On Guns and Religious Liberty, Ben Carson “Not an Authentic Adventist”

You’d never know it from Ben Carson’s exhortations for Americans to arm themselves against perpetrators of gun violence, but a central belief of his religion, Seventh-day Adventism, is in non-violence.

From the founding of the denomination in 1863, both doctrinally and culturally, Adventists have been “non-combative,” and their status in wartime is that of conscientious objector, said Alexander Carpenter, a writer and academic who serves on the board of Adventist Forum, a liberal non-profit that publishes the independent journal Spectrum.

In his statements about guns and gun violence, Carson “is not an authentic Adventist,” added Carpenter, who also has taught at Pacific Union College, one of a dozen Adventist colleges and universities in the United States. Many Adventists have served in the U.S. military, but refused to carry weapons. Others served in the medical corps. Still others, such as the young medical students at the Adventist Loma Linda University medical school, volunteered during World War II to be medical test subjects rather than engaging in combat.

“The language of support for guns is totally outside the rhetoric and beliefs of the Adventist church,” said Carpenter. And Carson’s discredited and offensive statements that the Holocaust occurred because Nazis would not allow Germans to carry guns is “exactly opposed to Adventist teaching,” Carpenter said. In Adventist theology, “your decision not to act [with violence] is where you have power.”

Co-founded in 1863 by Ellen and James White and others, amid the religious fervor of mid-nineteenth century America, Adventism grew out of the “Great Disappointment”—when Jesus did not return as prophesied by William Miller, the Baptist preacher, on October 22, 1844. In the wake of the Great Disappointment, Ellen White began having dreams and visions, which led early Adventists to see the Great Disappointment not with sadness, but as a key historical moment, “the start of Jesus’ final work of atonement,” according to the Adventist Review, writing on the 170th anniversary of the Great Disappointment. According to the official Adventist statement of beliefs, in 1844 Jesus “entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry,” known to Adventists as “the investigative judgment,” and seen as the preparation for Jesus’s eventual return.

There are approximately one million Adventists in the United States, and 18 million worldwide. Observing the Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday, and a commitment to health and wellness, including vegetarianism, are prominent features that distinguish Adventism from other Christian denominations. Protecting the Saturday Sabbath observance has driven Adventist involvement in legal challenges under the Free Exercise Clause, such as the one that led to the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision in Sherbert v. Vernerwhich protected the constitutional right of a Seventh-day Adventist to refuse to work on Saturday.

The church also supports church-state separation, a stance that drove its May 2015 statement that it would not take a position on a candidate in the presidential race, and urging pastors and church employees to “also exercise extreme care not to express views in their denominational capacity about any candidate for office, including Dr. Carson.”

“Adventism and Mormonism are the two lasting vestiges of unique American religions to come out of the Second Great Awakening,” said Jason Hines, an Adventist writer and lawyer who often covers church-state separation issues. “As newcomers, it’s taken a while for them to be accepted.”

While Mitt Romney faced direct insults from evangelicals and others over his religion when he ran for president in 2012, Carson—with a few exceptions, such as withdrawing from speaking at a Southern Baptist Convention conference after pastors raised both political and theological concerns—seems to have immunized himself from that sort of scrutiny.

Although Carson has downplayed his Adventism during his presidential run, depicting himself more generically as a Christian, his commitment to Adventism is well documented. In his book first published in 1990, Gifted Hands, Carson wrote the “Adventist denomination is the only spiritual home I’ve ever known.”

“I’m an elder at Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church,” in Silver Spring, Maryland, Carson wrote. “I’m also Health and Temperance Director, which means I present special programs and coordinate the other medical workers in our church.”

For black Adventists, Gifted Hands was a seminal work and Carson long seen “as a shining light of what a black Adventist can become. There’s not a black Adventist I know who didn’t have Gifted Hands,” said Hines, who currently teaches Christian ethics and law at the Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando, Florida.

“I have been steeped in the Carson biography for 30 years,” Hines added.

While Carson and his biography have been “pervasive” for black Adventists, said Hines, white Adventists have discovered him more recently—in politics. While some conservative Adventists may be drawn to him, “black liberals are pulling away,” said Hines.

Carson’s fusion of religion and American-ness—rooted in the Tea Party and religious right rhetoric about the “Christian nation” and disdain for “political correctness”—is drawn from American conservatism, and is in many ways contrary to Adventism. Mother Jones’ David Corn, for example, recently documented Carson’s affection for W. Cleon Skousen, the Cold War-era writer and conspiracy theorist long popular with conservatives and the religious right, and more recently with Tea Party activists. But it is “not common,” said Carpenter, for Adventists to affiliate with the Tea Party.

While central to religious right activism, abortion has not been a “wedge issue” for Adventists, said Carpenter. That issue, along with guns and religious liberty, are “three things that would create wedges between him and his base and make him choose between his faith and his politics,” he added.

In a 2014 review of Carson’s book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, Douglas Morgan, a historian at Washington Adventist University, wrote that Carson “advocates an agenda that looks very much like what Adventists have long opposed in the name of religious liberty.” Morgan maintained that Carson advocated “a civil religion that re-defines the God of the Bible as the patron deity of the United States of America,” and displayed “a general tendency to use the Bible primarily for practical wisdom and selective moral discipline that he believes will strengthen America’s power and prosperity as world hegemon.”

But Adventists, Morgan went on:

by contrast have typically emphasized the portrayal of human empires in apocalyptic prophecy, and more broadly the entire sweep of the “story of redemption,” as arrogant oppressors, reiterations of “Babylon” that defy the true and living God and persecute the people of God. The main role of the latter is faithful witness to God’s government and coming kingdom, not to promote the might of worldly empires.

That would appear to be a religious worldview that would alarm some of Carson’s biggest fans.

Hines hopes that Carson isn’t asked on the national stage to explain Adventist eschatology, which portrays the American government as one that will eventually, in league with the Catholic Church, persecute Adventists for their observance of the Saturday Sabbath.

It appears that Carson has allied himself with the Tea Party and religious right despite his Adventism, not because of it. Oddly enough, Adventists long have been skeptical of the religious right, dating back to the days of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition. Many Adventists, even conservative ones, said Carpenter, were wary of that entanglement of religion and politics, and saw the rise of those political movements in eschatological terms, as a bloc that would eventually work with the American government to oppress the religious freedom of the Saturday-observant Adventists.

Of course within most religions, adherents vary in how literally they interpret the tenets of the faith, and in presidential campaigns, candidates shouldn’t be asked to explain their religion, unless they’ve made it an issue of how they would govern. Ben Carson has decidedly not made his Adventism an issue. In fact, it’s hard to think of another candidate who seems to have run so far from his own faith.

  • Shawn McDonald

    Sorry, but this narrative doesn’t fly.

    Carson is the LEAST pro-2A of the current GOP candidates. See his round-abouts with Glenn Beck over Carson’s clueless ideas for restrictions as to who can own what kind of gun where.

    This is my concern with Carson. If your narrative were correct, I’d feel better supporting him. Your narrative is not correct. In fact, it’s plain wrong.

  • Storeboy

    The author has correctly described the conundrum Carson has presented as a Seventh-day Adventist and as a man of color. His current campaign pronouncements defy his prior statements regarding his claims as members of these constituencies.

  • Jim Reed

    He is a Republican, so he is going to be full of contradictions. SDA seems to be different from Mormonism in that they are not pushing everyone to be Republican, so you have to say this is all Carson’s fault. I think we have to just wish him the worst.

  • Dawn

    As with most Christian churches, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination has “grown up” over the decades. Ideas have been retained and others long discarded by the majority of its members. Education and advances in Bible interpretation are factors which allow many people to change their minds about their beliefs without fear of condemnation by others. There are pockets of rigid, historic adventists but they do not characterize the entire church.

    Carson’s stances emanate from both conservative and progressive denominational corners.

  • cmbennett01

    And Nixon was a Quaker… Why does it surprise anyone when politicians eschew otherworldly concerns for the sake of power and influence in this one?

  • DavidHarley

    Unlike Quakers elsewhere, the US Quakers split into a faction of biblical literalism and a faction which held to Quaker traditions.

  • DavidHarley

    “Adventism and Mormonism are the two lasting vestiges of unique American religions to come out of the Second Great Awakening”

    I would see the denominations which arose out of the Restoration Movement, especially the Disciples, as uniquely American. They were formed in reaction against the intense sectarianism and obsession with credal shibboleths that were ubiquitous during the Second Great Awakening.

  • Jim Reed

    What does that mean, “Great Awakening”? I would think an awakening would have to be people leaving religion, not joining.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    But I’m assuming Nixon never called much attention to whatever faith he had? — unlike Carson, who puts his faith on public display …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Correction — Carson is HUMAN, therefore “he is going to be full of contradictions” …

  • Jim Reed

    Back in those days politicians were not looking for the Christian vote. All the politicians and all the people were Christian, or nominal Christian, and people didn’t care about religion.

  • cmbennett01

    It is said that he was quite devout in his religious life and many point out the various ways in which he was influenced by it. I can’t say if that is true or not. I didn’t know the man.
    The point I was making was that his political views were at odds with many of the basic tenants of Quaker doctrine. That is apparently true of Dr. Carson as well. Public displays of religiosity were not the topic of article.

  • JCM1967

    As an Adventist I have to say that I take offense at Alexander Carpenter’s comment that Ben Carson is not an “Authentic Adventist” due to his beliefs on guns. That is just totally out of line for him to say. There are 13 vows that an Adventist takes when they join the church and not one of them says anything about what an Adventist’s stance should be on guns. Though the church may advocate for non-combatant status the choice to follow that or not is left as a personal decision and if an Adventist chooses to bear guns that doesn’t unauthenticate them as an Adventist.

  • carpenter0909

    Hey did you write the article, cause it seams like your doing the same spreading of false information: (the article is fraught with error.)

    Little blurb about the Adventist,.. Get smarter and read this:

    Seventh day Adventism is based upon the strict ideals formed during the reformation, and share most all common core fundamental pillars of faith, as Martin Luther , John Knox, Wesley, and many more of the protestant church fathers . Their main church construct is to spread the gospel of Jesus and keep the ten commandments as directed in the new testament, about 70 times. Also they identify them selves with the v.s. in the book of revelation :

    I.E_ Rev 12:17_ 17 “So the dragon (the devil)was enraged with the woman, (the true church) and went off to make war with the rest of her children (the true saints), who keep the commandments of God (The commandments) and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (all the words of Jesus) ”

    Every since the year 1844 the church reformed, and has built a world wide net work of churches , Hospital, and Collage’s that teach the “Scripture alone ” ideal of following Jesus. ( Just as Luther and most of the reformers did,) Soon after the reformation, the counter reformation of the Catholic church, was devised by a Jesuit order to undermined the authority of the Word Of God alone as authority, and place the Pope’s authority over All scripture.

    The Seventh day Adventist denomination however, have clarified that the Sabbath was never abrogated to the catholic church by any authority other then the catholic church, which concurs with Luther ,Calvin, Knox, et all.. , Only the Catholics can lay claim to that lawless deed. (See Daniel 7:25) They, the catholic church, have changed Gods commandment Law of the Sabbath to Sunday claiming the authority to do so by their ecclesiastical authority and not by or as decreed by the Bible. Believe it or not the bible dose not change the Sabbath to Sunday, that is man’s idea.

    The Catholic church also claims that all protestant churches that adhere to the changed Sabbath (the forth commandment) Saturday to Sunday, are in fact daughters of her ecclesiastical authority from the Romish Catholic Sabbath of Sunday. It is her mark of authority over the commandments. (As the Papacy grew in power, it opposed the Seventh day Sabbath keepers in favor of Sunday sacredness. All historical records show the Catholic Church made the day change official in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363-364) “Canon XXIX: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the “true” Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day “Sunday”; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, by keeping the Saturday Sabbath, let them be anathema from Christ.” (Percival Translation).” This decree is by the Catholic church alone.

    The Catholic adherents is taught that, The Catholic Church gets her authority from Jesus to make these laws. He told the leaders of his Church, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19, 18:18).

    The catholics church teaches that this include Gods Laws. This language of “binding and loosing” was a Jewish phrase that was that meant forbidding and permitting. This pertained to the ability of scribes and Pharisees to establish rules of conduct for the faith community, and the good Jew was called by Christ to obey them (Matt. 23:3). However 2Peter and the book of Acts gives us all the requirements that the council in Jerusalem , The group of the origional apostals decided would be binding.

    Although this may seem like it is the right excuse for changing one of God Commandment written in stone, It would be meet with too numerous of scripture to prove it a heretical teaching and contrary to Gods word. For God tells us plainly that “not one jot nor title will pass-away from the law ” Yea heaven and earth shall pass away but my word will last forever” . Also that those who “teach to do so will be found the least in the kingdom of heaven”.

    So The argument between the Adventist and the Catholic Church has gotten the Adventist in deep trouble with the catholic church, and her daughters the Protestants. The Adventist are commonly called a “cult” because that have a main prophet, (so to speak). She is Ellen White , yet she claimed she was not a prophet but a mere servant of Jesus, bringing his teachings to light in a easier way to understand)

    . Her books are many fold and teach on every thing from the last days to health and a vegan life style of eating. This would be no different then a Thomas Aquinas is to the catholic church, or any number of so called catholic or protestant saints.

    But the word of God tell us a most amazing clue as to who will be viewed “worthy to be sought after by the devil “ in the last days. God clearly tells us in the book of revelation that the devil will, in the last day peruse the remnant of the church and that their signifying character is that they “keep the faith of Jesus Christ and the commandments of God”

    John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey “ ..23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24″He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.

    1 John 2:3

    We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.

    John 14:15,21 If you love me, keep my commandments

  • Douglas Elsey

    This is a hack job. I am a Seventh-day Adventist minister and I remember when Gifted Hands was published, many white Seventh-day Adventists read it too. Also, my grandfather and my great uncle participated in D-Day, in fact my great uncle was killed in France on June 9, 1944 three days after D-Day. My dad served, my nephew did two tours of Iraq while another nephew is at sea right now with the US Navy. All of my family members above have chosen to bear arms.

    The Central Belief of the Church is Jesus Christ. Christ came to save us, died for us, was resurrected for us, ascended into heaven and will one day return to take us home. Non violence is not the central teaching of the SDA Church, Christ is.

    There are many Adventists serving in the military who are armed. Also, many Adventists serve in law enforcement and are armed. Many Adventist carry a weapon legally. I have served the Church as a minister in California, Montana and Kansas. I have seen members armed at church as they worship.

    As a Church many do not support the good doctor, but there is diversity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It pains me to see Dr. Carson thrown under the bus by church members and even accused of running away from his faith. When has this happened to an Adventist politician on the left? It has not and frankly shouldn’t ever happen. Also, I don’t criticize Adventists who do not bear arms. Why would I?

    “Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus said. Never forget when Hitler attacked Poland and Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the peacemakers were armed as were some of Christ’s own disciples.

  • Jim Reed

    That was a convincing argument in the past, but your problem is now we know there was no actual gospel Jesus. The gospel stories from the end of the first century were unknown earlier in the century when Paul was writing about Christianity. Correcting the Roman Catholic church is not enough. You have to go back a little farther and correct the Bible.

  • Jim Reed

    This is Carson’s own fault. He wants us to start a war with Iran. Every Republican wants that, at least every Republican running for office. Think before you compare politicians on the left with Republicans.

  • Kangaroo52

    Non-violence is rather passe among the Religious Right. They worship a “Muscular Jesus” not unlike National Lampoon of the 1970s “Son-O-God” (a fake comic book inside the magazine with a bare chested with abs of steel Jesus subbing for spider man and a mild-mannered Jewish teenager named Benny David in the Peter Parker alter ego). As part of a plea agreement on a pornography charge with the Ed Meese Justice Department National Lampoon under the leadership of Lorne Michaels (Yes, the man behind Saturday Night Live got his start as a 1970s porn mogul of sorts) Nat Lamp agreed to discontinue Son-O-God in return for the charges being dropped. The porn stuff was relatively mild “Foto Funnies” most starring porn star Annie Sprinkle in various states of underss. Son-O-God itself contained no obscenity save perhaps The Harlot of Babylon’s cleavage but Meese’s Religious Right backers wanted it gone, so, gone it became. If anyone’s interested the entire series is available on the comics commentary website Dial B for Blog.

  • cgosling

    Names mean little. It is estimated that half of all religious folk attend church for social and personal non religious reasons rather than for worshiping a God. The next time you are at a church service look around during a prayer and see if it looks like people are really praying or just waiting for it to be over.

  • Jim Reed

    During a prayer I always look around, and nobody else is looking around except the kids. It is hard to know if people are praying or waiting. They appear to be praying.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Carson is the most immoral of the Republican candidates, and in a field that includes Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, that is saying something . . . .

  • Paul Kenny

    I didn’t realize Seventh day Adventists believed this. From your comments it seems they believe Roman Catholic Church is evil, and to blame for everything. I was thinking of voting for Carson, but as a practicing Catholic I can’t do that, not after what I just read. Carson and his church are now my enemy, and I will do everything I can to see his defeat. I am conservative, and liked a lot of what he had to say, but this filth I just read makes me sick to my stomach. I , and any Catholic conservative I associate with will never vote for a man who buys this garbage written above. I think it is important to let all my catholic friends and business associates know about how Adventists feel about us. I’m thinking Cruz now I guess. Wow, still shocked.

  • Kuni Leml

    I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist (my father was a Jew so he and my mother at least had the Sabbath in common) and I also recall stories glorifying other Adventist’s bravery on the battlefield . . . as unarmed medics.

    The fact that they did not join in the shooting part was glorified.

    It would appear that Carson is as much a Sevy now as I am.

  • Kuni Leml

    That must explain why all those children’s mini-books put out by Pacific Press never seemed to mention armed Sevys in WWII.

    They were waiting for you to publicly expose them for their conveniently overlooking all those armed Adventists. Thus ushering in, yet again, the beginning of the end times.

  • Kuni Leml

    So other than Peter, once, who are these armed disciples?

  • Jennifer P

    No where has Ben Carson advocated the violent use of firearms.

    Remember “Speak softly and carry a big stick”? TR was right. If you arm yourself and know how to use those arms you are far more likely not to have to use them to defend yourself than if you go about unarmed.

  • Jennifer P

    Good post. Thanks.

  • Craptacular

    “If you arm yourself and know how to use those arms you are far more
    likely not to have to use them to defend yourself than if you go about
    unarmed.” – JenniferP

    Do you have proof of this? Or are you just saying it because it sounds nice, like TR?