Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Restricted

Growing up Seventh-Day Adventist meant more than just worshiping on Saturday as the true Sabbath. That’s one thing I don’t think others really understood when I would talk to them about it. “Oh, so it’s just like Catholicism, but you go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday!” No, it’s not like that at all. That presupposes that it’s only about the day to worship on, and I covered the idea of the Sabbath here, but it’s also about the idea of the second advent of Christ. You’re probably wondering what an advent is, and it just means the second coming of Jesus. So, everything we did in our entire lives was centered around being ready for when Jesus comes again (the first time was believed to be in Biblical times, of course).

I had an interesting conversation with my sister yesterday about those expectations of even the youngest of Seventh-Day Adventists, being ready for the second coming, and the restrictions that places on followers of the religion and the ideology. “We are the body of Christ,” was the familiar mantra heard in church, and it meant to simply treat our bodies like the temple of God, and not to do anything that would defile them. That meant anything that went into our bodies, like food and drink, to eat healthy, but that also meant not using drugs or drinking alcoholic beverages, and not smoking. Furthermore, it was about not putting things on our bodies either, like no tattoos, no piercings, and even down to the clothing that we wore.

When we went to church on Saturday it was easy to predict what we would see. The ladies wore ankle-length dresses or skirts, neatly pressed, starched, and presentable for the Lord on His holy day. The gentlemen were not presentable unless we wore full suits (three-piece suits were acceptable, but not necessary), with ties (bowties or neckties), our shoes were immaculate, and our hair as well. I recall when afros were all the rage, going to church and every single man there had a perfectly combed afro, no hairs sticking out all over the place or anything. It took time, but it was necessary. God was watching.

Then, when I went off to Academy, it was about keeping boys and girls apart so that their baser natures didn’t interfere with God’s expectations. If our bodies were the temples of God, we were not to defile them by sexual behavior. We were required to go to chapel in the morning and evenings, and the chapel was segregated, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. You could see surreptitious glances across the aisle (talk about bipartisanship) throughout the services, but no one would even think about going to the other side for fear of major reprisals. And these rules were for solid, unimpeachable reasons. We were sons and daughters of God, and we had to conduct ourselves as such.

At Academy, we were also not allowed to have music of any kind, because secular music was of the devil, and we were children of God. We needed to keep that influence out of our ears because those were straight pathways to our brains, which were sanctified. We had a television in the dorm, but it was controlled by the dean, and we only watched what he deemed acceptable for us as Seventh-Day Adventists. It was all about being held to a higher standard. Even when we went out into the community to witness and to share our talents (like bell choir), or to go on outings (like caving), we were always held to that standard. And, believe me, we complained about it, at home and at Academy, both, because we didn’t appreciate what it was doing for us, having those rules and those roles. But, speaking with my sister last night, we agreed that it was very important. Too many kids these days, who are operating without religious structure, or structure of any kind, in their lives need that kind of restriction in order to set them up as solid citizens.

We never felt entitled, growing up Seventh-Day Adventist. No one ever let us feel that way. We only dressed well because God required it. We were always supposed to remain humble, and the restrictions kept us that way. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies because the movie theater was the devil’s playground. It wasn’t even about just what was in the movie itself, either. It was also about the clientele. Just having the possibility of other people in a largely darkened space with you, with no ideas of their intentions, it was unseemly for a young person of the Adventist faith. Not going to parties unless they were church-sponsored, or if they were thrown by other members of the faith was also important. It was all about the company you kept because we were ambassadors for Jesus Christ on earth, and we were supposed to act like it at all times, not just from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That was the commitment of the Adventist church, and what it commanded of us, what it said Christ commanded of us, from the time we were little.

But, in this swirling, new future world of personal computers, iPads, iPhones, MP3 players, and personal movie theaters, something has gotten lost, even in the Adventist faith. The rules have loosened, and the differences that separated the faith from others, and from the world at large, are disintegrating, or at least are fading. Now, that’s not to say they aren’t there, they are just more lax, when there was no wiggle room at all when we were growing up SDA. And my sister and I both agree that while we weren’t happy with the restrictions, we understand why they were there, and they helped us become well-rounded, solid, strong individuals to this day. We worry that by the loosening of the restrictions the church is becoming just like everyone else, that in order to cater to this new generation, the church is losing what made it special in the first place.

I guess it’s just like everything else, though. We can only restrict people for so long, especially in this information crazy world we live in now. Just like it’s nearly impossible to ban cell phones from concerts now, the Adventist church is getting carted off in the tide of popular culture. And, while it may be more fun now for the young people growing up SDA, I worry that they won’t see the difference between being SDA and being worldly. Scary thought indeed.


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6 thoughts on “Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Restricted

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  1. I enjoyed your nostalgic look at your upbringing. While not raised Adventist, I also had a strict upbringing. I truly understand what you are saying. While the new interpretation of the rules may seem inconsistent, it may be more practical. I think that some people who are brought up very strictly become judgemental.
    I think that is a shame.

    1. I can definitely understand the practicality, especially if organized religion is to keep its members. But at what cost? It is understandable that some will become judgmental. I was one of them at a certain time, but it is clear to me now that no prevarication can exist. Definitely a shame.

  2. I agree about the judgmentalism possible with such restrictions. But to me it’s worse that that. By cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, Adventists make themselves inapplicable to the read world. The saddest thing to me about Adventism is the way they preach to the choir. This is not what Jesus did.

    1. Ah, preaching to the choir. That’s a strong part of most religions, is it not? Even though they preach witnessing, they still have cliques, levels within the church. And as a culture, we judge, but you’re so right. Jesus never judged, and he went to the lowest places to bring people high.

  3. Rather than restrictions being imposed by a structure, it is better if one chooses them oneself. Of course, that entails experience and realizing what would be better.

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