By Timothy Perenich DC
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is, at times, a conundrum. Instead of normalizing our practices by the word of God, we attempt to normalize the word of God to our practices. For example, the church has a creationist worldview, yet also has the distinction of being the first medical institution to put a baboon heart into a human being. Even a secular paper noted this inconsistency:
“The health-conscious church teaches vegetarianism and creationism, the literal belief in the seven-day creation as described in the Bible as opposed to the theory of evolution. Because creationists maintain man is unrelated to animals, some religious scholars have suggested the Baby Fae operation performed by Dr. Leonard Bailey at Loma Linda University Medical Center might pose a religious problem for Adventists.” 
Despite the obvious contradiction, church publications and scholars were quick to defend the surgery by nuancing the church’s position on creation. 
The same can be said concerning the church’s position on abortion. The current policy essentially allows abortion on demand in its medical institutions. It is ironic that an organization which preaches the sovereignty of the fourth commandment would tacitly support violating the sixth commandment through its medical institutions. The conflict between Adventist beliefs and the practice on abortion has a well-documented history which others have covered and cannot be reiterated here.  Nevertheless, the justification for pro-life beliefs but pro-choice practice is defended by two prongs, one theological and the other medical. Though the medical justification deserves careful scrutiny time and space will not permit, thus, focus will be on the theological.
In general, Seventh-day Adventists—who hold a high view of Scripture—will not argue that the Bible supports abortion. Instead, they appeal to freedom of choice and the diabolical ramifications of religious dogma usurping religious freedom.
The tenor of this argument was expressed by the church’s official religious freedom organ Liberty Magazine in 1973 with these sentences:
“To protest the Court’s ruling (Roe v. Wade) because it allows sin is tacitly to admit that one favored the abortion prohibitions because they forbade sin. Thinking people, and especially religious people who prize their freedom to act according to their consciences, ought not to consider it a favor for their government to legislate religious morals to ensure the rectitude of its citizens.” 
Additionally, the religious freedom argument gains traction because the pro-life issue is seen as a plank of the political Catholic Evangelical alliance, called the “Moral Majority.” For those who ascribe to SDA eschatology, the political wrangling over abortion can be interpreted as a steep slope on the descent to an American Theocracy.
This narrative is so fixed in among Adventist thought leaders that Liberty published a cover to their magazine, depicting members of congress being tortured in an inquisitorial dungeon with nefarious-looking inquisitors in black who represent the Christian conservative lobby. 
The influence of this position was felt in 1989 during a series of committee meetings at Loma Linda University platformed to discuss the issue of abortion. The committee, which met from 1989–1992, would be responsible for drafting the current General Conference’s guidelines on abortion. Some in these meetings feared taking the pro-life position because of its association with the political religious right. This fear muted the consciences of pro-life oriented believers. John V. Stevens, Sr. expressed this concern, warning the committee of dangers to religious freedom writing:
“The abortion issue is the catalyst to subject America, and indeed the world, to the papal ‘divine right of rule’ in all moral matters, social and religious, thus establishing its religion as the law of the land, and inflicting civil penalties on religious dissenters….The abortion issue will likely serve as the needle that pulls behind it the thread of oppressive Sunday religious worship laws.” 
Professor emeritus Ronald Lawson of Queens College, CUNY likewise observed:
“Some conservative Adventists reject a pro-life stand because they feel Adventists should not be aligned with a position adopted so-strongly by the Roman Catholic Church, the more so because the latter wishes to utilize state power to achieve its goal.” 
This theme has not only been consistent among conservatives church members, but has also been seconded by liberal church members too. In the same committee meetings,a faction of women aligned to the liberal wing—many of whom were selected to give the panel credibility—concluded: “[The] ultimate choice would lie with the pregnant woman,” and that abortion should also be viewed in “terms of freedom of conscience as well as women’s rights.”  Thanks, in part, to this push for gender equality, outspoken pro-life believers were not invited to the panel.  Most of the women appointed were connected to the hospital system as therapists, psychologists, nurses, and lawyers. 
Nonetheless, on the issue of abortion, both conservatives and liberals agree and cite the woman’s right to choose as the moral standard for conscience. Adventists seem to have such an aversion to the political right in the United States that they have used the banner of religious freedom as cloak for some members’ alliance with the political left.
Indeed, the justification for many who hold the de facto pro-choice position, comes from the talking points of the political left. In a speech published in Liberty magazine by the late Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, one can see many of the arguments seconded by believers over the issue of abortion:
“The real transgression occurs when religion wants government to tell citizens how to live uniquely personal parts of their lives. The failure of prohibition proves the futility of such an attempt when a majority or even a substantial minority happens to disagree. Some questions may be inherently individual ones, or people may be sharply divided about whether they are. In such cases—cases like prohibition and abortion—the proper role of religion is to appeal to the conscience of the individual, not the coercive power of the state.” 
Interestingly, while Senator Kennedy feels that Christians should not seek legislation which imposes restrictive measures on abortion, the church should, however, be applauded when it seeks legislation that reflects social justice values:
“There must be standards for the exercise of such leadership so that the obligations of belief will not be debased into an opportunity for mere political advantage. But to take a stand at all when a question is both properly public and truly moral is to stand in a long and honored tradition. Many of the great evangelists of the 1800s were in the forefront of the abolitionist movement. In our own time, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin challenged the morality of the war in Vietnam. Pope John XXIII renewed the gospel’s call to social justice. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the greatest prophet of this century, awakened our national conscience to the evil of racial segregation.” 
Today, Seventh-day Adventist organizations echo these very sentiments, being desirous to affirm their commitment to social justice, while remaining silent in regards to the rights of children in the womb. For example, members are applauded for their efforts on immigration, race, diversity, and gender equality, but shunned in regards to taking a pro-life position. Andrews University spends considerable sums of money to hire a diversity officer, produce a video about racism, and provide a safe space for LGBT+ students, yet not a word on abortion.  It almost seems that politically-left views expressed by Senator Kennedy have become the framework for institutional policy.
Even those who may be politically neutral are affected by this position. Noted conservative evangelist Dennis Priebe, an exponent of Last Generation Theology, also warned of the “Trojan Horse” tempting Seventh-day Adventists to affiliate with the political right:
“This is the Trojan horse that is fascinating Adventism right now, and we allow it in our midst at the peril of our souls (i.e. supporting religious based legislation). We have formed our Maginot Line against attacks by the enemy, and Satan has bypassed our carefully prepared defenses by appearing to be our friend and ally, since we are also opposed to abortion and homosexuality. We have been duped into using the methods of the papal Antichrist in addressing society’s moral ills. We don’t seem to realize that evangelical theology and evangelical politics are broken cisterns.” 
With all respect to Elder Priebe, one has to wonder if he has been paying attention to SDA campuses, churches, or the leadership of the North American Division (NAD). Perhaps, if he had, he might have modified his warnings about being tempted to side with the political right and included a sharp warning for an affinity with the political left.
Notwithstanding, does his argument hold water? Are Adventists really duped into supporting the agenda of the Antichrist by taking a political and an ecclesiastical stand against abortion (or homosexuality)? It seems that church leaders would have the body understand that if they were to end abortions in our hospitals or vote for measures similar to those recently passed in Georgia and Alabama—which greatly reduce the ability for women to obtain abortions—that, somehow, believers would have a hand in erecting the “image” to the “beast.”
The problem with this deeply entrenched notion is that it is not supported by the Adventist history, Christian history, or current policy. Christians and Seventh-day Adventists have understood that when Jesus exhorted His followers to “render unto Caesar,” He did not expect them to pass silently over the scenes of human suffering, unwilling to effect public policy. Seventh-day Adventists, like many other Christians, supported the abolition of slavery and prohibition—two policies that enforced particular religious beliefs on others.
Even today, Seventh-day Adventists are at the forefront of an anti-smoking campaign. The church’s official statement outlines a number of measures needed to ban smoking in the United States:
Seventh-day Adventists believe that the ethics of prevention require public policies that will reduce smoking, such as:
- A uniform ban on all tobacco advertising,
- Regulations protecting children and youth who are being targeted by the tobacco industry,
- Stricter laws prohibiting smoking in public places,
- More aggressive and systematic use of the media to educate young people about the risks of smoking,
- Substantially higher taxes on cigarettes, and
- Regulations requiring the tobacco industry to pay for the health costs associated with the use of its products. 
Notice that these planks in the official SDA anti-smoking campaign are limited to the manipulation of government policy. What happened to the—much quoted by Adventists— maxims expressed by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo who said:
“Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin? The failure here is not Caesar’s. This failure is our failure, the failure of the entire people of God.” 
If Catholics and Evangelicals suddenly supported the anti-smoking agenda, would conscientious Adventists abandon it, citing the looming “Trojan Horse” of religion and politics? Or would the compelling interest of protecting and saving lives overcome such a scruple? It seems likely, considering that—according to the official statement on “Smoking and Ethics”—political measures are justified because “millions of lives could be saved each year.” 
Deeply ironic is a church that would advocate for legislation that “could save millions of lives” in regards to smoking, but condemn restrictive measures on abortion as a potential “Trojan Horse,” which could invariably save millions of lives also.
Ostensibly, there is a tension between supporting legislation which seems to infringe on the rights of others while strictly guarding the claims of liberty of conscience. It is one thing to make changes which may support traditional Judeo-Christian values in the United States, but it is entirely another to impose those values on a different culture. Perhaps, some advocates of the “religious freedom” argument would cite the increasing secular values and liberalization of Christian denominations, which are pro-choice, as an additional reason for not supporting political measures to restrict abortion. However, this argument falls apart too when considering the missionary efforts of Amy Carmichael in India.
Miss Carmichael began a mission which specifically rescued little girls from ritual temple prostitution. According to Hindu culture and religious practice, girls could be donated to the temple as young as age three to be groomed into a life’s “service” to the gods.  These poor girls would be exposed to erotic art and dance until, just before puberty, they would be offered to Brahmin priests for “initiation.” This practice was so abhorrent that Miss Carmichael risked her life and, at times, broke laws to take these young victims away from a life of sexual slavery. In some instances, she even made her skin appear dark by rubbing it with coffee grounds so she could move undetected when rescuing children in the market. She did not do this in Great Britain, which had a majority Christian culture, she did this as a guest in a country that knew not her God nor understood the laws which governed the British.
Fortunately for those young girls, Miss Carmichael wasn’t indoctrinated with cultural sensitivity, the hollow platitudes of social justice, or the prophetic dangers of imposing her religious values. Rather, she was focused on the narrow goal of saving lives from ruin and misery. Indeed, Miss Carmichael put Christian ideals against the state which allowed this practice and against Hindu religion which sanctioned it. Thanks to her efforts, the temple prostitution of little girls has been mostly outlawed. Whatever trouble her work did in stifling religious belief, harming the culture, or perhaps setting up a steppingstone to the “beast,” was overshadowed by the lives saved from ruin and the many grateful souls who came to know Jesus.
Using the religious freedom argument to justify the practice of abortion in our hospitals is morally and intellectually dishonest, particularly if we will support coercive measures to ban smoking and alcohol consumption. Moreover, using liberty of conscience as a warning against political affiliation on the right, while being cozy with the political left—especially when espousing its talking points and policy—is gravely disingenuous. Finally, not standing against abortion as a matter of public policy and faith is theologically hypocritical because abortion is just as wrong as slavery and child sex trafficking.
Perhaps, the remnant should make its practice consistent with their Bible beliefs and do as Christians have done for so long, which is to stand for the rights of those most vulnerable in society, which includes the unborn.
Timothy Perenich lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida and can be reached here: firstname.lastname@example.org
 “Creationist Sect Resolves the Problems of Baby Fae,” The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), November 17, 1984.
 Please see: George B. Gainer, “The Wisdom of Solomon or the Politics of Pragmatism,” presented to Loma Linda University’s Center for Christian Bioethics, November 1988, http://www.scribd.com/doc/160731861/The-Wisdom-of-Solomon-or-The-Politics-of-Pragmatism-The-General-Conference-Abortion-Decision-1970-71; Also: Ronald L. Lawson, “Pro-What? Seventh-day Adventists and Abortion,” presented at the Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Raleigh, North Carolina, October 1993, https://ronaldlawson.net/2018/05/02/pro-what-seventh-day-adventists-and-abortion/.
 Evlin L. Benton, “Liberty and the Law,” Liberty, May/June 1973, 31.
 Albert J. Menendez, “Religious Lobbies,” Liberty, March/April 1982, 1–2.
 John V. Stevens, Sr., “The Abortion Controversy: Will a Free America Survive?,” presented to the Committee on the Christian View of Human Life, November 1989, p. 10, 19, quoted in Ronald L. Lawson, “Pro-What? Seventh-day Adventists and Abortion,” presented at the Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Raleigh, North Carolina, October 1993.
 Ronald L. Lawson, “Pro-What? Seventh-day Adventists and Abortion,” presented at the Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Raleigh, North Carolina, October 1993.
 Ronald L. Lawson, “Pro-What? Seventh-day Adventists and Abortion,” presented at the Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Raleigh, North Carolina, October 1993.
 Edward M. Kennedy, “Tolerance and Truth in America,” Liberty, March/April 1984, 6–7.
 Bill Miller, “Living a Life of Social Justice,” Visitor Magazine, July 26, 2017, http://columbiaunionvisitor.com/2017/living-life-social-justice; Marcos David Torres, “Adventism Oozes Social Justice—Do you?,” SabbathSchool.net, September 23, 2016, https://ssnet.org/blog/adventism-oozes-social-justice/; Please read: George B. Gainer’s “author’s note” at the end of his paper: “The Wisdom of Solomon or the Politics of Pragmatism,” p. 38 and 39.
 Andrews University Administration, “Andrews University’s Formal Response To #ItIsTimeAU,” Andrews.edu, presented and published February 23, 2017, https://www.andrews.edu/diversity/itistime/ (see also: https://youtu.be/jr8f0IZJxUc); “Diversity: Haven: Care for our LGBT+ Students,” Andrews.edu, accessed July 18, 2019, https://www.andrews.edu/diversity/haven/index.html.
 Dennis and Matthew Priebe, “The Trojan Horse,” ADvindicate.com, May 20, 2019, http://advindicate.com/articles/2019/5/20/the-trojan-horse?rq=abortion.
 From the Office of the President, Robert S. Folkenberg, “Smoking and Ethics,” presented with permission by General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee (ADCOM) at the Annual Council in San Jose, Costa Rica on October 1 through October 10, 1996, published on Adventist.org “Official Statements” page, accessed July 18, 2019, https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-statements/statements/article/go/-/smoking-and-ethics/.
 “Abortion Not a Failure of Government, Cuomo Says,” Los Angeles Times, September 13, l984, p. Al, quoted in Kevin D. Paulsen, “Seventh-day Adventists and the Abortion Question: Where Should We Stand?,” AdventistLaymen.com, accessed July 18, 2019, http://www.adventistlaymen.com/Documents/SEVENTH-DAY%20ADVENTISTS%20AND%20THE%20ABORTION%20QUESTION.htm; See also: Priebe, “The Trojan Horse.”
 Folkenberg, “Smoking and Ethics.”
 Katherine Mayo, Slaves of the Gods (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1929), 125–138.