Religious Liberty: What Matters Most
What should be our focus at this time in earth's history?
Feb 3, 2021 | Andy Im | Religious Liberty Director
Unity Among God’s Remnant People
I think we can agree that the year 2020 was unlike any we’ve ever experienced. COVID-19 disrupted normal life and ultimately the course of history. I remember thinking last year in March and April how surreal things had become. Adventist churches in Michigan were temporarily shuttered as churches scrambled to use online platforms and programming. ZOOM quickly became a thing in addition to increasing unemployment, bankruptcies, and widespread protests.
The past year also brought to the forefront how divided we are as a nation. It wasn’t isolated to 2020, unfortunately. Americans continue the debate over face masks, vaccines, and racism, to name a few. The rift is arguably most glaring when it comes to the political landscape. There’s talk of secession and violence as the solution for righting all that’s wrong in parts of the country.
A recent poll suggests that 8 in 10 Republicans believe the Democratic party has been taken over by socialists, while 8 in 10 Democrats see Republicans being taken over by racists. Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center concluded that political polarization is “more intense now than at any point in modern history,” and that nearly 80% of Americans admitted to having very few to no friends across the political aisle.
It should come as no surprise to see the stark polarization along political lines. There’s a plethora of controversial issues, and Scripture informs us that the state of affairs will worsen as we near the end of time. But this is the current challenge we face as Seventh-day Adventists. While our nation is splintering, we have not been immune to the burgeoning polarization. Instead of standing apart from the hatred and vitriol spewing from the political extremes, we’re in danger of digging ourselves into trenches where we shouldn’t be.
Society is inundated with hostile rhetoric against those with opposing political, religious, and cultural ideologies. The narrative from both left- and right-wing media outlets are littered with fighting words that paint the opposition in the worst possible terms. The danger in listening to this toxic rhetoric is we begin perceiving others through the lens of political partisanship, and not from the standpoint of God’s word. This inevitably leads us to devalue fellow humans created in God’s image, which is an explicit violation of the Golden Rule. “A religion that leads men to place a low estimate upon human beings, whom Christ has esteemed of such value as to give Himself for them,” stated Ellen White, “is a spurious religion.”
Unfortunately, the demeaning verbiage expressed through popular media outlets and radio talk shows is becoming more commonplace within Adventism. This is reflected on our social media pages and the fight is no longer us against the world—we’re getting quite adept at squabbling with each other, too!
If there ever was a time when Adventists needed to stand united in our message and mission, that time is now. While Satan is striving to bring discord amongst God’s people, we are to stand united against his efforts. “As we approach the last crisis,” wrote Ellen White, “it is of vital importance that harmony and unity exist among the Lord’s instrumentalities.”
It’s become cliché over the years for Adventists to emphasize the need for unity, but that shouldn’t deter us from seeking to obtain it.
"We are coming to a time when, more than ever before, we shall need to press together, to labor unitedly. In union there is strength. In discord and disunion there is only weakness. . . . 'Press together, press together, press together. Do not let Satan cast his hellish shadow between brethren. Press together; in unity there is strength.’”
Furthermore, we should allow nothing to distract us from our mission in taking the everlasting gospel to a dying world. While never compromising our principles, we should be far more intentional in seeking “unity and love for one another,” because the loss of souls is at stake. What the world needs now is a revelation of God’s love as expressed through His people. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples” Jesus stated to His disciples, “if you have love for one another.”
Unity in Our Eschatological Messaging
Seventh-day Adventists have a distinct understanding of religious liberty, particularly so because we have historically understood the concept from the standpoint of the Great Controversy narrative and the final test over the Sabbath. While sharing many points in common with the evangelical community, our understanding of how the end will play out has informed our points of emphasis.
While we should remain wary of increasing encroachments upon civil liberties by state and federal authorities within the context of the pandemic, it’s important for Adventists not to forget the leading role that apostate Protestantism will play in the final moments of earth’s history.
At a time when evangelical entities are mounting aggressive partisan warfare against secular groups and ideologies by appealing to state and national legislators, Adventists should pause before jumping on the bandwagon. It’s important to bear in mind that many Christian leaders are working to establish Christ’s kingdom “as an earthly and temporal dominion,” with the expectation that He is to rule through “legal enactments,” that are “enforced by human authority.” Seventh-day Adventists understand, with the guidance of the Spirit of Prophecy, that it’s not the “decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies” that the “kingdom of Christ [is to be] established.” Rather, it’s the “implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit,” that Christ’s kingdom is established, and “the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the word of God.”
The assumptions held widely by many evangelical thought leaders for establishing Christ’s kingdom not only falls short, but, for Seventh-day Adventists, we are to bear in mind that there will come a time when such enactments by legislative assemblies at the direction of Protestant leaders will be aimed against Sabbath-keepers.
It is especially important as we approach the end, that we interpret political and societal events through the lens of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy and not the narrative of our favored political parties, leaders, and pundits.
Conclusion: Maintain the Objective and the Certain Sound
Our message and mission as Seventh-day Adventists is a decided one that finds its basis in Scripture. “In a special sense,” writes Ellen White, “Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and lightbearers. . . They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.”
Our objective as Seventh-day Adventists should be informed on the basis of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. The Democratic or Republican parties and their corresponding media outlets should not set our agenda. Now is not the time to spend our limited energies and resources in the fight against one another, against politicians, and state or federal authorities.
This is a critical point. We should not permit anything to thwart us from our message and mission. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are replete with antagonistic, even aggressive, rhetoric against state and federal authorities and government leadership. Seventh-day Adventists are counseled to take no part in such activities. Ellen White, responding to someone who was advocating for religious liberty principles, stated in 1895, that brethren in her day had “spoken and written” many things “expressing antagonism to government and law.”
She counseled explicitly against this for a number of reasons, namely that such expressions would: (1) open ourselves to misunderstanding, i.e., treason, antagonism to law and order; (2) place us unnecessarily in opposition to civil authorities; (3) “place ourselves on record as encouraging disloyalty to our country;” (4) potentially “stir up animosity and strife;” (5) and most importantly, there would come a time when our “unguarded expressions” would be “used by our enemies to condemn us,” and the “whole body of Adventists.” She noted, “Let all beware, lest by reckless expressions they bring on a time of trouble before the great crisis which is to try men’s souls.”
The day is coming, she concludes, when they will “forbid us to proclaim the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus,” and it is at that time when “it will be necessary for us to say, as did the apostles: ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to harken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ Acts 4:19, 20.”
Seventh-day Adventists have been entrusted with the single-minded purpose of sharing the three angels’ messages with the world. At this hour, let us be intentional in our efforts for unity. Let’s not allow political and societal considerations to fracture us as a people. Most importantly, it's imperative we interpret last day events on the basis of a distinctly Adventist worldview, that incorporates the framework of the book of Revelation, chapters 13, 17-18, and the pertinent chapters in the book Great Controversy. And, certainly, let’s not bring upon ourselves the time of trouble prematurely. That day will come, but in the meantime, we have an important work to accomplish. We need the Lord to help us, and we also need to stand united in message, mission, and love for one another.
 2 Timothy 3:1-5
 Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, p. 136.
 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 159, 160.
 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 79.
 John 13:35
 Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 509.
 Ellen G. White, Christ Object Lessons, p. 386.
 Revelation 14:6-12; Revelation 12:17
 Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 119.