Welcome to my new series! At least once a week for the next couple of months, I'll be bringing you brisk overviews of popular, but widely misunderstood, religious groups operating within the United States. As always, the point here is to give parents just enough information that you can — at some point, when the time is right — pass on a little religious literacy to your kids. Because, seriously guys, your kids won't get it elsewhere else, and knowledge is our best weapon against so many bad things — including discrimination, intolerance, ignorance and just plain assholeishness.
Today, we tackle Seventh-day Adventists, a denomination of the Christian faith with about 17.2 million adherents worldwide. Like all faiths, there are liberal and conservative sects. In all of them, the “d” is lowercase; don’t ask me why.
1. They believe Jesus is coming… and soon.
Okay, so here’s the deal: Seventh-day Adventism grew out of Millerism, a movement founded by William Miller in 1833 and based on the belief that Jesus was returning to Earth somewhere in the 1843-1844 vicinity. Okay, so yeah, Miller had to move the exact date of Jesus’ arrival a couple of times — Biblical math is hard to get right, okay?! — but EVENTUALLY he settled on Oct. 22, 1844. The problem was that — and this is going to totally shock you — nothing happened on that day either. Millerites called it “The Big Disappointment.” After that, the movement split up. The few folks who stayed changed their name to Adventists and found a way to save face: Actually, they reasoned, something DID go down on Oct. 22, 1844; just not the something Miller predicted. Instead, they said, Oct. 22 was the day Jesus moved into a certain sanctuary within heaven and began his process of “investigative judgement” — that is, judging human beings and deciding who deserves to go to heaven. Jesus is definitely still planning to come VERY SOON, they say, but this time no one claims to know just when. Smart.
2. The Jews are right: The Sabbath is Saturday.
According to Adventists, the seventh day of the week — Saturday — is the REAL Sabbath. (Not on Sunday, as other Christians maintain.) It goes back to creation times, when God worked his ass off for six days then rested on the seventh. Secular work and entertainment is discouraged on the Sabbath. If you want to work, people, do it when God did: Days 1 through 6. Also like the Jews, the Adventists don’t eat pork or any other “unclean” meats.
Ellen G. White, co-founder the Adventists, was a prolific writer. But she also claimed to have lots of religious “visions” — which made her something of an SDA superstar. Today, many of White’s writings are given near-scripture status, and considered second only to the Bible in terms of credibility. Many have noted White’s “spiritual gift of prophecy.”
4. They want you to eat your Wheaties.
The Adventists are a religion very keen on health and diet. And, in a very real sense, they are the reason we have breakfast cereal. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg — who basically invented cereal along with his brother, William — was an early SDA leader who pushed the church to make health a major tenant. Sadly, Kellogg was eventually excommunicated after publishing a book in which he made some pantheistic statements: “God is in everything.” The Adventists, as it turns out, don’t go in for all that hippie stuff. There’s only one way to see God, and that's through Jesus. Still, health is uber-important, and many are vegetarians.
5. There is no hell.
This is sort of unusual for Christians. Adventists believe that until the Second Coming, all dead people enter a deep sleep — a state of complete unconsciousness. As the story goes, upon Jesus’ return, he will bring all those suitable to heaven, while those who have been judged unworthy will simply be destroyed for eternity. See? No hell.
6. They're cool with other religions.
Although Seventh-day Adventists could be considered evangelical, they also have a long history (100 years!) of advocating for the religious freedom for all people, regardless of faith. In 1893 its leaders founded the International Religious Liberty Association, which is universal and non-sectarian.