By Bob McAlpine –Have Adventists lost their way when it comes to political participation in 2020?

Seventh-day Adventists have always been deeply involved in American politics. When a national Sunday law was proposed in 1888, one of the Adventist pioneers, A.T. Jones, played a crucial role in defeating it. Ellen White herself was vocal about the evils of the Fugitive Slave Act before the Civil War and equally vocal about the necessity of “temperance reforms,” by which she meant advocacy against the consumption of alcohol after the Civil War.

This leads to a startling conflict of interests. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was the most prominent national organization advocating for both the national Sunday law and for stronger restrictions (dare we say prohibitions?) on alcohol consumption. Yet Ellen, publicly and privately, encouraged Adventists to actively engage with the WCTU.

How could it be possible for committed Seventh-day Adventist Christians to “unite” with an organization whose goals were so obviously at odds with Adventist beliefs? Let the messenger of the Lord speak for herself: “…while there is to be no sacrifice of principle on our part, as far as possible we are to unite with them in laboring for temperance reforms” (TE 222). Apparently, Ellen White believed it was possible for Seventh-day Adventists to cooperate with controversial organizations without compromising their commitments to core Adventist doctrines.

In my view, here is where Adventists in 2020 have lost our way. It seems that we have fallen prey to the false belief that participation in the political process requires that we endorse a particular party’s entire platform. Put another way, we have been deceived into thinking that involvement with an organization implies that we endorse the entirety of that organization’s agenda. But White’s writing about the WCTU gives the lie to that way of thinking!

White urged faithful Seventh-day Adventist Christians to do all they could to advance the kingdom of God, including working with others who were travelling in the same direction. This type of participation in the political life of a nation is only possible because Christians generally, and Adventists particularly, have both a God-given mission (Matthew 28:18-20) and a God-given metanarrative (Revelation 12:7-12) through which we can filter our involvement.

As an Adventist Christian I will never hang my hopes for justice, prosperity, peace, opportunity, etc. on the Democrat party or on the Republican party. I don’t put my hope in a political leader or in a ballot initiative. All my hopes hang on Jesus Christ alone.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13 NET).

Because my hope is in Christ alone, in his salvation and in his glorious appearing, I can pray for any political leader—even if I think they are a secret fascist/communist/Jesuit/whatever.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I can affirm that black lives matter and that unborn lives matter—even if that leaves me without a comfortable place in any political party.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I can cast a vote for a particular candidate or ballot measure—even though I can’t see the unintended consequences of my vote.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I recognize that hanging my hopes on anyone or anything other than Him is just a (not-so-) subtle form of idolatry.

Our God-given calling is to advance the Kingdom of Heaven in the world until Jesus returns and we see our hopes fulfilled. Let us be active in the political life of our town, county, state, and country without losing sight of the ultimate goal. Let us give our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone and follow where his Spirit leads without regard to partisan politics. When we do this, we can labor alongside others confident that there will be no sacrifice of principle on our part.

(I’m deeply indebted to Pete Enns for jumpstarting my thinking on these issues: )

Bob McAlpine is pastor in Alamosa and Monte Vista churches in Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]