Carson Moves into GOP Lead, His Adventist Faith Comes to Fore
Republican presidential hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson has surpassed Donald Trump as leader among GOP candidates for the White House. In aCBS/New York Times poll released today, the retired neurosurgeon bumped businessman Donald Trump from the top spot. The poll showed Carson with the support of 26% of prospective GOP voters to Trump’s 22%, though the difference between the two fell within the margin of error.
Carson’s rise to frontrunner in the Republican field comes as his religious beliefs have become a source of national attention and scrutiny.
In an attempt to hit Carson at a source of perceived weakness, Trump on Saturday called into question Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist faith, saying at a rally in Florida, “I love Iowa. And, look, I don’t have to say it, I’m Presbyterian. … Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”
Carson is particularly popular among conservative Christians in Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation caucuses are 100 days away. However, some evangelicals expressed concern over Carson’s Adventism, suggesting that Seventh-day Adventists are not actually Christian, according to the Des Moines Register.
Carson’s faith first attracted national attention after his now-infamous comments about Islam. Speaking to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, Carson was asked whether he thought Islam was compatible with the United States Constitution. “No, I don’t, I do not,” Carson said, and then elaborated, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Explaining himself further to Sean Hannity, Carson said, “If someone has a Muslim background and they’re willing to reject those tenets and to accept the way of life that we have and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion … I would then be quite willing to support them.”
Carson’s comments prompted Geoffrey Nelson-Blake, director of the interfaith Community Organizing Residency at Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, to write an open letter calling on Carson to stop the Islamophobia. Nelson-Blake wrote:
Your singling out of a marginalized faith community is ironic, perhaps hypocritical, on many levels. As a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, I am well aware (and assume you are, too) of the fears held by many in our community of the possibility of persecution for beliefs that differ from mainstream Christianity, such as a Saturday Sabbath. Holding membership in what many view as a small, fringe faith community, it is surprising that you are giving voice to religious discrimination.”
Carson exhibits certain fundamentalist Characteristics of Seventh-day Adventist Christianity. While he rejects the idea that the earth is 6,000 years old (a position popular among many Adventists), Carson believes in a literal six-day creation, calls the Big Bang a fairy tale, and contends that Charles’ Darwin’s understanding of evolution was encouraged by the adversary (Satan).
When it comes to perhaps the Adventist Church’s most notable doctrinal position, that the seventh-day Sabbath is the day instituted by God at creation for worship and rest (along with the popular Adventist notion of impending Sunday Laws prior to the close of Earth’s history), Carson has been largely silent, seemingly preferring to leave that part of Adventist teaching and practice out of the discussion of his faith.
However, voters, and increasingly, the media, may not be content to let the issue lie.
Image courtesy Caricatures of Adventists.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.