The first time I remember hearing of Dr. Ben Carson was in the fifth grade. My teacher read to us “Gifted Hands” for our devotionals in the morning at my Adventist elementary school. I sat in awe of his story and how it seemed he allowed God to use him. Wow! For me, the idea of a Seventh-day Adventist that was famous, like really famous…not even just “Adventist celebrity famous” was incredible. His rags-to-riches tale seemed super human. When I found what I took to be the sequel to “Gifted Hands,” “Think Big” in my grandmother’s bookcases a couple of months later, I fervently read it as well.
When the media was abuzz with the name “Ben Carson” after he spoke for the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, my ears perked up. It was one of only a handful of times I’d heard the name outside of Adventist circles. I remember being quite stunned that all of the discussion was surrounding “our” Dr. Ben Carson, the renowned Seventh-day Adventist pediatric neurosurgeon.
For Adventists, Dr. Ben Carson has long been heralded as a symbol of the heights to which we can attain for God if we humbly submit ourselves to Him. God can use us to do anything, mighty or small. Whether we like to openly admit it or not, he’s become somewhat of an archetype, a modern-day Old Testament figure.
Even with such an enthusiasm for Dr. Carson and his work, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of trepidation when I learned that he was running for president. Can this be for real? How far can he really last? I watched the grassroots of his campaign and poll numbers as somewhat of an odd curiosity, thinking there probably would not be much need to take it too seriously. After all, an Adventist in the White House? Highly doubtful.
And it could still be highly doubtful. However, as months pass and Dr. Carson continues to do well enough to stay in the discussions, I find myself having to question more about how I as a young Seventh-day Adventist feel about him running. Where do I stand on this question? What types of attention will this draw to my religion? Is this a good thing? Could I vote for him? Should I vote for him? Or, rather, am I more comfortable with him losing?
These are the questions Adventists across the country are asking right now. What does Ben Carson’s campaign mean for Seventh-day Adventism? The General Conference released a statement almost as soon as Carson announced his plans to run, stating the church’s official position on politics. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here. And even while Carson doesn’t emphasize his Adventism, he also can’t escape it.
I see people across the board. Many of my college friends simply laugh at the idea that Ben Carson is running for president. He’s become the end of every joke. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my newsfeed is filled with people who literally repost EVERYTHING Ben Carson in a show of solidarity. It’s as if Ben Carson has fulfilled some unspoken pinnacle of Adventist achievement.
And I’m over here like, I don’t know how I feel about this… I’m listening and watching, and I just don’t know what to think. And it’s raising all of these questions for me about religious liberty.
This is a first for the Seventh-day Adventist church. With every passing week, Carson’s run is bringing more and more attention to Adventism. After his statement on Muslim leadership and Sharia law, many questions have been raised about our denomination. Adventism has a long-held stance of not associating our denomination with any sort of party. The church certainly does not endorse any particular candidate. Reading numerous articles this week, I was reminded yet again that many aspects of religious liberty were legally defined in part because of Seventh-day Adventists.
Yet, at the same time, Adventism has this way of feeling like a cultural ethnicity. I can be anywhere in the world, and I feel at home when I’m with other Adventists. They get the way I talk, the way I eat, the things I believe in. So, it’s hard not to feel that way when you see Dr. Ben Carson up there on the debate stage and meanwhile know that he’s also (theoretically) having the same haystacks you are. There’s a sense of similitude and brotherhood innately within that connection.
Meanwhile, all of these “Adventist ideas” run through my head. Can you even be president and be Adventist? Like do those two things contradict each other? Then, I really let my mind run away with all sorts of ideas. Is Ben Carson even all that Adventist? Is he campaigning on Sabbath? Is that really allowed? You probably won’t have a lot of Sabbath rest as president. Then again, doctors, nurses, firefighters, etc. all work on Sabbath. It’s probably the same thing. King David would have had to run his kingdom on Sabbath. If I get super carried away, I’ll begin to wonder about the end of times. Would an Adventist president in any way usher in the end time sooner? And on and on…
So, does it matter that Ben Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist? Is that a reason to vote for him? Is that not a reason to vote for him?
While GC may tell us to ignore it, that feels somewhat impossible. I think we all have to ask ourselves these questions and how we feel about them. However, the true danger lies not in whether or not there’s a Catholic candidate running for president who may or may not enforce some sort of Sunday law or whether the presidential nominee is an Adventist who may or may not protect religious liberty. What matters most is our ability to think critically. While our beliefs should set the groundwork in place for our vote, there are numerous issues to also weigh.
The whole point of religious liberty is that there should be a separation of church and state. The Israelites had a theocracy. They did it differently, and they had God directly leading them. We, however, live in a vastly different world than the Israelites. We have to remember the important distinction between church and state, even if Adventists are the ones governing the state.
That doesn’t mean your religious convictions shouldn’t motivate you. You may feel like a candidate that shares your religion and beliefs has enough in line with your perspective to vote for. However, what it does mean is that we have to be more cautious than ever in working to maintain the lines between religion and government.
Non-Adventists and Non-Christians deserve their free will just as much as we do. As Adventists, we cannot suddenly lose sight of the importance of our denominational history of neutrality as a church. Religious liberty is what gives us the freedom of worship we so heartily value. It’s what gives us the opportunity to serve the God we believe in on the day we believe He set aside for that purpose. The cornerstone of God’s gift to us is free-will. How can we deny that for others?[/box_holder]