I’m a survey junkie. Yes, you can blame me for the fact that The Compass Magazine does a survey about difficult issues whenever we have a booth at an event. If you don’t like the questions, you can also blame me, since I wrote them.
Not surprisingly, I also like analyzing the survey results for interesting trends. So, for my fellow dataheads, here are some highlights from our 2015-2016 Issues Survey. (Click the link if you want to take the survey before reading on.)
The purpose of the survey was to explore Seventh-day Adventists’ attitudes and beliefs on several topics that The Compass Magazine has addressed or plans to address in articles. These include homosexuality, Adventist education, racially divided conferences, and the relationship between Adventism and other faiths.
On the topic of homosexuality, respondents mostly agreed that homosexual behavior is wrong (76%). That may seem a disturbingly low percentage, but at the same time less than 5% expressed a positive view of homosexual behavior, affirming that God does not condemn “committed, monogamous” homosexual relationships.
Respondents were less confident that same-sex attraction itself is sinful and must be overcome (61%). About a quarter of those surveyed agreed that “some people have an innate homosexual orientation that may not change even when they give their lives to Christ.”
Some of the “other” responses emphasized God’s love for all people, including homosexuals. Several comments focused on God’s power to change us. Comments included:
God loves each one of us equally. When we accept His gift we are given a new spirit. As we become closer to Christ He will convict us regarding our sinful nature. He will always give you the strength to conquer that which He points out. As His love displaces sin in our lives, unholy “acts” will become less and less burdensome as we cast them aside.
The reception of the gospel of Christ creates a new heart in the believer wherein all of the fruits of the Spirit are present (cf. DA 676.4), and thus one who comes from a homosexual past walks into a new identity in Christ—with temptation still facing them, their identity is nevertheless new. The new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) operates under God’s Spirit and is no longer identified by its past. For example, a former drug addict is not referred to as a “drug-addict Christian,” nor ought a former homosexual be called a “gay-Christian” or any perversion of the name of Jesus Christ.
Survey does not distinguish between same-sex attraction and *indulging* the attraction. It apparently occurs “naturally” in some people—but the choice to turn that attraction into lustful thoughts is just that.
However, we should make these individuals feel at home and treat them with respect.
Regional and State Conferences
This was another thorny topic, but on the whole, respondents favored racial integration over the current system of racially divided conferences. A majority agreed that “If Ellen White were alive today, she would move the Adventist Church toward racial integration in all our organizations, including conferences” (54%) and believed that “When non-Adventists see our system of racially divided conferences, it raises questions in their minds about the truth of our message” (60%).
More effective evangelism of different ethnic groups was the most cited reason for keeping separate conferences (16%).
Comments varied widely, ranging from unfamiliarity with the system to acknowledgment that differences in culture and worship style may be more pertinent than racial prejudice in keeping us separate. More than a third of the comments overtly stated that it is time to move toward unity. A sampling:
[Separate conferences] are not necessary, but many of the regional leaders don’t want to unite, and for valid reasons. While ideally we should integrate and work towards that, it should not come at an injustice toward black leadership.
I wish state conferences would merge with the regional ones, since regional ones have more liberty to speak on moral issues with political implications. Also, regional conferences have better retirement plans. PS: I am a White person.
As a Canadian, I grew up in a church system that was integrated. And I personally believe this is the best way. At GYC people from different races worship and fellowship together, so it’s possible. I don’t believe it would be easy to integrate, but the church could take steps toward it, starting with eliminating the separate conferences even if the churches remain as they are.
I would like to see more working together at the local level between churches that are of different conferences. A lot of Adventists who are (rightly) disturbed by this are unaware that there’s such a thing as black and white *denominations* and that having the amount of diversity that we do within one denomination is a good sign of the remnant church.
We need to work on unity. The divisions are so deep, it is not an easy process to unity. But with the Holy Spirit, we can be united.
It worked for the time, but it is now out of date and should be changed.
The only way this separation will be resolved is when racist practices that have long plagued the church are done away with.
Adventist School, Homeschool, or Public School?
On the value of Adventist schools in comparison with other types of schools, opinion was mixed. About 40% thought it was ideal to attend Adventist schools from kindergarten through university. But even more (about half) thought Adventist young people should gain part of their education in homeschool, and about a quarter believed spending time in a non-Adventist school is beneficial.
“Parents need to choose what’s best for their family based on each child’s unique needs” was a common sentiment expressed by the large number of respondents who added their own answer. Some asserted that Adventist education is academically and/or spiritually superior to that gained elsewhere, while others thought the opposite.
Adventist education is awesome, but young people need to completely understand and defend their beliefs. This is best learned in a non-SDA environment supported by strong SDA home influences. For me, that was in a group counseling environment and a Baptist university. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be in school, but we do our kids wrong when we lock them away in a “sterile” SDA bubble and don’t let them out to interact with “the world.” Jesus was in the world but not of it…so should we be.
Some students should consider secular universities, but only to act as missionaries on those campuses while studying.
This is a complex issue best left to parents. Adventist Education produces superior results than public schools and offers a better value than a lot of private options, but some homeschool families can do even better.
Most Adventist schools are corrupted by worthiness and are a snare to the young. Do not send your youth to “Battle Creek.”
Adventist schools still provide an elite level of education. It is important that my children grow up with Christian influence other than their parents as well as the key Adventist doctrine that the Bible is God’s Word and is worthy of interpreting itself. There are good influences and Christian teaching in other schools, but the Adventist message and loving community is important to me.
I believe in the true Adventist education, the one given in the Holy Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. I don’t believe in the one provided by our present institution. Our children should definitely go to Adventist schools from kindergarten up to the universities when this education comes from the Bible.
Adventist education has spiritual advantages, but academics are markedly slacker than other school systems.
It depends on the individual. For some people, Adventist education is helpful. For others, it drives them away.
Home school is best, Adventist schools next, but unless guided like Daniel and friends, non-SDA should not be acceptable.
Comparing Adventists with Other Christians
Clearly the easy question on the survey was “How do Seventh-day Adventist theology and beliefs compare with the teachings of other Christians?” More than 80% of respondents chose the middle ground: “Adventists hold many beliefs in common with other Christians, but there are important differences.” In the comments, some offered a more nuanced view, suggesting that the Seventh-day Adventist view of the nature of God and our understanding of Jesus and His ministry impact our understanding of the entire Bible and create differences that run throughout our theology.
GYC Crowd vs. Online Sample: Differences of Opinion
We offered the survey at our GYC booth and afterward promoted it through our Facebook page and website, so we ended up with two separate groups of responses.
GYC attendees are mostly North American Adventists under age 40. Our Facebook ads targeted U.S. Adventists in a similar age range (20-50), but Facebook’s method of directing the ads to Adventists is not entirely foolproof, as evidenced by survey responses such as “God does not exist, so same-sex attraction is not a sin.”
Aside from an occasional outlier such as this, the results indicate some interesting differences of opinion between the two groups, most notably on the topic of homosexuality. The online respondents were more accepting of homosexuality. They showed much less support than the GYC attendees for the statements that all homosexual behavior is wrong (63% vs. 82%) and that same-sex attraction is sinful (39% vs. 69%). They were much more likely to believe that God does not condemn committed, monogamous homosexual relationships (12% vs. 1.5%).
On the topic of racially divided regional and state conferences, the online participants showed more acceptance of the current system than the GYC group. The online respondents were almost three times as likely to say that separate conferences are still necessary because of continued racial prejudice (16% vs. 6%). They were less likely to say that Ellen White would move the church toward organizational integration (44% vs. 58%) and less likely to believe that racial divisions leave a negative impression on non-Adventists (51% vs. 63%).
Wrestling with Difficult Questions
It wasn’t unusual for people at our booth to spend 10 minutes or more wrestling with these four questions! We enjoyed engaging attendees in discussion on these topics and dialoguing further about how we as a church and as individuals can deal with such challenging issues.
Thanks to all who took the survey. We hope that thinking about these questions encourages you to continue seeking biblical guidance for your beliefs and practices as a Christian.
Photo: Compass Associate Editor Valmy Karemera and board president Steve Lucht talk with GYC attendees at the booth.