Growing Up Adventist
My mother became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1957 – 58, when I was 4 or 5 years old. We were living on a farm in a remote part of northern British Columbia, Canada.
Several people were baptized the day my mother officially joined the church. The baptisms [full immersion] were conducted at a nearby river.
In 1959, my mother and I moved to Ontario, and I started school. It was quite a culture shock for me — in the wilds of B.C., I’d followed the man my mother worked for as a housekeeper, when he checked his trap line, when he herded cows, or butchered them, and when he cut down trees for logs. I learned to identify wild animals by their paw prints in the snow. I was not very happy to be confined to a school room.
The school I attended was not a Seventh-day Adventist one, but a regular public school. Although I did attend an SDA school for a short time when I was in the 3rd grade, we did not usually live in an area where an Adventist school was nearby.
During my school years, my mother and I occasionally attended the SDA church in Oshawa, Ontario. More often, our Friday nights to Saturday nights were spent worshipping, but not at a church, because there wasn’t any Adventist church where we lived.
Most, if not all, of my mother’s ideas regarding my upbringing, and teaching about God were derived from the church publications, and Ellen G. White’s many books.
At those times, the TV would be turned off before sunset on Friday. It was not turned on again until after sunset on Saturday. On Saturdays, we went for walks, to the park, often with a picnic lunch. We read the Bible, studied our Sabbath School lessons [there were quarterly publications, put out by the SDA church], read Adventist books [published by the SDA owned publishing house] prayed, and sang hymns.
During this time, I was told that the Adventist church was the only true church, and that everyone else was an unbeliever. Only Seventh-day Adventists would be saved, at the end of the world, when Jesus would come in the clouds, with all the angels. The wicked would then perish. There was an exception: Those who lived in a righteous way, *before* the truth of the Seventhday Adventist church was ‘discovered’ by Ellen G. White, would be saved, and those who lived in a good and holy way, but had never learned of the true church, would also be saved. If someone was shown the ‘truth’ and turned away, they would be lost forever because they had rejected the message. Death was a sleep — people do not go to heaven when they die, as they would suffer terribly, having to look down at loved ones, and their unhappiness on earth. Instead, all who die simply sleep, until Jesus arrives, at the time of the Second Coming. There is no such thing as Hell. The unsaved will be destroyed after the Second Coming, completely, and will not suffer for very long – certainly not for eternity.
The Roman Catholic Church and its Pope were of the Devil — and the evil Pope would someday make a law for all the world, that would force everyone to worship only on Sunday – in fact, the Pope had changed the day of rest chosen by God from Saturday, to Sunday! Only those who worshipped on Saturday were doing the will of God.
Keeping the seventh day Sabbath, and believing in the return of Jesus is what set the SDA’s apart from the wicked. Oh, and Ellen G. White was a prophetess, who wrote many important books, and prophesied as she was guided by God.
When I was eleven years old, my mother decided to move back to Alberta, where her relatives lived. What a difference in the Seventh-day Adventists! In Ontario, those we associated with did not eat meat. They were vegetarians. In Alberta, most of the Adventists we came into contact with ate meat, and didn’t seem to be concerned at all. Since we’d understood that vegetarianism was expected, such behavior came as a real surprise. It was then that I began to question what was going on in the church. How could a belief that was so strong in Ontario differ in Alberta?
As I got older, I attended an Adventist ‘church school’, as the church operated elementary schools are called. I was disappointed to find that the children who attended were no different than those in ‘regular’ schools. They were just as rude, just as loud, and so on. We learned that it was wrong to associate with unbelievers — indeed, my mother had always felt bad about my attending public schools — associating with the wicked. I wondered how Seventh-day Adventists were supposed to ‘save’ the wicked, if they could not be associated with??!
My mother and I moved again, away from the church school, and I was back at a regular, secular school again. As I entered junior high school, I was glad to be away from the narrow views of the church school.
As I entered my teens, I began more and more to question the rigid rules and regulations of the Adventist church. For example, it was wrong to play cards “the Devil is always in attendance, where ever card games are played”. It was wrong to dance, to wear makeup [try telling that to a young teenage girl!], to wear jewellery, and wrong to listen to ‘worldly’ music. Going to a movie was wrong – although some movies were shown in church halls, and that was acceptable, for some reason. Non-SDA books were frowned upon. Oh, non-fiction might be alright, in some cases, but anything that took the mind away from Jesus was WRONG.
I couldn’t grasp just how a person was supposed to always think of Jesus! Surely there was more to life than that??! Was it a sin to think that way? Probably. But something just didn’t seem right, about all that Ellen G. White had written….
And how were we supposed to ‘save’ others, if we weren’t allowed to associate with them??!
The Pastor who Meant Well
It was important for my mother that I join the church, and be baptized. I didn’t feel that I was ready for that step. As I turned about 15, my mother became very difficult to get along with. [3 years later, she had surgery for a thyroid problem, and it’s most likely that caused her mood swings at this time]. She called in the pastor of the church, to talk with me. Well, he automatically assumed that I was some sort of scum, and berated me for not respecting my parent, who had worked so hard to raise me….blah blah blah. Needless to say, I was very bitter towards him, since he didn’t doubt what my mother was saying was true.
I was accused of being wicked and ungrateful. I actually allowed the minister to finish his spiel, and outwardly remained quiet and calm. Inside, I was fuming at this man, and I became determined to never join a church that would harbor someone like him as a pastor of the faith. He told me that he’d searched many religions over the years, before settling on the Seventh-day Adventist faith as the true religion. He said that I must make a decision. I didn’t feel I had to, just because he told me so.
He asked if I smoked [another rule of the church – no smoking, no alcohol] and I said “no”. My friend smoked, and since I was around her, I often came home smelling of cigarette smoke, that was all. But my mother harbored suspicions that I was lying.
The Real World
When I was seventeen, I met my first husband. We later divorced, and I remarried. Neither of these men were SDA’s. My first husband had a major chore on his hands, ‘un-brainwashing” me from many misconceptions I had. For example, people weren’t generally evil, but were good, and well-intentioned.
At the age of 19 -20, I started to smoke, and drink socially. My second husband even taught me how to play cards. I loved music, and liked to go to movies. I decided the Seventh-day Adventist church teachiings were wrong about all non-believers being wicked, and being lost. The people I met were kind, considerate, and nice, not evil. And they weren’t hypocrites, preaching one thing, and living another.
I began to suspect that maybe I had been told a lot of things that weren’t true.
Over the years, I have slowly moved farther and farther away from the SDA church. I used to keep up with events by reading my mother’s church publications. She no longer received church news once she entered a nursing home. Of course, she stopped paying her 10 percent tithe every month, plus offerings at that time. She passed away in 2003.
In the 1980’s, I sent some money in to the church offices for a while, feeling that it was a way of thanking God for his goodness to me, at that time. Amazingly, the church secretary contacted me, and demanded to know why I was donating money when I was not a registered, baptized Adventist! Needless to say, I immediately stopped sending them money they apparently did not want! I found a charity that welcomed my donation instead.
Ellen G. White, the prophetess, and one of the founder’s of the church as well as the spokesperson for church policy in the early years of the faith, has been found by researchers to have plagiarized other writers of her day, so that it seems that much of what was credited to her and to God is a sham.
Ellen G. White’s teachings that Jesus entered the Sanctuary in 1844, to intercede with God for His people has been an important tenet of faith in the SDA church. Now I learn that this, in effect, serves to cancel out the importance of the cross and God’s sacrifice of His Son. How true! What was taught to me as a child is no longer something that I can believe.
I did not leave the church environs because of the people who failed, to my mind, to live the life they should have – practiced what they preached – but they were certainly an influence in my reaching that decision.
A minister once said that I shouldn’t fault the church members for not living up to my expectations – a poor excuse, I think, for people failing to follow their churches teachings! If you don’t live it, get out of the church!
I personally believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church is a cult. It strongly discourages its members from associating with anyone outside the faith, restricts access to the outside world [what members watch, read, listen to], and sets itself aside as “saved” and a “special people”.
From cradle to the grave, one could live within the confines of this restrictive group, and never speak to, or get to know, a non-Adventist. With the Adventist churches, publishing house, schools, hospitals, radio and TV broadcasts, food manufacturers, youth groups, they are for the most part self-sufficient.
I believe that my mother did the best she could, although her choice of religion damaged me to a certain extent, for several years. Good friends, and a good counselor have done wonders to help me get over those early years.