In the General Conference Bulletin, March 15, 1897, pp. 365—374, there is an article about a serious controversial question which was already making inroads among the Advent people–"Should SDAs take part in politics and war?" Under the title, Out of Babylon and Egypt (No. 7), A.T. Jones discusses the issue. Hereunder we reproduce the highlights of his article. We recommend, however, that you read the whole article in the General Conference Bulletin.
By A. T. Jones
It is right in the third angel’s message, that by it, and through it, God proposes to "establish Christianity upon an eternal basis." Then, as surely as in the third angel’s message, God establishes Christianity upon an eternal basis, it will be a Christianity that will not be connected with anything upon this earth. It will be connected only with God; only with His eternal word; enlightened by His eternal Spirit; taught by Him whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity; and thus be led to the eternal God, that He may rule, and underneath shall be the everlasting arms.
I know, and you know, that there are some of the brethren that do not think that this is straight. Two years ago it was preached, and was published in the Bulletin. By many it was not accepted. By some it is not accepted yet. It is thought to be altogether wrong. But in the late General Conference, two testimonies were read to us–written especially for this Conference, and one of them, I find, is printed in Bulletin No. 4; the next one is not printed yet, but will be, I suppose, shortly–reproving Seventh-day Adventists for engaging in political matters. I read a passage here that will show you the idea of it:
The Lord Jesus is disappointed in His people. He is the Captain; they are to file under His banner. They have no time, wisdom, or strength to spend in taking sides with political parties. Men are being stirred with an intense activity from beneath, and the sons and daughters of God are not to give their influence to this political strife. But what kind of spirit takes hold upon our people, when those who believe we are now under the third angel’s message, the last message of mercy to the world, brothers in the same faith, appear wearing the badges of opposing political parties, proclaiming opposite sentiments and declaring their divided opinions.
Now I ask this question in the form of a proposition: If that which was preached two years ago on this subject of government and the church had been accepted and followed by all Seventh-day Adventists, could there possibly have arisen any place for that testimony?–Plainly, no. Then did those lessons call for the wrong thing, when they called God’s people to a position where it would be impossible for Him to find fault with them? I mean in this particular point. I mean that when a line of truth is presented from the word of God, which, if His people would accept it before God and the world, would set them in such an attitude that it would be impossible for the Lord to find fault with them in things related to that line of truth, is it not safe to accept that as the truth? How could it possibly be wrong? . . .
I do not ask now that anybody shall accept that because it is there. I ask that they shall accept it, study into it, pray over it, look at it, and accept it because it is the truth, and will deliver the people of God from the possibility of His ever being called upon to reprove or correct them upon any such point as that. Yet I know that there are brethren who still think that it is all wrong; and say that it called for our people to take an extreme position, and that it was taking an extreme position. Can that be an extreme position which puts God’s people where He wants them to stand, so they will be utterly free from all these confused things that confuse the world? . . .
There is another thing that we need to consider. If we take part in political affairs and political discussions, different sides will be taken by different individuals, in opposing political parties, proclaiming opposite sentiments and declaring their divided opinions, while professing to be brethren. What is the last step in political working?–War, of course. Then what is in it, at the beginning?–Simply what is in it at the end–war. It is that spirit from beginning to end. Can brethren in Christ, who are one in Christ, engage in anything that will cause them to be divided in the spirit of antagonism? Can they?–No! not and remain one in Christ. . . .
But this is not all. If we as Seventh-day Adventists are to preach those principles, and are to hold to them, there is an important step that must be taken, in justice to the United States government, in justice to the state of Michigan, and several other states, that we may appear in the right light.
I say it again, so that you may understand what I am talking about. If it is to be so that we shall accept the principle that Christians may fight, may lift their right arm to defend country and government and all that, then the denomination, in justice to itself, and especially in justice to the government of the United States and to several of the states, must publicly proclaim it, and repudiate and reverse the course that was once taken by the denomination as such.
I have here two little documents printed in 1865, but what is written in them occurred in 1864. One of them is entitled "Views of Seventh-day Adventists Relative to Bearing Arms, as Brought before the Governors of Several States and the Provo-Marshall General [that is, of the United States], with a Portion of the Enrolment Law."
At that time Seventh-day Adventists, by the General Conference Committee, represented to the government of the United States, to the government of the state of Illinois, of Michigan, of Pennsylvania, of Wisconsin, and another state or two, that Seventh-day Adventists, as Christians, and because they were Christians, could not allow that Christians could under any circumstances bear arms or fight. The other document is extracted from the writings and publications of Seventh-day Adventists, to justify the government in accepting from the denomination, that plea as genuine.
Now if that order is to be reversed, and we are to accept the view that Christians may fight under any circumstances at all, for government or whatever it may be, then we owe it to the government of the United States to have the General Conference Committee, representing the denomination, go to the government of the United States and tell them that we have changed our views; and go to the governors of these states and tell them that we have changed our views; so that the records will stand according to our new and revised views upon that subject. . . .
Now I will read to you some of the extracts that were then printed from documents, publications, and papers of Seventh-day Adventists, as evidence to the United States government, and as evidence to the governors of the states, that that position taken by the General Conference Committee of the denomination, was their understood position, and not one made up for the occasion, to escape the draft, or to escape the results that were coming upon the country because of the war. . . .
Here is an extract from something written in the Signs of the Times, by Elder James White, in 1853:
The professed church of Christ has left the arm of her true husband, and now leans on the strong arm of the law. She seeks protection, and to be nourished by the corrupt governments of the world, and is properly represented by the harlot daughters of the old mother, she being a symbol of the Catholic Church. As the woman should cleave to her husband, so should the church cleave to Christ, and instead of seeking protection from the arm of the law, lean only on the potent arm of her Beloved. The church is unlawfully wedded to the world. This may be seen in the various departments of civil government. Even in the war department, the professed minister of Jesus Christ is seen mocking the God of peace with his prayers for success in battle.
Again, an extract quoted from the Review and Herald of May 9, 1854:
Whether these things are at hand or not [it is about the coming of the Lord], the fact remains: a war spirit is abroad, a spirit of hatred and delusion. It is its contaminating influence that we fear–it is the demoralizing influence of familiarity with the ideas of war and bloodshed; it is the unhealthy excitement, the bitter party spirit, that is evil and causes evil to spread.
Let it not be said there is no danger to Christ’s disciples from these causes. There is danger; because "when iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." Such are the mysterious and inexplicable sympathies which bind man to man, which forbid a separate and isolated interest, that we catch unconsciously the prevalent tone, and we know not till the mind is warped and unsettled; and thus being in an unhealthy state it is ready to receive and to conceive evil. The moral scourge is more destructive even than the pestilence. . . .
I now read another extract, reprinted from the Review, dated Aug. 14, 1856:
Has the gospel of Jesus granted you the right to use the sword, to arm you with carnal weapons, to take the sword to "provide for your own household," to deliver the oppressed out of the power of the oppressor, by breaking the sixth commandment of God, "Thou shalt not kill"? Jesus says, "Love your enemies."
Do you think that you, as a Christian living under the gospel, have a Bible permission to mingle in political strife in any way whatever? either in legislating, or executing the laws of human government? If so, I think you are greatly mistaken.
That is what the denomination said in 1864. They presented that to the government of the United States as evidence that they did not believe in war, and that they could not engage in bearing arms, and that if they were drafted, they could not be expected to fight. And the government of the United States listened to their representations, and made provision that they should attend the hospitals where they could do the work of ministers of the gospel, and care for the sick, and bring salvation to the dying. Now if that is to be reversed, we should stand fairly before the government and state that it has been reversed.