A Primer on Seventh-day Adventists

As Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign strengthens, the inevitable increased scrutiny has begun.  Already, his religion is the subject of direct and indirect criticism, even if Donald Trump’s actual statement was “I just don’t know much about it.”  So for anyone interested, here is a summary of the Seventh-day Adventist faith and some of its more notable adherents.  (Full disclosure:  I am a fifth generation Adventist, former journalist, former spokesperson for two major Adventist institutions, and long-time RedState blogger, though I haven’t posted much in a while.)

  • First, a couple of basic facts: it’s “Seventh-day Adventist,” not “Seventh Day Adventist.”  The last word is very commonly mispronounced “ad-VEN-tist,” but it should be pronounced like the root word: “Advent.”  “ADD-ven-tist.”  You don’t say, “meth-ODD-ist,” do you?


  • Adventism’s roots are in the mid-19th Century American religious revival, specifically emerging from a Methodist preacher (William Miller) and Baptists (Seventh-day Baptists). As the name suggests, two key elements of the faith are a belief in the Old Testament definition of the seventh-day “Sabbath” (Saturday) and a belief in the soon return of Jesus Christ (“Advent”).  In recent decades it has been generally recognized as an accepted member of the Protestant Christian community, though in its earlier days it was often misunderstood and considered in some Christian circles to be a “cult.”


  • Adventists have historically emphasized healthy living; the church forbids the use of tobacco and alcohol consumption (though the latter isn’t “enforced” as it was in years past). About 40 percent are vegetarians, most of whom are not animal rights advocates.  Caffeine is discouraged but most Adventists in the U.S. don’t strictly adhere to this.  Because of the emphasis on health, Adventists have built and operated hospitals and health facilities for more than 120 years.  Today there are more than 70 Adventist owned/managed hospitals in the U.S. and hundreds more across the globe, the largest Protestant health system in the world.  This includes the largest hospital (by several measures) in the country, Orlando’s Florida Hospital and Kettering Health Network in Ohio.  Loma Linda University Health Sciences Center in California pioneered infant heart transplants as well as the first proton therapy cancer center in the country.  Among Loma Linda’s medical school alumni are Frank Jobe, MD, of “Tommy John surgery” fame.  Studies have shown Adventists live about seven years longer than the general population, due to their emphasis on healthy living.


  • There are now 19 million Adventists world-wide, with about one million in the U.S. For several years, Adventism has been cited as the fastest growing denomination in the country.  However, much of that growth is attributed to immigrant populations from Latin American and Africa.  Adventism outside of the U.S. is decidedly more conservative than are Adventists in the U.S., as illustrated by the world church’s recent decision to continue its policy of not ordaining women pastors.  It is estimated that a majority of Adventists in American did not support this decision.


  • Adventists also operate the largest Protestant educational system in the world, with a dozen colleges/universities in the U.S. As a result, Adventists tends to be more highly educated than the general population and have higher than average household incomes.  The church places a strong emphasis on the biblical concept of “tithing” ten percent of one’s income to the church, which no doubt sparked Dr. Ben Carson’s original tax plan.


  • S. Adventists represent the complete spectrum of political beliefs; you typically find politically conservative Adventists in the typically conservative regions of the country and politically liberal Adventists in the liberal bastions of the country. Most assume the church’s position on abortion is in line with that of conservative evangelicalism; however, an inspection of the church’s official statement on the subject mirrors that of the pro-choice movement.  Some Adventist hospitals perform elective abortions.


  • Noted Adventist politicians include long-time GOP Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (of Maryland) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ]’s wife, Heidi, was raised an Adventist but it is unclear if she still claims the faith.


  • Cult leader David Koresh emerged from a conservative Adventist background, eventually leaving the church due to his belief it had become corrupted. The historical emphasis on prophecy and eschatology has tended to attract and develop a small but somewhat eccentric subculture within Adventism.  Church founder, Ellen G. White, is considered to be a “prophetess” by the more conservative elements of membership, though her stature within American and European Adventists has waned considerably in the past 30 years.


  • The American cereal industry was founded through the inspiration of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a pioneering Adventist physician in Battle Creek, Michigan who later left the church.


  • A major motion picture is slated for release next year profiling World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, Jr. Doss, an Adventist, is noted for being the first conscientious objector Medal of Honor winner who, while serving as a medic in the Pacific, single-handedly transported several dozen injured American GI’s under ferocious Japanese machine gun fire.  The movie is being directed by Mel Gibson.  Adventist’s historical position of military non-combatancy has faded in recent decades.