Does Ben Carson’s Religion Matter?

Photo by Gage Skidmore.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

 By Rick Barker

The two leading Republican candidates have both gone on record suggesting that a candidate’s religion might influence whether they are fit to be President. Trump pointed to his own beliefs as middle of the road protestantism, while raising questions about Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Ben Carson stated that some religious beliefs (specifically Islam) were incompatible with properly leading our country.

I believe that Dr. Carson is wrong in setting religion as a qualification for political office; however, both he and Donald Trump raise a relevant question about how the religious beliefs of a candidate might impact the decisions that they would make in office. These are fair questions to ask a candidate, realizing that each person is unique in how closely they follow, and act upon, the tenets of their religion.

Most people don’t know that much about Seventh-day Adventism and what the church says publicly about its beliefs seems to have as much spin as any political campaign.

Spin: Adventism is evangelical, they just go to church on a different day

Truth: There are many definitions of “evangelical” focusing on political views, personal values and theology. The theological elements associated with evangelical Christianity do not align with SDA doctrine, specifically:

Scriptural inerrancy – The Evangelical belief is that Scripture, in the original manuscripts, is without error. Seventh-day Adventists, on the other hand, believe that while the Bible is accurate and correct in revealing God’s will, it contains errors because it was written by humans. Evangelicals believe that the words of Scripture are God-breathed words, making the words inspired. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the thoughts of the writers were inspired, but the words, and therefore potential errors, were not directly guided by God. Evangelicals base our view of inspiration on Scripture. Seventh-day Adventists base their view on how their prophet, Ellen White, experienced her inspiration.

Belief in the Trinity – The Evangelical belief regarding the Trinity is that God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one Being of one substance or essence. Seventh-day Adventism believes that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal, co-eternal and united but the church does not affirm that they are consubstantial (one substance) nor that the three Persons of God are only one Being. As such, Adventism affirms the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but their definition of “Trinity” is different than the Evangelical definition.

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone – Seventh-day Adventism believes this statement; unfortunately they have a slightly different meaning of faith and a hidden caveat regarding alone. The Evangelical doctrine is that God graciously considers those who believe in Christ as their savior as righteous, despite the fact they we aren’t truly righteous. In Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, God graciously forgives the past sins of those who believe and He graciously provides the power to overcome sin. Seventh-day Adventism teaches that faith in Christ must be demonstrated to God through sufficient obedience. Individuals within the Adventist church have differing views as to what level of what obedience is sufficient to demonstrate true faith.

Salvation in Christ alone – Evangelicals believe, and often take public criticism for stating, that Jesus is the only path to salvation, that one can’t be saved without having faith in Christ. Seventh-day Adventism teaches that salvation is based on living up to the light that one has. Therefore, a Muslim who doesn’t know about Christ can be saved by living as a devout Muslim.

The differences between Seventh-day Adventism and Evangelical Christianity run far deeper than going to church on a different day and having a tendency towards being vegetarian. They cut to the core of what it means to be evangelical, and even to what it means to be “Christian”. These differences shouldn’t disqualify Dr. Carson from being a presidential candidate, but it should motivate voters to look more closely at how Seventh-day Adventist beliefs might influence Dr. Carson’s decisions and actions as President.

Policy questions that I would be interested in knowing the answer to before I voted:

  • The Seventh-day Adventist church has gone “on record” as being pro-choice, adamant that no woman should be coerced or pressured into any decision. Does Dr. Carson’s pro-life belief extend beyond a personal choice, into a commitment to oppose federal funding of abortions and support of laws limiting or eliminating access to abortion?
  • The SDA church is one of the most pacifistic “major” churches, instructing members that the most acceptable form of military service is as a Conscientious Objector. How will this influence his decision on military readiness and/or his willingness to use the military? 
  • The Seventh-day Adventist belief on the Sabbath insists on not only personally avoiding unnecessary work on the Sabbath, but includes those that work for you. Will Dr. Carson’s views on the Sabbath impact budget decisions that would involve government employees doing unnecessary work on the Sabbath?
  • Adventists aren’t just opposed to Catholicism, they believe that the Catholic Church is the beast of Revelation, that the Pope is the anti-Christ and that Catholics will lead the persecution of Seventh-day Adventists in the future. Will these doctrines impact Dr. Carson’s diplomatic relationships with the Vatican
  • Seventh-day Adventists believe that the rest of Protestantism will join with Catholicism in persecuting their church. Will the fact that Adventists believe that their personal and corporate persecution will come from Christians (rather than other religions or atheists) impact our foreign policies and alliances if Ben Carson is elected? Will we be more likely to side with a Muslim faction than a Christian one? 
  • The SDA church is routinely supportive of ACLU actions on civil and religious liberties that are generally considered part of the “liberal agenda”. Does Dr. Carson support his church’s actions in this regard and would he use his executive powers to stand alongside these political efforts of his church?

No person’s religion should qualify or disqualify that person from political office, including the presidency. However, the teachings and practices of a person’s religion should be considered, because these impact the world view and moral compass of the candidate. Let’s not be afraid to ask “religious” questions of our political candidates in order to better understand how they might act in office.

 

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Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning SDAs in the Dayton, OH area. More information on this study group can be found at www.gracediscovery.org. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. He previously served on the staff of the Thomas Bilney Institute for Biblical Research and is an active member of his local Lutheran church. Rick was a volunteer on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website for 6 years and remains a participant on the discussion boards. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the SDA chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington Ohio churches.

7 comments

  1. Rick, excellent questions. Because Adventism is so little understood among evangelicals (to say nothing of people not professing Christianity), they have no way even to question how Carson’s worldview might affect his decisions and preferences. Another question I would like to pose is this: because Adventism believes itself to be the “new Israel”—the people inheriting God’s blessings and special revelation in these last days—how might this foundational belief affect Carson’s responses to and dealings with the nation of Israel?

    Thank you for another great post!

    1. Ben Carson has stated that he spends as much time in other denominational churches because he believes the Church is more important than one denomination. He also has stated that no Muslim that supports Sharia Law should be President, unless they disavow Sharia Law. Donald Trump should have your review of what being a Presbyterian is. The Westminster Confession is the Presbyterian’s guide. It believes the 10 Commandments are still the Christian’s guide though Jesus claims to have fulfilled that Law/Covenant. Their keeping of Sabbath and their belief on Sabbath is contorted in Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession written in 1650, and I quote: “7. “As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.” There is no place in the Bible that declares Sunday the Christian Sabbath. The New Covenant Jesus gave the “Church” (Luke 22:20) does it give a Holy Day to replace Saturday. No such scripture can be found. Note in Luke 24:44, Jesus claims to have fulfilled ” the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”. Do Presbyterians or Lutherans for that matter believe that. Do they believe Hebrews 8:13 and Ex 28:34?? What would a Presbyterian do in Office of the President.

      1. I’m a member of a Presbyterian church myself. I have some disagreement with Westminster on the Sabbath issue. However, my experience is that unlike SDAs, Presbyterians do not attach salvific importance to Sunday church attendance. Nor do they make lists of rules on how to keep Sunday holy. Nor do they judge their congregants for not keeping Sunday holy enough. They certainly do not believe that going to church on Saturday is the Mark of the Beast. There are really more differences than similarities with the SDA view.

        We have actually had several Presidents where were at least nominally Presbyterian: Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. We’ve also had two–Martin van Buren and Teddy Roosevelt–who were Dutch Reformed, which is very similar to Presbyterianism in most respects.

        Trump’s credentials as a Presbyterian are highly dubious. He has said he has never confessed his sins to God, and at the same time he has said he partakes in the Lord’s Supper. From a Presbyterian perspective, to partake of the sacrament without ever having confessed one’s sin is to eat and drink judgment upon oneself (1 Cor. 11:29).

  2. “An incredibly important post by Rick, followed by an equally important postscript by Colleen.

    Another question for Carson is: “How will he deal with DAESH / ISIL?”

    But first some background:

    Until the end of WW2, there was a 300 year old (or so) de-facto “protocol” amongst the Great Powers concerning the protection of Christians from Islamic trouble in the Middle East:
    The Russians – would look after the Orthodox,
    The French – would look after the Roman Catholics,
    The British – would look after the Protestants.

    After WW2, the baton for the protection of the Latins (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), de-facto passed to the Americans – who generally did a good job until the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when they failed to go in and wipe out Islamic troublemaking against Israel, and derivatively against the Latin Christians. [There is a saying in the Islamic Middle East: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people”.]

    The Western Failure on this front was powered by:
    The Americans – via the CIA, NSC, the State Department, George Soros, etc.
    The British – via GCHQ, MI5/MI6, the Foreign Office, Chatham House, Cecil Rhodes Round Table etc.
    The French – via DGSE, the Foreign Legion, and the UMP – all supported by the Bilderbergers.

    Since 1917 until the Election of Putin, the Russians had not been able to discharge their responsibilities in this area. However, since Putin’s election, Christianity has undergone a massive uptick in Russia, with traditional Christian values and virtues now enshrined in Russian Law – much to the disgust of the American “politically-correct” who oppose this restoration. There is now more Orthodox Christian freedom in Russia than general, genuine Christian freedom in the USA.

    Orthodox clergy (and Orthodox Icons and Orthodox prayers) are more than welcome in all Russian schools, hospitals and courtrooms – this infuriates the American “politically-correct” who oppose this free access, and who are agitating in precisely the opposite direction – both in America and worldwide. Orthodox clergy are now throughout the Russian Armed Forces and the Russian Civil Service – genuine and committed Christians are now all but prohibited in the American Armed Forces, and the American Civil Services at all three levels of government.

    In simple terms for Christian freedoms, where America was until 1973, is where Russia is today in 2015. And where Russia was 1918-1989 (a “seventy year” captivity), is where America has almost reached in 2015. Putin has openly taken Holy Communion in an Orthodox Church more than 100 times more than Obama has been (falsely) reported to having done so.

    Given the traditional and current American anti-Russian animus – in both government and elsewhere, would a Carson presidency (with potential trends indicated by Rick above) accelerate the trends under the pro-Islamic Obama, and complete the anti-Christian Sovietization of America? This would bring on the apocalyptic, eschatological persecution of all Latin Christians in America (including Roman Catholics) that the SDA’s see happening only to themselves. And under a Carson Presidency, would the SDA’s become the new, Soviet-style nomenklatura?

    Are the Republicans, with their traditional anti-Russian animus, likely to be that stupid and endorse Carson – and deliver the Presidency to Hillary Clinton on a platinum-platter? With so many traditional, but alienated Republicans simply staying home on election day as an act of protest?

    Are they going to deliver to Putin the de-facto title of “Protector of Christianity” worldwide?

    Or are genuine Christians in America going to repudiate their “politically-correct” élite nomenklatura (and Carson) and unite with Putin in the defence of Christianity worldwide?

  3. Thank you for this Rick. You touched on something regarding the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone that I think is worthy of some further discussion.

    Adventism, like Roman Catholicism, affirms that salvation is “by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” The reason both affirm this is that it comes directly from the Bible, and neither group wants to openly admit they disagree with the Bible. But both SDAs and Catholics re-define the terms “grace” and “faith” to mean something other than what they mean in the Bible.

    But to boil it all down, both SDAs and Catholics essentially define salvation by grace through faith this way:
    1) By faith, we receive God’s grace, which empowers us to keep the Law.
    2) As we cooperate more and more with God’s grace, we eventually reach the point where we keep the Law well enough for God to declare us righteous.

    In both cases, they affirm something called objective justification over against the Reformation doctrine of forensic justification. In forensic justification, God declares the someone righteous, not on that person’s own merits, but on the basis of Christ’s work on his behalf, which the sinner has received through faith alone. Christ pays what the sinner owes to God, and therefore the sinner is no longer indebted to God and is therefore justified, or declared to be right with God.

    In objective justification, God’s declares the a person righteous based on the person’s own inherent goodness. A person is righteous because the person has reached the goal of being good enough in himself for God to declare him righteous. Adventism and Catholicism both share this view. In Adventism, this declaration of objective justification occurs through the Investigative Judgment. In Catholicism, it occurs when the believer is pure enough to leave purgatory and enter heaven.

    As you hinted, Adventism is unclear as to how good you have to be to receive God’s declaration of your own righteousness. Catholicism, for it’s part, is very clear: Perfect conformity in all things to Law of God. Some more “grace-filled” Adventists are willing to see God settling for less than perfect conformity to His Law. Unlike the Catholics, they are willing to see God negotiate His own holiness by lowering the standards of His justice. At least the Roman God is Holy. We cannot say this for the SDA God.

    Only in the Christian Gospel found in the Bible do we have a God who both refuses to negotiate His holiness by lowering His standards of justice, AND “justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5) entirely by His grace. Only in the Gospel can God be both just and justifier of the sinner who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

  4. Rick, good point. I am Jamaican and have seen SDA in the highest office in our land. Ben Carson said something about a year ago of the use of stem cell from fetus. I think he stated that it is ok to used. Am trying to find that statement to be very clear of his true belief on abortion. SDA is saying they are true christian in my country and have made a great leap forward. They have gotten involve in certain legal bills being pass. Ben and Berry Black has really open the door of people mind and heart in looking at SDA as a true part of the body. SDA preach negative saying from pulpit about America due to Ellen White saying. They say the Sunday law will be issue in. I live in Hartford,Ct and SDA pass out the booklet on Sunday law.
    Since Ben and Donald bring up religion, lets look at Ellen saying as they did to Joseph Smith when Mitt Romney was running. If Ben win, will an SDA pastor swear him in and will many pulpit open up for SDA to creep in.
    Good point again, but in other part of the world a person religious view can impact that nation.

  5. Hi,
    Ben Carson was exactly right in his statements. This nation and its founding documents are predicated on a Judeo-Christian worldview, as any number of statements from those founders and even a cursory review of our history proves. Pursuing Carson’s book, America the Beautiful, one can see that Carson is one of very few Adventists that “gets it” on this matter.

    Whereas, one cannot be a believer in Islam without believing Sharia needs to be the law of the world and whereas, Sharia is truly antithetical to the principles of our founders and their documents, therefore one cannot be a Muslim and take the oath of any public office in the United States without perjuring himself. Just ask any Muslim convert to Christianity.

    To pick just one small example, President Washington, who was a Christian giant of history, made the point in his Farewell Address (which for 150 years was standard fare for study in our public schools) that basically no one is a patriot who works to undermine the pillar of religion in society, which is “the indispensable support of virtue”. He further states that citizens must take great care to only elect such virtuous men to office, meaning “religious” citizens. In a previous presidential season, when Newt Gingrich stated in a primary debate that he could not vote for anyone for president who didn’t believe in God, he was only echoing Washington’s sentiment. So also, Carson is on rock-solid ground in his statements.

    There is so much more to say about this and other comments in this thread, but that’s enough for now.

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