It’s been a strange week in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Angus T. Jones, who plays the character Jake in the television hit Two and a Half Men, gave a testimony in a two part Youtube video of his conversion to Adventism. Adventism is not used to this type of exposure and the events of the past few days have led to some thoughts about the my faith and its relationship to secular society. Adventism is a relatively small, insular faith, and certainly not used to this type of exposure. There are several facets of these recent events that have fascinated me over the course of the last few days.
First, the response from Adventists on social media was odd. It wasn’t odd in an abstract sense, but it was strange for the culture of Adventism. The most staunch and conservative Adventist is usually someone who eschews connections with popular culture. However, many from all points along the spectrum of Adventism were really excited to discover that Jones was now an Adventist.
What bothered me was not that people were excited; I would be excited anytime anyone became a member of my faith, and my criticism would never be about Jones and his personal spiritual journey. What bothered me was that the nature of the excitement about Jones did not seem to be about him, but about what his conversion meant for us as Adventists. We were so excited that a famous person was positively publicizing Adventism. As I said on my personal blog, our excitement seemed prideful (and therefore un-Adventist) and more concerned with public validation. This is not the first time this has happened recently, but this is the most far-reaching example.
There was a similar reaction when the group Committed won the talent show The Sing-Off in 2010, and also led to criticism of the group for their song selections while on the show. More recently, Devon Franklin, an Adventist movie producer, married actress Meagan Good and was interviewed by Oprah for her Super Soul Sunday series. In each of these situations, Adventists reveled in these public accolades, despite the fact that Adventism as a religion spurns much of popular culture.
Second, the response of the Adventist Church as an institution was much more understated and more in line with the (former?) culture of Adventism. The church officially released a statement in which they welcomed Jones into the church and distanced themselves from his personal statements. The release also disavowed Christopher Hudson, head of The Forerunner Chronicles and the man who interviewed Jones, and gave a brief summary on the Adventist Church. As an individual, there have been times when I have been critical of my church. I assume all of us have been critical of the structures of our faith traditions. This was one time when I agreed with the way the Adventist church handled what could have been a thorny situation.
Finally, there is the question of who represents the faith in its engagement with the broader culture. In the past few days Christopher Hudson, who has interviewed on Nightline and CNN, received a lot of publicity for his ministry. Many outlets have described him as an Adventist pastor, and he described himself as an evangelist for the Adventist Church. The Church, however, has distanced itself from him in any capacity. It is right to do so. As has been widely reported, Hudson has made inflammatory statements that are not connected to any official positions of the Adventist Church. He claimed that the rapper Jay-Z is in league with the devil, compared President Obama to Hitler, and implied that gas shortages in New York would lead to cannibalism. When engaging the broader culture, you cannot always control the actors. While Adventists in general may be excited about having as famous an advocate as Jones, we now have to argue against members like Hudson, whose beliefs are not in line with what most Adventists believe.
I am not sure that I am advocating for a right or wrong position here. I am certainly uncomfortable with the desire for public validation that seemed evident in the culture of Adventism this week. But I also realize that in a broader sense, Adventism stands at a crossroads. Adventism is a young faith (next year will be the 150th anniversary of the founding of the church) and has not really addressed issues of publicity and how to engage culture in its broadest form. If this week has shown me anything, it is that we have a long way to go and a lot to learn along the way.
Photo: Public Domain (Attribution: Wikimedia Commons).
 Though I must say, Adventism is not that small when compared to other uniquely American denominations. Worldwide Adventism has over 17 million members (more than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and as of 2011 was the second fastest growing denomination in America.
 It is possible that when Hudson describes himself as an evangelist for the Adventist Church he means that he evangelizes the Adventist message as opposed to holding any official position with the church.
Jason is a Harvard Law graduate and a PhD candidate in Church-State Studies at the Dawson Institute at Baylor University. He is currently working on his dissertation about a Christian theology of church-state separation, and enjoys blogging about religion, politics, and questions of religious liberty.