What is a “Progressive” or a “Liberal” Seventh Day Adventist?

Tami Cinquemani. Note the earrings

While reading this website, you will notice that I regularly refer to some Seventh Day Adventists as “liberal”, while others are “conservative”. Most likely, if you are here because you are thinking of defecting from the SDA church, you will know which camp your church/family falls into and the information will not be helpful. But non-Adventists read this site, and they will not know the difference.

Signals and identifiers

If you are looking for a clear-cut definition of what a “conservative” or a “liberal” is, then please turn away now. There is no definition. There is a lot of variation. Some families/churches will have more “identifiers” than others. Many overlap in signals of conservatives vs. liberals. A family/church does not need to have all/most of these signals to be either “conservative” or “liberal”, this is a guide. In the end, it largely comes down to attitude.

SDA Church band. Note the drums

Liberal Adventists (otherwise known as ‘Progressive Adventists’)

Liberal Adventists do not strictly adhere to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and Ellen White’s rules. This can come in two forms. One, even if they believe in these things, they will somewhat embrace/be casual about the fact that they don’t necessarily keep them all. This shows their underlining belief; that people other than Adventists are going to heaven.

Some liberal’s go even further than this; they believe that the church can actually be wrong. Note this is rare – most liberal Adventists fall into the first camp. Liberal SDA’s don’t like sacrifice. Conservative SDA’s will sacrifice and do things they don’t want to do for the sake of following the rules, because to them it is imperative that they are followed. Since deep down liberals don’t believe this, they will regularly make minor concessions, occasionally major ones. Over time liberal Adventists have moved the “moderate” point of the church progressively away from where it was in EGW’s day. Signals include:

  • They avoid talking about E G White. If criticised, they will usually go with a stock answer such as “Ellen White is taken out of context a lot” or “people [conservative members] misinterpret Ellen White” or “a lot of what Ellen White said was relevant for her time, not us today.”
  • Their church services are usually not much longer than an hour, and are mostly made up of prelims and songs. Sermons last a maximum of 15-20 minutes.
  • This might sound a bit odd, but their churches tend to be happier places. Judging happens, but a lot less. They have a relaxed attitude towards God and Jesus.
  • They rarely (if at all) sing hymns. They sing modern Christian songs and usually encourage instruments such as drums.
  • Women receive equal encouragement to speak, sometimes more (but they would expect the sermon to come from an emotional, personal angle).
  • They have very few limitations on clothes they will wear. Jewelry is not looked down upon at all, neither is makeup.
  • They have no limitations on TV/books/movies/games they consume.
  • They speak about Jesus a lot and don’t spend a lot of time on the Old Testament.
  • Almost always eat meat. They keep most of the diet laws, but they will break ones relating to caffeine and drink coffee/tea/coke/pepsi. Some will drink alcohol/smoke/do drugs, but this is kept private/hidden.
  • Follow Adventist laws; they keep the Sabbath, tithe and they keep the health laws. But they find these things laborious and, especially the youth, don’t do a great job at hiding it. You will find liberal teenage SDA’s obviously sprawled across halls after the potluck has been served.
  • A lot of them break the SDA rules/commandments/fundamentals on a regular basis at home and with non-Adventist friends, and don’t really seem ashamed when it is done privately. Liberal Adventists are the most likely to lead “double lives”.

Progressive Seventh Day Adventist's watch all sorts of movies, TV and listen to all sorts of music without guilty or shame

On the other hand, there are some Adventists that a truly Adventist in name only. They are usually not just SDA in name only, but Christian in name only. These SDA’s rarely engage in the conservative culture because they would not fit in at all. This camp is mostly made up of youth.

How Progressive Adventists React to People Leaving the Church

How well a Liberal Adventist will take you defecting will depend on how exclusive they are. The reasons Liberal Adventists are exclusive is to do with their culture; if their social circle is predominately Adventist, then you defecting could go very badly. On the other hand; if their social circle is wide then you leaving is more likely to go down better. Most Liberal Adventists, regardless of being apart of the exclusive culture will usually be OK with you defecting to a non-offensive denomination, since their progressive attitudes underline the fact that they aren’t that interested in Adventist rules; just the culture (and, potentially, Christian theology as a whole). They will however be distinctly aware that you “left the fold” and you will be reminded that you have left it on a regular basis. It becomes more murky if you defect to be an agnostic/atheist.

In Conclusion…

Progressive SDA’s usually don’t really believe in the church deep down. Some of them will be really into Christianity, but not really into the beliefs of the church. This does not exclude them from favouring other Seventh Day Adventists. Liberal Adventists have their own exclusive culture. But this culture is built up on shared experiences, ideas and values that only other SDA’s understand. It isn’t built from a dogmatic belief in the necessity of following the strict rules of the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Video from the Florida Hospital SDA church. They are a liberal/progressive church. Notice they aren’t singing a hymn. They also have drums in their church, and the pastor’s wife, Tami Cinquemani, wears earrings.

13 Comments
  1. I think Adventism has a lot of progressive beliefs… rejecting eternal hellfire, being environmentally aware, the importance of healthy living, not being super uptight about reproductive rights (at least compared to other fundies), separation of church and state, etc. It’s not like “liberal” is totally antithetical to everything SDA’s are supposed to stand for, and the assertion that liberal SDAs are just lazy half-assed Adventists isn’t actually true in my experience. It’s kind of cynical that the ignorant fundies are allowed to define who is a “pure” Adventist and who is not.

    I think they have a much healthier spiritual climate precisely BECAUSE they actually emphasize Jesus as more important than having “distinctive beliefs”, as opposed to conservatives who identify as God’s extra special commandment-keeping prophetic snowflakes first and “Christians” second.

    I might even still be one… but too bad I believe the Bible is not inerrant (and also kinda messed up), science is real, EGW is an extremely sketchy “prophet” for a multitude of reasons, and that the entire denomination was obviously invented to save face after a failed prophecy. :P

    • I kind of agree with you Kat, but I find so called ‘liberal’ Adventists are not like my progressive and liberal friends outside of religion. they are more into environmental issues, healthy living, and hate the typical Christian churches for many good reasons. also they are more anti-establishment, while most SDA liberals are pro- military, industrial, drug cartel establishment followers, and they love the SDA culture. Its sort of like Orthodox and Reform Jews, two sides to the same coin!

  2. The things I have looked at on this website are just laughable. It is obvious to me that everything that takes place in the Seventh Day Adventist Church is blown out of proportion, to try to make it seem as bad as possible. It is ridiculous. I have been an Adventists for over 25 years now and believe me when I tell you that this site is baloney.

    The reason that so many people hate the SDA Church is simply because our Doctrines shine the light upon the false Doctrines of the other Churches who are following after Rome, the Catholic Church in keeping the false Sunday Sabbath and in believing in Spiritualism as in when you die you don’t really die- you go straight to Heaven or Hell and if Hell, you burn forever and ever and ever.

    Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants (so-called) like it that we expose their false Doctrines. So their response since they really have no Scripture to back up their falsehoods is to label our Church as a “Cult”. It’s the easy way out, to get people out there who are ignorant of what the truth is, not to investigate for themselves, as they will automatically then be afraid to even listen to what we have to say, since supposedly we are a “Cult”.

    Why don’t you try showing with the Scriptures where our Doctrines are supposedly unbiblical? Of course, you cannot, and thus, websites like this one are created.

    • Have you ever done any really investigating on E.G White and some of the laughable doctrines? Some very high ranking former SDA’S with much more knowledge then you I’m sure have denounced her and other teachings.It should give you pause to at least look into what they discovered, which I’m sure you have not done. Like they say blind leading the blind…well once indoctrinated into cults your brain becomes a wet paper bag.

    • You, uh… do realize that this site was made by an atheist, right?

      I’m convinced most of the Adventists posting here don’t read ANYTHING, they just fly off the handle at the slightest criticism. Do you people just have a bunch of canned responses you copy and paste everywhere? You could at least try to make arguments that are relevant.

      Some of us could care less about how “Biblical” your beliefs are (which isn’t true at all; EGW is used to prop up a lot of ‘peculiar’ SDA beliefs which are Scripturally flimsy at BEST) nor do we care about how ‘unBiblical’ Catholics and Protestants are.

      As far as I’m concerned, you’re all equally ridiculous. ;)

    • Sorry Claudia, but this site is dealing with a real problem and one that negates any scriptural truth the SDA church may profess to believe. And face it, since the 1950s the church has slowly abandoned the great truths, or watered them down to appease the mainline protestants who follow Rome. As student at Southern years ago [theology, and that after serving as an associate pastor for some time] I witnessed first hand this happening and the persecution of any student who dared to question the theology being taught. I was a bit conservative about a lot of the doctrines, but liberal about a lot of other things. I even wore jeans to chapel, horror of all horrors! We had a professor who did believe in the old doctrines that were true and they made him recant or else…… they broke him and his spirit.

  3. Where can I fine the documentation of Whites failed prefaces and writing from those former very high ranking SDA’S that have denounced her as a profit . Where can I fine their relational and their discoveries No I have not really investigating on E.G White and some of the laughable doctrines ,but I would like to start. I would affirm that they are much more knowledge then I am . I am willing to read and listen .Are their hole SA churches that are progressive ??/? Amy in Idaho???
    John Henry Cornett
    P.SI bet it was harder for them to live the church than it was for me

  4. I would start out reading these three pages:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Seventh-day_Adventist_Church

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Ellen_White

    http://www.ellenwhiteexposed.com/headinjury.htm

    Aside from that, there are a number of “Ellen G. White is a False Prophet” websites out there that pick apart her prophecies, but you’ll always find *someone* out there who can spin any quote of hers to agree with their particular interpretation. You’re better off sticking to things she said that are easily falsifiable, like her many ridiculous and utterly wrong teachings on health and science, for starters.

  5. Well as for most of the anti-SDA websites that criticize EGW, most of them want us to return to the dark ages theology still embraced by the main churches, no way, what bankrupt ideas!

    Secondly, sure, EGW made some silly statements, and sometimes backtracked and supported the status quo after making anti-establishment statements, but….as most progressives and liberals in the world today will tell you, and especially those into natural health and organic living, and alternative medicine, that woman was ahead of her time. I did a TV show with some members of the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, they love a lot of EGW’ health principles, not to mention other people into real health and not the drug establishment controlled medical system [as endorsed by the SDA church]

    I find she said a lot, and a lot of astounding things, and her ideas on education as a general rule were as progressive as Horace Mann or Jefferson. I just wrote a paper comparing her to these great educational reformers, pointing out the correlating teachings and I was immediately flunked by our so-called ‘progressive’ Adventist educators at Southern!?!? They are no more progressive or liberal then Mitt Romney or Bush!

    • That’s pretty interesting. I’ve also heard the opposite though, that Ellen G. White was actually not as far ahead of her time as you’d think. Apparently vegetarianism/”cleansing” diets, sanitariums, apocalyptic religious movements, and even women prophets were all the rage back in her day. I find the woman herself to be an interesting mix of forward-thinking ideas and totally ass-backwards craziness. No wonder the SDA church is so schizophrenic these days!

  6. Man, its after 3am here, no wonder I’m sleepy! Well let’s see if I get moderated off of here, this happens on most SDA sites. Sometimes I feel very alone in how I think, but no one has shown me where I am wrong yet, they just shut me down or cut me off. But I do feel a strong like for Lily’s testimony, that was cool! Good night!

    • Hi Thomas. Thank you for your messages, they have been very interesting to read. Besides spam, I accept all comments and appreciate ALL angles/inputs on my analysis of the SDA church and my experiences. Having such a vibrant comments section helps to temper and offset my bias by providing multiple opinions on the issues. Thanks

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