As the 2016 presidential race intensifies, Detroit native Ben Carson’s candidacy is likely to draw unprecedented attention to his membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
It also could unsettle some in the denomination, whose history includes a longstanding advocacy for strict separation of church and state.
North American church leaders emphasized that history in a statement this week following the formal launch of Carson’s campaign Monday in Detroit. They specifically instructed church employees not to express views about political candidates, including Carson.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church values Dr. Carson as we do all members. However, it is important for the church to maintain its long-standing historical support for the separation of church and state by not endorsing or opposing any candidate,” according to the unsigned statement posted on the website of the church-owned journal Adventist Review.
Church officials stressed that “the pulpit and all church property remain a neutral space” when it comes to politics: “While individual church members are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, it is crucial that the church as an institution remain neutral on all candidates for office.”
Some of his church’s teachings are reflected in Carson’s politics, including his endorsement of a six-day Creation over evolution and opposition to gay marriage.
But Carson also rails against a “godless” government and promotes American identity as “Judeo-Christian” or “Christian” — a departure from the agenda long endorsed by Adventists in the name of religious liberty, said Douglas Morgan, a professor of church history at Washington Adventist University in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“It’s not necessarily that he’s an unfaithful or bad Adventist, but I think they would be very wary of having him perceived as the Adventist candidate,” Morgan said of the church’s leadership.
In its statement this week, the church indicated it would continue to work to establish “robust religious liberty for all” and said members “should not use our influence with political and civil leaders to either advance our faith or inhibit the faith of others.”
They quoted church doctrine warning Adventists against becoming “preoccupied” with politics or using the pulpit or church publications to boost political theories.
“Dr. Carson supports the ‘robust religious liberty’ that is advocated by the church and detailed in their statement,” said campaign spokeswoman Deana Bass.
“Also, like the church, he believes that people of faith should participate in the voting process and should share the responsibility of building communities.”
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SOURCE: The Detroit News
Melissa Nann Burke