I follow with more than average interest Ben Carson’s growing popularity in the United States. Reports from the past week indicate that he now ranks first in the long list of Republican presidential candidates. It seems he has even passed Donald Trump.
I do not live in the United States and cannot vote in presidential elections. But I did live a number of years in the US and I believe I have a rather good idea as to how American politics work. Were I to live there now, and were I to have the right to vote, I would certainly not support the Republican party. I have always found it rather strange that so many American Christians support a party that, in my view, has some rather unchristian ideas and seems to have little regard for the kind of compassion and care for the weak in society that Christ modeled for us. The democrats may in many ways also be far from perfect, but I would rather given them my vote than the republicans. However, all this is just theory.
Ben Carson is a very special case. He is a Republican (and quite a right-wing Republican), but he also is a member of the same denomination that is my spiritual home. The question that now occupies me and many of my fellow-Seventh-day Adventists is what role Carson’s membership in the Adventist Church will play in the coming months. According to the American constitution, religious conviction is not supposed to be an issue when people run for public office. However, it undeniably does. It is hard to win a presidential election without catering for the evangelical camp. Donald Trump announced a few days ago that he is a Presbyterian. Between the lines we heard him say that it would be much safer to elect a Presbyterian as president than someone like Carson, who belongs to some rather unknown, and possible rather extreme, religious group.
In 1928 the Democratic candidate Al Smith did not succeed in the elections. It seemed that the US was not yet ready for a Catholic president. Even when John F. Kennedy, some thirty years later, ran for president, his Catholic faith was a sensitive issue. But when, just a few years ago, Mitt Romney participated in the presidential race, his Mormon conviction was much less of a problem than many had anticipated. The question is now whether Carson will find his Adventist allegiance a major hindrance or not.
In any case, the Adventist Church, can be sure that it will draw a lot of attention in the coming period. Let us hope that journalists and other opinion makers will take the trouble to look for correct information, preferably at the source, rather than by googling their ‘data’ from all kinds of negative and prejudiced websites, or by listening to frustrated ex-members. The church itself will have to be very reticent in its PR, to avoid any suggestion it seeks to promote Carson.
I assume that sooner rather than later the Dutch media will also begin to pay attention to the Adventist color of mr. Carson. Let’s hope they will proceed with integrity and that all this may acually help to make Adventism better known in our country, and that its many positive aspects may be highlighted.
In all honesty I must admit that I strongly disagree with many of Carson’s political ideas. However, fortunately, we can be quite sure that Carson a person of a high moral integrity who does not hide any ugly skeletons in his closet. Ben Carson can tell the people a moving personal story (and he has done so in several books)—a story of faith and perseverance. This may well be more important for many American voters than the question whether Carson believes in a few doctrines that many will see als somewhat strange. I can only hope that in the coming months the media will portray Carson as a genuine christian, who is a true role model for many, and not as someone who belongs to a somewhat strange, rather unknown club, that some (unfortunately) doubt is fully christian.
I hope Carson will not be the next American president. But it would be a terrific bonus if, in the coming months, his popularity has a positive influence on the way his church is perceived by the general public—in his own country and elsewhere.