This article explains how Seventh Day Adventists have an exclusive culture, and it is one of the most important articles on the website. This is a topic for which I cannot find much discussion, but it is extremely important when understanding the Seventh Day Adventist church. This slips through the cracks to outside members, and it is very well hidden. Adventists are not barred from talking to non-Adventists, and the mainstream church does not engage in shunning. But just because it does not shun non-members, does not mean the church is not exclusive and insular.
How the church became insular
The SDA church has silently created a system by-which its members do not need to interact in any meaningful way with non-Adventists. This is something very unique to Adventist churches- they have removed the need to engage with non-Adventist. Below is a typical example of many mainstream members lives, from start-to-finish:
- They are born in a Seventh Day Adventist hospital to Seventh Day Adventist parents.
- They then go to an Adventist preschool and make Adventist-only friends.
- They then head to an Adventist grade school and make Adventist-only friends. Alternatively if they belong to very exclusive parents they are homeschooled, and their only contact with other children is at their church.
- They then go to an Adventist high school.
- They then go to an Adventist university and college (and while there, most likely study to become either a nurse, a teacher of a pastor).
- They then get a job in an Adventist business/institution. These are particularly appealing from a practical perspective, because these businesses will forcibly be closed during Sabbath hours (or if they are a hospital, it is OK because they can work during Sabbath).
- They will then get married to an Adventist spouse, as an SDA pastor is not allowed to marry an SDA to a non-SDA.
- They then will eventually retire in an Adventist rest home, where they will live out the rest of their days.
Not only is this a common course of life, but it is greatly encouraged. The prestigious Adventist families live their lives in this way. From personal experience, if you don’t engage in this exclusive world you will feel left out at Adventist meeting grounds such as church, as most Adventists get to know each other at school/work. All of these places/steps (school, work, partner) are where we usually come to meet our friends and form close relationships. If you are only surrounded by Adventists, then you will inevitably just become friends with them.
Granted, at these institutions they will encounter non-Adventists. But their relationships with these individuals tend to be very fleeting. For example, an Adventist teen might become friends with a non-Adventist teen at their high school. But inevitably their relationship is doomed to be less meaningful from the start, because not only are they discouraged to become good friends with them, but they will spend less time with them than they will with their SDA peers. This is because in their spare time, they will engage in church activities and the Adventist kids will be forced together for large periods of time on Sabbath. Because the Adventist kids spend extra time outside of them and are apart of a unique culture, they will draw closer together.
Pathfinders in the SDA version of boy scouts/girl scouts.Look at the final message taught to the kids.
And this is how it happens; all of this is relatively innocent, but the consequences are obviously huge. And this is all incredibly mainstream, and occurs just as regularly in progressive churches as it does in conservative churches.
Adventists do not shun others
As mentioned earlier, Adventists will happily interact with non-Adventists. Nothing about the theology/beliefs require you shun someone, unlike Jehovah Witnesses, which SDA’s are unfairly compared to on a regular basis. In fact, the official church manual specifically notes that this is not to occur:
“When a person has been removed from church membership, the church should, where possible, maintain contact and manifest the spirit of friendship and love, endeavouring to win him/her back to the fold.” – Offical SDA Church Manual (p199, 17th edition)
But, just because the church does not go to such extreme lengths as shunning, does not mean the church does not purposely exclude other members in a way that is very negative and destructive. I would also like to note that the “endeavouring to win him/her back to the fold” can become very frustrating as a non-member, as all/most of your conversation with your family/friends still in the church becomes laced with pressure to return.
In part 2 of this article I will go into the two major reasons that Adventists choose to avoid non-members, but for now I will go into another major part of their insular/exclusive culture; the fact that they internally de-humanize non-members.
Adventists don’t just avoid non-members, they remove their unique identities
To the SDA church, nothing is more important than being a church member. This is because they believe the church is “chosen” and that it has “the truth”. They claim that they do not believe that SDA’s will exclusively go to heaven. This is only partially true and it is basically a white lie. They believe that, if you have not heard the SDA “truth” that you will only be judged on what you did know.
Once you hear “the truth”, you are then required to follow it. If you choose to not follow it – for whatever reason – then you are seen to be rejecting God. There are a lot of rules, and to be baptised you need to follow all of them. If you publicly break a rule, you won’t be baptised in a conservative church and if you break them while a member, many people will not consider you a “real” Adventist.
Because of their strict views on who will be saved and who will not be, it has resulted in them considering everyone but other Seventh Day Adventists as part of “The World”. They believe that “The World” is being lead by Satan. And so really – if you aren’t an Adventist, then it doesn’t really matter what your achievements are, it doesn’t matter what your personality is. Because the most important thing about you, is that you are not an Adventist, and you are going to experience an eternal death. Everyone in “The World” loses their unique identity and simply gets lumped into this group.
So not only do Adventists avoid people outside their faith, they also mentally devalue their worth. Their worth is no longer based on their achievements or their actions or their personalities, because they are simply part of “The World”. This lessens any incentive for an Adventist to get to know a non-member, because they are inherently wary of them (after all, they are under the influence of Satan). Now I will go into the two major reasons that they exclude non-members from their lives in any meaningful way.