A reader of this blog has asked a couple of questions (rather unpleasantly). Tonight, having just returned from the World Religions class I teach, I have decided to take the time to respond like Hillel instead of Shammai.
First, he says the Seventh-day Adventist church is pro-abortion.
Second, he says the Seventh-day Adventist church was founded by “a 12 year old epileptic girl.”
I’ll start with the second. The Seventh-day Adventist church was founded in 1863. Ellen White, to whom he is referring, was born in 1827 and was thus 36 that year. Her husband, James, born in 1821, was 42. Joseph Bates, born in 1792, was 71. The three together are considered the founders of Seventh-day Adventism. Ellen White had her first vision in 1844 at the age of 17. She had no standing in the Millerite movement, however–she was just a 17 year old kid living with her parents. Her visions did not provide any doctrinal content and do not form the basis of Seventh-day Adventist teaching. Adventists take their doctrine from the Bible and the Bible only. All the distinctives of the Seventh-day Adventist church were hammered out through Bible study independent of Ellen White’s influence. As to the charge that she had epilepsy–there’s no credible scientific basis for that diagnosis. But even if she did … so what? Does an illness prevent God from using someone? Does age? Paul had a thorn he prayed God to take away–but affirmed in his weakness he was made strong (2 Cor 12:7-10). Paul told Timothy to let no man despise his youth (1 Tim 4:12). If anyone wants to know more, I’d refer them to some books by historian George Knight.
As to the suggestionthat Adventists are pro-abortion, I’d refer you to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. There you have Adventist teaching. The preface affirms:
Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.
On the matter of marriage and family life Adventists believe:
Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; Matt. 5:31, 32; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-4; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6.)
The Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted on some guidelines on abortion on October 12, 1992. This is not part of the church’s Fundamental Beliefs. It was not passed by the General Conference in session, which is the church’s highest level of authority. It begins:
Many contemporary societies have faced conflict over the morality of abortion.* Such conflict also has affected large numbers within Christianity who want to accept responsibility for the protection of prenatal human life while also preserving the personal liberty of women. The need for guidelines has become evident, as the Church attempts to follow scripture, and to provide moral guidance while respecting individual conscience. Seventh-day Adventists want to relate to the question of abortion in ways that reveal faith in God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life and in ways that reflect Christian responsibility and freedom. Though honest differences on the question of abortion exist among Seventh-day Adventists, the following represents an attempt to provide guidelines on a number of principles and issues. The guidelines are based on broad biblical principles that are presented for study at the end of the document.
So there’s the reality: Adventists have differing views, caught in tension between the twin poles of personal freedom and obligations to the unborn.
1) Prenatal human life is a magnificent gift of God. God’s ideal for human beings affirms the sanctity of human life, in God’s image, and requires respect for prenatal life. However, decisions about life must be made in the context of a fallen world. Abortion is never an action of little moral consequence. Thus prenatal life must not be thoughtlessly destroyed. Abortion should be performed only for the most serious reasons.
2) Abortion is one of the tragic dilemmas of human fallenness. The Church should offer gracious support to those who personally face the decision concerning an abortion. Attitudes of condemnation are inappropriate in those who have accepted the gospel. Christians are commissioned to become a loving, caring community of faith that assists those in crisis as alternatives are considered.
3) In practical, tangible ways the Church as a supportive community should express its commitment to the value of human life. These ways should include:
a. strengthening family relationships
b. educating both genders concerning Christian principles of human sexuality
c. emphasizing responsibility of both male and female for family planning
d. calling both to be responsible for the consequences of behaviors that are inconsistent with Christian principles
e. creating a safe climate for ongoing discussion of the moral questions associated with abortion
f. offering support and assistance to women who choose to complete crisis pregnancies
g. encouraging and assisting fathers to participate responsibly in the parenting of their children.
The Church also should commit itself to assist in alleviating the unfortunate social, economic, and psychological factors that add to abortion and to care redemptively for those suffering the consequences of individual decisions on this issue.
Next comes the key paragraph.
4) The Church does not serve as conscience for individuals; however, it should provide moral guidance. Abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience are not condoned by the Church. Women, at times however, may face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. The final decision whether to terminate the pregnancy or not should be made by the pregnant woman after appropriate consultation. She should be aided in her decision by accurate information, biblical principles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, these decisions are best made within the context of healthy family relationships.
I think it wimps out. I think it should have been more forceful in emphasizing the duty to protect life. That’s what I was consistently taught as a young Adventist. It’s what was drummed into us during a Week of Prayer at Atlantic Union College when I was a student by a powerful speaker. My own suspicion: I think here the Executive Committee caved in to pressure from some in the church’s hospital system.
Is the Adventist church pro-abortion? No. But it acknowledges there are some very difficult situations where the church can’t legislate. Considering this is a subject where Scripture is silent (despite the fact that abortion was known in the ancient world), I can live with that, while preaching and teaching according to my conscience and according to what I believe Scripture says. That, the church affirms, is my duty.