By Colleen Tinker
During this past week, three news stories involving Adventism’s “right arm of the gospel”, the “health message”, have appeared in the news. These stories are seemingly unrelated, but they share a common foundation. We will briefly report on the stories and conclude with an analysis of the ways these stories reveal the Adventist commitment to proselytizing under a deceptive humanitarian cover.
While many Christian organizations offer humanitarian aid at the local and global levels and introduce people to the gospel as they help them, the difference with Adventism is that they are not delivering the true gospel. They develop trust and then offer a deceptive counterfeit that puts converts into bondage.
The lead story is a report on a new Adventist Bioethics Consortium which will develop recommendations of Adventist healthcare that will be consistent among Adventist healthcare institutions in the United States. The second story concerns an Adventist baking plant in Peru that includes devotionals and Bible instruction for employees. Its leaders say that their goal is not just to produce bread for physical health but to improve people’s spiritual health. The Adventist baptism held in this facility illustrates this commitment.
Third, Oakwood University in the state of Alabama has begun an intentional program of improving its campus commitment to good health, including more cafeteria options for fruits and vegetables, an abundance of free water, walking trails, and even bicycles available at the library for borrowing. Ironically, these changes were not inspired by their Adventist health message but by the recommendations of the Partnership for a Healthier America whose honorary chair is Michelle Obama.
Kettering Hosts Bioethics Conference
In April of this year, the second Adventist Bioethics Conference took place at Kettering Health Network in Ohio. These meetings were attended by 100 representatives from the five Adventist health systems in the United States: Loma Linda University Health, Adventist Health System, Kettering Health Network, Adventist Health, and Adventist HealthCare.
During the conference the Adventist Bioethics Consortium was inaugurated, coordinated by Gerald Winslow, the director of the LLU Center for Christian Bioethics. The goal of the consortium is to arrive at unified answers to the hard questions concerning patient care so Adventist health providers will share an “ethical identity” as they make decisions.
Baby Fae and Bioethics
It was 1984 when Loma Linda University (LLU) Health made headlines when Dr. Leonard Bailey transplanted a baboon heart into “Baby Fae”, a newborn with a fatal heart malformation. Baby Fae died, but the entire experiment set off a storm of questions about the ethics of experimenting on a human child with a cross-species transplant—not to mention the related questions about how much intervention is too much intervention, with or without using organs from other species.
That same year LLU Health launched its Center for Christian Bioethics with the purpose of integrating religion, medicine, and ethics. Now, 33 years later, the Adventist health systems in the United States have organized to work together to create guidelines for medical care that will represent Adventism.
Paul Crampton, the assistant vice president for mission and spiritual care for Adventist Health, said at the conference: “Advancements in medical technology open up new possibilities for positive health outcomes and more compassionate, personalized care. At the same time, there are ethical implications that demand our attention. The more we are able to collectively examine these implications in the light of our mission and values, the more likely we are to provide the highest quality of care.”
Gerald Winslow said that “faithful answers” to the hard questions of medical ethics will come through helping “each other, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to address issues of medical ethics in our society and avoid mission drift away from our Adventist heritage.”
The Big Issues
Today Adventist health professionals are not dealing with the ethics of transplantation as their top concerns as they were thirty-some years ago. Now, “key bioethics debates surround topics including physician-assisted suicide, gender dysphoria and stem-cell research.” In addressing these and other issues, the consortium will also form “interest groups on specific issues such as palliative care for patients who are unable to consent.”
Winslow, however, says that for him, “the biggest bioethics issue we face comes down to basic human fairness: equal access for all people to quality healthcare. ‘In Christianity, the commitments to protect the most vulnerable members of society is not optional. We must find a sustainable way to provide medical care to everyone, especially those who are least likely to get a fair shake.’”
Glaringly absent from the ethical concerns being addressed by this new consortium, however, is the issue of abortion. Adventism provides for abortion on-demand, and while each physician and hospital may determine whether or not it will perform abortions, elective abortions are routinely performed by Adventist hospitals and physicians. (See “Abortion in Adventism” in the Summer, 2014, issue of Proclamation! http://www.lifeassuranceministries.org/proclamation/2014/2/abortioninadvent.html)
The unborn certainly qualify as part of the “most vulnerable members of society” who “are least likely to get a fair shake”. The ethics that allow for the killing of the unborn certainly can also accommodate the idea of physician-assisted suicide.
Significantly, however, the clinicians, ethicists, and Adventist leaders and healthcare administrators agree on their goal: their recommendations for ethical healthcare must be true to Adventist mission and values. Abortion does reflect the Adventist worldview concerning the nature of man. It can be expected that Adventist medical ethics will embrace a more liberal view of Scripture than the traditional evangelical view that the Bible is the inerrant and eternal word of God which unequivocally condemns murder.
Peru Adventists inaugurate updated baking plant with employee baptisms
During the first week of June, the Adventist-operated Productos Union, a baked goods factory in Santa Anita, Peru, re-opened its upgraded building and celebrated the event with “a special prayer of dedication and thanksgiving” and with the baptism into Adventism of two employees. The service was held in a large room in the new facility which was decorated as a church and was attended by leaders from the North Peruvian Mission region of the Adventist organization as well as by plant suppliers and partners.
One of those baptized was Diana Zavala who had found work at Productos Union some months before as a sales person. She had been “going through a dark patch, including feelings of depression and deep-seated distress,” but she attended the plant’s daily devotionals and did counseling with the plant chaplain, Melbin Mamani, who helped her overcome her destructive feelings.
Diana reports that as she began to feel “God working in her life,” she talked to her co-worker Victor Curo, and the two decided to be baptized as Adventists at the grand re-opening ceremony of the plant.
Productos Union is the second-largest baking company in Peru, but plant leaders say that selling more bread is not their primary goal. “Productos Union provides options not only for people’s physical health but also for their spiritual health,” plant leaders said, “and both lines of products are 100 percent healthy.”
Oakwood University featured for participation in Partnership for Healthier America
Oakwood University (OU), “a historically black university in Huntsville,” Alabama, has been building a campus program called Healthy Campus 2020 Initiative in conjunction with the national Partnership for Healthier America (PHA), “a non-profit organization devoted to curb childhood obesity and ensure the overall health of the nation.”
OU officers recently sent a report to PHA outlining their progress and stating they are “committed to meet guidelines—developed by PHA in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity, and campus wellness experts—around nutrition, physical activity, and programming on campus.” Subsequently, Oakwood was featured in a progress report of PHA.
PHA is “a Washington D.C.-based organization whose honorary chair is former First Lady Michelle Obama” and intends to foster “a systematic approach to campus health” in United States schools.
Ironically, the Adventist campus of Oakwood is adjusting its cafeteria and campus offerings in response to the PHA recommendations—healthful living accommodations the Adventist health message failed to generate. The school’s commitments now “include offering a minimum five types of fruits, five types of vegetables, and two whole grain products at both lunch and dinner.” In addition, OU is now committing to “making free water available in all dining, recreational and education facilities, as well as providing marked walking routes on campus.”
OU is also making ten bicycles available for students to check out at the library for a day at a time.
OU has not yet met all of PHA’s recommendations and admits it is “a work in progress”.
One student graduating from nursing this year has been focusing on preventive health. He says, “I’m pushing myself to live a healthy lifestyle…because I know better, I try to do better. I can tell other people about it, and they can see my example.”
Perhaps Oakwood University owes a debt of gratitude to the PHA and Michelle Obama for inspiring them to implement the healthful living practices mandated by their own Adventist Health Message.
Ellen White is the one who declared the health message to be the “right arm of the gospel” of Adventism. The rationale behind this designation is that Jesus healed the sick and then preached the gospel of the kingdom, meeting people’s felt needs and winning their trust before giving them the “gospel”. Thus, the health message of prohibition of unclean meats, spices, and stimulants and medical missionary work became the “entering wedge” of Adventism into the public arena. By enticing people with promises of longer life and disease reversal through diet and healthy lifestyles, Adventism lures people into accepting their religious dogma.
The stories in this article exist because of their common foundation in Adventist health traditions. The Bioethics Consortium story is especially revealing of Adventism’s true nature. The Adventist Health system is the organization’s most public claim to fame. Adventist hospitals exist across the United States, and while they advertise themselves as offering cutting-edge healthcare, their bottom line is winning people into sympathy for and curiosity about Adventism.
The Bioethics focus now shared among Adventist health systems in the USA reveals that their ethical concerns reflect Adventist theology and an Adventist worldview. Their concerns are not those of traditional evangelicals. For example, they are not seeking ways to prevent abortions; rather, they are openly dealing with the current politicized agendas of physician assisted suicide, gender dysmorphia, stem cell research, palliative care for the unresponsive, and health care for everyone. Meanwhile, the practice of destroying the unborn in Adventist facilities proliferates just under the surface and is not even mentioned in the consortium’s concerns.
This reality reflects Adventism’s belief that humans are not truly human until they breathe; they are merely bodies plus breath and do not have immaterial spirits which house our identities and which survive the death of the body. Indeed, truly Christian-shaped healthcare is not possible without a biblical understanding of the nature of man.
The Peru baking plant story, by contrast, is far less esoteric. Nevertheless, it clearly reflects the traditional purpose of Adventism’s commitment to winning converts through a focus on healthful food. Not only does this bakery produce healthful bread, but it also proselytizes its employees and sees its purpose as disseminating Adventism along with its baked good.
The healthful lifestyle commitment at Oakwood University, meanwhile, is an ironic story. It was the university’s interest in becoming part of the Partnership for a Healthy America headed by Michele Obama that galvanized university officers to make significant and long-term changes on campus to promote healthful lifestyles and better health. Their Adventist tradition gave university faculty and students a natural sympathy for these changes, and indeed, it is the common Adventist commitment to long-life-by-healthy-living that explains why the Adventist Review published a story about the university’s progress toward meeting the goals of PHA. Nevertheless, the university was apparently not motivated primarily by its own health heritage to make these changes. Rather, being recognized by a national organization provided the impetus to become contributors to a social cause: reducing childhood obesity and contributing to the health of the nation.
The biblical gospel is clear and uncomplicated, but Adventism is convoluted and based on an unbiblical worldview. These three stories reflecting three different facets of Adventism’s identification with its “health message” reveal the ways Adventism deviates from the pure gospel of the Lord Jesus.
Our hope does not lie in esoteric ethical parsing of politicized health care concerns, nor does it lie in putting our energies and resources into preserving the physical body. Our hope lies in the Lord Jesus who died for our sins according to Scripture, who was buried, and who rose on the third day according to Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4). When we believe in the Lord Jesus, we pass at that moment from death to life and do not come into judgment (Jn. 5:24).
Finally, when we trust Jesus, we realize that His word cannot fail, and He always keeps His promises. We are not to worry about what we eat, drink, or wear, but we are to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all those things will be added to us. He knows we need food, drink, and clothing in order to live; He provides all we need when we trust in Him (Mt. 6:25-34).
There is no “right arm of the gospel”, no “health message” that Scripture identifies as the entering wedge to introduce people to truth. It is true that Christians often perform acts of service that cause unbelievers to be curious about Christianity, but these good works flow out of Christians’ love for their Savior and are not deceptive ploys to to snare the unsuspecting into bondage to a false gospel. All we need is the Lord Jesus and His finished work of atonement on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. When we repent of our sins and trust Him as our Savior and Lord, we have everything we need.
He is faithful.