I was brought up in what Adventists would call a divided family, though I did not feel that it was divided in any negative way.My parents loved one another and they loved my brother and me.However, it was divided in the sense that my mother was a Seventh-day Adventist, and my father was not.He was not a militant non-believer.If he can be said to have had any ideological leanings at all then he was a socialist and an active trade unionist.But when it came to the upbringing of us boys, my mother was the more dominant influence, and we were brought up as Adventists.


My brother was never keen on the church, was never baptized, and gave it up altogether as soon as he was able to leave home.I, on the other hand, accepted it uncritically and enthusiastically.I even studied theology with a view to going into the ministry, and had a short-lived career as a ministerial intern.


One or two things about the church and the ministry made me uneasy.I had thought that it would be possible to reconcile my Adventist beliefs with my generally liberal outlook on life and with my mildly left wing political leanings inherited from my father.But the longer I continued in the church and the ministry, the more difficult this seemed.I soon left the employment of the church and became a social worker for the county council, and have pursued this career happily ever since, though I did not leave the church just then.


What were some of the things that bothered me?One was the idea that the SDA church was somehow better than the rest, the Ďonly true churchí, the Ďremnantí.This idea was illogical, lacking in Christian modesty, and did not accord with the evidence of my eyes; Adventists were, on average, no better or worse than the rest of the world.


Another was the fact that the system of Adventist beliefs is so complicated.The jailer of Philippi was converted and baptized in one night, but to become an Adventist takes the equivalent of a college course.You have to be a (rather uncritical) historian and a mathematician as well as a theologian.This was at odds with my instinct that the gospel should be simple enough for everyone, literate or not, to understand.


Another was the anti-Catholicism.In the 1970ís and 80ís both Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were being murdered because of their religious affiliation.I was disturbed when I realized that the Protestant paramilitaries responsible for much of this carnage were fuelled by a view of the Roman Catholic church that was virtually identical to the Adventist view.I began to wonder why we needed to be anti-Catholic.


Then there is the interpretation of prophecy that makes such selective use of history.For example, I have looked into secular history books to find out what happened in 538 A.D., but he only answer I could find was: nothing much.And why pick on 1798 as the date when the secular reign of the Papacy ended, when it clearly did not?Surely the sack of Rome in 1870 was much more significant, but this is never mentioned.


Then there were those odd ideas that Ellen White wrote about.Like the various deadly ailments that are caused by Ďsecret siní, or the angels covering their faces when those boys at Avondale were playing cricket.(Surely the Aussies were never that bad!)And what she said about labour unions just didnít accord with my experience of being a member of one.If she could be so wrong on these issues, what could we believe?


Gradually the pressures to leave the church became greater than the pressures to stay in it, and I left.I didnít drift away; I spoke to the pastor and asked to have my name taken off the books.This wasnít an easy decision.By now I had a wife and four children who were all in the church, not to mention a lot of friends, so I upset a lot of people.Some understood my decision, but not all.


Many Adventist friends and family members assumed that someone in the church must have upset me.They found it hard to imagine that I could just stop believing in Adventist doctrine.My decision must therefore have been emotional rather than rational, or based on some weakness in my character.I understand their perplexity.There was a time when the Adventist world view seemed so obviously clear and true to me that anyone who could not see it must have been, to my mind, lacking in either intelligence or morals or both.That someone who was already in the church and had a fair grasp of its teachings should decide to leave had been unthinkable.But no-one had upset me.In fact one of the things that made my decision such a difficult one was my reluctance to leave such a close community and to upset so many good friends.


It is about fifteen years ago now since I left the fold.Looking back, I can see that it was the right decision.I have not gone off the rails as some feared I would.In most respects my interests and tastes are as conservative as they ever were.I havenít changed that much.The main difference is that I now lead what I would call a more normal life.I have no desire for a TV, but listen to what I like on the radio.I try to expand my taste in music, but the music I like the best is probably the stuff Iíve always listened to.Iím still a vegetarian, except for the occasional fish.I appreciate being able to check the footy results on a Saturday afternoon without any trace of guilt, and take delight in following the fortunes of my favourite team, The Baggies. (Apologies to American readers who havenít a clue what Iím on about.)I also appreciate the freedom that I now have to become more involved in my community.I can join a political party or pressure group without having to mistrust people because they are Ďoutsidersí, and without having to endure the disapproval of Ďinsidersí.In short, my relationships with the rest of the world are much more easygoing, and thatís how I like it.


I have not joined another church, and donít expect to do so.One thing about being an Adventist is that you learn all about why all of the other churches are Ďwrongí, and I suppose this has stayed with me.I sing in a choir, and we do a lot of religious music, but this is the only overtly religious thing I do these days.Am I a Christian?Only if you accept a very broad definition of the word.One thing I liked about being an Adventist when I was younger was that it gave me a sense of certainty about my place in the world; where I had come from and where I was going, even what would happen to me after I died.I no longer have this sense of certainty, but I donít miss it.There are some things I just donít know, and am content not to know.


I have enjoyed looking at a lot of former-SDA web sites, including this one.They have given me encouragement and the comfort to know that I am not alone. They are informative, and have clarified of some things that I had long seen as difficulties in Adventist beliefs and practice but had never been able to fathom fully for myself.Most of these web sites seem to be operated by and aimed at people who have left the SDA church to join various evangelical Christian churches, so take a very evangelical position.I hope you can accept the testimony of someone whose journey out of the SDA church hasnít taken him in that direction.I have found the web materials put out by Jim Moyers helpful, as they donít lean towards any particular religion or ideology, but are just very useful and relevant for anyone taking the step of leaving the SDA church, or any other church for that matter.


One last thought. On our way out of the church, we all need to study and gather information in order to clarify what we believe.But I do wonder whether there are some who remain overly concerned about the more obscure points of Adventist doctrine or church history and are therefore still to some extent in thrall to Seventh-day Adventism. If we have really broken free, shouldnít we be more concerned about what we can do about global warming, or where we can get a good case of Beaujolais Nouveau?




John Williams