The Adventist church is kinda pro-choice and kinda pro-life. Some of its hospitals do abortions-on-demand and others don’t. Getting a clear answer from the General Conference on exactly where they stand is confusing; even their official suggested guidelines are wishy-washy. Most Adventists consider abortion wrong, but rarely--if ever--will you hear a SDA pastor mention in a sermon that abortion is a sin. Even if the church believes human life sacred, it also is afraid of the pro-life movement because of its political bent. Their fear of an end-time legislation of morality (specifically a Sunday law) muffles their voice against abortion. And joining a pro-life ecumenical movement even to promote pro-life pregnancy centers is verboten.
The church keeps under wraps that some of the most prominent abortion providers in America have been Adventists such as Bud Feldkamp and Dr. Edward Allred.
Many Christians in other denominations are baffled as to why any denomination would keep silent on this issue. Isn’t this just basic to Christianity-- you don’t kill babies? The clarity for most Christians plummets into something a little more complex in SDA thinking.
Adventists have Demoted the Abortion Issue to Political Status
Adventists have long been legislative advocates for religious freedom. They are unruffled that the Sabbath doctrine is both a political and moral issue, immersing themselves in political debate and legislative action to keep Blue Laws from oppressing them. Yet when abortion is the issue, Adventists flee the moral battle and retreat to a safe distance yelling that they cannot get involved with legislating morality. That is utter nonsense. Abortion is about murder. That puts it on equal footing with the Sabbath commandment, throwing it into both the moral and legal arena. It is incomprehensible and willfully ignorant to desert the savagery towards innocent unborns while professing to care about the legal status of a day of worship.
Setting the legislative argument aside, the abortion issue is not exclusively a legal one. (Although Adventist will almost always try to divert it to that subject.) There are other reasons why Adventist have a very difficult time seeing the morality of being pro-life. Historically, they are Sabbath-issue obsessed.
The Adventist Sabbatarian Movement
Understanding a little of the historical context in which Adventism arose will help explain why the church really doesn’t take a strong stand against abortion today.
In the early 19th century not only was abortion illegal but so was contraceptives. So the legal issue of abortion was not the issue. There was no fear of the government imposing morality in this situation on the public, everyone knew abortion was, at the very least, shocking and wrong.
Many Adventists will be surprised to learn that the early pioneers of their church were pro-life. Here are several examples from the writings of the famous Adventist Dr. J. H Kellogg, James and Ellen White:
The Nature of the Crime.—"The married and well-to-do, who by means of medicines and operations produce abortions at early periods of pregnancy, have no excuse except the pretense that they do not consider it murder until the child quickens."
"No, not murder, you say, for 'there has not been any life in the child.' Do not attempt to evade, even to man, a crime which cannot be hidden from the All-seeing. The poor mother has not herself felt the life of the child perhaps, but that is a quibble only of the laws of man, founded indeed upon the view, now universally recognized as incorrect, that the child's life began when its movements were first strong enough to be perceptible. There is, in fact, no moment after conception when it can be said that the child has not life, and the crime of destroying human life is as heinous and as sure before the period of 'quickening' has been attained as afterward. But you still defend your horrible deed by saying, 'Well, if there be, as you say, this mere animal life, equivalent at the most to simple vitality, there is no mind, no soul destroyed, and therefore, there is no crime committed.' Just so surely as one would destroy and root out of existence all the fowl in the world by destroying all the eggs in existence, so certain is it that you do by your act destroy the animal man in the egg, and the soul which animates it. When is the period that intelligence comes to the infant? Are its feeble first strugglings any evidence of its presence? Has it any appreciable quantity at birth? Has it any valuable, useful quantity even when a year old? When, then, is it, that destruction is harmless or comparatively sinless? While awaiting your metaphysical answer, I will tell you when it is sinful. Murder is always sinful, and murder is the willful destruction of a human being at any period of its existence, from its earliest germinal embryo to its final, simple, animal existence in aged decrepitude and complete mental imbecility."
"There are those who would fain make light of this crime by attempting to convince themselves and others that a child, while in embryo, has only a sort of vegetative life, not yet endowed with thought, and the ability to maintain an independent existence. If such a monstrous philosophy as this presents any justification for such an act, then the killing of a newly-born infant, or of an idiot, may be likewise justified. The destruction of the life of an unborn human being, for the reason that it is small, feeble, and innocently helpless, rather aggravates than palliates the crime. Every act of this kind, with its justification, is obviously akin to that savage philosophy which accounts it a matter of no moment, or rather a duty, to destroy feeble infants, or old, helpless fathers and mothers."
"....Let every Christian raise the note of warning. From every Christian pulpit let the truth be spoken in terms too plain for misapprehension. Let those who are known to be guilty of this most revolting crime be looked upon as murderers, as they are; and let their real moral status be distinctly shown. "(Plain Facts for Old and Young, John Harvey Kellogg, November 27, 2006. Available online at Project Gutenberg)
Few are aware of the fearful extent to which this nefarious business, this worse than devilish practice, is carried on in all classes of society! Many a woman determines that she will not become a mother, and subjects herself to the vilest treatment, committing the basest crime to carry out her purpose. And many a man, who has as many children as he can support, instead of restraining his passions, aids in the destruction of the babes he has begotten. The sin lies at the door of both parents in equal measure; for the father, although he may not always aid in the murder, is always accessory to it, in that he induces, and sometimes even forces upon the mother the condition which he knows will lead to the commission of the crime. (James White, A Solemn Appeal, Battle Creek, MI: Stem Press, 1870, p.100.)
If the father would become acquainted with physical law, he might better understand his obligations and responsibilities. He would see that he had been guilty of almost murdering his children, by suffering so many burdens to come upon the mother, compelling her to labor beyond her strength before their birth, in order to obtain means to leave for them. (Ellen G. White Selected Messages, Vol. 2, Review and Herald, 429-430) [Here Ms. White isn’t specifically condemning abortion but speaks about murdering the unborn through taxing the mother with too much work while pregnant, proving she held the unborn child as fully human.]
In the 19th century, there was little controversy on the subject of abortion among Christians, although many Christian writers understood they were happening and wrote strongly against the illegal, immoral procedure--not just Adventists.
At the time that the second advent movement evolved, the Ten Commandments were accepted by all Christians as God’s moral law. No Christians jettisoned the coveting or adultery commandment, or quit preaching that lying and stealing was a sin. Adventists did not see a serious discrepancy in the Protestant denominations’ interpretation of the other nine commandments. According to the SDA church, the way that Christians interpreted the sabbatarian commandment was in need of a new Reformation with new reformers. Thus the Seventh-day Adventist church was born.
These new sabbatarian reformers saw themselves as the only group that fit the remnant-hood description of Revelation 12 as those who “keep the commandments of God.” One out of the ten was all that was in need of an updated understanding and emphasis. To be an authentic Christian, you must not only keep nine but the Adventists claimed you needed their understanding of one of them--the fourth commandment.
Fast-forward to Today
Adventists, today we have a very different situation. Our culture promotes a hedonistic Christianity (being preached under guise of a comfortable prosperity gospel) and much of Christianity does not teach any of the ten. Rarely do you hear a sermon anywhere claiming sex outside of marriage is a sin or that lying or stealing can get you thrown into hell. All ten of the commandments are being ignored.
If you use the premise that the Ten Commandments are the eternal law of God and still believe that being the remnant is to keep all ten, then you are in a conundrum. For in our culture, all ten commandments are in need of reform. To join the remnant, according to SDA prophecies, the Adventist church now need to start focusing on all ten rather than just the one. The sabbath isn’t the only law being jettisoned of the pronouncements from Mt. Sinai.
How long has it been since you have heard an Adventist Seminar on issues such as adultery, abortion, lying or taking the Lord’s name in vain? If every Christian out there were to become a sabbatarian, they still would be lacking in the other commandments to be part of the remnant. So what is the SDA church going to do? They seem to think focusing exclusively on the fourth is all that is needed. THAT is why they have ignored the abortion issue. For almost two centuries they have thought the only commandment not being preached correctly was the fourth.
So, Adventists have done very little contemplation of the abortion issue because they see their movement as exclusively sabbath-oriented, born and sustained for that reason alone (as well as an imminent second return of Christ). All other issues pale in comparison to this, their raison d’être. SDAs assume if you, “seek ye first the Adventist Church and His Sabbath, all these other things shall be added unto you.” (I image many former Adventists will be saying amen to this.)
Can Adventists Ignore this Issue and Still Remain Christians?
Recently defending the church’s obscure abortion guidelines Adventist leaders quote Ellen White writing “unless there is a clear ‘thus saith the Lord’ in scripture” the church should remain silent on a subject. (Ignoring that the White’s actually believed abortion to be murder). To suggest God’s word is silent on abortion is to have no connection with Christian history or understanding of the words the Apostles’ used.
The word pharmakeia is often rendered in Bible translations as "sorcery" or "magic arts" but the original meaning of the first century Greek is more directly "manufacturer of medicines." Revelation 9:12 and 21:8 place those who practice pharmakon in hell. The placement of this word is important. Usually it is listed in with the sins of murder and sexual immorality as it was known to be potions to produce abortion. Placement of types together was important in first century writers, so it makes great sense that abortifacient drugs were placed between the words murder and sexual immorality.
Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence, (Zondervan Publishing 2001) relates that that both pagans and Christians understood that the word pharmakeia/pharmakon used by Paul and John refers to the practice of abortion. He continue that one of the main duties of the sorcerer was to manufacture potions and spells that would expel the unborn from the mother's womb. Plutarch, a pagan, noted that pharmakeia was primarily used for contraception and abortion. (Romulus 22 of his Parallel Lives).
The Christian record, Didache, from the first century clearly states that the early Christians were known for their proclamation that abortion and exposure of babies was a sin. Keep in mind that three centuries before the church had clearly understood the nature of Christ and the Trinity, the church was explicitly clear that abortion was evil. The church was pro-life from its inception. The Epistle of Barnabas (1st c. Christian document) states, "Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion neither shalt destroy it after it is born."
Clement, bishop of Alexandria (155-215) writes that the biblical word pharmakeia directly refers to killing a child by abortion in The Tutor. Second century, Apocalypse of Peter, describes hell with a special punishment for women who procured abortions. Also from the second century was Athenagoras, Christian apologist, who wrote in A Plea for the Christians, "What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortion are murderers and will have to give account of it to God."
Third century letter, The Epistle of Diognetus, written by a Christian records the well known fact that "Christians marry as do all others, they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring." Minucius Felix in Octavius records how pro-life the early Christians were. Bishop of Africa and attorney, Tertullian defended the Christians pro-life position in Apology (AD 197). As did Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian and the Synod of Elvira in Spain in AD 305 and the Council of Ancyra in AD 314 as well as in the Apostolic Constitution. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, Zeno, Bishop of Verona, John Chrysostom, Augustin of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea, and translator of the Bible, Jerome all record that the early church was universally, completely and totally against abortion.
There is no early church father or apologist who wrote anything that disagreed with these, nor is there any arguments in favor of a pro-choice position. Christians have always been and will continue to be pro-life.
Adventists have chosen to disregard 2000 years of Christian history, Biblical interpretation and even their own pioneers to embrace our self-centered, immoral 20th century culture and veil their consciences against the immorality of the murder of innocent unborn children. They have remained one-commandment consumed. That is why they do not have the wisdom or courage to stand with the rest of Christianity on the pro-life side.