Faith Communities Today
New Fact Information
Only 7% of Seventh-day Adventist churches in the U.S. report that they are involved in community organizing projects or advocacy on social issues in the community. This is less than one third the rate for all religious congregations in America.
Theologically conservative Christians, including Adventists, tend to believe in relief activities for people suffering from disasters, famine and even entrenched poverty, but they feel that efforts to change the social structures that maintain hunger and injustice are outside the scope of Christ’s mission. So this survey response is not surprising.
Yet, considering the history of the Adventist movement, it is somewhat difficult to explain. The founders of the Adventist movement were social activists, deeply involved in anti-slavery advocacy, the temperance movement that led to a constitutional amendment and health reform, which was then as much about changing the practice of medicine and medical institutions as it was about diet and exercise. Ellen White’s “The Ministry of Healing” includes chapters on “Help for the Unemployed and the Homeless” and “Liquor Traffic and Prohibition,” as well as “Prayer for the Sick” and “Flesh as Food.” She spoke on many occasions at political rallies in support of prohibition and urged Adventist young people to refuse joining the military during the Civil War. John Byington, the first president of the General Conference, engaged in civil disobedience against the Federal fugitive slave law.
Part of the explanation for this shift over time is the increasingly middle class character of the Adventist Church membership in America. The prosperous middle class tends to favor a religion that avoids controversial public issues and supports the status quo, in part, because they have a stake in that status quo. Where conservative, middle class Christians in America have rallied behind public issues today it is most often focused on regulating sexual behavior not approved by the Bible. There is much less support even for efforts to vote down government-sponsored gambling, furthermore addressing social inequities.
The other part of the explanation is that Adventists have not succeeded well in communicating what we’re ‘for;’ we’ve been better at emphasizing what we’re ‘against.’ If we were to present benefits and tangible solution when networking with progressive decision-makers in the community, our influence on these issues might be greater.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (page 163) still includes among the listing of 14 church standards, one on social justice which states, “In every community where they live Seventh-day Adventists, as children of God, should be recognized as outstanding citizens in their Christian integrity and in working for the common good of all. ... we should always, quietly and firmly, maintain an uncompromising stand for justice and right in civic affairs.”
1. Has our church ever been involved in a community organizing project or advocacy for a social issue in the community?
2. Are there any issues in our community today that have moral dimensions that we should study in terms of Bible teachings?
3. If our church is going to be a moral beacon in the community, are there issues on which we should take a stand?
The Adventist Congregations Today book and CD-R contain insight into issues affecting how we share our faith. Learn more about the Faith Communities Today (FACT) research.
New FACT Information, Center for Creative Ministry