Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Does Ben Carson's Religion Matter?

 Dr. Ben Carson seems like a nice guy.  A lot of other people think so too because he is high in the polls in the Republican presidential race.  As a result, Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) faith is a curiosity now.  Will it work for him or against him?  As Catholics learn more about it, it’s making many nervous.

In his February 7, 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech, Carson said that his single mother cared when they were doing poorly in school.  She prayed about it and then turned off the TV and made them read books. Reading became enjoyable to Carson and opened up possibilities. “I came to understand that I had control over my own destiny…I still hated poverty but I knew it was only temporary.”
His mother and love of reading certainly formed him—but Carson had another powerful influence.  My role model was Jesus,” he said.  

Adventists Beliefs
Carson’s love of Jesus could have many faces given the finer details of various Protestant factions. The SDA, however, has a face that frowns upon Catholics.  Catholic Answers explains some their teachings in an article.  I will summarize a few of the highlights and lowlights.
It began with American Baptist preacher William Miller (1782–1849) who predicted the Second Coming between 1843 and 1844. His followers became known as "Adventists" expecting Christ’s imminent arrival, or “advent.”  When it didn’t happen, their theology morphed a bit and by 1860, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination became official.
Their church has a valid baptism, believes in original sin and rejects the once-saved-always-saved doctrine. They agree with many Catholic teachings, including the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, the virgin birth, atonement, a physical resurrection of the dead, and Christ’s Second Coming.
The Seventh-day Adventists also have strange beliefs such as Sunday worship will be "the mark of the beast" in the end times; the devil will one day roam the earth while Christians are with Christ in heaven; the soul sleeps between death and resurrection; and the wicked will ultimately be annihilated and cease to exist rather than be eternally damned.  Some of their teachings are unfortunately, vile to the Catholic Church; calling us the Whore of Babylon and the pope, the Antichrist.  Outright falsehoods are taught about Catholics that could very easily be corrected by seeking information, such as we believe the pope is God and we worship statues.
Ellen Gould White
Catholic Answers article states that SDA moderates are in the minority.  Anti-Catholicism characterizes the denomination, coming from the supposedly “divinely inspired” writings of one of the founders, Ellen Gould White.  
The pope is referred to as the “haughty see of Rome” and the seven-headed beast from the sea mentioned in Revelation. “Romanism” is called cunning and mocked for declaring to be infallible and demanding homage, “the same claim urged by Satan…” White warned of Catholic influences in the world, claiming we are strengthening our forces for the time when we will strike.  This sad, paranoid impression of the Catholic faith, fails to realize that we are the same church began by Jesus Christ with the same teachings written about by the early Church Fathers.

Could Carson be a Moderate? 
In spite of such animosity, the SDA teaches that some Catholics—in spite of our perceived evil—can beat the odds and be saved. There are also moderates who don’t get overly excited about Catholics. Could Carson be among them?
He has been criticized for working on Saturdays, their Sabbath. (Sunday Sabbaths are the evil invention of Catholics.)  He told a SDA news network in 2013 that he tries to respect the Sabbath, but has campaigned and made stops on his book tour on Saturdays.  So, in that area, Carson has not followed his church strictly.
Carson also told Religion News Service that he attends other churches sometimes:  “I spend just as much time in non-Seventh-day Adventist churches because I’m not convinced that the denomination is the most important thing. I think it’s the relationship with God that’s most important.”  Perhaps another sign he’s not overly strict in following SDA teachings.
It’s unlikely we will ever know exactly where Carson stands on Catholics, but a person can’t be a SDA and not live amid anti-Catholicism.  The question is, does it matter if Carson is anti-Catholic?

What Matters
We are not asking Carson to teach catechism classes.  Religion certainly guides a person’s politics, but what happens in the Catholic Church is not under a president’s direction.  No president can stop us from worshiping on Sunday, ban us from following the Pope, or take away our statues, so, it seems he could not affect our Church.   
However, while Carson’s various opinions may or may not be rooted in his religious faith, there is one topic that cannot be separated from religion--abortion. Abortion is an intrinsic evil—always wrong.   Never mind that some politicians claim to be faithful Catholics and pro-abortion. They are deranged and in serious need of our prayers less they face damnation.  
In his latest book, A More Perfect Union: What we the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, Carson calls abortion the “enemy of our children.”  He wrote: “Financial stability and education will do our children no good if they are not alive to experience them.”  He has stated that he would appoint judges and justices that favor protecting the unborn.
And yet, neither his record nor his church’s teaching on abortion is completely clean. The Seventh-day Adventist website blows a lot of hot air about how unfortunate it is that “abortion is one of the tragic dilemmas of human fallenness.” They claim: “Abortion should be performed only for the most serious reasons.”  Hello?  Everyone showing up at abortion facilities thinks it’s for a serious reason.  “The Church should offer gracious support to those who personally face the decision concerning an abortion,” the SDA site suggests.  They soft-pedal evil, galvanizing support of abortion as sad but inevitable.
I’ve celebrated Carson’s pro-life sound bites, but a sound bite is not a resume. Carson has defended actions opposed to life.  POLITICO reported that Carson referred women carrying babies with genetic defects to doctors that perform abortions.  He has also  conducted research on fetal tissue and he was a trustee of a foundation that gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood.   “He believes in quality medical care, No. 1, and secondly, he believes in people making their own decisions based on facts and information,” POLITICO reported Carson’s communications director Doug Watts stated when asked if Carson defended referring women to doctors that provide abortions.
Watts stressed that Carson, “ believes that life begins at conception and he is opposed to abortion after that.”  He has come out in support of a Congressional bill banning abortion at 20 weeks.
“As a physician who does not believe in abortion, when faced with a patient who has severe medical problems, I would refer someone for an abortion,” Carson told the Baltimore Sun in September of 1992. “I believe that person needs to hear both sides …”
In a CNN Interview, Carson also defended his past use of tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research in 1992 even as he criticized Planned Parenthood for selling fetal baby parts.  His logic is, it’s wrong but as long as the tissue is there, might as well use it. 

Carson is pro-life until inconvenience gets in the way.  Yes, he’s better than the many democrats that advocate for partial birth abortion and for leaving babies still alive after abortions to die.  I am glad he respects life, but I wish he disagreed with his Church and sought to protect all of it.  In Carson’s case, it’s easier to accept possible anti-Catholicism than his compromises on life.  It's good that he recognizes that a life begins at conception.  I pray that he will therefore, come to realize that he has a responsibility to protect all life.    

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