Leaving the Adventist church
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my decision to stay in the Adventist church. I’ve received plenty of feedback from that article through Facebook. But one comment in particular stuck out to me: “Great article. I would add: and sometimes liberation is leaving.”
I completely agree.
I’ve decided to stay an Adventist, but by no means do I believe everyone should. I’ve found a place for myself here at Union College where safe, kind, intelligent Adventists show love for me, even when we disagree.
I’ve been able to ask questions and voice doubts and instead of being silenced or shamed. I’ve discovered so many other Adventists asking those same questions, voicing their own doubts.
But while my experience is valuable, it’s not everyone’s experience. I have a friend who grew up Adventist, then left.
I’ve known Brittney since high school, and what I know about her is this: she’s incredibly intelligent, fiercely loyal and methodically thoughtful. She doesn’t make rash decisions, and once she’s committed to something, she doesn’t leave easily.
“I was a 2nd generation Adventist, went to cradle roll, primary, Adventist elementary, all that,” she told me recently. “I was in 8th grade when one of my sisters left the church, and I remember thinking, ‘Wait . . . you can do that?” She chuckled, shaking her head.
“Before then, Adventism was just a part of daily life, though I did have resentment toward my church for the ways that some members and leaders treated my family. In our church, questions came with a price. Often those who asked, such as my sister, were shunned or silenced—they became the problem to address rather than the issue itself.”
“My sister and I were homeschooled for four years, and people sent the message that if we didn’t support the church school by attending, we were going to hell. I mean, they didn’t say those exact words, but we heard their message loud and clear. Both of my parents lost leadership positions in the church, and we lost friendships, but I didn’t think about leaving.”
Later, she found out that her older sister, while in college, had done her own studying and had decided to leave Adventism. “My parents took her seriously, listened to her. They asked her questions, and then started asking their own questions.”
During Brittney’s sophomore year of academy, her parents left the church. “Even within the first year of my parents attending a non-denominational church, I saw them change. They were happier, more at peace. That’s when I really started asking questions. I thought, if my parents were willing to leave after 30 years in Adventism, something must be up.” For the next three years Brittney asked questions, studied and prayed.
“The summer after I graduated from academy, I decided to give my home church one last chance. I went there by myself every Saturday for the most of the summer … ” She paused and grimaced. “It was awkward. At one point I was asked if I was a visitor. Granted, I had been gone for three years, but this was the church that I was baptized in, had grown up in. A few people asked how my parents were doing, but all I could think was, ‘If you really wanted to know, you’d call them. Their number hasn’t changed.’”
She left that church at the end of the summer and didn’t look back, but still decided to give Adventism another shot at Union College. And she did, until she attended a local Lincoln church that was welcoming new converts.
“They were reading and responding to the list of baptismal vows, and all I could think was, ‘They shouldn’t have to agree to all this to be baptized. Once you accept Jesus, you’re in.”
And then, Brittney remembers, they were given a box set of Ellen White’s writings as a welcoming present. “And I realized, I can’t support this. I mean, I can understand giving them a Bible, but this—no way.” Through her studying, Brittney had come to disagree with some of White’s theology; also, Ellen White’s writings had been used as weapon to criticize and condemn Brittney’s family when they were still a part of the church. “So, I was done. I knew it was time for me to leave.”
Brittney completed her double major at Union but found spiritual community in a different church, finding freedom and grace that she wasn’t able to experience as a part of Adventism.
“Now, being totally out of the Adventist environment, I’m still trying to process everything. I know that leaving Adventism was the right decision for myself and my family. We’re in a safer, healthier place now. We’re better able to experience grace and freedom in Christ. Our church’s theology more closely matches our understanding and convictions. We’re happier.”
She smiled at me and shrugged her shoulders.
Sometimes, liberation is leaving.
Sarah is a senior studying english.