Engaging Culture: What Angus T. Jones’s Conversion Means for Seventh-Day Adventists

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Posted on December 3rd, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Featured, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology
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Public Domain (Attribution: Wikimedia Commons)

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.[1] 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.[2] 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).


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

 

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8 Responses to “Engaging Culture: What Angus T. Jones’s Conversion Means for Seventh-Day Adventists”

  1. Hey Jason,

    I have always appreciated your articles and this one is no difference. When I watched and read about this event I was really intrigued by what was going to result from it. I was initially pretty uncomfortable based on the age difference between the two people in the film and I was curious how this relationship worked, whether manipulation was involved. But, I respect Jones’ conversion and wish him well on his spiritual journey. I am thankful you shared a little bit about the traditional anti-culture stance of Adventists and how this situation, among a few others you named, seemed antithetical to what you expected. Do you think that the rise of the technological age, especially the social media age, has made avoidance of culture too great? Or do you think that it has to do with the publicity opportunity, solely? I am interested in how social media allows us to foster deeper connection across lines of religious difference and within our own communities. Is there a situation that you can see in the future where Adventists become more comfortable with more public expressions of engagement with culture either on social media or other mediums? What would that mean for you as an Adventist if that happened?

    Thank you for this post. It raises a lot of great questions for reflection for me about the role of social media, culture, and pride in relation to religious tradition and community.

    Peace to you on your journey,
    Nic Cable

  2. Jason Hines says:

    Thanks for the compliment Nicolas. You raise a lot of interesting questions, many of which I am only starting to think about. I think I would agree with you that the advance of technology and social media has made it difficult to keep walls around any religious culture. But I also think that Adventism is changing, where more of us (mostly my generation and younger) seek to engage more with those around us. For example, when I tell Adventists I am trying to become a professor, the first question I am usually asked is which Adventist school I’d prefer to start my career. I always answer that I think it is more important for SDAs to engage with others and so I would prefer to teach at a non-SDA school. So I am not criticizing the engagement with culture in itself. Rather, I am concerned with any religion’s concern about denominational reputation over the very personal nature of any spiritual journey. That’s what bothered me about the criticism of the group Committed, and I saw those inklings again in the reaction to Jones’ conversion. Finally, I don’t know if Adventism will have a choice about public expressions of engagement with culture. We better get more comfortable, because I don’t think we’re going back.

    Thanks again for commenting on my post. I hope we can continue this conversation.

    Jason

  3. Jason, your comment about “who represents the faith” is important. Martin Luther would not agree that the church named after him represents his faith, not today anyway. With the ability to present one’s faith world-wide via the internet, the question about what a particular denomination believes becomes more difficult to ascertain. A church begins with foundation principles, but what is being taught today may not be the same. Often there is quite a wide variation between the two. Then, there is also a wide variation in what is being taught by different ordained ministers in the church. What I am seeing within the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a return to the “old paths” based upon Scripture. Angus helped us to do this.

    When Angus told the world to not watch his TV program he opened himself up to the wrath of Satan. We want to support Angus in that decision and encourage him to continue as a witness of the love of God for us while we were yet sinners. He is in a position to help many who have no peace and are quickly losing their hold on life as they sink lower and lower in the confusion and evil in the world today. Angus made a brave decision to testify publicly of his love for God and to be single minded to His glory.

    All must respect the sacrifice that he has made in so doing, even if they disagree with him. It was an unselfish act and God will reward him abundantly as He does all who make a full surrender and live for His glory.

    While Angus has a lot to learn about Bible doctrine, by making a whole heart commitment to follow Biblical principle, he is rightly representing the true faith of Seventh-day Adventists. This is why I see his story as being important to publicize. He is a witness for God.

    • Jason Hines says:

      Richard,
      I think you may misunderstand the point of my post. I am not saying that Jones’ conversion should not be publicized. It’s news and as such it will be reported. What I am discussing is the Adventist reaction to the news and what it may say about us and the way we engage with culture. That’s a different question than what Angus did, why he did it, and the benefits that may arise from it. I am in no way being critical of Jones, nor am I questioning his conversion or the benefit that his public stance may have for the faith. (Although I think I might disagree with you in terms of your depiction of it.) But I am questioning why Adventists seem so excited about it. I think I would disagree with you people are so excited simply because “he is rightly representing the true faith of Seventh-day Adventists.” I don’t think that’s why many of us seemed so excited by this news, and that’s what bothers me.

      Jason

  4. Staci says:

    What about Devon Franklin? He is Adventist and no one is making a big deal about him talking about his faith.

    • Jason Hines says:

      Staci,

      I think you and I just run in different circles. I am still seeing tweets and posts on my twitter and in my FB timeline about the great witness of Devon Franklin on Oprah Winfrey’s show. I know a lot of people who made a big deal of it in Adventism, even if it wasn’t huge mainstream entertainment news.

      Jason

  5. Lynn says:

    Great article. Good points about Devon Franklin ties to a narcisstic star driven culture and secular singing competitions. Young people face a world of moral ambiguity and social liberties. Hudson makes inflamed political statements w/ his own moral judgment and yet, he is free to receive God in any Christian church as Jay-Z or Obama. Sin has a face- all of mankind. Angus Jones exposure reveals our immoral vanity and self-righteousness and yet, frees opportunities for greater outreach. We are advocates and representatives for selflessness and dependency on Christ. But, we are packaged in body of carnal desire w/ judgment capable of rationalizing independently and selfishly.

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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.


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