Adventism and Civil Engagement

General Conference

Adventism and Civil Engagement

Discerning the arguments on civil engagements as Adventists.

Commentary | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Nicole Dominguez

The separation of church and state is a topic that has been a topic of debate since the formulation of government. In a time of increasing political polarization, the understanding unity of the gospel should act as a bridge for how to live our civil engagement. Unfortunately, polarization has infiltrated the church community, with some believing Christians should be the loudest voices in political conflict, and some believing that Christians should remove themselves from any form of political engagement. This week on ANN InDepth our hosts sit down with 

*Bettina Krause, the Associate Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty and Director of Government Affairs for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, and Orlan Johnson, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

For many, civic engagement can seem like a black and white matter, with no space for a grey area. Even refusing to engage with political involvement is itself a political statement, and one that perpetuates isolation within ideology that is apart from scriptural truth. By pigeonholing our identities according to our political proclivities, we are perpetuating a winner/loser, right/wrong, holy/heathen mindset that is dangerous for our spiritual and civic progress. Johnson recognizes that while on sinful earth, there can be no outcry for civic engagement that will universally satisfy believers. He elaborates by saying that “there are some phrases that we've grown accustomed to in our pantheon of conversations, and in our country but we forget that they're actually trigger words for certain people.” His answer to this issue is to ensure that “All of your statements are completely subsumed in scripture and if you give it to them in a way that focuses on the love of Jesus Christ and use what I would call words that don't incite.”

By being intentional in our language, we are working to remove division by engaging in a respectful conversation that recognizes not all experiences are universal. For those within western civilization, especially America, these governments were built on Judeo-Christian principles. Such a foundation allows for believers to be more active within civic engagement. Yet for our brothers and sisters living in governments hostile to Christianity, civic engagement in the name of Christ is approached in a different way. Understanding such disparities and learning from them promotes a more nuanced application. Krause elaborates by saying 

”Access to information doesn't equal being informed, that's patently clear. Does it matter regarding the type of political system in which people of faith operate? Of course it does, I think of our church members around the world, so many of them are living, worshipping, and 

witnessing in political environments that we can't even imagine.”

The spectrum of what and how to apply civic engagement must be seen from a biblical lens. For both conservatives and liberals, it is easy for our political stance to dictate how scripture is read and applied. Krause makes an important point by saying, “Ask yourself this question: is your faith informing your politics or is your politics informing your faith.” We often morph the bible to feed our own ideologies, be it supporting claims of political avoidance or presenting Christ as a social justice warrior. Both are manipulations of scriptural truths to provide evidence. If scripture is read purely to prove an ideology, it will be found. For centuries, verses have been found and used to prove that our politics are not only right, but blessed by God. Johnson recalls slave owners that would put their slaves in basement cells to look down on through grates in the floor before entering into churches for worship. Avoiding such manipulation is found in maintaining respectful, yet informed conversations grounded in unbiased scripture, with those of different ideologies. 

The Adventist church were forerunners for civic engagement during their formation during the Civil War. Johnson elaborates on the Advenist pioneers involvement saying: 

“Adventists were very vocal about their position on abolition and they were quite happy to publish articles which were directly critical of the actions of the US government not just at home but internationally. So let us not suffer under the illusion that somehow as adventists we have a heritage of being politically shy we have a tradition of having integrity when we engage in the political process and being cautious and careful but that's not the same as being shy.”

Johnson reveals the key element to civic engagement which is the intent to be an ambassador for Christ. So how does one apply civic engagement as a believer? One thing to understand is that it’s not one size fits all. Stymiest guides by saying, “sometimes it's just an impact in your own concentric circle. The idea that I can't change the world unless I'm going out and doing all this stuff with all these people. Sometimes it's about being a good neighbor and letting people see Christ in you.”

*Since this program aired, Bettina Krause has accepted the position of Editor for Liberty Magazine in the North American Division.