God is love. His rule of this universe is based on the willing obedience of His creation evoked by His magnificent benevolence.1 Only a faith that rests in the heart of man,2 and only actions prompted by love,3 are acceptable to God. Love, however, is not subject to civil regulation. It cannot be evoked by fiat nor sustained by statute. Therefore, efforts to legislate faith are by their very nature in opposition to the principles of true religion, and thus in opposition to the will of God.4
God placed our primordial parents on this earth with the power to choose between good and evil.5 Subsequent generations born into this world have been granted a similar choice. This freedom to choose, so granted by God, should not be infringed by man.
The appropriate relation between religion and the state was best exemplified in the life of our Savior and example, Jesus Christ. As one of the Godhead, Jesus held unparalleled authority on earth. He had divine insight,6 divine power,7 and a Holy charter.8 If anyone in the history of the world had the right to force others to worship as he dictated, it was Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus never used force to advance the gospel.9 It is for the followers of Christ to emulate this example.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has, from its inception, attempted to follow the example of Christ by championing freedom of conscience as an integral part of its gospel mission. As the role of the church in society expands, it is appropriate to state the principles that guide our worldwide church in our contacts with the governments of the lands in which we operate.
Freedom of Conscience
At the heart of the Adventist message is our abiding belief that freedom of conscience must be guaranteed to all. Freedom of conscience includes the freedom to believe and fully practice the religious faith of choice, the freedom not to believe or practice religious faith, freedom to change faiths, and the freedom to establish and operate religious institutions in accordance with religious beliefs. We are dedicated to working for the advancement of legal and political protection of religious freedom and in support of the broad interpretation of national and international charters that guarantee the protection of this freedom.10
As Christians, Seventh-day Adventists recognize the legitimate role of organized government in society.11 We support the state’s right to legislate on secular matters and support compliance with such laws.12 When we are faced with a situation in which the law of the land conflicts with biblical mandates, however, we concur with the Scriptural injunction that we ought to obey God rather than man.13
The Adventist dedication to freedom of conscience recognizes that there are limits on this freedom. Freedom of religion can only exist in the context of the protection of the legitimate and equal rights of others in society. When society has a compelling interest, such as the protection of its citizens from imminent harm, it can therefore legitimately curtail religious practices. Such curtailments should be undertaken in a manner that limits the religious practice as little as possible and still protects those endangered by it. Limitation of freedom of conscience in order to protect society from offense or similar intangible harms, from hypothetical dangers or to impose social or religious conformity by measures such as Sunday laws or other state mandated religious observances, are not legitimate limitations on freedom.
Seventh-day Adventists are called to stand for the principle of liberty of conscience for all. In keeping with our love for others,14 we must be ready to work on behalf of groups whose freedom of conscience is inappropriately impinged by the state. Such work may result in personal and corporate loss. This is the price we must be willing to pay in order to follow our Savior who consistently spoke for the disfavored and dispossessed.15
Participation in Government
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is mindful of the long history of the involvement of the people of God in civil affairs. Joseph wielded civil power in Egypt.16 Similarly, Daniel rose to the heights of civil power in Babylon and the nation was benefited as a result.17 In our own church history, Adventists have joined with other religious and secular organizations to exert influence over civil authorities to cease slavery and to advance the cause of religious freedom. Religious influence has not always resulted in the betterment of society, however. Religious persecution, religious wars, and the numerous examples of social and political suppression perpetrated at the behest of religious people, confirms the dangers that exist when the means of the state are used to advance religious objectives.
The growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has resulted in a corresponding growth in our ability to exert political influence in some areas of the world. This political influence is not in itself problematic. Indeed, Adventists may properly aspire to serve in positions of civil leadership.18 Nevertheless, we must remain ever mindful of the dangers that are associated with religious influence on civil affairs and assiduously avoid such dangers.
When Adventists become leaders or exert influence in their wider society, this should be done in a manner consistent with the golden rule.19 We should therefore work to establish robust religious liberty for all and should not use our influence with political and civil leaders to either advance our faith or inhibit the faith of others. Adventists should take civic responsibilities seriously. We should participate in the voting process available to us when it is possible to do so in good conscience20 and should share the responsibility of building our communities. Adventists should not, however, become preoccupied with politics, or utilize the pulpit or our publications to advance political theories.21
Adventists who are civic leaders must endeavor to adhere to the highest standards of Christian behavior. As modern-day Daniels, God will lead them and their fidelity to Him will inspire their community.
Representation to Governments & International Bodies
Throughout the history of the People of God, the Lord has seen fit to delegate individuals to represent His message to the rulers of the time. Abraham,22 Joseph,23 and Moses24 all dealt directly with the Pharaoh of their time. Esther’s presence in the court of King Ahasuerus resulted in saving God’s people from destruction.25 Daniel was first a representative to the Babylonian Empire,26 and later to Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede.27 Paul carried the gospel to the ruling class of the Roman Empire.28 Similarly, many of the great reformers stood before the rulers of their day to advocate their position. We would therefore be remiss if we were not to endeavor to represent Christ to the leaders of this world in our current time.
Indeed, Adventists are called to be a voice for liberty of conscience to this world.29 Integral to this mission is the development of relationships with temporal rulers.30 In order to do this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church appoints representatives to governments and international bodies that have influence over the protection of religious liberty. This work must be viewed as essential to our gospel mission and should be accorded the resources necessary to ensure our representation is of the highest order.
Expectations of Governments
Governments are established to serve the needs of the governed. As such, they must ensure the protection of the population’s fundamental human rights, including freedom of conscience. The state must also endeavor to build communities with public order, public health, a clean environment, and an atmosphere that does not unduly inhibit its citizen’s ability to raise families and freely explore the facets of their humanity. It is the state’s responsibility to endeavor to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, social class, religion, political persuasion and gender and to guarantee its residents equal access to an impartial judiciary. States have a responsibility not only to protect all those living within its borders but also to work for the protection of human rights in the international community and to provide a haven to those fleeing persecution.
Receipt of Government Funding
Seventh-day Adventists have long debated whether the Church or its institutions should accept government funding. On one hand, the Church has taught that the Lord moves upon the hearts of those in civil power and that the Church should not build barriers that would cut off assistance for the advancement of His cause.31 On the other hand, the Church has warned against the union of church and state.32
Thus when laws of a nation permit government assistance to churches or their institutions our principles permit receipt of funding that is not accompanied by conditions that inhibit our ability to freely practice and promulgate our faith, to hire only Seventh-day Adventists, to retain governance by only Seventh-day Adventists and to observe without compromise principles expressed in the Bible and the writings of Ellen G White. In addition, to avoid a union of church and state, government funds should not be accepted to pay for religious activities such as worship services, evangelism, the publishing of religious texts, or for the salaries of those working in church administration or in the gospel ministry, except for the provision of spiritual services to those whose lives are so fully regulated by the state as to make the provision of such services impracticable without state involvement.33
In instances when the acceptance of government funding does not violate the foregoing principles, careful consideration should be given to whether government funds should be accepted. Ongoing government funding, as opposed to single financial contributions, presents a particular danger. It is virtually impossible for institutions not to become at least partially dependent on ongoing governmental funding streams. Such government funding typically is accompanied by governmental regulation. While such regulation may not violate Christian principles when the money is first received, such regulations are subject to change. In the event that regulations governing the receipt of government funds change to require the abandonment of the principles for our institutions described in the Bible and by Ellen G White, ongoing governmental funding must be refused, even if as a result the institution must be closed, sold or significantly restructured.
When Adventists receive government funding, we must handle such funds with the highest integrity. This includes strict compliance with the regulations attached to the funding and the use of rigorous accounting standards. If procedures are not in place to ensure such compliance, funding must be refused.
In some exceptional circumstances, Adventists can only achieve a presence in a country if we operate programs that are controlled by the government and that forbid an open witness. Considerable prayer and thought must be given to the ramifications of participating in such programs. We should consider whether participation assists the government in maintaining its restrictive policies, whether participation associates the church’s name with the coercive government, and whether participation will provide opportunity both in the short and long term for spreading the gospel including the three angels messages34 in the country concerned. We must assiduously avoid associating the name of Christ with regimes that suppress and brutalize their populace.
God has put each individual on earth with the capacity to determine right from wrong under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with His Word. This declaration, therefore, is not designed to supersede divine counsel and nor is it designed to be an authoritative interpretation of that counsel. Rather, the declaration serves to encapsulate the understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at this time.
The way in which Seventh-day Adventists conduct our church-state relations has a significant impact on our worldwide efforts. We must therefore approach this area with significant thought and prayer. Working under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Adventists will continue to champion the gospel principle of freedom of conscience.
This document was adopted by the Council of Interchurch/Interfaith Faith Relations of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in March, 2002. The document is used by the Church’s Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty.
- “God desires from all His creatures the service of love – service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service.” Ellen G White, Patriarchs & Prophets, p 34.
- Ezekiel 36:26.
- 1 Corinthians 13.
- The example of ancient Israel under theocratic rule is sometimes used to justify modern efforts to legislate religious mandates. Such justifications misapply Biblical precedent. For a relatively short period of this earth’s history, God used particular methods to preserve His message for the world. These methods were based on a mutually agreed upon covenant between God and a family that grew into a relatively small nation. During this period, God directly ruled in a manner He has not chosen to utilize since. The experience of direct rule by God based on a mutually agreed upon covenant, while of invaluable importance to our understanding of the Lord, is not directly applicable to how modern nations should be ruled. Rather, the more applicable example of the relationship between the church and the state is that provided by Jesus Christ.
- Genesis 3.
- See, e.g., John 4:17-19.
- See, e.g., John 11.
- 1 John 2:1.
- Quite the contrary, Jesus explicitly stated that His “kingdom is not of this world” and therefore his servants were not commissioned to exert power through force. John 18:36.
- See, e.g., United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 18; The American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 12; The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Art. 8; The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Art. 9; Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Art. 15; Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Art. 5; Constitution of the Republic of South Korea, Art. 20; Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Art. 116; Constitution of India, Art. 25-28; Constitution of the United States of America, First Amendment.
- 1 Peter 2:13-17.
- Romans 13.
- Acts 5:29; “The people of God will recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and will teach obedience to it as a sacred duty within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, the word of God must be recognized as above all human legislation. ‘Thus saith the Lord’ is not to be set aside for Thus saith the church or the state. The crown of Christ is to be uplifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.” Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church, vol 6, p 402.
- Matthew 22:39.
- See, e.g., Luke 4:18; Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 10:30-37.
- Genesis 41:40-57.
- Daniel 6:3.
- “Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard.” Ellen G White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p 82.
- Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Matthew 7:12.
- While Seventh-day Adventists are to vote, they are to cast their vote with prayerful consideration. See Ellen G White, Selected Messages, vol 2, p 337 (admonishing Adventists to vote); Ellen G White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p 475 (stating that Adventists cannot safely vote for political parties); & Ellen G White, Last Day Events, p 127 (Adventists become partakers in the sins of politicians if they support candidates that do not support religious liberty).
- Ellen G White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p 475.
- Genesis 12:15-20.
- Genesis 41.
- Exodus 4-12.
- Esther 8.
- Daniel 3-5.
- Daniel 1:21 & 5:31-6:28
- Acts 23-26.
- “We are not doing the will of God if we sit in quietude, doing nothing to preserve liberty of conscious.” Ellen G White, Testimonies to the Church, vol 5, p 714.
- “Kings, governors, and councils are to have a knowledge of the truth through your testimony. This is the only way in which the testimony of light and truth can reach men of high authority.” Ellen G White, Review and Herald, April 15, 1890.
- “Just as long as we are in this world, and the Spirit of God is striving with the world, we are to receive as well as to impart favors. We are to give to the world the light of truth as presented in the sacred Scriptures, and we are to receive from the world that which God moves upon them to do in behalf of His cause. God has not closed the door of mercy yet. The Lord still moves upon the hearts of kings and rulers in behalf of His people, and it becomes us who are so deeply interested in the religious liberty question not to cut off any favors, or withdraw ourselves from the help that God has moved men to give for the advancement of His cause.” Ellen G White, Testimonies to Ministers, p 197-203.
- “The union of the church with the state, be the degree never so slight, while it may appear to bring the world nearer to the church, does in reality but bring the church nearer to the world.” Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p 297.
- This category includes chaplains retained by the state to provide spiritual services to those serving in the military, those that are incarcerated, those that are in state hospitals, and those whose lives are similarly restricted to state institutions or whose lives are similarly pervasively regulated by the state.
- Revelation 14:6-12.