Do Adventists Have a Beef With Pope Francis?
BY JARED THURMON
Excitement has been mounting for months in anticipation of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. Even though this is the tenth papal visit to the U.S. since 1965, many are saying, “This one is different.” Why? Perhaps because Pope Francis will be speaking at the UN to the largest assembly of heads of state in world history and addressing the U.S. Congress for the first time. Or maybe because he’s being described as “a pontiff like no other,” venerated by the right and the left, by Jews and Muslims, by the gay community and the religious right. His name flashes repeatedly across television news screens and makes headlines in national and international newspapers. He appears to be “the pope for the people,” receiving accolades from men and women across a wide spectrum of society.
One issue in particular that is drawing both applause and criticism is the pope’s strong stance on climate change and human responsibility to care for the environment, touted as the big agenda item for this trip across the pond. Pope Francis plans to give a certain sound to the trumpet call regarding climate change, otherwise known as global warming. And with this issue, Adventists can resonate.
An Uphill Battle
As the Washington Post recently noted, Pope Francis is facing an uphill battle with many Christians who deny that climate change is real. But Francis isn’t alone in his beliefs. Nearly half of Americans say that climate change is a sign of “the last days.”Businessman Jay Faison is contributing $175 million to help persuade the naysayers that climate change is the real deal. And Muslim leaders from 20 countries are sounding their own trumpet that climate change is real and a force to be reckoned with.
So this isn’t an isolated event or one that will likely go away anytime soon. In fact, experts are declaring that climate change is to blame for everything from 400,000 deaths per year to the rapid increase in diabetes to the 500 percent rise in natural disasters since the 1970s—a trend the World Bank expects to see continue.
No Surprise Here
The apostle John, sitting on an island in the Mediterranean under a beautiful, smog-free blue sky and pristine azure waters, wrote that one day in the distant future God would “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). So today’s devastation of the environment should come as no surprise to Bible-believing Christians.
Whether we want to call it global warming, climate change, or natural disasters, there is a strong case that this is more than a mundane environmental issue; rather, as Jeff Nesbit of US News stated, many are considering it “the moral issue of our time.” Just ask farmers and other folk in California lamenting their dying crops and brown lawns whether they think climate change is real. Ask the citizens of Boston who had snow on the ground in June this year if they think something is changing. The debate often centers around who is responsible?
We don’t yet know all the solutions that Francis is going to propose. Some have suggested a “Slow Sunday,” and about such proposals, Adventists must stand by their historic Biblically-based opposition to any legislation that would infringe on a person’s freedom of conscience and right to practice the Biblical Sabbath. As the Summer of Trump has cooled down, the topic of climate change is heating up as Francis takes center stage on an issue many Americans are not quite sure affects them—at least not yet.
The Burden of Proof
Evidence rests heavily on the side of climate change, evidence that thinking individuals, including Adventist Protestants, can support. We’ve been sitting on a “secret”—knowledge that we’ve been given by both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy—for too long. This isn’t an issue or an event for which Adventists should be resting on the sidelines. Instead, “perhaps we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this!”
“Our people have been regarded as too insignificant to be worthy of notice; but a change will come,” 1 wrote Ellen White. Who knows? Maybe that time is now.
The Tide of Change
Votes and laws won’t stop the tide of climate change. “The earth dries up and withers” because “they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant,” Isaiah writes (24:4, 5). But let us not be among the “they.” God expects more from us.
In the book Education, Ellen White wrote:
“ ‘As the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together’ (Romans 8:26, 22), the heart of the infinite Father is pained in sympathy. Our world is a vast lazar house, a scene of misery that we dare not allow even our thoughts to dwell upon. Did we realize it as it is, the burden would be too terrible. Yet God feels it all. In order to destroy sin and its results He gave His best Beloved, and He has put it in our power, through co-operation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end” (emphasis supplied).
What Can We Do?
So, how can we cooperate with the God of nature, the God of the climate, to do our honest part in bringing this scene of misery to an end?
It’s simple: let’s take better care of His creation. This includes our body temple as well as the sanctuary of nature in which we live. The sad reality is that the creation is dying. According to YaleNews, animals are dying in increasing numbers, and for reasons few people understand. And the toll being taken is not just on the environment and animals, but on humans and their health as well.
After succumbing to Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Humanity has been deceived, and it seems we may have eaten our way into this mess—at least according to the United Nations FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”This eye-opening report cites the livestock sector as “a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity.” It adds that in developed and emerging countries, “it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
According to the Environmental Working Group and USDA report titled Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health, “the takeaway . . . is that eating meat and dairy is expensive, and in a whole lot of ways. . . . It’s not just the carbon emissions that hurt; it’s also the pesticides, fertilizers, fuel, and water needed to produce the feed for all those cows and pigs. And once that damage is done, there are still the health consequences we all face from eating too much meat, particularly red meat.”
Rob Bailey, the report’s lead author, nailed the reason the problem isn’t abating when he added, “Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little.”
“Curbing the world’s huge and increasing appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change,” says think-tank Chatham House. The problem is that few people want to make that change.
What Ellen White learned from a Catholic
Each one of us individually, including Adventists, holds in our hands the power to make a significant difference regarding the environment and to help end much of this misery. The world is clear-cutting rainforests, growing GMO monocrops, saturating rivers and soil with pesticides—all to raise ( often inhumanely) more than 56 billion animals every year for human consumption. It is the inhumane and unsustainable methods of raising of animals that I take issue with. We make the choice at every meal whether to eat for life or eat what once lived, to eat plant-based foods or animals.
Adam and Eve did not eat animals, which were in their care, nor will we eat animals in heaven (see Isa. 65:25). Our culture mourns the loss of Cecil the lion, 2 but consumes Bessie the cow, millions of times a day.
Health is a journey. It took Ellen White 33 years after she shared her health-message vision in 1863 to completely stop eating meat herself. 3 And when she finally made that decision, the reason she identified was not because of her health, but because of mercy and animal compassion:
“When the selfishness of taking the lives of animals to gratify a perverted appetite, was presented to me by a Catholic woman, kneeling at my feet, I felt ashamed and distressed; I saw it in a new light, and I said, ‘I will no longer patronize the butchers; I will not have the flesh of corpses on my table.’” 4
The Adventist Perspective
Ellen White’s well-known statement—“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” 5—is often used in the context of theology, but could it also refer to health?
In the April 2015 issue of Adventist Review, startling data revealed that more than 73 percent of Seventh-day Adventist Millennials are not vegetarians! So, what does this mean?
Gary Fraser, principal investigator of the Adventist Health Studies, shared that the reality is that “the evidence that Adventist vegetarians do better than Adventist non-vegetarians with respect to risk of diabetes, hypertension, overweight, blood cholesterol, risk of several cancers, heart disease, and that they live longer lives, is overwhelming.” In light of the evidence-based research and current trends with younger Adventists, it seems likely that the results of the health studies could likely change as well. It was these studies that led National Geographic to identify Loma Linda, California, as a Blue Zone, and that Adventists are often the longest living and most healthy Americans.6 One of the key characteristics of the longevity and optimal health of the California Adventists noted in the National Geographic report was Adventists’ adherence to a plant-based diet. What will happen if this dynamic is no longer in play?
Look Upon the Earth
Isaiah declared, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look upon the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail” (Isa. 51:6).
Isaiah was undoubtedly describing our day. The earth is wearing out, and thinking minds realize that something decisive is about to take place, that the world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis. 7 So much so that people such as Tony-Stark-wannabe Elon Musk and other billionaire friends such as Richard Branson are putting all their eggs into the basket of colonizing another planet.People are realizing that something has to give, and many are turning to extreme measures in response.
When Pope Francis comes to the U.S. and shares his passion and strong encouragement for decided change regarding the environment, Adventists—and all others who see the validity of responsibly caring for the planet, the rainforests, the soil, the rivers, the air, the animals—should consider the now-scientifically proven words of that dear Catholic woman who convinced Ellen White in 1893 that it is selfishness to continue to take the lives of animals just to gratify appetite. We then need to look at what each of us personally can do to make a difference as well.
On the issue of climate change, thoughtful Adventists won’t have a beef with Pope Francis.
Jared Thurmon is the Strategic Partnerships Liaison for Adventist Review.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 5, p. 546.
- Ellen G. White, Letter 73, 1896.
- Ellen G. White, Testimony Studies on Diet and Foods, p. 67.
- Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings, p. 204.
- Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 537.