By Colleen Tinker
In our ongoing summaries of Adventism in the news, our goal is to help explain the unifying purpose of the religion’s many public faces. This week we will look at four different stories; two originate in the United States, one is from England, and one is from Mexico. They represent different concerns, but in the end, they all illustrate Adventism’s central purpose: to win loyal members and supporters of the Seventh-day Adventist organization.
LLU Health President Advocates For Transgenders
Last week the Loma Linda University Health online newsletter ran a letter from LLU Health’s president Richard Hart which he wrote in February of this year. In it he acknowledges that, as a health sciences institution, Loma Linda is obligated to “understand, treat and support everyone we encounter, regardless of their hereditary, cultivated, assigned or self-assumed sexual identity. That is what we do as health professionals.” He further acknowledges that the issue of “gender identity” is often confusing and sometimes “comes so early in life that it cannot be considered a choice they are making but rather an internal identity caused by their particular genetic code and its expression.”
Hart also refers to the book Understanding Gender Dysphoria “by Mark Yarhouse, a Christian psychologist trained at Wheaton University,” in which Yarhouse shares case histories of people “as they seek to understand and deal with their sexuality/gender identity.” Further, Hart refers to an article entitled “Gender Revolution” run by National Geographic in January, 2017, which demonstrates that this problem is not “just a Western phenomenon, but part of the entire human experience.”
In the end Hart says, “It seems to me that this is not a time for judgment, but rather a time for acceptance, a time for offering emotional support during a difficult journey.” He does not state how this support ought to look, but he is careful not to go against the official Adventist statement on gender identity issued on April 12, 2017.
At the same time, his sympathy for the emotional pain and stress experienced by LGBT and especially transgender individuals is grounded in social and humanitarian concerns rather than biblical ones. Ironically, Hart uses Jesus as his validation for his conclusion:
“Now, hang on, I know all about the Bible texts that talk about sexual variations, their sinfulness and results. But I also know that Christ Himself spent His time on this earth reaching out to individuals who were marginalized during His day—prostitutes, lepers, the lame, blind, demon possessed, tax collectors and the poorest of the poor. While the Bible doesn’t give us a specific story about Jesus relating to an LGBT person, individuals under this umbrella would certainly fit into His lexicon of those deserving His compassion and care. The question of causation asked of Him about the blind man—“Who sinned, this man or his parents?—seems very pertinent here. Christ’s answer—“Neither, but to glorify God”—acknowledges His acceptance regardless of causation.”
It is this appeal to Jesus’ spending time with those marginalized by society, His supposed “acceptance regardless of causation”, that betrays Hart’s lack of understanding of what Jesus actually said and did.
It is true that Jesus never marginalized people because they were socially unacceptable, but He always called people to repentance, to trust in God’s word, and to belief in Him. For example, Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but He told her to “go, and from now on sin no more” (Jn. 8:11). He healed the leper, but He told him to “show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Mt. 8:1-4). He healed the demon possessed man, but quite counter-intuitively He did not allow the man to stay and follow Him. Instead, Jesus commanded the man to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you,” and the man told “how much Jesus had done for him” all over the Decapolis (Mk. 5:14-20).
Finally, Hart’s use of the story of Jesus healing the blind man recorded in John 9 completely misses the point of the account. First, Hart misquotes Jesus’ answer when the disciples asked him if the man’s blindness was caused by his or his parent’ sin. Hart says, “Christ’s answer—‘Neither, but to glorify God’—acknowledges His acceptance regardless of causation.”
In fact, Jesus’ answer was this: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In context, these words set the stage for Jesus’ next act: He reversed nature by causing a man born blind to see. Not only did He make it possible for that man’s eyes to work, but He healed the neurons and synapses that had never formed between the optic nerves and the brain of that man. He was able to see and recognize what he saw.
For Hart to use this story to make the case that Jesus accepted people’s disabilities “regardless of causation” completely misinterprets John’s account. Jesus healed that man as a sign that He was the Messiah whom the prophets foretold would open the eyes of the blind—something every Jew knew only God could do.
The story of the man born blind is an account verifying Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah—God the Son who had the power to reverse nature and make the blind see. In shocking contrast, Hart uses this story to make a case for accepting people’s brokenness without offering them the opportunity of seeing God’s work displayed in them, whatever that might look like. Instead of offering the hope that Jesus gives through faith in Him, Hart misuses a sign of Jesus’ identity as Healer and Savior to justify leaving people—all people, not just LGBT persons—trapped in their natural identity, “the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:2-3).
Adventist Leader Meets With Local Imam
The Adventist Review reported that on July 4, the South England Conference (SEC) president, Emmanuel Osei, visited Imam Toufik Kacimi, the chief executive officer of the Finsbury park Muslim Welfare House in London. The purpose of the visit was “to deliver words of sympathy and condolences in the aftermath of the Finsbury Park terror attack” on June 19 in which a van drove into pedestrians exiting the mosque, resulting in one death and several wounded.
Osei assured Kacim, “We would like you to know that our sincere prayers and thoughts are with you all and the family of the deceased and those who were injured. Please be assured of our prayers as you continue to worship.”
Kacimi praised the work of the Adventist organization in the area, saying, “We have had the privilege of sharing in training offered at New Life Adventist church for the benefit of the community.”
Further, Kacimi admitted they face the challenge of “new young converts who tend to be attracted toward radicalism,” a problem which they try to counteract by training displaced “Somalis, Albanians, Bengalis, Indians, Algerians” and more.
Osei thanked Kacimi for being willing to work with other organizations and said, “You can count on the support of the [regional Adventist Church] for the fight against hate crime.”
While this story may appear unremarkable, it demonstrates the ongoing overtures of Adventism toward Islam. For example, a leader in this movement has been William Johnsson, former editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines. In a February, 2010, issue of Adventist world, Johnsson identified nine similarities between Islam and Adventism: the place of the Scriptures, lifestyle, concern with the last days, the Sabbath, cosmic conflict, creation, health, relation to Israel, and self-identification as a reform movement.
North Pacific Union On Point with Adventist Mission and Priorities
The North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) of Seventh-day Adventists (which encompasses Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana) has recently adopted a new mission statement to bring the union more closely into alignment with the General Conference’s and the North American Division’s mission statements. The full statement is:
To reach the North Pacific Union Conference, North America and the world with the distinctive Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of Hope and Wholeness. This mission statement is a concise expression of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is—“to make disciples of all people, communicating the everlasting gospel in the context of the Three Angels’ Messages of Rev. 14:6–12, leading them to accept Jesus as their personal Savior and unite with His remnant church, discipling them to serve Him as Lord, and preparing them for His soon return.”
The union’s top three priorities reveal the major concerns and commitments of the organization:
Young Adult Engagement: We believe active young adult partnerships in the life and gospel mission of the church are critical to our present and future mission. And because there has been such a hemorrhage of collegiate and post-collegiate ages from church engagement, this must become a specific area of study, prayer and action.
Unity of Christ: We believe that when we are centered in Christ and in the daily work of lifting Him up, our human opinions no longer divide us. In the context of our unique Seventh-day Adventist calling, we are free to mirror the priority of Jesus from John 17:22-23, that “they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity”
Total Member Involvement: We believe in our world church focus on members in ministry and Ellen White’s exhortation that “the work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their effort with those of ministers and church officers.” All are called, all are needed, all are welcome to engage with the mission.
This report demonstrates that Adventism clearly shares a unified identity. No matter how individual pastors or congregations or even geographic locations may tweak the wording of their beliefs, all expressions of Adventism are rooted in the belief that they have “the truth”, that they express the “true church” of the Bible, and that they ultimately are responsible for facilitating the return of Christ and the completion of God’s work on earth.
Also, the report confirms that there is a serious drain of young adults in the NPUC from involvement in Adventist churches, a concern which reaches into other North American conferences as well.
Meanwhile, the General Conference-initiated Total Member Involvement program has taken deep root, and the reminders of the members’ responsibilities to hasten the work of God and the return of Christ has catalyzed proselytizing programs around the world. In the NPUC, this mandate has even become part of the official mission statement of the organization.
Health Message “Prepares for the Second Coming”
“I Want To Live Healthy” is a health-training program embraced by churches in the Inter-American Division. The Adventist Montemorelos University in the Mexican province of Nuevo Leon hosted the fourth “I Want To Live Healthy” training session this month, and nearly 200 delegates from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, St. Maarten, and the United States participated in learning to teach the “eight steps to living a healthy lifestyle.”
Those eight steps are: “drinking water, keeping a positive attitude, eating salads, exercising, resting, avoiding poor foods, eating a better breakfast, less at dinnertime and promoting happiness.”
While the public who may learn these eight steps might believe they are simply gaining tools to live long and prosper, the delegates were specifically taught that health training is evangelistic.
“Each health promoter was able to identify the health message as a work that prepares for the Second Coming of Christ and is useful for connecting with people to preach the gospel,” said Roel Cea, the director of the “I Want To Live Healthy” Network.
The Inter-American health ministries director, Belkis Archbold, taught attendees why it is important to learn “about the body, its functions, and healthy habits in order to teach healthy living in their communities.”
“‘We must first know so that we can proclaim,’ said Archbold. She also expressed the need for churches to practice the health message given to Adventist co-founder Ellen G. White directly, which was the reason for such training to be held.”
“We have a beautiful message which teaches us habits that can help prevent disease,” she concluded.
While Adventists who take their health clinics into local communities do not tell people that they are attempting to entice people into Adventism, this training session was overt in teaching the Adventist attendees that the “health message” actually prepares people for the second coming of Christ. Furthermore, they learned that its importance derives from the belief that this message was given directly by God to Ellen White; thus, Adventists have a mandate, as a central practice of their religion, both to implement Adventist health practices and to teach them.
While many of these health practices are healthful on their own, they do not contribute to salvation, spiritual health, connection to God, or true evangelism. The biblical gospel is glaringly absent. Instead, Adventists deeply believe that their diets and lifestyles reflect and even contribute to their relationship with Jesus.
These four stories range from traditional Adventist health evangelism training to the progressive stance of Loma Linda University Health toward the transgender/LGBT issue. While they seem unrelated on the surface, in fact, these accounts are consistent in revealing that the true nature of Adventism is not biblical Christianity.
They have right-sounding words, and they all reflect Adventism’s focussed commitment to public acts of compassion and human rights. Nevertheless, while Jesus’ name and example may be invoked to validate these beliefs and practices, the actual gospel is never mentioned. Furthermore, it is not taught in the context of these Adventists practicing their beliefs.
True Christianity cannot partner with religions that deny the Trinity and do not believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant, infallible word. Moreover, Christianity cannot meld with unbiblical teachings and still be Christian.
Adventism is a syncretistic system of belief that denies the once-for-all completed atonement through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. It denies the natural state of spiritual death of mankind that can only be overcome through the work of God who brings us to life when we believe in the Lord Jesus and His death, burial, and resurrection—according to Scripture. It denies the fact that we immediately pass out of death into life when we trust in Jesus (Jn. 5:24) and that when believers die, they go immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-9).
Adventism expresses its beliefs slightly differently in different geographical locations. Richard Hart’s thoughts on transgenderism are logical products of the liberal environment of a Southern California health sciences university while classic Adventist “health message” training more naturally occurs in the more historic Adventist setting in Central America. Nevertheless, while the delegates at the “I Want To Live Healthy” seminar might not track with Richard Hart’s reasoning, they would adhere to the same underlying authority and purpose: to be examples to the world of compassion and social justice because of Ellen White’s framework and biblical hermeneutic.
Adventism is chameleon-like because it is not founded on a single reality: the person and work of the Lord Jesus. It has a corporate agenda and mandate, and around the world Adventists seek to appear Christian while actually misusing or denying God’s word. Because it understands the Bible through the interpretive lens of Ellen White, the truth about the gospel of the Lord Jesus, His death, burial, and resurrection are eclipsed.
Adventism’s mandate to finish God’s work, hasten the second coming, and discipline their bodies by eating and exercise is not the good news of the gospel. Nevertheless, it is their world-wide commitment to take this message of health and disciplines to the unsuspecting.
As Christians we must defend the faith even when it means admitting that something “good” is actually deceptive.