The Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) is a widely recognized Christian organization with around 20 million members worldwide. However, many of its beliefs and practices align with my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, which causes great concern. To gain more insight into this organization, I invited Dr. Steve Daily, a former pastor of the SDA, to share his valuable personal and professional experiences.
Dr. Steve Daily is a licensed psychologist, church historian, and accomplished author who has written 28 books, including 11 on Seventh-day Adventism and its founder Ellen G. White. He grew up in an Adventist home and received his education from Adventist institutions. For 35 years, Dr. Daily served in the Adventist ministry, mainly as a university chaplain and campus pastor at Loma Linda University and La Sierra University in California. He also taught in the fields of history, psychology, and religion for 24 years.
In 2010, Dr. Daily left Adventism and went on to work as a psychologist at UCLA. Since then, he has become an outspoken critic of founder Ellen G. White and the Adventist Church, authoring Ellen G. White A Psychobiography. The book explores whether the accusations of fraud and pathology leveled against her over the years stand up to historical and psychological scrutiny. Dr. Daily is also the founder of the KEYS Family Resource Center, and he currently pastors Graceway Community Church in Riverside, California.
The Foundation of The Seventh Day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded in the United States in the mid-19th century. It emerged from a faction of Millerite Adventists who believed that Jesus would return to earth on October 22, 1844. When this did not occur, many Millerites left the movement. However, Ellen G. White, who was only 17 at the time, claimed to have received a vision from God, instilling hope that Jesus’ return was imminent. She persuaded a small group of believers that she was a visionary, accompanied by fellow believer James White, whom she later married.
Dr. Daily explained that the couple, facing poverty and in dire need of support, devised a scheme to convince a wealthy ship captain named Joseph Bates of Ellen’s alleged visions. Bates was an author of books on astronomy, so Ellen and James orchestrated a gathering where he could witness Ellen enact a vision in which God displayed the planets to her. She provided descriptions of Saturn and Jupiter that corresponded precisely with the information in Bates’ book. However, Ellen insisted she had never read his work or been educated about astronomy. Dr. Daily points out that the astronomical details were entirely incorrect, but they served the purpose of persuading Bates, who became a fervent believer after the incident. Bates supported the Whites, and together, the trio co-founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Joseph Bates and James White formulated the doctrines, while Ellen gave her supposed divine visions to validate each one.
The movement’s early years were marked by a series of false predictions and controversial doctrines, including the “shut door” doctrine, which claimed that only those in their group would be saved and that leaving the group would result in eternal damnation. Nevertheless, they continued to grow as a movement, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formally established in 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Challenges to Ellen G. White’s Claims of Prophetic Visions
Dr. Daily’s explained that there is a lot of evidence that Ellen took content from other authors and shaped her theology and beliefs based on this plagiarized material. She claimed that her “visions” came straight from God but was using them to manipulate and control her followers. One example was when she urged members to sell their homes and possessions, promising that Jesus’s return was imminent. When these visions proved false, many followers were left destitute, while she and James amassed significant wealth and lived luxuriously. Dr. Daily maintains that her unethical behavior, lying, deception, and fraud, stemmed from underlying psychological pathology.
While researching leaked documents from the White Estate, Dr. Daily came across many more examples exposing this pathological behavior. For instance, she was an alcoholic while condemning alcohol in the organization. He also highlights her unhealthy views, such as the belief that God hated disobedient children, which she attributed to divine revelation, or that anyone who didn’t heed her visions would have the Holy Spirit “shut away” from their soul. Ellen’s pattern of publicly demonizing those who questioned her authority further supports Daily’s concerns about her character.
Seventh Day Adventists and the BITE Model
The BITE Model provides a framework for evaluating the characteristics of a group and determining whether it is healthy or destructive. Dr. Daily applied the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control to assess the SDA and discovered that it met numerous criteria characteristic of an authoritarian organization.
Some of the concerning aspects Dr. Daily identified within the SDA Church include deceptive recruitment practices, regulation of members’ physical reality (e.g., strict dietary rules), and banning certain forms of entertainment. The church also isolates members from society and requires tithing for good standing. Emotional control is also prevalent, with feelings of guilt and unworthiness instilled in members, alongside the fear of losing one’s salvation. It has an authoritarian and hierarchical leadership structure, rigid rules, and demands of obedience, while critics are discredited and threatened.
While religious organizations like the SDA may not seem like a cult, examining their doctrines and policies can reveal whether they promote healthy spirituality and positive leadership. Healthy organizations empower their members, avoid exploiting or manipulating them, and encourage personal growth and individuality. Members should always be able to leave a group without fear of negative consequences.
Dr. Daily’s journey with the SDA Church highlights the importance of continuous self-reflection and evaluation within religious organizations. Despite his many positive experiences with Adventism and efforts to improve the church over 35 years of ministry, he ultimately recognized the organization’s unhealthy elements. By sharing their experiences, former members and critics like Dr. Daily can encourage honest reflection and discussion, potentially inspiring change and fostering healthier environments within these groups.