By Colleen Tinker
On Monday this week, the Pew Research Center published a list comparing different religious groups’ views on abortion. Interestingly, Seventh-day Adventism was categorized as an “evangelical” religion, and the research showed that 42 percent of Adventists believe abortion should be legal while 54 percent believe it should be illegal.
The article, written by David Masci, concluded with some observations. First, he noted that “the majority view about abortion among members of a particular group often mirrors that group’s official policy on abortion.” He concluded by saying that “there are, however, cases where the views of a church’s members don’t align with its teachings on abortion.” Masci cited the Roman Catholic Church as an example of a disparity between the church’s strong anti-abortion stance and the fact that 48% of members privately support abortion.
Seventh-day Adventists should be seen in the category of members’ views differing from the official position, but the average outsider looking in would not know that the Adventist organization actually supports abortion.
In fact, on Tuesday, January 23, Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and widely regarded as a leading evangelical, referred to this Pew Report in his radio broadcast, The Briefing. He mentioned that there is a marked divide between the pro-choice mainline Protestant churches and the pro-life positions of evangelical churches. Then Mohler named some of the “evangelical” churches that believe abortion should be illegal. His list included the Churches of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mohler also mentioned that Mormons (27% believe abortion should be legal, 70% believe it should be illegal) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (18% want it legal; 75% oppose it) take a conservative position. Then he posited a theory about why the conservative groups oppose abortion: these groups, including the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, “believe God has spoken”, and they believe that the Bible speaks against abortion.
Mohler admitted that Mormons, for example, claim both the Bible and other books as their Scriptures, yet they believe God has spoken to them through revelation. So, he concludes, the primary difference between the groups that favor pro-life and pro-choice is whether or not they believe in divine revelation.
Hidden Under the Surface
Mohler has an interesting analysis of this data and of the positions each group holds. Nevertheless, I believe that the conservative position of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and reportedly of Seventh-day Adventists is not necessarily the result of respect for divine revelation—at least not at the level of the organizations’ leadership.
Since I do not personally know how Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their pro-life positions inside their meeting halls, I can address only Adventism’s position. Nevertheless, I have trouble ascribing respect for divine revelation to people who believe in a Jesus who is not the eternal Son of God who shares the same substance with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. They may respect “revelation”, and they may fear God’s judgment, but their respect and fear may be similar to the respect and fear that Hindus, for instance, have for the wrath of their gods.
Adventism, however, is more deceptive than are Mormonism and The Watchtower Organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, Adventism is not evangelical. Ironically, it represents itself to Christians as being an evangelical Protestant denomination, as its Wikipedia entry identifies it. In contrast, when dealing with Muslims, for example, Adventists prefer not to be identified as “Christian”.
William Johnsson, formerly the editor of Adventist World and now-retired as the assistant to the General Conference president for interfaith relations, wrote this in Adventist World in 2010: “In meeting Muslim leaders, I emphasize from the outset that I prefer to be known as an Adventist rather than as a Christian. For Muslims the name ‘Christian’ carries such negative associations—associations that do not belong with Seventh-day Adventists—that I would rather avoid the term.”
The fact that Adventists have passed as “evangelicals” when their self-identity and beliefs do not match evangelical Christianity suggests that the Pew Report’s statistics about them may also be skewed.
Adventism Is Pro-Choice
The Summer, 2014, issue of Proclamation! ran a heavily-cited article about Adventism and its historical and current positions on abortion: “Abortion In Adventism: Why Seventh-day Adventism Promotes Choice”. Hidden under the surface, Adventism has two abortion policies. One is their official policy on their website which is a carefully-worded “conservative” pro-choice statement, and the other is the internal “Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines” that is not intended for the members and the public.
The official abortion policy of the Adventist organization was first drafted in 1970 and allowed for “therapeutic abortions”. In fact, in 1970 Neal Wilson, then the general conference president, was quoted as saying:
We would not feel it our responsibility to promote laws to legalize abortion…nor oppose them….though we walk the fence, SDA’s lean towards abortion rather than against it. Because we realize we are confronted by big problems of hunger and over population we do not oppose family planning and appropriate endeavors to control population.
The policy continued to be tweaked, however, and a statement guiding Adventist hospitals was drafted in 1971—two years before Roe v. Wade—and allows for abortions to be performed for the following reasons, as quoted in the Proclamation! article:
- When continuation of the pregnancy may threaten the life of the woman or impair her health.
- When continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the birth of a child with physical deformities or mental retardation.
- When conception has occurred as a result of rape or incest.
- When the case involves an unwed child under 15 years of age.
- When for some reason the requirements of functional human life demand the sacrifice of the lesser potential human value.
- When indicated interruptions of pregnancy are done, they should be performed as early as possible, preferably during the first trimester of pregnancy.
This policy was developed by General Conference officials, General Conference president N. C. Wilson, and several other committee members including physicians from Loma Linda University. Significantly, the articles states, “It is interesting to note that Wilson’s suggestions persistently moved the guidelines to become more liberal.”
Today’s official policy
Today Adventism publishes a guide to abortion on its church website. It is hard to find, tucked into a webpage entitled “Official Statements/Guidelines”. This public statement is long and complex, attempting to soften its true position with compassionate-sounding phrases and pious words, but it clearly endorses abortion.
Statement 5 of the Guidelines says: “Therefore, any attempts to coerce women either to remain pregnant or to terminate pregnancy should be rejected as infringements of personal freedom.” It then, in Statement 6, gives gives “church institutions”—hospitals and clinics—permission to develop “their own institutional policies in harmony with this statement.”
I urge readers to refer to the original Proclamation! article for more details and for citations that confirm Adventism’s long-term commitment to abortions. Adventist hospitals are permitted to perform abortions, and Adventist medical students are taught to perform them. Moreover, the “nations’s largest privately-owned abortion chain”, Family Planning Associates in California, was established by Adventist abortionist Edward Allred and in 2005 was purchased by Adventist Irving (Bud) Feldkamp III, DDS.
Many individual Adventists do not support abortion, and indeed, many of them do not realize that their church actually endorses it. Nevertheless, Seventh-day Adventism holds a liberal position towards abortion, and reports such as this one by Pew Research do not reveal the inside truth about this subject.
Adventism may appear to be a conservative evangelical church to people within North America, but its real identity is hidden behind double-speak and pragmatism. The good news is that no life is hidden from God, and no matter how Adventism may define the unborn, in the Father’s eyes each unborn baby is precious to Him. In fact, our Savior entered this world as a fetus in an unmarried mother’s womb.
What Adventism may call unviable and non-life, God calls human, and all our days—even the days before we were born—are known to Him.
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them (Ps. 139:16). †
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