Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Ben Carson, the Adventists, and denominationalism

Personally, I've always thought it interesting that Christians can repeat the Ten Commandments so earnestly and still believe Sunday is the Sabbath. Sunday certainly isn't the day Moses had in mind when he carted the tablet down from the mountain, his face still beaming with God's presence. Last time I checked, Saturday was still the Jewish Sabbath.

Saturday is also the Sabbath for the Seventh-Day Adventists, of whom Dr. Ben Carson is one, perhaps their most famous. People could well make a case for his orthodoxy on the basis of which day he declares the day God demands our rest. True fundamentalists would have to admit that he's the faithful one and the rest of us are apostate. 

But traditionally, the Adventists hold some rather bizarre notions that aren't so easy to pass on and certainly aren't--as Carson himself seems so fond of saying--politically correct. Seventh Day Adventist eschatology is unique; they believe--or so claims their foundational theology--that end times are a'comin' and will be signaled when an unholy alliance between the Roman Catholic Church--who is (as it once was) "the whore of Babylon--joins forces with the evil American government. 

If Dr. Ben Carson was a true-blue Adventist, it would be prudent for us to take a second look at traditional Adventist theology, because if he believed that the government he would run, should he win the Presidency, was going to team up with Pope Francis and somehow incite the Armageddon and the Second Coming, the American public would do well to go with another candidate, don't you think?

Nobody really knows whether he really believes all that stuff. No one apparently has asked. What we do know is that, as a boy, he was twice-baptized in the Adventist church because he wasn't sure that he'd really understood what baptism meant the first time around. So he went after it again and got it. 

Those two baptisms may well be something the rest of us should consider because no one--no Republican or Democrat--doubts Dr. Ben Carson's faith. He was, long ago, a champion among home-schoolers apparently, and he is not in the least afraid of letting his light shine among men (and women), no matter who might be listening.

Carson is ahead here in Iowa, the poles say, for two reasons: first, he's not a politician. If at this point the entire Republican campaign has a theme, it's the blessed need for a fresh face. Bush, of the royal family, is history. Fiorina has somehow fallen from grace right now, but for a while when the three outsiders ruled the roost, there was no question that career politicians need not apply. 

The second reason is the big crowd of evangelicals in the Tall Corn State. Iowa Republican activists love true believers. Huckabee won here, Santorum won here, and Michelle Bachmann actually swept the now defunct Iowa Straw Poll. Iowans love the pious, especially when they promise to end abortion. As of the First of November, three months shy of the nation's first caucus, it's Dr. Ben Carson, the Adventist, out front and gaining on everyone including the casino king.

But there's more to the story. Iowa theologians long ago widened their tent. Famously, Mitt Romney was and still is a Mormon, whose theology includes the belief that Jesus came to the Americas and ministered to some South American tribe. Mormon scripture is taken from buried plates no one's ever found, plates that were inscribed in a language no one ever spoke. Just a little spooky. But no matter. 

Besides, did Romney really believe all of that? Doubtful.

We know Dr. Ben Carson doesn't really believe everything the Adventists claim to. He says he doesn't go to Adventist churches every Saturday, often heads out on the first day of the week for other fellowships. Hey, can't we all get along, right?

In that way, Dr. Carson is the perfect American candidate for American's most religious electorate. He's warmly pious, clearly and visibly loves his neighbor (did you hear the story about the time he was mistaken for an orderly and simply did what was asked?). He doesn't rip on other people like a big mouth with bigger hair, speaks softly in other words, and even turns away wrath. 

He's a living, breathing example of why denominations seem to be dying throughout America: we don't care about theology like we once did. All of us. Across the board, we're all more like Dr. Ben Carson. We're Adventists, sort of. We're Presbyterians, sort of. We're Baptists, sort of. We're even Catholic, at least when Francis comes to the East Coast. 

The most crucial means 21st century American Christians have in defining what it means to be a faithful believer today is by way of politics, not theology. Dr. Ben Carson, whose judgment can sometimes be questioned, but whose faith really cannot, is truly one of us.

Think of him next time you repeat the Commandments. He and the Adventists may well be right.

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