Adventists have something unique to offer to the entire world concerning its impending end and the second coming of Christ.
Michael F. Younker
There is a unique relationship between religion and politics in America with significant implications for the corporate identity of Seventh-day Adventism that continually places us at risk of becoming “entangled” in the web of socio-political ideologies.
Why does an individual identify with and maintain membership in a particular Christian (or other) denomination? Indeed, why should I belong to a larger group or church denomination at all, rather than just walk the Christian life alone (me, my Bible, and my Lord), or with a few local friends in a study group that splits every time it grows too large (house church)? It certainly would be easier to avoid many unpleasant disagreements this way. Or, to be realistic, surely just fitting myself into a local church’s identity in the community (congregationalism) would be enough, wouldn’t it?
At smaller and more local levels, the average individual can still exert some personal influence (express his or her “individuality” and be noticed) and have at least a truly democratic voice in the church’s activities. Many younger people these days seem to want to experience religion or church only at this level, primarily because they want church to feel “meaningful.” Perhaps this has always been true of younger generations, although in today’s complex globalized multicultural and pluralistic society, it manifests itself in fresh ways.
But after everything has been said on the complex realities of today’s world, the logically inevitable conclusion remains the same: Unity is power and influence. Even most young people soon realize this as they mature through college and beyond. So what most individual Christians have chosen to do historically and continue to do today is to join faith communities that are larger than their personal influence. They submit to the possibility that the corporate identity to which they belong may not noticeably or meaningfully include and reflect their personal identity or contributions to the larger group.
Seventh-day Adventism is one such “larger group.” Yet members still submit to identification with the larger group’s corporate identity because they have enough of a shared worldview, or way of looking at the world as a whole. A shared identity always implies the existence of a correspondingly shared corporate worldview. So what does a worldview really mean in this context?
Although one could imagine many possible answers to this question, Adventists traditionally have based their corporate identity and worldview on a biblically grounded doctrinal and lifestyle distinctiveness developed during a specific historical situation. This distinctiveness anticipates an eschatological context, which, interestingly, highlights America. Beyond this specific context, however, philosophically and sociologically, one of the primary purposes of most religious groups, churches, or ecclesiastical bodies is to foster a public witness through their corporate identity that testifies to their internal spiritual moorings.
As such, although spirituality may be discussed more frequently as an individual or personal matter in today’s postmodern culture, when people of similar beliefs band together, there is the hope that together they can more effectively witness to their understanding of authentic spirituality for the individual. The refrain becomes, “Witness our love for one another! Don’t you wish to believe and behave as we do?” Such persons strive for a specific public witness through their corporate identity, believing that God is more fully and clearly revealed through such a broader witness to people outside their group. Of course, such a corporate witness allows for the possibility of articulating a corporate worldview, meaning that a group’s beliefs and behaviors can be contrasted with alternative corporate beliefs and behaviors.
In a pluralistic society, there is a natural consequence of the above. After some time, elements of differing worldviews, whether purportedly religious or not, begin to compete, meaning they begin to engage society in all mainstream social, political, and economic issues. Essentially, every issue eventually becomes “political.” Ultimately it is not possible for anyone to avoid socio-political leanings or preferences. A worldview’s engagement or lack thereof on the issues of slavery, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, civil rights, abortion, homosexual marriage, equitable economic policies, vaccinations for children, environmentalism, the teaching of Creationism in public schools, etc., are unavoidable, and also, always, in some manner or another, political. The intertwining of one’s religious convictions and politics is inevitable at a foundational level.
This should not be surprising. When religious groups become large enough, the logical consequence is that the varying religious worldviews begin to compete with one another as well as with any secular worldviews. Put simply, and this remains very much true for Christians, “a worldview ultimately determines a person’s ideology in politics, religion, and ethics,”1 as well as economics. Naturally, one primary concern of this broadened conception of a worldview is that “when a common philosophy of religion and politics coalesce into joined purpose and function, the character of government may become theocratic, that is, subjected to theological ideology as hurtful as secular despotism, for politicized religious belief seeks the enforcement of secular authority,”2 highlighting the importance of individual and religious liberty. This is true not only globally or nationally, but also in more localized contexts.
The members of any healthy and dynamic group need to know who they are for their identity and worldview to thrive and be persuasive to others, and this is especially true of Adventists.
The Contours of the Contemporary American Socio-Political Landscape
Following World War I, from 1918–1980, political fluidity reigned in the United States. The major political parties did not entrench themselves within a large number of polarized positions on major issues for an enduring period of time. Very few clearly established “party platforms” lasted from one decade to the next. The positions of a given party, at least on many issues, ebbed and flowed over the years, with a given voting demographic (men, women, age, ethnicity) favoring alternating parties and respective presidential candidates as the decades passed. Presidential candidates from either party could win elections with a strong majority of voters in an overwhelming number of the States. No region of the country was overwhelmingly bound to a large political framework with clear positions on a wide range of issues for an enduring period of time. However, this fluidity is no longer the case. For more than 35 years, an increasingly rigid polarization has been the trend, and it is unprecedented in American history.
Recognition of the existence of the American “culture war” was introduced in 1991 in sociologist James Davison Hunter’s classic book,Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. Its use by Patrick J. Buchanan in a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention explicitly united religion and politics. And political polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and White House is currently cresting, in 2015, at the highest level since shortly after the end of the South’s Reconstruction in 1877.
This is seen clearly with more votes on significant bills in Congress aligning almost strictly by party affiliation on both domestic and foreign-policy issues. The most expensive and important domestic bill in U.S. history, the 2010 American Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) well illustrates this division. Virtually all Democrats at every level supported it, while virtually all Republicans opposed it. This polarization, on many types of bills and policies, is unprecedented for this long a duration. Two competing “socio-political worldviews” have developed. Unlike some other democratic nations that may have more than two major parties, the United States essentially has only two significant political parties today, creating a sharper polarization than is found in most other countries.
Although genuine “moderates” or “issue-based independents” (notably, frustration with the polarization has led some to declare as Independents who are actually representatives of the most extreme positions of the major parties) are still alive and breathing among the more indifferent or uninformed general population (although, note that “young adults like to think of themselves as independent . . . , [but] when it comes to politics, they’re more likely than not to lean to the left”3), self-identifying conservatives and liberals are at an all-time high, and this is reflected clearly within those who do identify with one of the two major parties. There are now fewer “liberal Republicans” or “conservative Democrats” than ever before, even as the number of “Independents” has also reached historic highs.
Furthermore, the more informed people are through the news sources they trust most, the more one-sided and polarized their socio-political perspectives tend to become. Additionally, the mass popularity of so-called extreme groups are seen readily with the rise of names like the progressive Occupy Wall Street movement and the conservative Tea Party, which have “secularized” the older strictly “moral-religious” side of the culture war with an marked focus on economics.
And the broad contours of this “culture war” are not going away anytime soon. This is because a large-scale historic migration is underway from the countryside to urban centers and new megacities, meaning the culture war will continue to grow in ever-deepening ways. Sometimes one’s politics pertain more to one’s culture and lifestyle than to policy. Most rural or countryside multi-generational Americans vote Republican, while the growing and heavily immigrant populated cities vote Democrat.
Some interesting consequences of this situation relate to the ability to promote unity as Americans. For example, as county-level voting maps of the past few U.S. Presidential elections indicate, especially since 1992, smaller, more-populated zones (“liberal-blue” coasts and cities) are increasingly at odds with the geographically larger but less-populated (“conservative-red” heartland) rural areas. There truly is a cultural divide. A strong political polarization has emerged between these regions that is real among both the general populace and the politicians, who naturally must cater to their constituents who elected them.
It is remarkable to see a 2008 U.S. presidential county-level political map that is geographically 85 percent “red-Republican” and realize that the 15 percent “blue-Democrat” side won the presidency easily with 67 percent of the electoral votes, reflecting the population density of where the majority live, namely, a few major cities. In fact, in recent presidential elections, geographically, the political campaigns have often been simplified to a few consistent “battleground states,” and even more intriguingly, a mere handful of “battleground counties” to determine the winner of the U.S. presidential election. Again, it must be pointed out that such an enduring and sharply defined polarization described above has not existed since the Civil War.
Religion Within the Socio-Political Polarization
While there is surely some socio-political identity mobility among members of most major religious groups, the recent trend of all major religious groups and denominations, including Christianity since 1980, has been to combine their religious identities with a single socio-political identity to gain greater influence and power. This was a logical result of the greater polarization of America’s developing political reality, and combined various religious identities’ convictions and emphases on any number of moral/social issues with secular or mainstream political positions and emphases. Many churches still officially espouse political neutrality, but despite this, a survey of their members that do participate in politics often reveals a clear bias toward either the Right or the Left.
The Religious Right. The rise of the so-called Religious Right (sometimes identified as Moral Majority and Christian Coalition) in the 1980s and 1990s matched the profile of religious people seeking a socio-political identity. The Religious Right has been pointed out and strongly emphasized by several prominent Adventists of differing theological persuasions during the past 25 years, almost unanimously predicting a central role for the Religious Right in the creation of a national Sunday law.4
In brief, the Religious Right represents a coalition of several conservative or traditional Christian groups and denominations (in particular the so-called traditional evangelicals) that share enough of a worldview to combine into a single socio-political identity; in their case, the Republican Party in the United States. That worldview, in Christianized language, could be loosely described as the “capitalistic moral gospel” perspective. It is important to note that though some Religious Right advocates do desire to create a union of church and state, the Religious Right also has many who sympathize with various aspects of their overall philosophy who could be described as more libertarian concerning church-and-state issues.
What matters most for the Religious Right is the individual’s morality, which is to be “guided” legislatively to varying degrees (especially on matters of marriage and abortion), while individuals are to be on their own to increase their socio-economic standing and wealth, which is believed to surely be sanctified wealth if they are moral and following the guidelines. Obedience to the moral law (Ten Commandments, with Sunday substituted for Sabbath), namely, biblical marriage and unobstructed business dealings, etc., is of paramount significance. That the wealth generated by these policies will reach the poor or less fortunate is assumed as a given (and is often true, contra popular perception, as conservatives are far more generous in giving their wealth away than progressives/liberals),5 and is to be done outside of the Federal Government, so far as possible, through voluntary private institutions like churches, local charities, and on occasion local governments.
Of course, some members of the Religious Right also pursue their agenda through a postmillennial “kingdom on earth” eschatological emphasis, meaning that they hope to create a heaven on earth before Christ’s second coming, which they believe comes after the millennium in Revelation 20:1 to 10. This is evident in much of the thinking behind Christian Reconstructionism. However, it must be noted, not all members of the Religious Right are united on a single view of the “millennium” or the ideals of Reconstructionism; conservative Protestants and Catholics hold differing views among themselves, with the Catholic Church favoring an Augustinian amillennialism, “equating the Christian Church with the realized Millennium and postponing the Second Coming of Christ into the nonimminent future.”6
Historically, it is critical to point out that conservative Christians had a respectable place in higher education prior to World War I, and as such also had a corresponding socio-political presence by default. The radical impact that World War I had on society shifted public opinion greatly concerning God and religion in ways that would require Christianity to react. American Fundamentalism was one such related response, wherein conservatives retreated from the public sphere from the 1920s to 1970s, especially after defeats—in the eyes of the public—following battles over evolution in public schools. The current iteration of conservative Christianity through the Religious Right has been almost completely shut out of higher education since the 1920s, and it is highly unlikely they will be able to return in any strength in the 21st century for a variety of reasons, leaving the mainstream academy first to the Religious Left from the 1930s through 1969, and then finally the Secular Left, where the situation remains today. Most secular university faculty lean Left in the 21st century.7
With the above in mind, if a year were to be given for the official birth date for the contemporary Religious Right, it would be 1980, when the Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan ran for President and won, and Reagan’s Republican Party adopted a few of the concerns promoted by the Christian Right expressed by individuals like popular evangelist Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority. Although it must be noted that the conservative impulses of more fundamentalist leaning or conservative Protestant Christians had intersected with politics earlier in the century, they had never quite crystalized together in the way the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition would do so with the Republican Party after 1980.
In particular, prior to 1980, Catholics were mostly Democrats, as illustrated by Catholic politicians like presidential hopeful Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. However, between 1980 and 1990, a number of Catholics joined with conservative Republican Christians on the Right, a relationship made attractive because they shared similar positions against abortion and gay marriage. Hence, the modern picture of the Religious Right can’t be said to truly begin until 1980, when conservative Catholics began slowly joining conservative Protestants around a single socio-political rallying flag, the Republican Party, and its candidate, a somewhat unwilling Ronald Reagan.
It would be remiss at this point to neglect to mention one of the primary motives that actually ignited the Religious Right in the first place, and that would be the use of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to desegregate some conservative Christian schools like Bob Jones University in the 1970s. This was a decade that included the term of the politically liberal evangelical Democratic President Jimmy Carter, though he didn’t prompt this governmental initiative. Yet, despite this poor choice upon which to initiate their political activism (in the eye of public opinion), the Religious Right also emphasized a number of other sensitive and more controversial issues, such as the government’s involvement in issues like abortion and gay marriage, alongside prayer and the teaching of Creationism versus evolutionism in public schools.
Collectively, these latter issues are the real reason the evolving Religious Right became influential politically, and indeed, for most of the movement’s eventual members, these latter issues constitute the real reason the Religious Right grew among Christianity generally. The Religious Right gains socio-political strength only relative to the proactive nature of the Secular and Religious Left. When the Left is quiescent, the Right is seldom able to muster support among the populace.
The Religious Left. On the flip side from the Religious Right, there now exists a still-rising Religious Left, which aligns closely with the Democratic Party in the U.S. in 2015. As Steven Shiffrin recently observed, “Although the mass media tend to ignore it, there is a strong religious Left in the United States.”8 As such, although the Religious Left is a more complex movement, and has been less organized in some ways than the Right and thus often ignored, it actually has historical roots as deep as the Right that directly contribute to the shape of the contemporary political polarization in America.
In contrast to the “capitalistic moral gospel” of the Right (free enterprise, opposition to gay marriage, anti-abortion, support for Creationism and prayer in schools), the Left’s gospel can be encapsulated in the phrase, “economic-Marxist social/prosperity gospel,” which it pursues for the sake of the common good of society. It is primarily concerned with decreasing poverty, improving social equalities of various sorts, and resolving various other social ills, in addition to other contemporary globalist concerns like climate change and broad-based (multi-faith) ecumenism. Its key figures in recent years have been Jim Wallis and Ron Sider. Other names would include Mark Noll, Randall Balmer, Brian McLaren, and David Gushee.
Following the Fundamentalist Right’s retreat from the public sphere and declining influence during the 1920s-1970s, the more liberal mainline Protestant churches during this period constituted what would be called the Religious Left in the United States. They exercised a significant influence throughout higher education, while outside America the Religious Left manifested itself in an even more radical form of direct social engagement through Liberation Theology. Though it is often true that the Religious Left is more theologically liberal in recent times owing to its relationship to more liberal mainline churches in the 20th century that embraced theistic evolution, etc., this is not necessarily the case historically, nor in the present. It is possible for an adherent of the Religious Left to be theologically conservative (holding Right-leaning views on moral and theological issues), but socio-politically Leftist concerning economic matters, so much so that their overall Leftist leanings dominate their political affiliations. It should be noted, however, that such dipolar perspectives within Leftists are becoming harder to maintain as the Secular Left entrenches itself more firmly within views more naturally compatible with liberal theology and moral values. Additionally, although there are also libertarian leanings in some Leftists, the same as with the Right, such libertarians typically apply their views exclusively to so-called personal morality and not to socio-economic theories.
It may be helpful to understand the above developments to know that the Religious Left and Right were at times the same groups and people prior to 1980 and the development of contemporary socio-political identities, prior to when the culture wars began. Both sides have voices that encourage religious liberty, even if slightly differing definitions of it. The complex nature of this history is part of the reason that many today mistake previous generations of Christian activists (such as William Jennings Bryan and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson) as precursors to the Religious Right, when they may have been just as much extreme Leftists by the present use of the term. It appears true that most Leftists prior to 1980 more readily identified with postmillennialism, the idea that Christ would return after humanity had perfected things for a thousand years here on earth. This idea permeated the origins of American political progressivism, which was later translated easily enough into a form that today’s secular science-driven liberals can embrace. Both are committed to improving the here and now as their primary focus.
Notwithstanding religious liberty as an ideal that moderates of both the Right and Left can espouse, it is also true that totalitarianism tendencies represent the extremes of both the stereotypical Right and Left, who in many ways often think the same way. They apply their similarway of thinking (psycho-philosophical), however, toward different moral, social, and theological ends at different times and in differing contexts. Accordingly, as Mark Edwards correctly perceives, even within purportedly conservative (Right-leaning) Evangelicalism itself, “evidence . . . shows that the evangelical left and right cannot be segmented so easily. Historically, both [religious] parties have sought to save their souls by gaining the whole world.”9 Again, this time beyond only Evangelicalism, Michael Horton similarly observes, “In many ways mirroring the Religious Right’s confusion of Christ’s kingdom of grace with his coming kingdom in glory and the latter with the triumph of a particular agenda already defined by a political party, the emerging Religious Left seems just as prone to enlist Jesus as a mascot for our own programs of national and global redemption.”10
In its contemporary manifestation and stage of development, the telltale sign of the Religious Left (which is closely related to the Emerging Church phenomena as well as Liberation Theology) is its abandonment of a special focus on the moral part of the law, or the Ten Commandments, which is now often literally dissolved into Jesus’ simplification of the law, namely, love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Rather, Jesus’ counsel to the rich young ruler to “‘sell all that you have and give to the poor’” (Mark 10:21, ESV) becomes in itself a moralimperative, to be imposed coercively on society if necessary through various means, including taxation, to implement equitable wealth distribution. The free-willed attitude of the widow who gave her last mite to the Lord (Luke 21:1–4) is neglected by this new economic imperative targeting the wealthy, no matter how they acquired their wealth. “Social justice” is a key rallying concept for the Religious Left, as well as the Secular Left.
Additionally, as mentioned above, besides a greater focus on socio-economic issues in contrast to the moral part of the law, other issues that are connected to the moral dimension of the Ten Commandments are often (not always) reinterpreted in a “liberal” way by the Religious Left. For example, not only is support offered for homosexual civil unions for the sake of religious liberty, but even insistence upon homosexual marriage and the encouragement of a culture of pro-choice concerning abortion are sometimes encouraged. Insightfully, many in the Religious Left have long complained that “were it not for such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, which tended to galvanize conservative Christians . . . evangelicals ‘would not be a strong constituency of the Republican Party. There would be many more Democrats among them.’”11
The rising importance of socio-economic issues in the world, which has been picked up in the mainstream media recently, has invigorated the Religious Left. However, as also touched on above, Leftist Christianity, understood primarily as corporate socio-economic transformation (Christianized socialism) which is seen by Leftists as a more theoretically concrete public goal than private moral transformation, has existed since the earliest European settlement of America with the Pilgrims, who underwent a transition from collectivism to individualism.
Although the Secular Left has risen to prominence during recent decades, notably since the end of World War II, in many ways politically and socio-economically the Secular Left’s agenda is simply a repackaging of the Religious Left’s original agenda. This implies that the Left has, in many ways, been as influential as the Right, if not more so, on the development of American culture and American Christianity. As Christian Smith claims, “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.”12
This may appear paradoxical, but that is precisely the point, suggests sociologist of religion N. Jay Demerath. Liberal churches were so effective at promoting their liberal values and injecting them into mainstream culture that actual church membership declined, because secular society came to reflect some of the central values of the liberal churches.13 Smith, concurring with Demerath, observes, “Liberal Protestantism’s core values—individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of human experience—have come to so permeate broader American culture that its own churches as organizations have difficulty surviving. . . . Having won the larger battle to shape mainstream culture, it becomes difficult to sustain a strong rationale for maintaining distinctively liberal church organizations to continue to promote those now omnipresent values.”14
So it appears that the Religious Left may now grow into a full-fledged competitor to the Religious Right, especially if it can learn to navigate through its own complex relationship with the Secular Left. Just as the early Religious and Secular Left helped create the Right by interfering in society on issues such as abortion, the contemporary Religious Left came to more fully organize its ideas, if not yet structure (it is more dominant in the academy, however, where it has inherited a pre-existing structure), during the presidency of George W. Bush, a figure much disliked by the Left for the Iraq War, and as one representing everything wrong with conservatives and, by implication, conservative Christianity. In other words, the advancement of more extreme positions from each side serve to effectually motivate the creation of their opposite. To highlight the contrast, it’s no accident that after George W. Bush, it has recently been stated favorably that “the person who symbolized the religious left more than anyone else was Barack Obama,”15 the U.S. president in 2015. The zig and zag of American culture appears to be the pattern for the long haul.
In summary, it appears unlikely that the Left and Right, on their ownas American socio-political philosophies and ideologies, will readily find harmony in the near future. Something external to them must trigger a change for unity to be possible. This is the case for many reasons, but primary among them is their perceived attitude toward the concept and function of science, a distinctly philosophical problem.
Although opinions may differ among individuals, Republicans as a collective are known to be more questioning toward the scientific consensus on a number of major issues, not least among them economic policies and philosophy, a key point of contention between the Secular Right and Left. Indeed, overall, “Republican voters are united by their economic conservatism, divided by their cultural values. Just as Democratic voters are united by their economic liberalism, divided by theircultural values.”16 But within the even broader picture, the apparent or relative disdain for science by the Right has not been neglected for ridicule by Leftist secularists, and as the issues that science is applied to multiply, it appears harmony may be elusive.
The Significance of the Religious Left and Religious Right Today. The significance of the Religious Left and Religious Right in America is simple in their relationship to socio-political identities. Few other countries have such a simplistic reduction into just two major political parties, making America uniquely accessible for philosophical analogies and illustrations. Basically, as has been noted, the Left and Right have come to align with the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, in 2015. Thus, more than a century of development in religious political philosophy in America has “simplified/reduced” things down into two major positions or stances.
Of course, reality is always much more complex than such simplifications. Nevertheless, simplifications are also useful, even when reality is acknowledged to be more complex. Thus, although the labels of Religious Right and Religious Left align all too easily with their political counterparts, Protestant denominations and major movements labeled Right and Left do actually follow alongside the present secular or mainstream socio-political split at statistically significant percentages. In other words, most major denominations and religious groups do also have a single socio-political identity. This is because they were forced to choose one or lose relevance amid the confusion in the eyes of their members and the public.
For example, sociologists of American religion know that Mormons and Southern Baptist Evangelicals are overwhelmingly Republican and conservative in their socio-political leanings, as are many other churches that are at least surviving the difficult secularized climate today, culturally. Conversely, mainline Protestant churches lean strongly Democrat, especially with their leaders, as do all historically black Pentecostal and charismatic churches despite being socio-religiously conservative on some issues, and similarly any number of other churches that have identified with the Emerging movement also lean strongly Left. Most other demographically smaller religious faith groups in America likewise lean strongly Democrat, like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews, who collectively, perhaps, have a disproportionate influence in today’s special-interests-oriented society. An especially noteworthy is that the so-called broader evangelical movement, associated so strongly with the Religious Right in the 1980s and 1990s has begun to fracture. The new ecumenically oriented Emergent/Emerging church movement, its rebellious offspring, includes many younger Evangelicals, leaning strongly leftward to the Democrats.
Overall, religious voters in America are split almost 50/50, Republican and Democrat, with explicit Christians only slightly leaning to the Right. As some pollsters recently noted, the latest data “puts to rest the question of whether there is a ‘God gap’ between Republicans and Democrats: ‘Clearly, from this data, it’s not only closing. It’s closed.’”17 Thus, the God-gap that many pundits made headlines with during the height of the Religious Right’s influence no longer exists in a strong form, and the prevailing demographic changes anticipated for America indicate the traditional Religious Right’s influence will remain moderated.
More and more Americans are urbanized, representing various cultural/ethnic minorities, neither of which has been a strong suit for traditional conservative Evangelicals or Republicans. Unless there are some unexpected demographic changes waiting for America, the Religious Right will indeed enter a permanent and uneasy co-existence with the Religious Left during the next 25 years, and remain very much prone to ceding its dominance entirely as the more influential religious socio-political identity, even without superior drive and organization. Indeed, primarily secular independent groups on the Right like the Tea Party are writing their own epitaph with the demographic groups they have been neglecting, such as recent immigrants and various non-white minorities.
The takeaway point of the above situation, however, is not simply that most notable denominations align, overall, with a single socio-political identity. They must do so to remain relevant in the eyes of the public. In the U.S., all denominations or otherwise closely affiliated churches have fractured or are experiencing severe fragmentation affecting their missional outreach that do not maintain a super-majority preference by their ministers and members with a single socio-political identity.
Those that are divided socio-politically are fragmenting and declining the fastest. For example, in some instances, as with the mainline denomination United Church of Christ (UCC), one can easily understand how they are struggling with identity, growth, and outreach in today’s polarized American climate, when 77 percent of their ministers identify as Democrats, but only 51 percent of their members identify as Democrats.18 People don’t know the identity of such a church, rendering them mostly irrelevant to the big picture.
Conversely, Mormons, with a much stronger ideological symbiosis between their leaders, ministers, and members, in their case toward the Republican Party, are maintaining moderate growth and success.19 Of course, Mormonism’s somewhat limited, regionally focused demographic successes must be evaluated as such. They reach certain groups effectively, and others quite poorly. It’s hard for them to convert Democrats, for example. Conversely, the Emerging Church movement, although it is now realizing its own expected growing pains, has nevertheless made quite the splash in growth over the past two decades in part owing to its shared, unified, and clear socio-political identity with Democrats.
Overall, then, the fastest growing and significant church movements in America have a united socio-political identity. Churches that are divided socio-politically are either fracturing or shrinking. There are, however, a couple of notable exceptions.
The Socio-Political Spider Web
What is the relevance of all of the above for Seventh-day Adventists? There are several possible ways of answering this question.
Foremost among such responses is that American Adventists and Catholics closely share an important corporate identity marker that is somewhat unusual in the religious world for large ecclesiastically united religious groups that are prospering overall, which is noteworthy as Adventism emerges into a major world religious identity. “In 2014, for the 10th year in a row, more than 1 million people became Adventists, hitting a record 18.1 million members. Adventism is now the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide, after Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and the Assemblies of God.”20
American Adventist and American Catholic individual members are equally divided on their secular socio-political worldview identification or leaning. (It must be emphasized that most Adventists, as do most Christians, claim an independence from politics; nevertheless, even in articles where such independence is claimed, it is not difficult to identify leanings.) American Adventist and Catholic members are split roughly 50/50 (this is a broad but accurate enough generalization) between favoring Republican and Democrat policies and emphases over the past 10 years.
In fact, of all major American religious (denominational) identities that are not in significant decline, only Adventism and Catholicism have been able to weather the storm while maintaining such socio-political polarization. Despite individual members divided equally in their leanings to the Right or Left, Adventism and Catholicism have been able to maintain a relatively strong ecclesial identity and growth in America.21
The only other American religious identities doing anywhere near as well as Adventism and Catholicism have succumbed to the pressures of embracing only one socio-political identity, either the Right or the Left. Even major ecumenical movements must embrace only one or the other, with conservative churches coalescing together, and liberal churches doing the same. Of course, this means that Catholics are uniquely well positioned to adapt to either Right- or Left-leaning ecumenical movements.
Although no precise numbers exist for American Catholics or American Adventists and their socio-political leanings, as one sample survey indicates (alongside my own observations during the past 15 years at the diverse Adventist school of Andrews University), Adventists vote roughly in line with the general population,22 including following the population’s widespread stereotypes. (If you weren’t an Adventist, how you would vote depends simply on the rest of your demographic background. If you match the profile of a Republican or Democrat, respectively, chances are high that’s how you’ll vote as an Adventist).
To be clear, being or becoming an Adventist apparently makes no difference in how you see the socio-political world. Adventist theology does not create a unified American Adventist socio-cultural-economic-political worldview; rather, our increasing diversity has left us fragmented in an ever-more-polarized secular political climate. This is a curious phenomenon, and sadly, one that keeps many Adventists intellectually divided at the socio-economic level of our worldview, if not also on some theological issues, as inevitably they eventually interrelate. (It must be noted here that some theological conservatives are politically Leftist, although few theological liberals lean politically Right. In this regard, Steven H. Shiffrin, a non-Adventist, says, “There is no easy correlation between theology and [one’s] political position,”23 even if statistics reveal interesting patterns and trends).
The above situation is one of the more complex reasons for the present polarization and fragmentation of American Adventism theologically; we have developed no systematic way of connecting how our theology informs our overall worldview at the level of socio-economic engagement and theory. This is not necessarily, in itself, a bad thing. Adventists were frequently cautioned to avoid “political questions” by Ellen White.24 Yet, it also raises the question of how carefully Adventists actually think about the relationship between theology, philosophy, and society. Are we thinkers, or mere reflectors, of other people’s ideas? If we are not meant, as Adventists, to have a socio-economic worldview, then there must be reasons for this that we have not yet formally explored. Thus far, it appears we are reflectors, not thinkers, succumbing to the influence of whichever news sources we prefer.
As noted above, however, we are not alone in our fragmentation. The above division holds true for self-identifying American Catholics, who have also, interestingly, always supported the winner of the past several U.S. Presidential elections, no matter the Party he represented (except in 2000, when Catholics supported the popular majority vote winner Al Gore, but George W. Bush still won a second term owing to the electoral college), from Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (first term), to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The Catholics know, and make, a winner. As George Neumayr observed, “Barack Obama rose to power not in spite of the Catholic Church but in part because of it.”24
Importantly, on this note, although American Catholic leaders have had a “conservative-Republican” stereotype by most American Adventists over the past few decades because of two hot-button “culture war” issues, gay marriage and abortion, which aligned well enough with Pope Benedict XVI’s agenda, the current Pope, Francis, is much more left-leaning, and has also been hailed as above such culture wars, a Pope who can bring Catholics together, from more Left-leaning and Right-leaning Catholic perspectives. Pope Francis has followed through on this initiative, becoming the first modern Pope to explicitly downplay the politicalimportance of culture war issues like gay marriage and abortion, while yet still maintaining theological orthodoxy. Such moves have gained him tremendous popularity after just two years as the Pontiff.
For the first time in modern history, however, a few “Religious Right”-affiliated Catholic conservatives from Patrick Buchanan’s era are unhappy with their new Pope. Many have openly expressed their disappointment and criticisms of the Pope’s “leftist” economic sentiments. Francis appears to be far more “socialist” or “Marxist” than they are comfortable with, which has also been noted by several popular secular right-wing media commentators like Rush Limbaugh.
Indeed, some view Pope Francis as the single greatest threat to emerge that could challenge the existence of the Religious Right. When Francis removed one of the more-outspoken critics of abortion and gay marriage in America, the conservative Raymond Burke, from the Congregation for Bishops, it signaled a change in the Catholic approach to the American situation, a turn toward those that are less “heavily invested in culture wars.”26 As such, it seems that the more popular sentiments that are winning the day point toward Pope Francis as a great unifier, able to bring together the Left and Right, here meaning Catholic and non-Catholic Republicans and Democrats, winning over an overwhelming majority (92 percent of American Catholics and 69 percent of non-Catholics),27 and becoming Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2013.
The above overall popularity is further evidenced by Pope Francis’s recent invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress in a joint session, for the first time ever, a political body where the Catholic representatives and senators are split almost 50/50, Republican and Democrat. Of course, the invitation came from current Republican House of Representatives majority leader, John Boehner, a Catholic, and was supported by Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, also Catholic. In a time of incredible political polarization and rhetoric in our country, these two political opponents found common ground in their general approval of Pope Francis.
If there is one group that is consistently skeptical or critical of the agenda of Pope Francis, it is the Republican Tea Party, the most conservative-libertarian American group of political activists. Their outspoken opposition to Francis, however, is being drowned out in the overall euphoria of such a popular Pope capable of uniting people. It is doubtful that Francis can actually unite the Right and Left presently as some speculate, but, at least at a surface level, he does demonstrate that a single figure can be popular with some members of both sides.
Nevertheless, the depth of the divide in Catholicism is not a mere surface phenomenon. It penetrates deeply into their philosophy, particularly at the socio-economic level. American Catholics are deeply divided between economic “conservatives” and “liberals.” Some Catholic theologians hold “that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of [false] liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm (‘conservatism’—better designated as market liberalism).”28 Both are, ultimately, flawed, in the view of some Catholic philosophers and theologians, who are theologically orthodox but highly critical of the Religious Right. Such Catholic theologians, such as David L. Schindler, claim that “an economic system itself already embeds, indeed is also, a theology and an anthropology and a culture,” and that his understanding of traditional American liberalism is as such a false theology that denies freedom,29 based as it is upon the faulty Enlightenment understanding of autonomous reason and the rise of classical deterministic science that dominates the modern world.
In light of the direction that Pope Francis has taken the Catholic Church, it appears that Catholicism’s dualistic support for Republican and Democrat policies and emphases appears permanent. If anything, the Catholic Church leans to the Left, not the Right. Only on the issues of abortion, contraceptives, and homosexual marriage does the Catholic Church have any commitment to what are considered traditionally Republican positions during the era of the Religious Right.
On issues of socio-economic interest, like poverty and government involvement in wealth distribution, universal health care, and global issues like anthropogenic climate change or global warming, as well as other issues like long-ages evolution, which most Fundamentalist Right-wingers oppose, the Catholic Church has solidly placed itself behind a progressivist/liberal Democratic flag, and it is doubtful that it will change on any of these issues, as supporting them grants Catholicism greater influence over society. When it comes to economic philosophy, namely, the best way to accomplish their above agendas, American Catholics are, as noted above, deeply divided, but lean, if anything, to the Left globally, which is important because socio-economic Leftism is more conducive to totalitarian control.
Such a reality should temper concerns by some, especially in Adventist circles, that the Catholics are about to unite with those from the Religious Right, or, more particularly, the religious members of the Tea Party. Put simply, it’s just more complicated than that, and sharing this simplistic narrative repeatedly in our outreach and evangelistic materials is not helpful or useful, and does not penetrate into the much deeper and important philosophical and cultural issues at play.
Adventists should pursue the philosophical issues relating to libertarianism, which is a more complex and fruitful subject than many realize, and, overall, focus less on politics and religious-liberty issues as they are discussed within the mainstream socio-political spider web. This isnot an endorsement in itself of libertarianism, but rather a suggestion that we should endeavor harder to understand it. The socio-economic issues our world faces are often more complicated than society might wish us to suppose. Stepping into the spider web of socio-politics and economics, it is too easy to become entangled, and, eventually, even prey for the spider. We must avoid such false dilemmas and situations. Rather, let us allow the central role of the gospel and personal spirituality within the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 to resound more clearly.
Adventism in the Spider Web. As it pertains to Adventism, in particular, there are many consequences of the socio-political spider web, perhaps none more important that the extreme confusion that the younger generation is experiencing in understanding what it means to “think” and “see” both the world and the church within it as an Adventist, particularly living in America. What is the “Adventist worldview” in a wholistic sense?
It is a mistake to assume that the Great Controversy meta-narrative provides a clear, complete, or wholistic worldview, as philosophers are inclined to describe one; in other words, that it tells how to view economic matters within and outside of the church. A worldview contains more than a theological meta-narrative like the Great Controversy as it is typically discussed. A worldview addresses issues that socio-political ideologies address: matters of economics, social justice, religious liberty, foreign policy, the nature of mathematics, etc. (numbers being Plato’s ideal example inspiring his “two worlds”). The question of how all these issues and disciplines should be approached from within the Great Controversy narrative has not yet been articulated, encouraging present divisions on the above “secondary” issues.
Thus, further development and clarification of the profundity of the Great Controversy may prove helpful. If the Great Controversy were understood as a wholistic worldview, it should provide socio-political guidance (whatever form that guidance may take). Maybe it does. But more and more younger and older committed Adventists have either no definite answer to the above questions, or their answers directly conflict with one another as sympathies slide into one of the narratives presented through the mainstream media that favor the Right or the Left.
Fellow Adventist friends who are, respectively, anti-Republican or anti-Democrat, aren’t going away. We should be cognizant of the fact we’re sharing our Adventist message within the context of two competing socio-political narratives concerning the condition and direction of America. Take a polarizing issue like abortion, and you’ll find Adventists, even of varying theological persuasions, firmly planted on both sides of the question. Nevertheless, we must never become known as the Seventh-day Republican or Seventh-day Democrat Church.
Why are Adventists and Catholics uniquely capable of remaining within the prevalent tensions in the major American socio-political identities? If nothing else, this is interesting precisely because it is not the trend in other sizable socio-religious groups in America. Is this because, in some senses, both sides are necessary to see the wholistic picture, even if both are, obviously, incomplete and even flawed? Does this mean that Catholicism, as a philosophical and theological system, better understands (having a more deliberately developed systematic perspective over many centuries) the wholistic nature of reality than Adventists presently do?
Another provocative thought: The Catholics have a pope to ensure unity, despite their American socio-political confusion. We do not have a pope. Can we continue to survive the political polarization that no other Protestant group has managed to survive and thrive while maintaining the dual socio-political sympathies among our members? Adventists often discuss our currently existing theological tensions and divisions. But we are also divided at the level of our socio-political worldview. This division is in many ways more significant because it penetrates into how we dotheology and implement our evangelistic programs and develop the philosophical principles undergirding our educational and organizational structures—how the church works at the human level.
Given Adventist belief that the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6 to 12, alongside Revelation 12:17 are global in nature, it is probably good that Adventists are somewhat divided on socio-political sympathies. This aids evangelizing to a world, and a country, America, that is polarized. Adventists can express honest sympathies with aspects of the Right and Left, while not partaking of their philosophies in full. We can say “I recognize” your way of thinking to anyone. Not all church denominations can do this.
The Future of Christian Socio-Politics and the Rise of GloboChristianity
One might wonder what the future holds for American Christianity in its polarized socio-political climate. In itself, no reconciliation appears possible through continued dialogue. Were the Right and Left to remain true to their present purposes, they would be incompatible philosophically, at least in the secular world. Neither is there evidence that one will easily eclipse the other any time soon.
Notwithstanding Pope Francis’ unifying charisma, the status quo in America points toward continued polarization, even among Catholics. Thus, if the Right and Left can’t unite themselves as Christians in this modern age within Christendom (nations strongly culturally influenced by Christianity), then something or something may unite them from the outside. Any union between the two sides is possible only by the initiation of outside events and ideologies that conflict with Christianity at large. We may need to look beyond America to see what is encountering Christianity from a global perspective. A number of provocative books have been written recently discussing the future of Christianity that are fully aware of its internal divisions between the Right and Left. In particular, Christian philosopher and theologian Carl Raschke offers an assessment that points to a global picture.
“From God’s point of view,” writes Raschke, “the ‘abomination of desolation’ in today’s culture is not the level of sophistication, or purity, of one’s supposed take on how we know what we know, or do not know what we know. That is theological arrogance and self-deception. It is the installation of a swinish and self-congratulatory intellectual faddism, found in both conservative and liberal religion, in the holy temple of the Christian faith. We need to turn over the tables and throw out not only the money changers—the growth gurus who both run and ruin the evangelical churches—but also the traders in conceptual currency who transform God’s [church] into a brothel of philosophical and cultural fashions rather than a genuine house of prayer; we need to open our hearts and minds into authentic relationship with the Lord.
“The traders lamentably are not only legion on the right but are also increasingly found on the left. A postmodern Christian who wants to stay pure to the gospel needs to navigate carefully, not running off the road into the ditch on either side. In American Christianity much of the debate about modern and postmodern, conventional and Emerging, has degenerated into just one more skirmish in the ongoing culture wars, with unmistakable political overtones mimicking familiar campaign bluster. The leadership of the emerging movement has increasingly pushed the discourse from what it might mean to follow Jesus to what it might mean to follow the policy agenda of the Democratic National Committee. If the criticism of the now-fading religious right was that one cannot make Jesus into a Republican, it is equally true that one cannot simply convert him into a Democrat. . . . In many respects the emerging religious left is just a fun-house mirror of the religious right; it is defined by its spirit of contrariness and a kind of passive-aggressive incredulity about what is lurking out there in the world at large. The culture wars are of no more consequence for the coming GloboChristianity than [a] . . . sectarian strife.”30
Raschke realizes clearly that mainstream Christianity is at a point of crisis, both in America, and even more importantly, globally. It is struggling to define its identity. Yet, through this ongoing struggle, it is also encountering a new challenge, one that is unique in the history of Christianity, as it finally approaches its goal of sharing the gospel message throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). And it is not secularism, or atheism, that is Christianity’s primary challenge on a global scale.
Raschke observes that throughout the history of Christianity, it has “flourished because it was able to absorb . . . rather than expel many elements from the rainbow continuum of world religions that predominated at the time. The staggering nature of this feat has often gone unappreciated by Christian scholarship of all stripes.”31 Without critiquing how this may have negatively affected the purity of Christian theology, Raschke’s point is historical and sociological. Christianity frequently encountered religions that had developed independently of it, and Christianity was able to defeat or absorb them philosophically. Christianity proved more attractive and logical. In the 21st century, however, controversial a topic as it may be, Christianity has found a culture and religion that is specifically resistant to it, that of Islam, which is the only major world religion that was formed in part as a response to Christianity.
The consequences of this are straightforward. The quest of mainstream Christianity to evangelize to the world, to become a GloboChristianity as Rashke put it, has found its first major stumbling block in the so-called 10/40 Window, representing North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of southeast Asia, where a significant portion of the world’s population lives, and where projections indicate the most rapid population growth in the coming decades.
Put simply, Christianity’s evangelistic impulse through “missions—whether old-guard or postmodern. . . has been unable to come to grips with the challenge of Islam.”32 Needless to say, violence serves no useful role as part of any solution to this challenge for Christianity or the West, however much secular powers may feel it to be necessary at times in the light of recent violence demonstrated by certain Islamic groups.
Raschke, and others, like historian Philip Jenkins, are all too aware that the 10/40 Window, the “‘window of resistance’ to Christian missions and evangelism,”33 contains countries and cultures that are predominantly Muslim. In the aftermath of the events on 9/11 and a tide of interest in Islam in the mainstream news in America and the West, Raschke writes that “the looming clash” that will define the future of Christianity will be “between the two historico-religious tectonic plates that comprise Christian and Islamic visions of justice and the end times. The die has been cast, and we ignore these forebodings at our own peril.” Thus, to “explore . . . what a global incarnational Christianity might look like, we need to examine the depth of the challenge it might be facing. We must address the challenge of what has come to be called the postmodern Islamic revival.”34
Similarly, Jenkins observes that “at the turn of the third millennium, religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world’s ongoing civil wars and political violence, and in most cases, the critical division is the age-old battle between Christianity and Islam.”35 Although such tensions are obviously not desirable, and while some may point toward a hopeful coexistence, it is impossible to avoid the long-term potential for the fundamental transformation of our cultures stemming from this tension.
Raschke perceptively notes that historic “Christian fundamentalism [on the Right and Left] and jihadist Islam alike draw their energy from passionate moral and spiritual convictions inflamed by [postmodernism].”36 Raschke believes that “the Western [Secular Left leaning] intelligentsia’s familiar dismissal of these fundamentalisms as backward and ignorant reflects an equally ignorant and outdated bookish view regarding the sources of religious meaning and authority. In a not-so-nuanced sense these fundamentalisms are the cutting edge of globalized, and globalizing, religiosity.”37
Raschke is offering a subtle critique of the West’s historical responses to Islam, from that of engaging it militarily to ignoring it. Both are ultimately inadequate. Put more precisely, “Western secularists have not yet figured out that Islam has more allure among the perceived victims of globalization and Westernization than anything they might offer up because it provides a collectivist vision that is also deeply spiritual. Evangelicals, in contrast, have tended to hang on to the old colonial mentality, which regards Muslims as on the same level as tribal animists or folk religionists rather than acknowledging Islam as a redoubtable force that at one time almost completely overwhelmed—and in the right circumstances could still overwhelm—the Christian West.”38
Interestingly, Raschke observes that “the only way Christianity can hope to succeed against Islam in today’s global context is to put aside the secularist project altogether. That is not to say that Christianity . . . must adopt some form of quasi-Marxist liberation theology in answer to Islam. . . . Christianity today must become far more radical than it has ever imagined.”39 But he is not speaking in favor of Christianity’s past unwise and un-Christian efforts, nor of the Secular Right’s solution today to entrench the West within an openly antagonistic stance. Rather, indeed, “the fulfillment of the Great Commission will not be without struggle.
“The struggle is ultimately a spiritual one, but it is real, it is contemporary, and it will become more intense as the years wear on. Through dialogue, Muslims and Christians may come to agree on common points of their mutual Abrahamic faiths, but the differences will always outweigh the similarities. The differences make the difference.”40 And such differences will constitute the development and success of Christianity in the future, both globally, and, eventually, within America. Raschke concludes by noting that our global postmodern (what he calls “globopomo”) resurgence, which includes religion, “has set us on an inescapable collision of eschatologies”41 with Islam.
As we advance upon the road toward this collision, our notions of a “liberal Christian, or even post-Christian, global civil society that allows a loose and mutually respectful—if not tolerant—recital of differences is looming as increasingly less possible in our globopomo environment.”42 Thus, Christianity will itself face a crisis of a more severe type than what the Right and the Left offer us. “The challenge to the postmodern Christian sensibility will not be whether some evangelically flavored form of Western cultural pluralism and libertarianism can seriously compete with the moral and spiritual absolutes being propounded by the resurgence of religion throughout the developing world.”43 Rather, “the challenge is to be able to frame the nonnegotiable truth of the Christian witness in terms that will have a genuine, planetary impact.”44 Raschke realizes that the only solution for Christianity is “a new eschatological fervor on the part of Christians the world over, particularly in the senescent West, that will reactivate the summons of the Great Commission in these latter days.”45
Adventism Within the Future of GloboChristianity. If the answer to the polarization in mainstream Christianity’s future, including particularly in America, is not found in the Religious Right or Emerging Left, as Raschke contends, then where may it be found? In James Smith’s introduction to Raschke’s book GloboChrist, Smith, while summarizing Raschke’s book, invites him to “consider becoming a fervent devotee of ‘remnant’ theology—committed to the sense that God is present with the ‘few’ who remain faithful.”46 Such an invitation is one that Adventism has long welcomed with its emphasis on a remnant theme in our philosophical theology’s eschatological focus.
Adventism may look toward biblical prophecy with a renewed vigor for the answer to this question. Recently, Tim Roosenberg has advanced an interpretation, which has additional forthcoming scholarly support, which sees a prominent place for Islam in the global picture of Adventist eschatology.47 Central to his view is that in Daniel 11:24 to 39, the king of the north represents various progressions of apostate Christianity, which is centered upon Catholicism’s embrace of Sunday, while “the king of the south during that period was Islam.”48 Of course, Roosenberg also believes, and much more controversially (particularly in Adventist history), that in Daniel 11:40 to 45, there is no change from the previous geo-political-religious focus, and thus the king of the north remains apostate and false Christianity, and the king of the south remains Islam, and not atheism or some other philosophical perspective, through to the end of time.49
The kings of the north and south are both representatives of false religious and political powers and influences. Thus, Adventists cannot support, as a movement begun by those mostly living in the Christian West, the methods of the king of the north in opposing the king of the south. We are, as Sabbatarians, “caught in the middle” between Sunday-worshiping Christians and Friday-worshiping Muslims, and are thus a remnant seeking to influence the world by informing people of the true nature of present events while simultaneously awaiting our rescue from it. We are trapped in the middle of this global clash of cultures, which is both philosophical (ideological) as well as manifesting itself in a geopolitical form that is recognizable to us with European Christianity located north of the predominantly southern Islamic countries.
Adventist evangelism takes place within the ideological fervor of the growing global geopolitical tensions between so-called Christian nations and Islam. Tragically, recent events illustrate the presence of Adventists within the violent tensions in parts of the world where Islam and Christianity coexist. This was evident in the deaths of 10 Adventists in the Kenyan university massacre.
Adventism’s greatest evangelistic challenge is navigating through this global context. As such, if viewed philosophically, traditional interpretations that place Adventism and spiritual issues at the center of Daniel 11:40 to 45 can still be regarded as true while simultaneously accepting the external global geopolitical context Roosenberg presents. To aid in explaining this, essentially, one common interpretation of the king of the south in Daniel 11:40 to 45, atheism, is not a viable philosophical counter to Catholicism. Atheism is, in a philosophically technical sense, a phantom in the Western world, a natural consequence of Platonic/Aristotelian Christianity taken to its logical secularized conclusion.
Islam, however, remains such a counter to Christianity, precisely because it mirrors Catholicism in utilizing a Platonic/Aristotelian philosophical framework. This provides Islam with a metaphysics comparable to Catholicism and places it within a religio-ethical context. As such, Islam provides the only genuine competitor to Catholicism at a philosophical level. The only serious alternative to the Platonic/Aristotelian framework would be Eastern religions, which are not necessarily atheistic, often leaning to pantheism.
These complex issues offer a compelling reason to study contemporary events with a renewed and sharper focus. Adventists have something to offer, both in sympathy, and critique, to the American Right and the American Left, as well as how they each currently relate to the global context. Adventists also have something to offer, both in sympathy and critique, to the people from both of the broader global cultures of Christianity and Islam. We have a message to the entire world concerning its impending end and the second coming of Christ. Realizing how our message fits within the American and global context may invigorate our evangelistic message, particularly in relationship to the philosophical issues undergirding the Great Controversy, as well as aid in clarifying our prophetic and eschatological message for people living at the dawn of the 21st century.
Michael F. Younker has a B.A. in both History and Religion, and an M.A. in Religion from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where he is currently a Ph.D. candidate studying philosophical theology.