HOBBLECREEK CANYON – Lincoln Steed had one message for Seventh-day Adventists at their annual retreat here: “Watch out. True religious freedom is being threatened before your eyes.”
Steed is editor of Liberty, the church’s 100-year-old magazine on religious freedom, and was one of the retreat’s keynote speakers. He speaks rapidly, running easily between discussions of recent flaps over the Ten Commandments in the public square to the prisoners at Guanta’namo to same-sex unions. His knowledge is encyclopedic; his opinions, passionate.
“It is time to respond to the threats with spiritual commitment,” he said. “It is our role to rein in the wrong.”
Adventist positions are anything but partisan or predictable.
For example, Steed is strongly against the government’s holding prisoners at Guanta’namo indefinitely without charging or trying them. “That means anyone could expect to be treated so cavalierly,” he said June 18.
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Steed worries about President Bush’s increased administrative powers. He points to the president’s faith-based initiative. After Congress failed to pass it, Bush implemented it anyway through an executive order.
“When a president is not bound by the laws of Congress, that leads to despotism,” he said. “This is the time for people to look closely at the history of Rome.”
Adventists oppose the recently proposed Constitution Restoration Act, which would limit the federal judiciary from making judgments in religious-liberty cases such as prayer in schools, public display of Ten Commandments and Sabbath observances.
This is the Christian right’s attempt to dictate the religious landscape, Steed said. If it were to pass, workplace exemptions for religious practices such as Saturday sabbath would likely not be allowed.
On the other hand, Adventists are not in favor of same-sex marriage. Taking its position from the Bible, the church teaches that marriage should be between a man and a woman. If federal law allowed same-sex marriage, religions that oppose it could face penalties.
“When implemented, it would be hard for churches not to hire gay ministers. Just to repeat Bible texts on homosexuality would be an offense,” he said. “That is already happening in Canada.”
It is not surprising that Seventh-day Adventists should be deeply involved in the fight for religious liberty. Freedom has long been their hallmark, and their belief in Saturday as the sabbath has thrust them into the battle over workers’ rights.
“We believe in religious liberty from a biblical model,” Steed said. “The U.S. was established to be supportive of every faith. We are concerned to see the Constitution put aside.”