What if a Seventh-day Adventist became a prime minister or a president? What if an Adventist-dominated political party won an election? It’s more than a hypothetical question. A number of politicians in Papua New Guinea are Seventh-day Adventists. French Polynesia now has two Adventists in its Council of Ministers. And renowned Adventist neurosurgeon, Dr Ben Carson, has left open the question of running for US president.
While I’d want an Adventist politician to vote in harmony with his or her values, I believe it would be a mistake to simply impose personal or denominational standards in parliament.
I’ve noticed when speaking to Adventist health directors that they invariably support any toughening of laws that limit the impact of tobacco, alcohol or even (in PNG) the mildly narcotic betel nut. Higher taxes, plain packaging, warning labels, even outright bans.
So what would an Adventist with a strong commitment to wholistic health, for example, seek to do if he or she were in a position of political power? Ban tobacco altogether? What about alcohol? Sugar? Caffeine? Meat? And in the area of social policy, how would an Adventist prime minister define marriage or deal with homosexuality, transgender issues or polygamy? How would an Adventist president seek to fund schools or to protect religious freedom? Would an Adventist politician seek to limit work or frivolous recreation on Sabbath?
It’s very easy to maintain strong views from the safety of our minority enclaves—views that are consistent with an Adventist lifestyle. But as our numbers grow, particularly in Melanesia, and we disproportionally inhabit the tertiary educated and upwardly mobile sectors of society, opportunities to have significant political influence will increase—indeed they are already increasing.
While I’d want an Adventist politician to vote in harmony with his or her values, I believe it would be a mistake to simply impose personal or denominational standards in parliament. There are issues of pragmatism standing in the way—an immediate shutdown of the beef, gambling and alcohol industries in Australia, for example, would have a devastating economic impact.
But there are also issues of freedom and conscience. There comes a point when people must be allowed to make their own decisions, even if those decisions are harmful or unbiblical. It would be unconscionable, for example, for an Adventist prime minister to try to close down Roman Catholic churches or Buddhist temples—even though there are theological problems with both religions. Would it also be unconscionable for an Adventist politician to make homosexuality illegal, for example; or to imprison injecting drug users?
Most of us will never be given the power to make these kinds of decisions for our country. But most of us do have the power to vote or to speak out on current issues. It stands to reason then that when we do, we should wield our influence not just as an expression of our personal standards, but with genuine concern for everyone in our community, whether or not we agree with their beliefs or lifestyle choices.
Kent Kingston is assistant editor for RECORD.