. Stevens,3 adequately represent professional scholars, pastors, and popular authors who have dedicated significant study to religious liberty in America and in particular Sunday legislation. Collectively and individually, their credentials are solid. Each of them has written a book-length treatment on end-times, noting both the biblical and historical evidence, which includes an examination of the identification of groups that would encourage Sunday legislation in the U.S.
Norman Gulley on the End Game in the End-Time
These positions match the historic positions of Adventist teachings that have been held since near the beginning of the sabbatarian movement that developed into Seventh-day Adventism. Gulley’s studies on end-times include an extensive overview of the issues that are confronting our postmodern age. These issues include the state of the dead, New Age spiritualism, relativism, evolution, and many others, including different understandings of millennialism.
This leads to a question: What were the policies of the Christian Coalition at that time? Founded in 1989 following religious broadcaster and political commentator Pat Robertson’s failed Presidential bid in 1988 in the Republican Party, the Christian Coalition sought to “Christianize America” through political activism. This much is certain: Robertson provided some of the sharpest statements in recent decades advocating a closer relationship between religion and government. Gulley noted several books and articles by Robertson and his allies that expressed their desire to tear down the wall of separation between church and state that Gulley saw in the First Amendment of the Constitution. The evidence is clear enough that the Christian Coalition of that time was not an ally in Adventist efforts to preserve religious liberty. “The New Christian Right is out to Christianize America,”7 wrote Gulley.
Gulley was direct in addressing the political alliances that the Christian Coalition sought to create. He noted that the organization had “considerable influence in the Republican party and hope[d] to get the Republican President of their choice elected in the year 2000.”8 He also sided with the liberal or progressive Supreme Court justices against conservatives like the late William Rehnquist and still-active Antonin Scalia. He asserted that the Christian Coalition was misguided in its perception of persecution against Christians in America, leading them to greatly exaggerate the difficulties Christians face. In other words, he said that they were deceptively playing a “victim card” to attract attention and strengthen their base supporters.
He noted with irony the enigma that the Christian Coalition’s effort to “take-over. . .the Republican party” defied the party’s traditional stance “against big government” and its concern “with individual freedom.”10 Nevertheless, Gulley observed Robertson’s call for “his Coalition to get behind one Republican candidate for President,” revealing “the partisan nature of their scheme,”11 which they no doubt recognized as necessary to obtain power; they knew they needed to control a prominent political party first.
In his personal account after attending the 1995 “Road to Victory” Convention organized by the Christian Coalition, Gulley observed that in 1990, the convention had 250 delegates, but in 1995, that number had swollen to 4,260, with 143 speakers and seven of nine Republican Presidential candidates speaking. Gulley reported “thunderous applause” after shouts of “Take the nation back for God!” and “Out with the liberals.”13 It was clear to him that the Christian Coalition wanted to join the state and religion. He also noted that of the 1.7 million Coalition members in 1995, 250,000 of them were Catholics.
Gulley acknowledged his agreement that the moral condition of America is wanting. However, although “the Christian Coalition was appalled at the moral disarray in the country,” they winked at the “doctrinal disarray in the church.” Thus “they shout out against moral degradation, but don’t even whimper about doctrines on the trash heap. This uniting for a moral cause is a moral disaster,”14 he asserted. He recognized that the real issue was “the danger of moralists attempting to legislate their moral values on minorities. This,” he said, was “the danger of the Christian Coalition agenda, and that of Dominion theology.”15
Gulley framed several quotations from Ellen G. White that would have seemingly fit the Christian Coalition perfectly. He cited her by sharing, “‘This very class put forth the claim that the fast-spreading corruption is largely attributable to the desecration of the so-called ‘Christian sabbath,’ and that the enforcement of Sunday observance would greatly improve the morals of society.’”19 It is this breaking down of the separation of church and state that Gulley described as the “end-game.”20 To summarize his analysis of Sunday movements of that time, it is clear that Gulley anticipated them as most likely to come from the people like those behind the Christian Coalition, which is similarly part of the New Christian Right, the Religious Right, and perhaps recognized more publically as the Republican worldview.
The central lynchpin of Gulley’s broader critique, however, was not leveled against the Christian Coalition per se. His perspective centered on the idea that there is a definable wall of separation between church and state in the U.S. Constitution, which philosophically presumes such a separation is in fact possible. This is a decidedly complex subject, as differing opinions abound on the nature and intent of the founding fathers in their creation of the Constitution and the philosophical possibility of truly separating religion from the state.
Gulley, however, concluded that the Founders intended, through the first amendment, to preserve a wall of separation. This means that “the government must stay out of the sphere of religion, which also means that religion should not force government to legislate in matters of faith and conscience.”21 And it decidedly enters Gulley into the debate over the intent of the founders and the philosophical issues related to any true separation of church and state. He sided with the liberals, who view the United States as a secular nation. He insisted that the founders never wanted an openly Christian nation and that the Constitution is a “secular” document.
Marvin Moore: Could It Really Happen?
Moore took a similar approach to Gulley. Outlining Adventism’s traditional perspectives on the historical significance of the Papacy and the United States in prophecy, particularly its understanding of Revelation 13, Moore guided his readers through the historical context that set up the contemporary picture. Moore set up his 2007 book, Could It Really Happen? Revelation 13 in the Light of History and Current Events,22 by referring to a union of church and state in the United States, followed by a Sunday law, thus making an image to the beast of Papal Rome.
Clearly it could happen. The question is: Who does Moore identify as most likely to make such a union of church and state? And in what manner does he see it developing historically?
Conversely, the “Religious Right” as a phrase occurs 58 times in Moore’s book. The dichotomy of emphasis is noteworthy. Moore’s work clearly reveals his thoughts here; in that, although the intellectual elites, including those more involved with politics, were more likely to be liberal theologically, their influence and numbers amongst the population declined during the mid- and late 20th century.
Moore details the work of Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, and Pat Robertson as key players in the rise of conservatism. Falwell and Robertson undeniably desired to create a Christian political powerhouse to govern society. Moore also traces with special interest the rise of the Christian Coalition in the early 1990s following the relative demise of the Moral Majority. And, although the conservative presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush represented successes for the Religious Right, Moore acknowledges that they weren’t as conservative as many Religious Right leaders hoped.
He then makes a particularly revealing statement and analysis about the presidency of Bill Clinton, a noted Democrat liberal. Moore observes that religious conservatives were able to see a silver lining, in that they had a “face” to war against in Bill Clinton.24 This paid off to some degree in Moore’s thinking as following Clinton, Republican President George W. Bush was elected, whom Moore considers a genuine religious conservative who catered to the Religious Right. This commitment to conservatism was seen through his appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito—both Catholics—to the Supreme Court, granting decided victories, in Moore’s view, for the Religious Right.
Individuals like Pat Robertson and the now-deceased Jerry Falwell, however, are not influential figures today. And though it is true that President George W. Bush had two influential and historically significant terms of office, he also left the presidency with the highest disapproval rating in U.S. history—71 percent.25 The chances of seeing another Bush-like figure win the Presidency are low for the foreseeable future. As the 21st century gets well underway, America isn’t interested in following the ultra-conservative path. This is seen clearly in the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and again in 2012, to the Presidency, one of the most liberal politicians in history, who has a very progressive agenda.
Moore also fails to mention the significance of the cultural/geographical gap, or the “Red/Blue” divide in America, separating the liberal coastal cities from the conservative heartland, and the impact this could have on the implementation of Sunday laws. This cultural divide became prominent only after 1992. The population centers in America, where much power exists, are overwhelmingly liberal. Interestingly, Ellen G. White seemed to indicate that persecution of Sabbath-keepers will be most severe in cities. If this is so, it would be ironic, as cities are not conservative or Republican. Having conservative, rural Christians invade the cities to enforce a Sunday law on secular people and liberal Christians seems unlikely.
John V. Stevens: Abortion and the Sunday Law
Stevens, a longtime specialist and activist on matters of religious liberty, follows a similar line of thinking to that of Gulley and Moore, and outlined clearly the Adventist position on Revelation 13 that places the United States squarely into the center of prophecy.
Stevens specifies in his 2008 book how the U.S. was able to achieve this, and how such a system must look graphically. He describes a specific separation of the two tables of the Ten Commandments into vertical and horizontal planes, wherein a secular government can legislate only the horizontal plane. This led him, however, to articulate yet another reason for criticizing the Religious Right, and that is the issue of abortion.
Stevens believes fervently that conservative religious powers are trying to restrict or oppose abortion in violation of the separation of church and state principle upon which the United States is founded. Stevens sees abortion as acceptable because he believes human life begins only at birth, not at conception, claiming that “God’s Word defines the time of the beginning of life for a person as birth and the end of life as death.”28 And for Stevens, interpreting the commandment proscribing murder to include abortion is not biblical. Therefore, legislating the issue in favor of a pro-life commitment violates the separation of church and state.
The powers he referred to reside, in his mind, in the conservative political party of the Republicans, the party well known for its support of anti-abortion (or pro-life) positions. Stevens has been highly critical of both President George W. Bush and James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, a conservative organization dedicated in part to opposing abortion and gay marriage. It should be noted here that Stevens’ book, written in 2008, went to press prior to President Obama’s election, which casts a distinctly different light on current events.
Nevertheless, Stevens believes that it is through the issue of abortion as the catalyst, that “the Catholic-Evangelical alliance wants to unite religion with government” and that “it is this change on the part of some American Protestants that is changing them into the likeness of the beast, like the papacy.”30 This, Stevens asserts, will eventually lead to a resurgence of focus on Sunday observance. Abortion and Sunday legislation are thus inseparably connected for Stevens, with their common origin in the conservative Religious Right, which dominates the Republican Party in America.
Second, some of Stevens’ facts have dissipated since the writing of his book. Influential figures that he cited, such as Dobson, are fading off the scene without obvious replacements. There has been a strong rise of liberal Christianity in recent times. Even when Obama provoked American Catholic leaders over the issue of contraceptives in February 2012, drawing pointed criticism, the average Catholic seemed unconcerned, and this had little impact on Obama’s approval ratings, right in line with the rest of the country at the time, including many other Christians. Overall, Obama maintained a near 50-percent approval rating during the public dialogue on this issue, consistent with the very split nature of the U.S. overall, a split that has deepened of late as part of a broad “culture war.”
Summarizing These Three Views
Are Most Christians Politically Conservative?
The Origin and Development of the Religious Left
This political dimension is crucial. Indeed, “because liberation theology originated—and remains—at the intersection of contested political and religious goals, ”no matter how one wishes to define its theological” dimension, at heart it remains interested in “socio-economic systems”40 that have a decidedly Marxist and redistributive flavor taking, forcibly if necessary, from the rich and gives to the poor to advance equality. “Liberation theology” has “its focus on the poor, the construction of God’s reign and liberation.”41 It seeks the “radical political transformation of the present order” as “a central component of the living out of Christian faith.”42 For most Adventists, it is noteworthy that Ellen G. White took a decidedly neutral position on socio-economic activism.43
Although the criticism of cheap grace can be fully given and accepted as a personal critique and call to discipleship, and thus an internal criticism of conservatives to themselves, it can also become a corporate and external one, as it is used by liberal theologians against conservatives. The prominent liberal-leaning Christian, Ronald Sider, connects the Religious Right’s apparent cheap grace message to a lack of emphasis by Christians on social justice. He aims his critique of cheap grace at traditional evangelical conservatives, the Religious Right. He credits liberal “Mainline Protestants [and] Roman Catholics” for an understanding of “distributive justice,” which includes universal access to healthcare45 and a rejection of cheap grace.
The liberation movement, a call to abandon cheap grace, took on an American face in the 1970s through the work of Jim Wallis (particularly when he rebranded his earlier magazine into Sojourners in 1976), Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo.
In the words of Wallis himself, who was not even here advocating Marxism, though his pragmatic ideas would lean more and more that way: “As more Christians become influenced by liberation theology, finding themselves increasingly rejecting the values and institutions of capitalism, they will also be drawn to the Marxist analysis and praxis that is so central to the movement. That more Christians will come to view the world through Marxist eyes is therefore predictable. It will even be predictable among the so-called ‘young evangelicals’ who, for the most part, have a zeal for social change that is not yet matched by a developed socio-economic analysis that will cause them to see the impossibility of making capitalism work for justice and peace.”46
All these movements and individuals are religious, political, and lean to the far left politically. Furthermore, Wallis is also a close ally with Brian McLaren, a prominent leader of the Emerging church movement. And those with sympathies to these movements represent a significant number of the American populace. And they don’t like the Religious Right or Republicans. Emergent or Emerging Christians are overwhelmingly Democrats.
Emerging Christians frequently espouse a “kingdom on earth” mentality, often considered a revealing sign of the Religious Right. Scot McKnight, an Emerging Church leader, once said, “I tell my friends that I have voted Democrat for years for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do.”47 Combined with what Brian McLaren believes, namely that “Jesus came ‘to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which is God’s will being done on Earth,’”48 whether one likes this or not, this kind of thinking leads to the explicit ideological union of church and state that the liberal social gospel seeks to temporally fulfill here on earth. Some may see support of this in the saying of Jesus: “‘Seek first the kingdom of God’” includes “social salvation and the salvation of the earth.”49 It was surely not accidental that President Obama, a Democrat, echoed their sentiments that he wanted to create “a kingdom right here on earth”50 in his desire to reach out to what he perceived to be his liberal Christian base.
The Ground Motive of the Secular and Religious Left
Although arguments rage on regarding the Republican and Democratic visions of society and the amount of power or control the federal government should have over its citizens, it does appear to be a basic reality that, at least in theory, the Republicans favor big business “trickle down” economics and the Democrats prefer helping the poor through social programs as the best way to improve society and the economy. Although it is a highly divisive topic, the basic fact is that the liberal/socialist/progressivist/Marxist philosophies admittedly require larger, more comprehensive governmental oversight, whereas a conservative capitalism emphasizes less government and more localized control.
What truly separates the Left from the Religious Right, which seeks to reform society morally (e.g., taking a stance against abortion and same-sex marriage), is simply a shift in focus. The Left is willing to work through the government just as much as the extreme Right leaders were. In the Left, however, the idea that everyone should have an equal or “fair” amount of wealth and prosperity is the primary concern, and even becomes the moral justification for their actions. The issue is this: Does reforming society through the government, even without purportedly traditional moral concerns, truly leave the state out of the church or individual’s life in an excessive way? The answer appears to be No.
Were Adventists to focus solely on the vigorous voice of the conservative Catholic leadership’s opposition, they would be preaching from a denial of reality of what most religious people actually believe. Religious people are as likely to be “progressive” as they are to be “conservative” on different issues. In this instance, the liberals are rather stoking the fire by provoking conservatives over an irrelevant issue through a desire for greater forced secularism, as free or inexpensive contraceptives were already available at many health clinics for people from lower economic brackets. Liberals were here inserting themselves into socio-religious issues unnecessarily, even when it interfered with the operation of churches.
Interestingly, the disagreement between conservative Catholics and the Secular Left over contraception ignores the fact that Catholics strongly favored the universal healthcare plan in the first place, setting up the future disagreement. One cannot deny the Religious Left’s desire to gain a public and political influence that rivals that of the Religious Right, and it’s hard to argue they aren’t beginning to achieve some success.
The Religious Left’s Catholic Roots and Desire for Political Control
The Evangelical Left’s ethicist David Gushee remarks, “We believe that while the Catholic tradition’s emphasis on learning from tradition and other sources of insight can be embraced, the equating of the authority of Scripture and of tradition must be rejected on the basis of Jesus’ example.”52 Gushee favors more nuanced positions, like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, in which Scripture is combined with tradition, reason, and experience. “All have a role to play in the formation of Christian faith and ethics, though Scripture occupies the central place,”53 he claims. His discussion needs to be taken seriously by Adventist thought leaders to detect the slide into Catholicism that Religious Left leaders are encouraging. There is surely a reason that Emergent, liberal, Leftist ideas are so friendly to Catholic understandings of spirituality and social concern, even when the political scene is brought into the picture.
Presently, in 2014, this can be seen in the progressive vision of a variety of programs and ideas, including universal healthcare. As Robbins explains, “what the papacy has realized is that by constantly enlarging the Rights of Man, to use the Vatican’s own phrase, it can offer ever new moral arguments for enlarging the size, scope, and power of government.”61 With healthcare, the principle at stake is the universal destination of goods. “The rights advocated by the Roman church-state require the enslavement of some people for the benefit of others.” It appears “the church-state seems to realize that this is the case, and advocates these rights for that reason.”62
Just imagine a time when a “day of rest” could become a “right” before it becomes a “requirement,” like a required participation in universal healthcare. A time when we are no longer requested to aid our brothers and sisters willingly, but our wellbeing is bound up with theirs, in every way, forcibly. The parallels are closer than one might wish. The precedent has been set—and supported by Catholic U.S. Supreme Court Justices from both ideological perspectives.
The most important point to draw from Robbins is the fact that the re-empowerment of the Roman church-state is most likely to come from their socio-economic teachings, which authorize greater governmental oversight over all of society for the “greater good.” Robbins notes that “the Vatican itself traces the origin of liberation theology to the Roman church-state, specifically to Vatican II (1962-1965) and the 1968 conference of Roman Bishops in Medellín, Colombia.”63 Indeed, “the only disagreements the Vatican has had with some aspects of liberation theology are its secular elements, the insufficient obsequiousness of some liberation theologians to the pope, and their sometime advocacy of a systematic use of violence to achieve goals that the Roman church-state has always approved: social justice, the common good, and the universal destination of goods.”64 Robbins again plainly states that the Roman “church-state has never criticized the economic views of the liberation theologians.”65
Considering that Robbins agrees with the writings in the 1990s of Adventist representatives Moore, Stevens, and Gulley on significant issues, and shares with Adventists an opposition to Christian Reconstructionism, it is unfortunate that there is no genuine dialogue with his and similar thinkers who are concerned about the growing power of both the secular and Religious Left alongside their strong disagreements with aspects of the Religious Right. Robbins expresses a robust independence from any history of eschatological predictions and guesswork, letting his epistemology speak for itself as it analyzes the present, and he sees the church and state uniting on both the Left and the Right with equal force.
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White reiterates the importance of understanding the historical origin of the Sabbath and how this establishes its true meaning. “Because He had rested upon the Sabbath, ‘God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it,’—set it apart to a holy use. He gave it to Adam as a day of rest. It was a memorial of the work of creation, and thus a sign of God’s power and His love.”66
Again, she describes in detail the true purpose of the Sabbath: “The Sabbath calls our thoughts to nature, and brings us into communion with the Creator. In the song of the bird, the sighing of the trees, and the music of the sea, we still may hear His voice who talked with Adam in Eden in the cool of the day.”67
The Sabbath, as a time set apart, is a sign of the nature of the God who created us, one who is personal and relational. It was made for us, but can, as originating with Him, only be chosen by Him. Some other day won’t do. Although it was made for us, it is not of our choosing, but God’s; in this respect, it is no different from any relationship. It has two parties. And in this instance, one is the Creator, the other the created. We can’t choose a Sabbath for God, but rest in our acknowledgment of God’s choice of a Sabbath with and for us. God wants to rest with us. He wants to spend His quality time, so to speak, with us.
In many ways, and in complete contrast to many other religions, God’s “idol” is His time, the Sabbath. Other religions worship shapes and forms, but the biblical God commanded us to do no such thing. Rather, instead of a concrete idol, He hallowed the Sabbath time. We are both commanded and invited to join Him during this time.
Two of the most important chapters of Ellen White’s writings are surely found in “God’s Law Immutable” and “A Work of Reform” in The Great Controversy. These present the difficulties that Sabbath keepers have had and will have in explaining the Sabbath and its original purpose, not because of any intrinsic fault with the Sabbath, but because of the insidious nature of the arch-deceiver’s work. As White wrote, “In the absence of Bible testimony in their favor, many with unwearying persistence urged—forgetting how the same reasoning had been employed against Christ and His apostles: ‘Why do not our great men understand this Sabbath question? But few believe as you do. It cannot be that you are right and that all the men of learning in the world are wrong.’”73
It is not so much that it will come down, in the final period of earth’s history, to two groups of people “properly” living the Christian life, with one group worshiping on Sunday and the other on the seventh-day Sabbath. The final crisis will come when one group attempts coerce all to worship on Sunday. In this critical sense, it will be rejecting the entire plan of salvation that Christ has offered, attempting to save themselves, and others, by their own works—an old covenant experience of law, not grace! This is why grasping this truth, in its wholistic socio-political context, is important as events unfold. One cannot properly keep Sunday as the Sabbath at the appointed time. This is the sign that true Sabbath keepers may rest in as they attempt to share the ultimate cost of their choice to rest in God’s salvation, rather than to present to God their own means of salvation.
That the Sabbath also functions as the ultimate sign at the end, separating those who choose God’s authority rather than human authority, makes it ironic that Sabbath keepers are accused of salvation by works, when the very opposite is true. All of the “requirements” that Adventists accept—the health message, the Sabbath, etc.—are really preparatory, as with Daniel in Babylon, to make them ready to choose to accept God’s salvation and to rest their repentant hearts in Him, as the completion of character development here on earth. (Ellen White compares the final Sabbath test to Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—a simple yet profound test.75)
This is a beautiful reality, not a legalistic one. Obedience to God is not salvation by works, but acceptance of His work on our behalf. And the hatred of Satan will cement that this seeming paradox (obedience to accept grace and redemptive growth in God) is the true reality, as Sunday keepers will ultimately persecute Sabbath keepers for their rest in God’s work. Seventh-day Sabbath keepers, the ones accused of legalism over the Sabbath, will finally be the only ones who are proven not to be legalists, the only ones living a new covenant experience of grace and faith that works.
Adventism in Today’s World
These Evangelicals have sufficient facts and evidence to sustain their differing worldview, whether it is ultimately closer to the truth or not. Many have no desire to create Sunday legislation that would harm dissenters. They are baffled by our insistence that they will.
Conversely, however, when reaching out to people who share Ronald Nash’s and John Robbin’s views, it makes perfect sense to them that Catholics are trying to assert political power through Leftist liberal social ideas that will ultimately impinge upon their understanding of the separation of church and state. Allowing the possibility of this perspective in Adventist circles may open more doors to such people concerning the nature of the final eschatological conflict, including the role of the Sabbath as a social, as well as a moral, commandment. Both views, those of Robbin’s and of such Adventist authors as Gulley, Moore, and Stevens, remain possible. What should remain speculative are the views that Adventists advocate with any air of certitude.
Why do Adventists not also engage more positively with the Religious Right on issues we have in common, such as recent creationism? Should we be so selective with whom we engage in scholarly dialogue? Spending time positively dialoging with people such as Robbins and Nash—and winsomely critiquing any weaknesses we think they may have—while also enlisting their sympathies in ideas that we may share, seems the more productive route. Simply dismissing their eschatological views on the particulars of the Roman church-state because they differ from our traditional emphasis on the Religious Right, while they are more wary of the Religious Left, is inadequate.
The point is not whether or not Scripture supports the salvation of the unevangelized or those who have received an incorrect view of God and thus doubted His existence, but that the Pope, of all people, would contextualize this so openly and point toward the conscience as guide. God does not offer a “pass” for those who merely follow their own conscience.
Yet, this example, as well as many others—including the possible reconsideration of priests and marriage and de-emphasis on abortion and homosexuality—shows that the Catholic Church is now willing to connect with liberal progressive humanists and their views of morality. If the Left continues to redefine morality’s relationship to socio-political realities alongside an Emergent vision, it is impossible to predict how things may play out. What is clear is that a government that is proactive in social agendas is needed in such a worldview, which plays as much into predictions for the Roman church-state as a creation of Leftist ideas, as to one that is created by the Religious Right
A more neutral approach would be to ally more closely with those who truly do share general Christian beliefs, allowing opportunity to reach out to them the message of “justification by faith,” a message that Martin Luther accepted and for which Ellen White specifically endorsed Luther.78 We would then be better positioned to be received as true heirs of the Reformation. Then we will be in more influential positions to introduce the Sabbath and sanctuary doctrines as the true new covenant experience, outside the restrictive stereotypes of any political-ideological identification.
It would serve Adventism well to articulate a less partisan and narrow vision of how end-time events will play out, and focus more on the philosophical aspects of the debate as they interrelate with theological issues. It serves our evangelistic purposes more effectively to explore different possibilities with a more open mind, keeping our distinctive issues at the forefront, but not letting our view of end-times replace a solid epistemology that analyzes the present honestly and without bias. This will allow us to form our response from what is really happening in an ever evolving world, not on what “could” or “will” happen—outside of what prophecy specifically makes clear. In this way, Adventists will be better prepared when things don’t turn out precisely the way we have predicted, and our message will be more open to acceptance by individuals of varying religious and political backgrounds and perspectives, which may open scholarly and evangelistic doors of opportunity never before anticipated.
Michael F. Younker is a Ph.D. student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
NOTES AND REFERENCES