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Ripped from the Headlines
Where does our church stand on some of today’s most talked about issues?

Published on October 31, 2013

Although you may never see him on CNN, Walter Carson, Esq., the Columbia Union Conference’s “legal eagle,” often fields questions from members about some of the issues making headline news. We decided to put him on the witness stand to shed light on many of these topics that impact our freedoms and future.
 
Q: Recent news headlines have heralded Pope Francis’ growing popularity, making some Seventh-day Adventists speculate that a national Sunday law could soon become a reality. Is it a realistic concern?
Carson: There is nothing on the horizon that remotely resembles what we have traditionally meant by “Sunday laws.” But, that isn’t to say it couldn’t happen—in fact, it is our prophetic belief that the biblical Sabbath will fall into great jeopardy at the end of time. Probably you know that it was a pending Sunday law in the late 19th century that led our church to take up the cause of religious freedom and carry it into the public arena. An early Adventist, A.T. Jones, challenged and helped defeat that proposed law.
 
Q: President Obama’s healthcare reform plan includes a federal requirement for employers to provide contraceptives and morning-after drugs through their health insurance plans. Has our church weighed in on the discussion around birth control?
Carson: The church has issued guidelines to assist members when contemplating abortion. These guidelines do not seek to serve as an individual’s conscience. Rather, they provide moral guidance to assist members in reaching a decision consistent with “principles for a Christian view of life.”
 
Q: Same-sex marriages are now legally recognized in 13 states. What does our church say about the growing acceptance of these unions?
Carson: It is definitely a public issue—and one that will most likely be settled by the Supreme Court. And, there are at least two religious liberty implications: we seek assurances that Adventist clergy cannot be sued for refusing to officiate at gay wedding and want assurances that churches will not be penalized for refusing to offer their facilities as venues for such marriages. Some such assurances have been forthcoming. In the coming months, religious freedom advocates will most likely widen their concern on this issue, and we will listen to their arguments.
 
Q: When it comes to hiring practices, unlike all other American employers, our church employs people based on their church membership. Isn’t that discrimination?
Carson: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act permits churches to exclusively hire, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld what we call the “ministerial exception.” Putting it in lay terms, we believe there is such a thing as “institutional free exercise,” in addition to the individual free exercise that we generally reference when we discuss the First Amendment. Our religious organizations may appear discriminatory when they refuse to employ individuals who are not Adventist, but we do this to protect the character and identity of the church.
 
Q: After an armed gunman killed 20 school children and six teachers at a Newtown, Conn., school last December, the long debate over gun control gained significant fervor. Does our church have a stance on gun ownership?
Carson: Yes. As far back as 1990, the church issued a statement calling for the strict control of the sale of automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons. The statement observed that Christians should pursue peace and the preservation of life. It also expressed the opinion that such control would reduce the use of such weapons by criminals and mentally disturbed people.
 
Q: This past summer, a valedictorian at a public school in South Carolina recited the Lord’s Prayer despite his school district’s recent decision to eliminate prayer from graduation ceremonies. Is it true that our church supports the ban on prayer in public schools?
Carson: Yes, but only if by that you are referring to formal teacher-led classroom prayers, or other forms of state-sponsored prayer. Because public school teachers are functionaries of the state, what they do to benefit or endorse or sanction religion would strike us as a potential “establishment” of religion, which, of course, our First Amendment prohibits. But, by no means would we expunge religion from public schools altogether. Today the issue of religion in public schools has shifted to practices that we find quite acceptable, such as noontime “flagpole prayers,” and equal access rights to school property for use by religious groups and clubs and the teaching of religion in ways that does not seek to inculcate religion.
 
Q: In September a Florida pastor (and several others since) threatened to burn the Quran. Does our church support such acts?
Carson: Absolutely not. As someone said, “God’s got to look good through us.” In other words, we are reluctant to take positions or actions that would put the world church in a poor light. But, this is a matter of judgment. It is often our responsibility to determine how big a price to pay for being correct as far as the Constitution is concerned. Once, the Satanists of America sought the church’s support for their attempt to secure tax-exempt status, for which they were qualified under the law. We declined the invitation because of the impression that such a partnership would have conveyed.
 
Q: Following Superstorm Sandy, many have debated whether it is constitutional for FEMA to provide relief funds to faith-based organizations. Where does our church stand on the issue?
Carson: The church has always been wary whenever taxpayer funds are being handed out to churches and church schools. Such matters regularly go before the courts as a violation of the First Amendment “Establishment Clause.” And, faith-based organizations accepting federal funding are at risk of losing their independence as they become subject to governmental regulations. Remember the adage “he who pays the piper, calls the tune.” The church is carefully monitoring this situation and I am certain will seek to be consistent with its Establishment Clause beliefs.
 
Excerpts:
With public safety and the value of human life in mind, the sale of automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons should be strictly controlled. This would reduce the use of weapons by mentally disturbed people and criminals, especially those involved in drug and gang activities.—Excerpted from “Ban on Sales of Assault Weapons to Civilians” voted at the General Conference Session in July 1990
 
We hold that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are loved by
God. We do not condone singling out any group for scorn and derision, let alone abuse. Still, God’s Word that transcends time and culture does not permit a homosexual lifestyle.—Excerpted from “Seventh-day Adventist Response to Same-Sex Marriage—A Reaffirmation of Christian Marriage” voted by the General Conference Executive Committee at Annual Council in October 2012
 
What do you think is the biggest religious liberty issue our church faces today? Tweet @VisitorNews or weigh in at facebook.com/columbiaunionvisitor
 
Read More:
What Can You do About Sabbath Issues at Work?

Is the Church Engaged in Public Policy Discussions? And, Should We Be?

Tips for Becoming a Better Advocate


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