This may seem like a simple question. A better one might be, “Why not?”
Some Prefatory Remarks
Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) are often misunderstood, which complicates the issue. If I had transferred my membership from a Presbyterian church, for example, to a United Methodist congregation, it’s unlikely anyone would ask me why I maintain relationships with Presbyterians. As an ex-SDA, however, I’m often asked questions like the one I’m trying to answer right now. SDAs ask me how I could possibly leave the church. At an SDA church where one of my authors was speaking, a young man exclaimed to me, “How could you possibly have difficulties with SDA doctrine?” If you want to understand why I left the SDA church or how I feel about it, you might try reading The Joys and Sorrows of Being ex-SDA.
Here’s my key point: While I disagree with the Seventh-day Adventist Church on a number of doctrinal points, especially on issues of prophecy and some applications of the (otherwise valuable) term “remnant people,” I still regard them as brothers and sisters in Christ, in the same way and on the same basis that I regard fellow Methodists, or members of Presbyterian, Baptist, Assemblies, United Church of Christ, independent, or any other Christian congregation. I have disagreements on doctrine with pretty much everyone I know (often including yesterday’s version of myself), and that doesn’t make me deny Christian fellowship.
But there are always those other questions about SDAs. They’re different, yes, but they’re more different in weirder ways than others. Which reminds me of the church Staff-Parish Relations committee that decided that an SDA speaker, who had also spoken at continuing education events for pastors at the conference level, could not be allowed to speak at their church. Having read something about Latter Day Saints, they were certain they didn’t want an SDA to speak. Surely we should stick to Methodist speakers.
There are two forms of ignorance here. 1) There’s ignorance of precisely who SDAs are and what they believe, and 2) There’s the ignorance of just how much weirdness we have in mainline denominations. If I need to find a crazy speaker, but am limited to those who are United Methodists, I will have no difficulty at all!
What I Publish
So what does this have to do with publishing?
Very little, actually. It’s just that people expect it to.
I frequently have to remind people that I am a Christian publisher, publishing books selected for a Christian audience. That doesn’t mean that all our readers are Christians. What’s more, it doesn’t mean that all our authors are Christians. In a blog post titled Why Did You Publish THAT Manuscript? (on the Energion blog), I noted that “We judge manuscripts and not authors here at Energion Publications.”
To me that is a rather obvious point, but it has raised questions. In order to guarantee the publishing of Christian authors only I would have to first define the boundaries of Christianity, and then make myself the judge of whether someone had met those criteria or managed to fall within those boundaries. I can do that for myself with regard to organizations and systems. It’s a simple matter of definitions and categorization. To do it with persons would be problematic. In fact, I personally simply accept anyone’s self-confession of what their religious view is.
Further, as publishers have discovered before, it’s much more difficult to determine whether a person is a good person than it is to determine whether a manuscript is a good manuscript. I choose to deal with manuscripts.
I think my earlier remarks largely answer the question. When a manuscript by an SDA author seems to me to be of interest to my audience, an audience which definitely does include SDAs, I’ll publish it, always provided it meets other necessary criteria. I avoid publishing books that are of interest to only one denomination, for example.
Here are some specific points:
- Am I on a mission to convert SDAs and get them out of the SDA church? No. I have no intention of persuading anyone to leave their denomination. In fact, I will state that if you’re leaving any church, including the SDA church, because of anger at the organization, you’re going to find plenty of imperfections wherever you go. If you leave a church congregation or a denomination, do so for positive reasons. I may disagree with some doctrines of the SDA church, and so I moved to an organization that is more doctrinally compatible with my views, but I applaud and highly value the SDA educational and health systems. I also value much of the theological work done by SDAs over the years. I can both disagree with, and value, ideas.
- What about the seventh day Sabbath? I consider the Sabbath a part of one’s approach to worship and a spiritual practice. Where I have seen it carried out as a spiritual practice, I find the seventh day Sabbath valuable. As with any other activity, it can be converted into a legalistic “work,” but the key here is “any other activity.” Because keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath stands out as unusual, people take it as extraordinary evidence of legalism. But it’s simply one more practice that can be positive or negative. I have said before that I miss the Sabbath as practiced in SDA circles. I have other means of seeing sacred time, but there’s nothing that quite matches taking sacred time together with a community.
- Don’t SDAs think they’re the only true Christians? Some of them do. So do one or two Methodists. I think this is a problem for the SDA church partly because of teaching about God’s remnant people. But I have no problem with SDAs as a group over it. Most SDAs that I encounter treat me as a fellow-Christian even though I have left the church. There are occasional folks who treat me as an apostate. I believe that could be solved if there were no people in the SDA church. As things are, we’re stuck with it.
- But SDAs don’t believe we go to heaven when we die! Indeed they don’t. Neither do I. I think the Bible is actually quite unclear about what happens after death, but the balance, I believe, favors soul sleep and a resurrection. I just don’t happen to think it matters. Arguing about this is very time-bound thinking. If I die and go to heaven immediately, there will be one breath here and next (breath? who knows?) on the other side. If I die and sleep with God until the resurrection, there will be one breath here, and the next (whatever!) on the other side. I won’t know the difference. (I publish several books related to this: Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide, From Here to Eternity, Journey to the Undiscovered Country, and the forthcoming Death, Immortality, and Resurrection. The first and last are by Edward W. H. Vick, an SDA author.)
- SDAs believe in Ellen G. White, a false prophetess. Got you now! Ellen White did indeed have a great deal to do with the founding of the SDA church, though I find her own view of herself and her mission refreshingly humble. I also find a number of her writings to be excellent devotional works (Steps to Christ, Desire of Ages, etc.). We have a voluminous collection of her writings, including letters that she wrote over a long life. The SDA church has had some struggles over how to view her and her relationship to the Bible. Bluntly, however, I’ve found traditions in local congregations of the United Methodist Church that have more sacred standing, in practice, than her writings do in the SDA church. I would say, rather, that the church as a whole, and the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal movements in particular, would do well to learn from the SDA experience. Speaking of which, I’m in the process of releasing Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers by Alden Thompson. He deals with issues of Ellen White in connection with discussing biblical inspiration in a work that I think the wider church would do well to study.
- How do I deal with SDA authors in my catalog and marketing? Like any other author. I’ll advertise their books for their own denomination, but also present them to others for their wider value. And just like any other author, SDAs may write something that’s addressed more to their own church than to others. In that case, they will be more likely to publish within the denomination, again just like any other author might. I neither emphasize nor do I conceal the denominational connections of my authors.
- Do my SDA authors quote Ellen White in their works? Yes, and no. I tell them to quote Ellen White as they normally would and if it’s necessary, we will add an explanatory note to the book so that others can understand and still benefit. This is a function of the level of controversy surrounding her work, rather than any judgment of it that I might make. Because there is controversy, explanation is helpful. On the other hand, when addressing the larger Christian community, SDA authors often feel it’s best to make their points without reference to an SDA specific source.
- Are you trying to provoke dissent in the SDA church? No more so than in any other church. I do have some books in my catalog that have gone out of print from SDA publishing houses. The level of controversy in the SDA church has nothing to do with my decision. I still judge the book, not the author, and certainly not any former publisher. But beware! I’m not the arbiter of truth, and certainly not the arbiter of SDA doctrine. If you don’t want your beliefs challenged, then it’s my hope that my books are not for you!
I publish SDAs in the same way and on the same basis as I publish anyone else. It’s that simple (he says 1600 words later)!