Adventism and White Supremacy

Alisa Williams

I was seven-years-old the first and only time I've had a gun shoved in my face. The man wielding it was Marc. He was my Sabbath School teacher.

I remember the vastness of the basement in Lamson Hall on the campus of Andrews University where Pioneer Memorial Church's Primary Sabbath School classes met at that time (before the expansion that brought us all under the PMC roof).

I remember the room was filled with circular tables to accommodate the many kids, spanning several grade levels. My group's table was off to the right. Each table got its own SS teacher, just to ourselves.

I remember Marc was new that Sabbath. With the seminary literally in the shadows of PMC, children's SS meant being subjected to an endless revolving door of seminary students eager to mold young minds for Adventism.

There were a lot of problematic SS teachers over the years, but Marc is the most memorable, for obvious reasons.

I remember he strayed off course from the SS lesson. He didn't care about our memory verses or lesson plan, which disappointed me because I had studied! He wanted to talk about the end times. And he did.

Then he pulled out the gun.

I remember the gun being matte grey with a black rubber grip, and I remember my fear. My parents, in the tradition of the Adventist pioneers, are staunch pacifists. Guns are bad, my seven-year-old mind was screaming.

I remember Marc pointing the gun at us, telling us it was unloaded, but that very soon we'd have loaded ones in our faces and we'd be forced to choose — die for our faith or renounce God.

But, said Marc, that didn't mean we should go out without a fight! He proceeded to teach this merry band of seven-year olds the proper technique for loading the gun, with the real ammo he'd brought.

He passed the gun around our circle and encouraged us to hold it. Get a feel for the weight of it, the grip. A boy next to me grabbed it eagerly. His parents had guns at home. He'd held one before. "Good," said Marc, nodding encouragingly.

It was my turn. But I refused. I didn't want touch a gun. I didn't want to shoot anyone. I couldn't even conceive of such an idea. My face burned with embarrassment as Marc shook his head, clearly disappointed.

Some of the kids held the gun, some touched it with one finger, others were just as eager as that first boy. I was still just trying to figure out how preparing for the end times with guns jibed with the pacifism my parents believed in.

I don't know how many of our group went home that afternoon and told our parents in varying levels of excitement and dread about Marc and the gun. My guess would be all of us. I can only speak to my parents' reaction, which was horror.

I don't know which parents called campus safety (quite possibly mine). And I don't know if it was campus safety, armed with their pepper spray, or the Berrien Springs police, with their very real guns, who raided Marc's car.

But I do know that my parents, both Andrews employees, learned the details later. His trunk was filled with an entire arsenal of guns and ammunition. He was prepared for the end time battle he'd described to us in SS class.

He was prepared to die and take as many people out with him as possible.

Instead, his weapons were seized, he was kicked out of seminary, and banned from campus for life.

I don't know what happened to Marc after that. For all I know, he's holed up in a remote cabin on a mountaintop, hoarding his weapons and cans of veggie meat, still ready to kill for Christ.

What I do know is that radicalized Adventism is real, and it's scary, and it's all around us whether we recognize it for what it is or not.

Maybe this is why the Adventist Church has such a hard time denouncing white supremacy: because same recognizes same.

Radicalized Adventism stems from the same ideology as white supremacy: fear of the "other" and feelings of superiority toward those we've marked as different.

Marc was so terrified by the "other" that is preached against from Adventist pulpits that he couldn't see them as human beings anymore.

They were, in his mind, coming after him and his people and therefore his job was to take them out first. To take out as many as he could.

Sound familiar? It should.

Because that is the exact same type of radicalized ideology the white supremacist who killed almost two dozen people in El Paso subscribed to.

Our "other" looks different: Radicalized Adventism is terrified of the pope, the Catholics who live next door, politicians who might one day usher in Sunday laws.

We demonize and dehumanize those "others" through our preaching, our seminars, our pamphlets.

But not ALL Adventism, you might be thinking. To which I'd respond, no one is saying ALL Adventism, just like no one is saying ALL white people are white supremacists.

But that doesn't stop this radicalized thinking from infecting the entire church.

And we're quite comfortable as a church living with this infection. Because these fear-based tactics bring people in. It fills them with a burning passion that we falsely equate with faith.

We've so perfected an 1800s-style fire-and-brimstone message of fear and trembling, that when we hear the message of Jesus' love, that's what sounds radical to our ears. That's what sounds false.

And here's the thing, because we evangelize through fear, the people who are attracted to our message are often those who have already been radicalized in other ways.

Let me put this plainly: Our fear-based evangelism attracts white supremacists.

The overlap in the Venn diagram of white supremacy and Adventism is larger than we'd like to admit, and it all stems from that same place of radicalized ideology against those who are somehow different from us.

This is why the Adventist Church is so uncomfortable denouncing the cancer that is white supremacy. It's our cancer, too. We can't denounce it without admitting the infection is in us as well.

These are my thoughts, these are the questions on my mind as time after time our church is complicit with its silence.

But there is an answer and it's pretty simple. We must denounce white supremacy, from our pulpits and our pews, whether you're an Adventist with a huge platform or none at all.

And in the process of denouncing this evil, maybe we'll also be better equipped to recognize the ways our own religion has radicalized us toward hate and fear.

Only then can we move toward the radical love of Jesus instead.


Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. This story originally appeared on Twitter and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Melany Rochester on Unsplash