Calvin Rock, veteran author, academic, and administrator, is a retired vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and one of Adventism’s most respected voices on the issues this article engages. The item before you is part four of seven in Dr. Rock’s series on “The Radically Social Jesus.”
Freedom to speak out against social inequities in the days of our Adventist pioneers, though not as great as ours today, was much greater than in the time of the “iron-fisted” rule of the Caesars. Open opposition to Roman policy would have brought suicidal consequences, not only for Jesus’ nascent movement but for that of believers throughout history who would have followed His example.
The fact is, however, that much of the injustice in society in Jesus’ day, as is true in ours, came not from government but from “private” institutions. These Jesus did boldly attack. He did so in crying out against unjust wealth (Matt. 19:21-26), unjust authority (Luke 11:46), unjust rewards (Matt. 23:35), and unjust obstruction of justice (Luke 11:52).Burdened with hate and the desire to be great, those who practiced such things brazenly violated the lesser privileged, earning from Jesus such scathing rebukes as “fools,” “blind guides,” “vipers,” “hypocrites,” and “whited sepulchers.”
He was not a zealot whose freedom fires led Him to suicidal insurrections against Rome. Nor did He seek peace and favor with Roman authorities by silence and capitulation to social evil. That He was not socially timid is witnessed by His association patterns examined above. That He was not politically timid is seen in that He, a religious leader, was willing to critique and defy existing political structures long before the French Revolution rendered such audacity survivable. He did so in the boldest manner then possible—contrasting, with parable and performance, the existing suppositions of social inequity with the assumptions of social equality, and by doing so, extoling in place of political greed, the politics of compassion.
Inspiration for how we ought to address such issues is provided in the scriptural accounts of the government services of Joseph, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and others. It’s also provided in a number of our prophet’s counsels. The essence of Ellen White’s position is (a) Jesus wisely avoided public condemnation of Roman policy; (b) by doing so He avoided premature suffering of Caesar’s wrath; (c) Christians today, unencumbered with the political realities He faced, should, for the sake of those currently crushed under the wheels of injustice, find wholesome ways to improve offending laws and remove offending persons.
Ellen White clearly saw that prevailing civic governments, the secular kingdoms, established by God to care for the daily bread and protection of citizens were functioning largely with ungodly presuppositions and therefore advised against:
“dabbling” in politics;1
blindly voting along party lines; and
becoming “mixed up” in political schemes, political strife, and political alliances.2
These counsels, however, should not indicate the Christian’s categorical withdrawal from socially weighted political processes. Ellen White clarified her perspective with encouragements that we:
vote “against” liquor laws;
vote against candidates favoring Sunday laws;
vote “for” prohibition as well as temperance laws; and
vote for women’s rights and duties.3
Calvin Rock, veteran author, academic, and administrator, is a retired vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
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1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 131.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 2, pp. 336, 337. See also, White, Gospel Workers (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1892), p. 395.
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1872), vol. 3, p. 565.