A sad case of suspicion

A few weeks ago, I wrote a chapter for a publication about conspiracy theories and the dangers of fake news, with special reference to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In my piece I try to explain why many Adventist believers are quite open to bizarre theories, and I give some very poignant examples of conspiracy thinking. I had wanted to include an incident in the year 2000, when I experienced a very strong case of this kind of thinking, which led to deep suspicions about the role of church leaders. Not until this week I was able to add a few paragraphs about this incident to my essay, since I waited for the documentary evidence that I wanted to quote from. I knew of the existence of correspondence between our church and the Vatican about a particular issue and asked the help of someone who has access to the archives of the Adventist Church in Silver Spring (USA). A few days ago he informed me he had located the correspondence and sent me copies.

In 1998 Pope John Paul II published an apostolical letter entitled Dies Domini—the Day of the Lord. It focused on the importance of a weekly day of rest—the weekly Sunday. Apart from failing to mention that the biblical Sabbath is on the seventh day of the week, rather than on the first day, most of the theology of this document was quite good. However, lots of Adventists were greatly alarmed by the statement of the pope that civil governments have the duty to ensure that people are able to keep their Sunday. Did this not sound warning bells about a possible future legal enforcement of Sunday keeping, with all the dire consequences for those who want to obey God’s law and keep the seventh-day Sabbath?

Dr. Bert B. Beach, the director of the Public Affairs and Religions Liberty (PARL) department at the headquarters office of the Adventist Church, decided to write to the Vatican and seek clarity as to what the papal statement exactly meant. I am quoting from his letter to Bishop Pierre Duprey, a key prelate at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: “The specific question I wish to ask is whether the Pope, that is the Holy See, is in fact also affirming or willing to affirm, the parallel civil right of Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, and other Christians and non-Christian groups, to have their observance of their day of rest equally protected and guaranteed by law. For Seventh-day Adventists this is a deeply-felt, even prophetic, issue.”
It took a while (until May the following year) before the Vatican responded. Bishop Duprey explained that he had consulted with a. number of high officials at the Vatican in order to respond with authority. I am quoting from the document that resulted from this consultation and that was sent to the Adventist Church through the office of dr. Beach: “The response to this question [posed in the letter of November 1998 by Beach], as can be appreciated, cannot be other than affirmative. . . . It is undoubtedly true that the right to a day of rest in conformity to individual cult, being an integral component of the right to religious freedom, is by its very nature valid also for those pertaining to religious traditions not celebrating this day on Sunday.”

A little more than a year later the quinquennial session of the Adventist world church was held in Toronto, Canada. In the week preceding the session a special meeting was held of all PARL directors, at all administrative levels of the church, who had come to Toronto as delegates to the upcoming session. I was one of the speakers, as I was at that time, in addition to being the general secretary of the Trans-European Division, also in charge of the division’s PARL department. On the agenda of the meeting was, among many other items, the Dies Domini document, with the letter dr. Beach had written to the Vatican and the response that came some six months later. The letters were read to the approximately 200 participants of the meeting and copies were distributed. To my astonishment there were but few expressions of satisfaction with the response from Rome. On the contrary there was widespread suspicion. This simply could not possibly be the response of the Vatican, since we all know the devious machinations that Rome is up to. Many expressed as their opinion that the response that had come from the Vatican–indicating that religious freedom and protection by the civil authorities with regard to keeping a day of rest, certainly also extended to Sabbath keepers, as the Seventh-day Adventists–could not be genuine. The statement that was read at the Toronto meeting had to be fake. It must have been concocted by dr. Beach and his staff, possibly in cahoots with others, for some sinister reasons. Knowing what we (supposedly) know about the deceitful strategies of the Catholic Church and its ultimate goals, this was the only possible conclusion.

When I remember the ensuing debate, I still feel extremely uneasy. This was evidence that a very lamentable kind of conspiracy thinking had, even as long as some twenty years ago, even penetrated at leadership levels in our church. I am afraid that the same kind of thinking is still all too present at many levels of our denomination. Unfortunately!

2 thoughts on “A sad case of suspicion

  1. Kenneth Brummel

    I grew up Catholic. I made a decision that I would use the Bible to determine truth. This led me to tge Adventist church. I realized years later that my break from Catholicism started with this decision.

    Catholic theology assumes the church is above the Bible. For me, either our assumption is correct or the Catholic assumption is correct.

    In the time of Ellen White she wrote much about the Cathlic Church. She also taught about the rise of the “Image to the Beast” in Revelation 13. But since this was the power to watch in her day, she has less writing. But clearly, she warns the “Image to the Beast” brings the National Sunday Law.

    This Image to the Beast is moving right in front of our eyes. Yet many Adventist are sympathetic to it. The warning in Revelatiin 13 is tge Image to tge Beast brings “fire from heaven” to make tge final deception.

    Fire from heaven is an external sign of God’s favor or disfavor. If the fire falls on your sacrifice, favor. If it falls on you ( Captain of 50′s) or your possessions ( (Job) disfavor.

    Revelation 13 is similar to Elijah on Mount Carmel. It is different in that the fire falls on the prophets of Baal’s sacrifice. We canno afgord to miss this prophetic message for our day.

    At some pijnt we must uphold Ellen White but be reminded that repeating what she taught may not help us every time.

    Again thak you for your insights.

    1. Ray Stovall

      So, how is ‘upholding EGW’ any different than upholding the teaching of the RCC ? Are you transferring one for the others?

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