By Colleen Tinker
Rock ’n’ Roll legend Little Richard did a televised interview last Saturday, September 30, with Danny Shelton, the founder of Three Angels Broadcasting Network in Illinois. 3ABN, as the network is commonly called, has an almost ubiquitous satellite presence, bringing Adventist programming ranging from sermons to vegetarian cooking and fitness programming into the homes of both Adventists and unsuspecting Christians who often miss the deceptive gospel-deviations of the speakers.
Little Richard, born in 1932, was raised Richard Penniman in an Adventist family but also attended both Baptist and African Episcopal-Methodist churches. Eventually Richard developed a hugely successful music career and became known as the “Architect of Rock and Roll.”
“At first, I was making $35,000 a night,” he said in his interview with Shelton; “then it came to 50, then it came to $100,000 an hour.” Eventually the fame began to feel empty. He says that it began to seem “too much” when he “saw people idolizing me and flocking to my concerts.”
“I didn’t feel right anymore,” he said. “I would sing and do things, but I wasn’t a part of the in crowd anymore.”
No doubt aware of his Adventist audience, Little Richard, confined to a wheelchair but dressed in a brocade jacket and silver sequined shoes, said, “I started thinking about Jesus. I started thinking about [how] the world is going to end soon and all the trouble in the world.” With these words he “explained” his leaving his life of performance.
What Little Richard did not say in his 3ABN interview is the history of his career. He began singing professionally in 1951, but in 1955 he suddenly became a sensation. In 1957, however, he had an apocalyptic dream which caused him to leave his rock career abruptly after an Australian tour. Rolling Stone magazine explains it like this:
He claimed that a vision of the apocalypse came to him in a dream, and that he saw his own damnation. In his authorized biography he tells a story of a plane flight during which the overheated engines appeared in the darkness of night to be on fire. He prayed to God and promised that if the plane landed safely he would change his ways. A few days later, while performing outdoors, he caught a glimpse of the Russian satellite Sputnik, and days after that, a plane he was scheduled to have flown in crashed. Interpreting these incidents as divine signs that he should change his ways, Richard entered [Adventist] Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, where he received a B.A. and was purportedly ordained a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (Richard has since claimed that he was never a minister.) Specialty [label] tried to keep his conversion a secret, issuing the hit “Keep a Knockin’.” pieced together from half-finished sessions. In 1959 he recorded his first religious album, God Is Real.
In spite of several attempts to return to music over the next decades, he was never able to achieve the momentum he had in the beginning. He does, however, still have high name-recognition, has appeared in several movies, and has performed both weddings and funerals for several celebrities. Reading his story, however, one is left with the impression that his Adventist guilt kept hounding him without ever providing the power to bring true change—in spite of his vegetarianism. In the late 70’s, according to Rolling Stone, “He was again stressing his attachment to the church, preaching and singing gospel, and renouncing rock & roll, drugs, and his own homosexuality. Over the years, he has alluded to having embraced heterosexuality, but in 2000 he probably described his past most accurately when he told the Los Angeles Times, ‘I was what you called back in that day a freak. I was flamboyant in every direction. I’m glad I’m able to look back on it and say, “Thank you, Lord,” and go on.’”
Now, being interviewed on the iconic 3ABN with its founder Danny Shelton, Little Richard “owns” his Adventism. WSILTV, which publicized the interview on the local ABC affiliate in Thompsonville, summarized, “Little Richard left the center stage to focus on his faith and communicating the word of God.”
In fact, WSILTV concludes its article with an unwittingly revealing statement: “Once uniting people around his music, he is now uniting people around his story.”
Little Richard’s story is not the word of God, in spite of his commitment to Adventism. Uniting people around his story is no more effective in bringing hope and change to people desiring truth and hope than is uniting people around his music.
Adventism gains attention through adherents such as Little Richard, but it lacks the gospel and leaves its followers, including its celebrities such as Little Richard, still bound to addictions and anxiety that they are powerless to change.
Adventist tribal chief anointed instead of drinking yaqona
The new Tui Nadi, or the Paramount Chief of Nadi in Fiji, was appointed to his kingly position last week on September 28. As the new Tui Nadi, Ratu Vuniyani Navuniuci will reign over ten villages composed of 16 clans in Nadi, Fiji.
The installation of a Fijian tribal chief requires a special ceremony, the iTaukei protocol, which includes the traditional yaqona ceremony in which the participants drink a non-alcoholic beverage from kava root. This beverage is a sedative, and preparing and drinking it is a central and ancient Fijian custom in which only the priests could originally participate. Today, however, all Fijians drink yaqona at special occasions. Installing a new chief requires the yaqona ceremony as part of the protocol.
On September 28, however, tradition was broken. Ratu Vuniyani Navuniuci, the new Paramount Chief of Nadi, is a Seventh-day Adventist, and he refused to drink the kava. Instead, he was anointed with oil by the “president of Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) of Fiji, Pastor Luke Narube, in front of villagers and members of his church before the altar.”
Many citizens objected to his refusal to observe the traditional installation ceremony, but he insisted that he is “the rightful Tui Nadi and the most senior.” He continued, “I won’t be moved by any other opposition because I am confident with my position.”
Ratu chose to have his church leader and also the Methodist pastor participate in the anointing service and explained that “the traditional iTaukei ceremony of installing a chief was not a requirement from the Native Lands Commission.” The necessary thing to be officially installed as a new Paramount Chief is a statement from the Native Lands Commission that one is the “rightful holder of the Tui Nadi from the chiefly clan of Navatulevu in Narewa Village, Nadi,” and he does have the certificate that guarantees his rightful position.
The new chief requested that he be anointed “the biblical way” instead of the traditional way. The head of the Methodist Division from Ratu’s district confirmed that Ratu’s installation “is a new beginning for the village even though some people didn’t like the step taken.” He continued, “Even the President of the Methodist in Fiji and Government have shown their support, so we are clean, and we cannot go against what he requests because he is the rightful holder of the Tui Nadi.”
Significantly, Fijian social structure and leadership is derived from the indigenous animistic religion. Each person, according to Wikipedia, “is born into a certain role in the family unit,” and the rulers will “lead the people to fulfill their role to the Vanua” (described below).
“Each village will have several family units…which are part of one clan.” Several clans “will make up the larger tribe,” and several tribes “will belong to a certain land mass and comprise thereby the Vanua…Dr. Asesela Ravuvu (1983, p. 76) describes the Vanua as”:
The living soul or human manifestation of the physical environment which the members have since claimed to belong to them and to which they also belong. The land is the physical or geographical entity of the people, upon which their survival…as a group depends. Land is thus an extension of the self. Likewise the people are an extension of the land. Land becomes lifeless and useless without the people, and likewise the people are helpless and insecure without land to thrive upon.
In other words, the inherited position of Paramount Chief is rooted in ancient animism, and the rulers are charged with the job of helping each person under their authority to fulfill their particular roles determined by their families’ positions in order to give life to the land so the land continues to give them life. This relationship between people and land is not the biblical one we understand from God’s commands to Adam and to Noah, that their descendants fill the land and subdue it. Rather, this animistic relationship sees the land and the people as interdependent on the supposed life each one maintains because of the other’s care.
The dissonant part of this story is that the new Fijian Paramount chief of the Nadi overtly requested an Old Testament anointing ceremony to establish his reign as the local chief. The biblical model he used for his installation as chief was originally given by God to the kings He appointed as rulers over His nation Israel. Their anointing represented God’s appointment and their submission to the Lord to carry out His work according to His will among His people. The Fijian role of chief, by contrast, traditionally carries out the spiritual demands of the animism which shapes the Fijians’ relationships to each other and to the land as the source of their life. Adventism, on the other hand, is outspoken about the separation of church and state.
Nevertheless, this new local chief melded historic animism with biblical commands and created a syncretism of his inherited animism and Adventism. Moreover, he eschewed a traditional transfer of power to honor a traditional appointment to leadership and opted instead for a religious service including a sermon by his church leader and a religious anointing patterned after the anointing ceremonies of Old Testament kings. Thus he rationalized that he was submitting his inherited position within a religious social structure to the Lord God who clearly calls His own people out of the deceptions of false beliefs.
Ratu Vuniyani Navuniuci clearly signaled that his Adventism could incorporate the animism of his political position, and the two could blend into new day for those in his clan whom he will lead.
Of course people’s religious values shape their personalities and their ways of conducting business, but this instance demonstrates that, given a chance, Adventists will pragmatically embrace whatever is expedient to be seen as politically correct and able to adapt. Lacking gospel clarity, Adventism can morph to look like whatever it is near in order to be accepted and to retain its power.
Adventism loves having celebrities represent it to the world. From rock and roll legend Little Richard to a local Fijian Paramount Chief, Adventism is the underlying identity that shapes these people’s lives and social interactions. Moreover, the situation with the Fijian Chief demonstrates that the verbiage about Adventism’s separation of church and state is merely “talk”. If mixing Adventism with political leadership becomes possible, Adventists will grab the opportunity.
At the core, Adventists are “Adventist” primarily. In fact, all other identities are subject to their Adventism. Thus, even though they protest that they work for the separation of church and state, in practice they will use their opportunities for the promotion of Seventh-day Adventism, even if that promotion means compromising with values they claim to oppose. Adventism is a chameleon that adapts to whatever lives near it. Because of this willingness to adapt, its true nature is often veiled to those on the “outside” who often realize too late that instead of being helped by Adventism, they have been deceived.