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.
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”.
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.
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.
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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.