What do Conservative, Proggressive, and Liberal Adventists Have in Common?


They are disgruntled.

Without quoting any of the ongoing debates on the myraids of forums our church has for people to stage their theological spats [they are easy enough to find by Googling “proggressive adventist” “conservative adventist” or “liberal adventist” and seeing what pops up] I have found the more someone goes out of their way to be associated with one of these titles, the more disgruntled they are.

To me, the labels of liberal, conservative, and proggressive really don’t represent so much a theological position as much as they do a theological reaction.

If someone grows up in a legalistic setting with the label conservative then the label of “liberal” represents freedom of that oppressive religious experience they had int he past. I find a lot of ex-Adventists suffer from this. They had a repressive church, school, or family experience that causes them to write off the entire faith using phrases like “being set free from Adventism” etc. Whereas many of us don’t feel that way at all because that hasn’t been our experience.

In his book, Sex God, Rob Bell points out that whenever someone says they have been burned by an institution his first question is always “What was the person’s name?”

Like wise many people, new converts especially, drift towards conservativism because their life “in the world” was more liberal, and they sensed perhaps they were out of control and they crave rules and boundaries and the stricter the better. What I find interesting is many of what my friend calls “neo-conservative” movements such as GYC appeal to so many because my parents generation, who grew up perhaps in a more conservative setting, don’t practice their faith in such rigid terms–and perhaps even in liberal terms–and now their kids react to it.

Proggressive Adventists are still a mystery to me. I don’t quite classify them as liberal, so much as seekers of deeper understandings…or at least different understandings of traditional methodologies and interpretations because they have burned by previous ones. I found myself, or rather a chapter of a best selling book I wrote, the subject of one blogger’s wrath on a proggressive Adventist site. They made some interesting points, and some ones I felt missed the point; but what fascinated me is that I read this person’s of two more books, on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other, and they panned both of em. What was telling to me, is where I found the author endorsing their own writing–which is a pitfall of many folks who carry theological baggage. The pitfall of “no one knows what they are talking about but me.” And the more this happens, the more I find people getting into heated arguments, demonizing others, and sadly making less and less sense–and less and less impact.

Now let me clarify that I think debate is healthy and neccessary, but as I read what people post online it seems to me that it isn’t so much a seeking after truth in a dialogue so much as destroying the other side by picking them apart.

I don’t want this to turn into a rant, and frankly Im not sure where to go from here or how to end this thought as it is still a thought in progress. I am curious what you all think and what your experience has been. Please share 🙂



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14 responses to “What do Conservative, Proggressive, and Liberal Adventists Have in Common?

  1. Well, I don’t know. I’d classify myself as either a progressive or a liberal Adventist, depending on how you define those terms (and I always remember that labels like “liberal” and “conservative” depend on who’s standing next to you … in some company I might be considered quite conservative!) But I’m quite gruntled. I’m not angry at anything or anyone, certainly not at the church, which I love. I question some things and disagree with some things, and I like an environment where I’m free to voice my questions, which is why if I have to have a label I would use “progressive” or “liberal” since “conservative,” in my experience, too often means “don’t ask questions or express doubts.”

    But none of my doubts or questions are borne out of anger or bad expeirences with church institutions … just from reading and thinking and wondering.

    However, I agree with you about the level of venom I sometimes see from both liberal and conservative Adventists when it comes to discussing issues. In fact, in the early days of the internet I decided I was going to avoid SDA discussion sites altogether, because a) they were usually arguing about issues I didn’t care about, and b) they were so MEAN!!! Sometimes today I post on Spectrum’s site, but I find the same thing in the comments there — there’s a small coterie of commenters, both liberal and conservative, who are just downright nasty. I have had much happier times debating and learning on general Christian sites (mainly Ship of Fools) where very few people feel the need to get judgemental and nasty.

    I think liberals and conservatives, whether within Adventism or Christianity in general or even in society at large, have a lot to learn from each other (even though I consider myself mostly liberal). The problem is that most of the time we’re too angry to want to listen and learn.

  2. sethoutlook

    Great thoughts Trudy, and I guess I should clarify that I do think there are legitimate labels, but what I mean is that people who HAVE to be associated with a label and wear it has a badge of honor sometimes seem to be angry.

  3. Seth, I take a little less cynical view of GYC – to pick on one of your assessments. I do believe that most of GYC’s motivation is not so much a reaction against others, but to the fact that they sincerely feel called to do something about their Adventism. (Please keep in mind that I am not a card-carrying member of GYC, nor have I ever been to one of their conferences).

    The only ones I think they may be reacting against are other youth who need to be entertained all the time – or the youth leaders who think this is necessary. I don’t believe, as a whole, it is necessarily their parents that they are reacting against. In fact, the ones I do know who are a part of the GYC crowd seem to come from conservative homes themselves, replete with conservative parents.

  4. sethoutlook

    Hi Shawn,

    I agree with your assessment, I was referring more to the directors of GYC who line up with what you said with reacting against entertainment based youth ministry. I think the kids themselves are going for different reasons than some of the leades who sponsor it. I know, as an example, one of the baord members of GYC [at least according to a seminary proffessor] enjoys announcing to lay members and pastors alike that the churches in the conference he is apart of are “CONSERVATIVE!” Which just seems weird to me. Of all the things to boast about…

  5. Buffy Halvorsen

    Thanks for your post Seth — the terms liberal and conservative leave my stomach feeling strange. Posts on either end I think, usually come from hurt and often sound angry. I believe the devil loves when hurt and anger are equated with “God, Church, Religion or Christian”. When we are looking at ourselves and our beliefs our eyes are not focused on God.

    I have found that usually our picture of God is formed by our family of origin and our attachment styles. This picture is then projected onto a specific church or religion (sometimes that of our parents). God’s presence (love) is a place to heal and become whole. When the opposite is happening people have mistakenly found a counterfit religion. (which by the way can be found in any denomination and either conserative or liberal camps.)

    What I love about my God is He is unashamedly opportunistic. While the devil works hard to make Him look bad, God uses everything to His purposes. Sometimes I get really upset when He is publically portrayed in a fashion that is unappealing to me. But I have seen how He has used that very medium to introduce Himself to someone and all along His intent is to continue that relationship and continue to reveal a truer picture of Himself. When I see this happening I pray that He will continue to show me and others a bigger picture of Himself – which I believe will reveal that He might not care as much as we think about some things but way more than we could even imagine about others.

    I want to live a surrendered life – one that allows God to shape me — I don’t want to attempt to conform to a shape that is handed to me by someone else’s interpretation of what God looks like.

    I have only seen reactions to GYC not having attended one myself. I know that college students love to go because of the social opportunities. I have been disturbed by some of the focus that has come back to campuses from some of these events. (I have pastored on three college/university campuses since this organization started early in thie millenium) I believe that if a group of students comes back to campus believeing that it is their task to reform the music styles of others, the devil is probably feeling like he has scored big time. Because the focus isn’t on God, rather the proclaimed evils of a style of worship. The devil’s whole purpose is to keep God from being worshiped – however possible. And one of the best ways is to keep us focused on the worship itself rather than the One being worshiped; This is a very deceptive tactic.

    I could continue on this topic – but I want to direct your attention to My God and not take so much time looking at other things. Our ultimate healing is in His presence.

    I pray that each one will go there and allow Him to transform your liife.

    BTW-Love the meaning in the picture. Powerful.

    Thank you again Seth for this post!

  6. Aron Chilson

    Great discusion! I love it. I have to say (a little red faced) that I have no idea what the GYC is, but will be looking into it. Buffy I agree whole heartedly with your comment that you get the feeling God cares alot less about some things and and whole lot more about other things than we do. I have had that same feeling. I read something in the bible today that really caught my attention in a way it never had before. I love that aspect of the bible. Lots of gold on the surface but as you dig there is much, much more as the Holy Spirit opens your understanding. So I think that all of us no matter what our label is can maybe learn somthing from this.

    It is John chapter 9. I saw it as never before.
    The disciples ask Jesus who sinned this man or his parents. That he was born blind. A question we still ask sometimes. But notice Jesus answer.
    Neither this man or his parents. but this happened so that the work of God could be glorified in His life!

    Then it goes on to tell how the priest treated him. They Hurled insults on him, and told him he was steeped in sin and threw him out.

    After they had threw him out. It says Jesus found him. Not that he went back to Jesus but that Jesus FOUND HIM!
    You realize that in the eyes of the church he was a born sinner. He wasn’t ready for church or wanted there. He was a sinner. But look at how Jesus handled it.

    35 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, Jesus found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
    36 He asked, “Who is the Son of Man, sir, so that I can believe in him?”
    37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him. The Son of Man is the one talking with you.”
    38 He said, “Lord, I believe!” Then the man worshiped Jesus.

    No matter what our interpertation of scripture is we must discuss it in a way that shows Jesus love and mercy. Because Jesus still comes to the ones we cast out.(or make feel cast out).
    This Chapter ends with a question are we blind too?
    Jesus answered if you were blind you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

    It made me think.
    The most important commandment is Love God with all your heart! and what will be the natural result? You will love your neighbor as your self. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    We have a young unwed mother who is a part of our church. She started bringing her sister. She told her sister we can go to church here. They accept us. I was proud to be a part of a church that accepts and loves. So no matter what the label is. Make sure that some one can always say “we can go to church here they accept us.”

  7. David Dick

    Disagreement can be a healthy thing. Group think can lead to the failure to recognize problems within an organization such as the Adventist Church. The problem with the assignment of labels or the taking of positions, such as Liberal or Conservative, is that the point of our existence is lost. Being an ideologue robs you of critical thinking. More over, it leads to the innate selfish human desire to be “Right”.

    As we look at our church, it is easy to find a rather lengthy list of issues that challenge our relevence and credibility. How we approach these issues will make all the difference. I believe it is time that we set aside our preconcieved notions of what it means to be a good Adventist, and instead focus on what Jesus and his appostles put forward as what it means to be a good follower of Christ.

    The members of the early church in Acts, were described as “followers of the Way”. I think its time we reaquint ourselves with what the Way really is. Our church certainly has a valuable message to share, but, membership in this church or any other will not save you our anyone else. Acceptance of the Gift Christ died to give us and living the “Kingdom of heaven is like…” life should be our ultimate motivation.

  8. Your Friend

    The fact that GYC youth come to higher education institutions and attempt to change music styles, I find, a very healthy reaction to the very unhealthy music that has overtaken our campuses.

    I recently experienced some very unhealthy stuff at a well-known SDA college. If you consider attempting to reform music as coming from the devil — I have to wonder— May GYC never lose its raison d’etre.

    • sethoutlook

      I can appreciate a reformation of music, but the the SDA Hymnal is not a closed canon of scripture; and many times the “reformation” is really a reaction having having tradition challenged, much like Jesus did to the Pharisees.

      As for higher education institutions, you will always find what you are looking for; and certainly there are broad spectrums of ideas presented–not all of them good. However, I have found in my experience that I prefer an institution to challenge my thinking instead of simply reinforcing creeds–something we are historically against. I find many times we breed suspicion about secondary education because people come out realizing that what they once thought doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny; and as EGW said, ” Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation” [CW, p. 35].

  9. spsukaton

    Hi, Pastor Pierce!

    Your examination of “liberal” and “conservative” paradigms in Adventism are really interesting. I can’t (or rather, won’t) say anything about progressive Adventists because they’re a little out of my depth. My family is immigrant moderate/Evangelical Adventist (we’re big fans of Clifford Goldstein, but we didn’t know what the big deal about Des Ford was) without much emphasis on theology, and I came up through public schools, so I don’t think I can offer much light or heat on your observations there.

    Conservative Adventism as convert’s reaction speaks to my experience. I’ve noticed that conservative self-identification comes with an emphasis on Spirit of Prophecy, end-times knowledge, and co-belligerency with the more mainstream conservative Christian community on cultural issues. I have a friend who converted to Adventism when we were both in high school – but I didn’t know until after the fact. He cut his hair, switched out his wardrobe, and started talking about intelligent design and worship music reform (he was a rock fan prior to converting.) That conservatism seems more prevalent than the sort of conspiracy-theory, Jesuits-infiltrating-the-GC, the-government-is-after-us kind of conservatism.

    Liberal Adventism as reaction to conservative background makes just as much sense, but I’ve seen fewer examples of it – most self-identified liberals I know grew up in the church-academy-college complex.
    My first three images of “liberal” are a West LA pastor/interfaith community organizer, a PUC professor running an Adventist magazine’s blog, and a soon-to-be Ph.D in Claremont. All of them did undergrad work at Adventist colleges. All of them did grad work at non-Adventist religion schools. All of them are pretty tame, personally – kids, jobs, mortgages. They don’t carry themselves like they’re reacting against anything. It seems more like Trudy’s paradigm – they’re questioning, wanting to dust off corners of Adventism that fit into the theology but get downplayed, like eco-activism.

  10. spsukaton

    My big worry is that all the “factions” in Adventism react and risk falling into the “liberal/conservative/fringe” paradigm of the rest of society, which isn’t healthy for the church at all. Both liberal and conservative positions offer unique aspects of witness – liberals’ emphasis on continuing Adventist involvement in social justice and conservatives’ emphasis on preserving the distinct form of Adventist doctrine and worship both play out Ellen White’s hope for a “peculiar people” with a special witness, which I’m totally down for – Adventists as a church have a lot to contribute to Christianity at large – wholism, Sabbath rest, and the like.

    It would really suck if conservative Adventists, suspicious of creeping heresy, humanism, and liberalism, discarded their passion for the distinctness of Adventism and jumped in with conservatives that plays up rights, occasional at the expense of collective responsibilities. It would suck equally much if liberal Adventists, tired of what they saw as restriction and dogmatism and legalism, ran into the arms of an American left that tends downplay human fallibility.

    Please continue posting about this!

  11. H. Leon Bryan

    Ellen White once wrote that she wished Adventist would identify themselves as Christians first. The debate over factions in the Church is a dead one. We have the freedom to follow God as the spirit directs. Conservatives, Progressive, Liberals, or whatever one chooses to call themselves need to first pause and remember who they are following. If you are a Child of God, then act like one one and follow his lead. Satan is in all churches and he creates factions which promote disharmony. However, above the fray of contention is the voice of the spirit. If we are his sheep we will recognize his voice and be prepared to act like his people. If we spent our energy engaging in humane Christian behavior, we would have precious little time to attempt to control the behavior of our fellow Christians.

    H. Leon Bryan Ed.D.

  12. Dee

    Conservative and Liberal/progressive Adventists have absolutely nothing in common. I am conservative. I wish it didn’t matter, but I am human and as humans we have opinons and often that opinion leads to one side or the other. One time I was among certain people on a church social group trip, and almost all of them were very liberal and talked about how much they love Obama. It was nauseating. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. As an adventist I have more in common with conservative christians from any other denomination than with a liberal or progressive adventist. I guess also it depends on what you mean by liberal/progressive because there are adventist who seemingly lives a conservative lifestyle, but their politics is very liberal. Very confusing to me. I wish we did not have to assign labels, but the only way this can be fixed is when Revelation 13 is very obvious in our government. When everyone loses their individual rights then everyone will be conservative. I spoke to a so called chrisitan socialist on the train and he said that conservatives are selfish and cold and don’t care about the poor. I told him if you look at my tax return you will see that I VOLUNTEERED over 15% of my income to prison ministries, church, and other minitries and I volunteered my time and skills on weekends. I asked how much will your tax return read? He just looked at me like a deer caught in headlights and he did not volunteer his time to the poor. Typical liberal, whatever is yours is yours and whatever is mine is yours. I will always be an adventist because I know we have the bible truth that i cannot deny, but I very seldom worship with them if they are liberal/progressive.

  13. Oldiesfreak1854

    Dee, I think you made an interesting point, but I would like to make one as well. Politically, I am a conservative, but I also identify myself largely as a Progressive Adventist. Ron Corson has also said something much to the same effect about himself. I am a liberal thinker in many ways because I believe very much in liberty and equality for all. However, I am relatively conservative politically, and I would also identify myself as a Republican (although I’m not registered as one since my state is open primary). I am pro-life, oppose gay marriage (but support civil unions), and support across the board tax cuts coupled with spending cuts in some areas (aside from necessary services). As I am writing this, it has been about a month and a half since the 2012 elections, and I am not afraid to say that I voted for Mitt Romney. In this sense, my political views are not connected to my religious or philosophical views. I am a Progressive Adventist in the sense that I believe the Adventist church is closest to the Bible, although I disagree with some conservative Adventist teachings, particulary concerning the remnant and interpretation of many of the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, including Sunday worship as the Mark of the Beast (which is not, to my knowledge, part of the official church doctrine.) For example, I do not believe eating pork is a sin based on Jesus’ words in Mark 7, particularly verse 19, where it states that any kind of food is acceptable. However, I certainly do not encourage eating pork. The problem with labels like “liberal”, “conservative”, and “moderate” is that they have different meanings over varying times and contexts. I am politically conservative, but I am a progressive Adventist because I believe that the search for the truth is a constant one. To paraphrase Martin Luther, all Christians should read the Bible for themselves, and they will realize the great difference between the Word of God and the words of man.

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