The Joys and Sorrows of being ex-Seventh-day Adventist

The Joys and Sorrows of being ex-Seventh-day Adventist

I don’t actually view myself as “ex” anything, even though we all are ex-something and headed onward to something else, I hope. But I don’t shun contact with members of the church in which I grew up, and thus I sometimes have to deal with the default identity of ex-Seventh-day Adventist.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of SDAs who see me as a person apart from that one point of identity. There are even some non-SDAs–who were never SDAs–who define me as an ex-SDA. The connection between the church in which I grew up and my present identity cannot be severed in their view. What they would like me to do is cut all ties as clearly as possible and make myself anti-SDA. It’s the old “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” approach. And of course that approach isn’t bad if the question is good and evil, God or satan, constructive or destructive. But for brothers and sisters in Christ, I reject that approach.

I can illustrate this through two experiences. The first came as I was coordinating a series of events with Dr. Alden Thompson, professor of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University. One of these was at an SDA church. While I was in the back of the room selling copies of Alden’s book, a young man approached me and asked me about my own affiliations. When he found out I had been raised and educated SDA and yet was now a Methodist, he said, “I just can’t imagine how anyone could have issues with Seventh-day Adventists doctrine!” Well, I can.

The reverse occurred when I gave a copy of my mother’s book Directed Paths to an evangelical non-SDA to read. She objected to the fact that I quoted Ellen White in the preface, even though the specific quote was certainly harmless. To her, my quoting Ellen White implied some kind of endorsement of every word she had said, and thus put my dedication to orthodox Christianity in question.

But I simply don’t see it that way. I’m ex-SDA, and now United Methodist because I do not agree with certain specific SDA doctrines that would make it difficult for me to worship and do ministry as a member of an SDA church. There are similar doctrinal issues that would make it difficult for me to work and ministry through a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Southern Baptists, or the Assemblies of God. Yet I have no problem calling all of the above groups Christian brothers and sisters. In fact, rather than calling myself a Methodist, I like to call myself a Christian who is a member of a United Methodist congregation. You see, there are plenty of Methodists with whom I have similar doctrinal disagreements.

I would prefer to ask just what strengths there are in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, and to look at just how I can benefit from those strengths. In my own experience there are quite a number. I was steeped in the Bible as a young person. I took an extraordinarily varied set of courses in Biblical studies and Biblical languages from skilled instructors in Seventh-day Adventist schools. I got an excellent view of ethics and some holiness teaching. I don’t agree with everything I was taught, but I have to ask who does agree with everything they were taught in school? More importantly, who should agree with everything?

If I am to criticize my SDA education I would say that I actually agreed with way too much of what I was taught, and was not challenged by enough “foreign” ideas. I didn’t spend enough time sufficiently early in my life learning to evaluate a variety of ideas.

As a Methodist, I’m not going to make the same mistake. I have a particular heritage because of my background. That gives me the opportunity to bring the broad center of Christianity into contact with Seventh-day Adventists and vice-versa. I think this is a good thing. It does force me to fight the ex-SDA label from both sides, but that’s worth the price. That is not the only barrier I’m interested in crossing, but it is one that I am well-equipped to challenge.

As Christians we are far too fearful of seeing our beliefs challenged, even by those within our own faith. As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I need to be challenged by Calvinists, and they by me. Those who tend toward antinomianism need to be challenged by the more positive view of law present in the Adventist tradition, and of course the reverse is true as well. If our doctrinal beliefs are so fragile that hearing a sermon or a teaching that challenges them frightens us and makes us want to go hide in our denominational caves, then those beliefs are too fragile, either ontologically or perhaps merely in our own minds. Fear is a sign of weakness, not of strength.

This weekend there is a conference going on at Andrews University commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book Questions on Doctrine. Some SDAs would prefer this event not be commemorated. I think it’s a good thing, simply because it stirred up thought. The bad thing is those who try to smooth the waters before the benefit of living water is gained by all.

At the same time I will be putting my words into action, as Pacesetters Bible School again hosts Dr. Alden Thompson on the campus of a United Methodist Church, in our conference on restoring Biblical literacy. This is too late for advertising. I simply provide the link as evidence that I practice what I preach on this point.

Those who tend to think of me as a closet SDA because I was raised SDA, have to do no more than read a little bit of this blog (the creation vs. evolution entries would do nicely) to realize that this isn’t the case. SDAs can ponder how I could possible reject SDA doctrines, and that’s fine too. Other ex-SDAs can wonder how I can both leave the church and still have a positive view of it. I hope they do think about that. One of the greatest tragedies is someone who lives their life in resentment over how someone treated them and whose identity is truly provided by what they have rejected.

There are joys and sorrows to being ex-SDA, and in the end, I find it’s not so different from any other piece of my life that I’ve left partially behind, but is still part of me.

9 thoughts on “The Joys and Sorrows of being ex-Seventh-day Adventist

  1. As an Adventist I really appreciated your thoughts here. The question of religious, even spiritual, identity goes far beyond mere assent. I’m interested in liminal figures who sort of forge their own theological identities, like an artist, remixing quotes and beliefs and days and people into something that has ultimate meaning.

  2. I am an Adventist, born and bred, and some of the very things you mention resonate with me quite well. I am still a part of the church, though in my younger years (read “academy days”) I challenged both my parents and my teachers to explain why I had not been exposed to other religions until the age where everything in my life was already so confusing. I felt I was being brainwashed and only when they were confident I wouldn’t leave their coddling did they allow me to hear about other religions and beliefs.

    I may digress a bit here, but my point is that I really appreciate you expressing your thoughts here. I also appreciate that you have the open mindedness to accept the fact that people can all be brothers and sisters and yet still attend separate congregations and believe in different ideas.

    Thank you for sharing. And I hope your meeting with Alden is enjoyable. (I work at WWU and see him quite a bit!) Happy Sabbath, from one Christian to another.

  3. It has struck me over the years how immature we (SDAs and I am sure other twigs of religion) can be about our beliefs. We find ourselves unable to participate in a wider Christianity because there may be something said that we don’t agree with. Our energy gets spent on looking for these points. Then stepping back and looking in from outside or at least the edge of Adventism there is a visibility of the same within the “Remnant”.

    Your two experiences are very real and telling. “I just can’t imagine how anyone could have issues with Seventh-day Adventist doctrine!” is priceless.

    The one thing that will continue to hinder SDAm from contributing very much to the Body is Triumphalism. It will continually be hard to gain credibility while claiming to be the Chosen.

  4. You make a good point on immaturity, and no, it is not just an SDA problem. One of the surprises in being part of another community is that many of the problems are so similar. I encountered Methodists in just the past week who felt threatened by an SDA speaker. I’m not sure what they thought might happen if they listened, but whatever it was frightened them.

    On the other hand, I experienced a conversation in which a Methodist pastor challenged our speaker, Alden Thompson on soul sleep, just so he could gain a better understanding of the issues. The resulting discussion of immortality of the soul vs soul sleep, even though it was in a very small group, was one of the most constructive of our weekend.

    I’m not saying that minds were changed, but rather that all involved seriously engaged with scripture and discovered previously unimagined possibilities.

  5. It has been 45 years since I left the SDA organization. I did not leave for theological reasons although theological reasons are why I could never rejoin. The God I had been taught to fear and love was a psychotic monster more interested in being worshiped and obeyed than in loving his creation. The Jesus of my childhood had made the ultimate sacrifice and would never let anyone forget it. Being gay, all that rejection and guilt was not worth enduring and I soon decided that I was among those created for the sole purpose of being destroyed for the glory of God. My life is filled with thankfulness and awe at the discovery of the true nature of the Source whose love is the source of all time and space, of all things and the nothing that seperates them and whose action is the moment by moment, continuing creation of the universe in all its aspects – spiritual, intellectual and physical. It is not for myself that I mourn. How does one live with the pain one gives one’s parents and family who, as I once was, are so sure, so convinced, so programed they only see their eternity flawed by what they believe will be my absence in it? We have come to agree on the triune nature of “God” and of love,(The Lover,the Beloved and the Spirit. None can exist without the other)) yet at he end of the day the conclusions are twisted by E.G.W.. How do those of you who know of what I speak cope with the sense of causing so much pain?

  6. What I have found after leaving the SDA Church is that there are people who love one another in all denominations, and there are people who condemn. It’s not a feature of the SDA church. It’s a feature of people, even of people who are trying to follow God.

  7. gay is abomination to god.so the church should not accept it.
    but every body has his own opinion so that i recpect your opinions.

  8. You misunderstand. My SDA family love me sincerely and personally love me. They however cannot see that God can forgive my turning away from the “gospel” as perceived by EG White and the SDA organization. I try to comfort them by assuring them that IF they are right, God will wipe away all their tears and they will live in eternal bliss without me. This they try to grasp by faith – but until such a day they weep and pray for me. What do other ex-SDAs do to ease the pain they have caused by leaving the “church/”

  9. My dear young lady, do me a favor: get out your Bible Concordance and look up all the texts under “abomination,” I think it will put your statement in context. Now, one is heterosexual whether or not one is celibate, just so one is homosexual whether or not one is celibate, it has nothing to do with behavior. If you are right and like St. Paul wrote there are those created for destruction, all for the glory of God, and my destruction along with those like me will ratchet up the glory of God, let it be so! That glory should be quite spectacular after He’s through murdering off the millions of creatures who refused to do it His way. Lastly, what do you think “Those who love their neighbors have fulfilled ALL the law” means?

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