Tuesday, October 27, 2015


David Corn of Mother Jones thinks the tenets of Ben Carson's Seventh-Day Adventist faith are an unexploded bomb for him in a party that's heavily evangelical:
Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist who has publicly voiced his commitment to this church and championed its core beliefs, most notably the view that God created the world in six days (literally) and that evolution is bunk (and encouraged by the devil). He has spoken at Seventh-day Adventist events. In a 2013 interview with the church's official news service, he was asked, "Are there ever any times when you feel it's best to distinguish yourself from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and what it teaches?" Carson replied, "No, I don’t."

... a central belief of the church is that most other Christian denominations will end up working with the devil. Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Sabbath should be worshipped on Saturday and that religions that observe the Sabbath on Sunday have been corrupted by Satan. The church's early prophet Ellen White cast much of the blame for this supposed perversion of the Sabbath on the Roman Catholic Church.

... the official position of the Seventh-day Adventists incorporates White's forecast that other Christian denominations will partner up with Satan. This is church doctrine.

... Here's the political question: Do the evangelical voters who are drawn to Carson because of his articulate and forceful professions of his Christian faith realize that he may well consider them future allies of Satan? And if they did, would this matter to them?
Sounds risky for Carson, right? Sounds as if he might have trouble with evangelicals once they learn more about him -- right?

Or maybe not, as a New York Times story about Carson's faith makes clear. Remember how much difficulty Mitt Romney was supposed to have with evangelicals because he's a Mormon?
In 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney had to explain to voters what it meant to be a Mormon, and despite losing the last election, he won nearly 80 percent of the evangelical vote.
This year, Donald Trump has tried to distinguish himself from Carson:
“I’m Presbyterian,” Mr. Trump proclaimed at a rally in Florida last Saturday. “Boy, that’s down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about.”
But this sounds really plausible to me:
... will Mr. Carson’s religion affect his prospects with conservative evangelicals in places such as Iowa? So far it has not been a problem.

“I think a lot of evangelicals would say they would rather have a practicing Adventist than a nominal Presbyterian who doesn’t seem to have basic theological understanding about Christianity,” said Thomas Kidd, a professor of history and religion at Baylor University in Texas. “Even if he’s not an evangelical like us, he’s sort of a friendly fellow traveler in a way that Trump is not.”

Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of The Family Leader, a social conservative group in Iowa, said his members had not yet expressed concern about Mr. Carson’s religion....

“I think Trump threw out the fleece to let people check it out,” Mr. Vander Plaats said of why he thought Mr. Carson’s religion suddenly became an issue. “People of faith will be more interested in the fruit of leadership, policy and does it align with honoring God or dishonoring God.”
I agree with what Kidd and Vander Plaats say about evangelicals seeing Carson as "a friendly fellow traveler," though I see this in a much more cynical way. I don't believe religion is exclusively or even primarily about religion for these people -- it's about tribal identification and tribal solidarity. The tribe in this case isn't the members of a particular faith tradition, but rather the overall group of heartlanders who wear their Christianity on their sleeve. They're proud Christians who talk about God a lot, and we liberals and moderates aren't, as far as they're concerned -- even those of us who believe in God aren't as demonstrative about religion as Christian conservative heartlanders of a number of faiths. They see anyone who thumps the Bible a lot and holds right-wing political beliefs and they think: one of us.

Up till now, Trump was making inroads with these people, because their true belief system is that some people (them and their kind) are just plain good, while all kinds of people are relentlessly, irredeemably evil. That's the way they look at the secular world, too, and Trump seems to look at it the same way. But so does Carson -- and he's a God-botherer. Of what kind? It doesn't matter, as long as he's Christian. (They would also accept a right-wing Jew.)

Hell, the favorite candidates of the Christian right before the GOP settled on Romney in 2012 were two Catholics, Rick Santorum and the more recent convert Newt Gingrich. The fact that Evangelicals and Catholics didn't get along in the past meant nothing. More recently they've bonded around a shared opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and other manifestations of what they see as sinfulness.

It's happening with Carson now. Evangelical voters won't care about doctrine. All they'll care about is that he's a Christian and he's a conservative who divides the world into good and evil.


UPDATE: Just wanted to add this, from Reality Chex:
BTW, every time Carson uses the word "secular," in whatever context -- & he uses it often -- that's a dogwhistle to evangelicals. (When Carson asked for Secret Service protection, for instance, he said the reason was that "I’m in great danger because I challenge the secular progressive movement to the very core.")


Yastreblyansky said...

I'll never get used to it. One of my best pieces when I first got started was about how conservative Catholics were taking over the Right, in early 2012, when Santorum forces scored a kind of coup, and I just wonder what would those Baptists' Know-Nothing ancestors think, with a majority of Supreme Court justices and the vice presidency and the leadership of the House and Senate all slaves to the Scarlet Woman of the papacy, and they didn't seem to care at all. And then there's the Mormons! Huckabee was right when he warned people Romney thinks Jesus and Satan are brothers, but did anybody listen?

You're probably right, SDA are even crazier than Mormons, but none of these deeply committed Evangelicals are going to say anything. Carson is like their Pol Pot, so he's a little weird, but he's on the team. It makes me crazy that I care more about their stupid theology, just because I think it's funny, than they do themselves, though.

Smut Clyde said...

The SDA takes a strong "religion out of politics" line. It's against militarism and gun fetishism. Let us say that Carson's religious principles are negotiable, and that's why Talibangelists see him as one of them.

Yastreblyansky said...

Yes, cafeteria piety and they're really all at the same cafeteria.