Santiago interviews Jeff, an ex-Adventist who used to work for ADRA and still does humanitarian work today. They discuss a bit of everything about growing up Adventist, including Jeff's experiences at an SDA boarding school and what it's been like to leave Adventism over the last 20 years.
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Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
Meet Jeff: Humanitarian, ex-Adventist, and former ADRA Country Director
[00:00:16] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago, and today I'm very excited to speak with Jeff. Jeff is a former Seventh-day Adventist based in the Seattle area. And as he tells it, he was raised deep inside the Adventist bubble, growing up in Michigan and attending SDA schools from kindergarten all the way through college, including four years at the SDA boarding school Adelphian Academy.
[00:00:43] He earned his bachelor's degree from Andrews University in the early 1990s, during which he also served as a student missionary in Thailand. After that, he worked for ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency for over 10 years in various roles before eventually leaving the Adventist faith and system in his late thirties.
[00:01:05] Jeff holds a master's degree in cultural anthropology from Western Michigan University, and as he shared in the Episode 9 interview, he's part of the research team that is conducting a survey of former Seventh-day Adventists. Jeff has traveled to dozens of countries and has been directly involved in humanitarian response efforts, addressing complex challenges including natural disasters and armed conflicts.
[00:01:30] In his own words, Jeff has been quiet quitting Adventism for about the last 20 years, and he's spent a lot of time thinking about what led him and others to leave the Adventist faith. So with that background, let's jump into our conversation.
[00:01:44] Jeff, welcome, thank you so much for your work and thank you for coming on the show.
[00:01:48] Jeff: Yeah, thanks Santiago, it's good to be here.
[00:01:51] Santiago: The very first question I wanna start with is, how far back does the Adventist faith go in your family?
[00:01:57] Jeff: As far as I know, it goes back to my great-grandparents on my mom's side. Yeah, it would've been my, my great grandparents who, who converted to Adventism in the early part of the century. On my dad's side, I'm, I'm less certain, but I, I want to say it'd be similar.
[00:02:14] Santiago: Okay, and what are some of your earliest memories of growing up Adventist?
[00:02:20] Jeff: Oh man, I mean, yeah, it's hard to, to separate out the, the early memories that aren't related to being Seventh-day Adventist, right? 'Cause I mean, that was just, it was the, the water I was swimming in, kind of literally in utero, I guess you could say. But, uh, yeah, earliest memories would be things like Sabbath school, going to kindergarten at a little church in, in the Detroit area where I, where I first grew up.
[00:02:48] You know, running around the kind of the back hallways of the church, you know, up the stairs to the balcony or behind the choir loft, that kind of thing. Um, I can remember some of the songs. I remember at home, lots of records and books coming out of the Adventist system. So I, I mean, I listened to the Eric B Hare stories on record as a, as a little kid, a toddler, or maybe just past being a toddler. Pretty much those kinds of things, going to Adventist schools, plays, that kind of stuff.
[00:03:19] Santiago: Did you have any of the Uncle Arthur bedtime story books?
[00:03:23] Jeff: Oh man, yep, I definitely did. I grew up hearing those kind of on a, on a nightly basis, again, as a small kid. There was another series my mom used to read, I think they were called Archway or Arch Books. Little kind of inspirational quasi Bible — I don't know if that, if that series was published by the Adventist system, but anyway, we sure read it a lot.
[00:03:45] The bible stories with illustrations for kids, yeah.
[00:03:48] So, yeah, I started at a young age, kind of, yeah, I don't wanna say drinking that Kool-Aid, but certainly, certainly, you know, receiving that kind of low-key indoctrination.
[00:03:58] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, I, uh, even though we're definitely some years apart, I remember the Uncle Arthur stories very well, and, uh, I don't know, my parents probably still have some of those books somewhere.
[00:04:10] Jeff: I know for a fact that my parents do. I saw them last time I was at their house.
[00:04:14] Santiago: Yeah? Nice. So you've talked about attending SDA schools from kindergarten through college, and I'm wondering why that was, and if you ever wondered what non-SDA schools were like.
[00:04:26] Jeff: You know, uh, I didn't question it too much in my early elementary school years. It never seriously occurred to me that going to a non-SDA school, you know, would've ever been an option. My parents didn't work for the system. We didn't live in a, in an Adventist enclave like Loma Linda or Berrien Springs.
[00:04:48] We lived in a normal neighborhood and so during the week I would play with, you know, these kids who, who lived around, but then on the weekends, yeah, you know, we kind of parted ways. But maybe to the school point, I, I, I knew that they went to public school, um, and I went to Adventist school and, you know, not a lot of analysis in my mind at that point.
[00:05:11] It was just kind of a, a thing that was, and you know, we talked about it and you know, it, I went there 'cause my parents sent me there. And not because I ever felt that I had any say in the matter as a eight or nine or 10 year old.
[00:05:24] Um, and maybe also just to say that as I got a little older and was maybe more cognizant of kind of the, the, the insular aspect of Adventism, although I wouldn't have called it that in those days.
[00:05:38] But, you know, public school had kind of a foreboding tinge to it. I don't want to say it was scary, but maybe just tiny little bit scary. It felt like maybe going onto to dangerous unsacred ground, uh, to, to be going to, to public school. And so I guess at some level I was grateful that I had the benefit of going to an Adventist school.
[00:05:59] Santiago: I can definitely relate to that. Public school was definitely a bit of a boogeyman within my family and within my church.
[00:06:08] Jeff: Especially high school, you know, there's so much kind of American, I'm American, grew up in North America, so much American culture around, you know, the high school, the American high school experience. The, the hazing, the kind of mean girls, or the mean or, or the bully rituals that seem to happen. Being accosted in the lunchroom or bad things happening in the locker room. Boy, just seemed like not a great plan to want to put yourself into that environment, but instead stay safe inside the Adventist bosom.
[00:06:38] Santiago: Yeah, I don't know about for you, but for me, when I first attended an Adventist school for the very first time, I had just come there from being homeschooled for several years in elementary school. And so even by the standards of my Adventist school, I was this naive, totally clueless kid that, you know, that had just come, come from homeschooling.
[00:07:03] So I actually got bullied by actually, some of the girls that were in a grade above me. Um, it wasn't too bad, it was really just verbal bullying, but still it, uh, it affected me. So I'm curious, the assumption is when you go to an Adventist school, you don't deal with some of those things, and I'm sure not everybody did. But did you ever see anything like that in, in your school experience?
[00:07:27] Jeff: Yeah you know, I think you're right. I think there's, there's a lot of kind of emotional energy around this notion that Adventist schools are somehow safer for us. And I would say, I mean, I never went to, to public school, so I guess I can't compare directly. But, you know, now looking back as a, as a middle-aged person on that experience and comparing it with what I know from other people who are in my life, who, who didn't go through that system, I would say that maybe best case scenario is there's no practical difference.
[00:07:59] They're not safer. Adventist schools weren't safer in my experience. The, the kind of, you know, verbal abuse and verbal bullying was every bit as bad. And, and I don't want to paint a lurid picture. Um, you know, I don't think that, yeah, was not deeply kind of injured or harmed by it, particularly more than, you know, over and above the fact that it was kind of Adventist indoctrination and how that prepares you to deal with the real world.
[00:08:26] But in terms of the bullying and stuff like that, I don't think it was worse than kind of what's commonly portrayed. But it was, it was certainly not safer. Other people that I was close to and have been close to since that elementary school experience, you know, now tell me that. I mean, they were, they were seriously bullied and it was pretty harsh. And you mentioned the, the girls. I feel like Adventist mean girls in elementary school are kind of next level, right? Because they have God on their side and who's gonna argue with God? You know, or whatever. Boy, they, they really can, they can really be harsh.
[00:08:58] Santiago: Yeah no, the, the one I attended, the church and school I attended were pretty multicultural. So I'm not gonna repeat it here, but I actually still remember the homophobic slur I got called in another language by one of these people. And it's all cool, like since then, you know, we've, we've been on good terms and it's all fine, but it's funny how that memory still sticks with me and how even as a straight guy, I was subjected to a homophobic slur as part of my verbal bullying. Anyway.
[00:09:33] Jeff: Oh, you got off easy, man. Could have been a lot worse.
[00:09:36] Santiago: Oh I'm sure, I'm sure. I'm curious, I've, I've talked about this a lot, I asked Melissa about this in the last interview. Did you get any formal sex education as part of your Adventist school experience, or did you ever have "the talk" with your parents?
[00:09:50] Jeff: You know, yes and yes. When I was about eight, uh, just kind of coming up on nine, uh, my mom gave me a book called Almost 12, told me to read it. That book seems to have made its, uh, rounds through the Adventist system, at least in the kind of late seventies when that would've happened to me.
[00:10:09] I remember reading it and really not understanding it much. I didn't know those words. I'd never read those words in print. You know, penis, vagina, I, I didn't know what it was, so I basically read it, um, you know, all the way through. And then when my mom came to check with me, you know, what did I think about the book? My answer is like, 'It, it, it all makes sense, but what's a pennis?'
[00:10:36] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:10:38] Jeff: And so, you know, she had to, my mom was the one who had the talk with me, explained what those things were and, and what actually happened. and, you know, complete with hand motions, the whole awkward thing. Um, and then, uh, I remember a, a day or two later, I was playing with my buddies across the street.
[00:10:58] We lived in Adventist enclave at the time in Berrien Springs, Michigan. And so I, I mean, everyone I played with there was pretty much Seventh-day Adventist and so one of my buddies across the street who was about the same age, kind of mentioned the book. He'd had to read it also, and so that was where I got my, I think real, that was my first real kind of sex talk, right?
[00:11:19] He might've been a year older and was more kind of wise in the ways of the world. And so we discussed exactly the, what, what was meant to happen. And we learned some new slang for it. And, you know, there's a funny, a funny story about that. I learned the F word in that conversation.
[00:11:34] And, uh, you know, I don't know, later that year, we were at, at Sabbath dinner at someone's house. And this person was like in the seminary, or a seminary instructor, I don't remember exactly. But, you know, their kids were about my age and, you know, and so I, I taught that word to the, to the kids. We were playing in their room, you know, before Sabbath dinner.
[00:11:56] And you know, I just spelled it, you know, 'Do you know what F U C K means?' Like, like, and this kid wasn't very good at reading, and so he is like pronouncing it wrong. And I kept saying, 'No, that's not it!' And so finally he ran out into the living room where our two dads were talking, and he asked his dad what it was.
[00:12:13] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:12:14] Jeff: Anyway, my dad came bursting into the bedroom to demand where I'd learned it [laughing]. That was an awkward Sabbath dinner, let me just tell you.
[00:12:22] Santiago: Oh man, I bet.
[00:12:24] Jeff: A few years later, um, just to kind of round out the, the story, I did get it in SDA elementary school as well, when I was in about seventh grade, sixth, or
[00:12:32] seventh grade. I, the, the memory's a bit fuzzy, but I was in one of those kind of typical small city two room Seventh-day Adventist schools. Two room two teachers, you know, maybe 50 kids all together, uh, if even that. And the 5, 6, 7 and eighth grade room had the, had the human reproductive lecture.
[00:12:53] And it was, uh, looking back, it was unexpectedly direct and explicit and descriptive, um,
[00:13:02] for that time in that place, southern Michigan, small city in Michigan. And we were tested on it, I remember it quite well. The, the test was things like, you know, sexual intercourse is A, B, C, and one of them was, you know, penis goes into the vagina.
[00:13:17] And so I remember there was one part where the male teacher in the school who was the principal took all the boys and five through eight aside and, you know, read some lengthy Ellen White quote about masturbation and, um, we're basically told 'Don't do it.'
[00:13:33] The female teacher took the girls and I assume had a, a similar talk. We also altogether watched a very awkward, uh movie. Not Seventh-day Adventist production, just a worldly movie about, um, you know, venereal disease is what it was called. Um, but yeah, that, that was it. I, I was one of the few who got formal, uh, in, in SDA school.
[00:13:54] Santiago: Well, I mean, credit to them for, for just giving it to you in general. I mean, I think that's probably as much as you could expect for that time period. I know I've heard stories of other Adventists who got nothing or who, I think Alex in a earlier episode mentioned that, you know, they had the human anatomy section in their textbook, but the teacher completely skipped it over 'cause he was in one of those small two room SDA schools and they didn't want the younger kids, I guess, to hear it.
[00:14:22] Jeff: Well, maybe maybe just two, uh, other anecdotes then to, to kind of share that go along with that. You know, I remember in that same school, would've been around that same time, there was a bit of a drama at one point about using the word gay.
[00:14:37] Because gay was in a bunch of songs that we kind of knew and, you know, it was on the end of the whatever cartoon network, you know, 'We'll have a gay old time.' It was part of the song and, you know, kids were kind of laughing about that. 'Oh, they said gay, ha ha ha.' And so the teacher kind of stood up and had a very stern talking to: 'Now gay could just mean happy!' Okay, so okay then.
[00:15:01] Santiago: I'm pretty sure I remember hearing that at some point actually.
[00:15:05] Jeff: My high school experience at Adelphian Academy, I seem to recall that when we did, as a senior, um, when we did the section on, you know, reproductive health basically, they were much more demure about discussing it in any kind of detail than, than what I got in elementary school.
[00:15:21] Santiago: Yeah, I think it all depends on probably the school leadership and maybe the individual teacher, the location. So speaking of all this, I'm, I'm curious as a guy, I know the term may not have been really used or widespread back then, but what did purity culture look like for you, and how do you think it affected you and your peers?
[00:15:44] Jeff: Well I think what it effectively did was drive the conversation underground. So it, you know, it seemed very clear, although I don't think anyone ever said, you know, 'You can't talk about sex, you shouldn't discuss it,' that was very clearly the implication, or it was clearly the implication for me, you know, at that time.
[00:16:06] Kind of going back to discussing the book Almost 12 with my mom and then going across the street and actually discussing it with my,
[00:16:13] you know, neighbor friends, I mean, that was really how our understanding of how that part of the world worked, un, unfolded. And, you know, looking back there was a lot of misinformation and, you know, a lot of very, it really reinforced all of the, I would say kind of, yeah, the heteronormative gender roles and norms of early to mid eighties, basically.
[00:16:39] Early to mid eighties, White, North American kind of heteronormative worldview. And, and so I think that's probably really what it looked like. There was a lot of, a lot of shame built into that system. And so it would, just made it almost impossible to have a kind of normal conversation about normal things.
[00:16:57] I remember my parents were pretty into the, into the church community life. And so whenever there was a multi-day seminar or something, you know, we always went to it. And, you know, there was, there was one, um, I, I remember when I was about 13 in seventh grade, my mom gave me a, a book on adolescence by James Dobson.
[00:17:20] Santiago: Oh no.
[00:17:21] Jeff: Right? And this was early James Dobson. And so in that book I remember him saying, 'Masturbation's very normal, almost all boys do it and many girls do it too. And you know, at some point you probably need to give that up in favor of an actual physical relationship with a person that you're married to who is of the opposite sex. But, you know, as a young person, that's pretty normal.'
[00:17:43] And I remember thinking, 'Well, hallelujah!' You know, cause I thought I broke something, you know? And a few months later we went to this multi-day Focus on the Family thing at our church and it was basically showing James Dobson movies for a couple of nights running.
[00:18:02] And I remember our church pastor then standing up at the end of the movie that had to do with sexuality and saying, 'And by the way, James Dobson has changed his tune on masturbation and it's now bad.' And I remember thinking, 'God damn it!
[00:18:20] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:18:21] Jeff: 'Shit!'
[00:18:23] Santiago: Yeah, oh man.
[00:18:25] Jeff: Ruined my life, I hated James Dobson from that moment forward.
[00:18:29] Santiago: I guess James Dobson is as consistent as the leadership of the Mormon Church, and, uh, changing his mind on things. That's really interesting. I didn't know that early James Dobson was a little bit more forgiving than, uh, than later James Dobson.
[00:18:45] Jeff: Yeah, I, I, I think that's not a well-known fact. And, and yes, he did change his tune pretty, pretty dramatically on the issue of masturbation. I think, um, the other part of it is that, you asked as a, as a male kind of growing up in the system.
[00:18:58] You know, purity culture for, for me or, or maybe for us for others, really made girls kind of off limits in this scary, scary other part of the population that we kind of desperately wanted and were also kind of terrified of. I think mainly 'cause of the mystery and we felt we couldn't discuss or ask things.
[00:19:23] And I can remember some of my early female friendships, high school friendships with females that were meaningful. Not romantic dating relationships, but just straight platonic friendships where, you know, we actually in some cases got to the point where we could talk about some of this stuff.
[00:19:42] And mainly kind of discuss the fact that we didn't know what the hell was going on and what was gonna be like, and kind of, we desperately wanted to try this, but were also scared shitless of doing it. And I remember moments when that felt very refreshing to kind of have that honest conversation even though it was basically admission that we didn't know anything.
[00:20:00] Santiago: Yeah no, I think just being able to talk with another human being in a setting where I think there's mutual trust and like you said, just being able, just being comfortable, acknowledging that you don't know what you don't know. I think that's important.
[00:20:16] You know, somebody listening to this episode and maybe other episodes in the future might be wondering, 'Well, why does, why does Santiago keep asking the same question over and over again?' Part of the reason I am is because, for that very reason.
[00:20:28] We didn't feel like we were able to talk about it openly, and I hope to kind of normalize conversations around this. Because it's a normal part of our human experience and there's nothing inherently shameful or wrong about just talking about it.
[00:20:43] Jeff: There isn't, but I will just say that even to this day, as an adult, it's a difficult, awkward subject. I mean, that was the behavior that was modeled for me through the time that I, I left home. The adults in my life, certainly any adults who were authority figures, were just obviously very deeply awkward in discussing it, whether positively, whether negatively. It just was an uncomfortable thing to talk about.
[00:21:11] Santiago: Yeah, no, I, I, I feel that. Maybe in some cases I still experience a little bit of that, but in my experience, I think as, as I've removed myself from the system over time, it's gotten easier and I, I hope it keeps getting easier for, for everyone.
[00:21:28] Jeff: Let's hope.
[00:21:29] Santiago: Yeah. So I'm curious to know if you ever heard people talk about having a relationship with Jesus and if that meant anything to you.
[00:21:39] Jeff: Oh man. I mean, yeah, the kind of, the earliest memories I can really put my finger on about this would've been around the time that I was in academy, you know, going to academy Bible. It always seemed just a little bit weird to me. You know, 'You should have a love affair with Jesus.' I remember that language being used,
[00:21:59] 'Right, okay, mm-hmm, that sounds exactly like my kind of thing,' you know, I thought sarcastically in my own head. But, you know, I went through a period of, in those years, where I was, I would say very devout and very conservative and really kind of took my relationship with Jesus quite seriously. And, you know, prayed every day and felt guilty if I didn't, and felt guilty if I didn't read my Bible.
[00:22:25] And, you know, really that was, that, that was really, uh, an important part of my life. And I really attribute that to, you know, the indoctrination that I got. And I used the word indoctrination intentionally, but the indoctrination that I got at, at Adventist boarding academy, particularly in Bible, but not just. Every Week of Prayer speaker we had, you know, kind of hammered at that point, except for the one or two who hammered at rock music or devil possession. But basically it was, you need to have a — right? Rock music? Anyway.
[00:22:54] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah.
[00:22:56] Jeff: But yeah, really this whole love affair with Jesus, 'Jesus comes first,' you know? When I started kind of trying to date in high school, have girlfriends, the injunctions were always, you know, 'Jesus comes first. don't do anything with your girlfriend that you wouldn't feel comfortable doing if Jesus was sitting right there. If you go on a date, you know, leave an extra seat for Jesus.' And, and I mean I knew people who did that literally, right?would pull up another chair to the table. 'It's for Jesus!'
[00:23:24] Santiago: What?
[00:23:27] Jeff: As if the whole, you know, sexuality and, you know, dating relationships wasn't awkward enough already. Let's have another chair for Jesus. I never did that personally, but I know people who did.
[00:23:39] Santiago: Wow, interesting.
[00:23:40] Jeff: There was one girl, young woman, um, in boarding academy that, that I, I liked quite a lot and, and we got quite close at one time. But in the end she couldn't, um, you know, be my girlfriend because, 'cause Jesus. She didn't want me to take the place of Jesus in her life.
[00:23:58] Santiago: Mmmm, that's uh, that's a
[00:24:01] con, that's a convenient excuse. And it's funny how that goes both ways 'cause I, I had an Adventist friend who told me that a guy had told her that he, I think had a dream or, you know, "God spoke to him" and he knew they were supposed to be together. And just this real manipulative language and just approach in general. And, uh, I'm pretty sure she mentioned that her mom had had that happen to her when she was younger as well. So she already knew that this bullshit was out there. It cuts both ways, so...
[00:24:39] Jeff: No arguing with Jesus.
[00:24:41] Santiago: Yeah, no, can't, can't argue with that. [Laughing] Speaking of which, I'm wondering, so you, you said that at least at some point you did try and take seriously your relationship with Jesus. So for you, did you ever experience moments that felt spiritual or supernatural to you?
[00:25:02] Jeff: Uh, you know, I, I didn't, not really. I mean, I, I felt moments of, and I can remember instances and periods of kind of intense devotion and, uh, and a real sense of, 'Okay, I feel like I, I have this part of my life together and I feel kind of confident and about that and, and calm and secure in it.' But I never, I never had an experience where I felt like God spoke to me. I never had a supernatural encounter. So yeah, no, no, it was all kind of in my own head.
[00:25:41] Santiago: Got it, okay. We've talked a little bit about being taught about Young Earth creationism, and I'm wondering what that was like for you, and if that played any role in leaving Adventism.
[00:25:55] Jeff: I mean, it was definitely a part of, you know, my deconstruction a a, an important part. And I can talk more about that later, but, but the answer to that is yes, it did play a role, um, as a, as a young adult. You know, I would say that, uh, compared to other kind of born into the system Adventists that I know, my upbringing with respect to Young Earth creationism was pretty standard.
[00:26:18] I can remember as a kid a couple of times going with my parents to like the Natural History Museum, the big one in Chicago, the Field House, I think it's called, or the Field Museum and, you know, kind of wandering through the exhibits and they'll say, you know, 'This thing is, you know, two billion years old,' and we all kind of chuckled, 'Ha ha, right, sure it is.'
[00:26:37] You know, on the rare occasions that we were allowed to watch something on TV, it was invariably, you know, nature related. And so these worldly scientists would go on about, 'Oh, you know, over the millions of years, uh, you know, this thing evolved' and we all kind of, 'Yeah, we know better, actually. We know that's not actually true.' Depending on which Adventist adults were in the room, there would kind of be a, either a kind of condescending chuckle, or kind of the, the heavy hearted sigh 'If only they could find the truth.'
[00:27:08] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:27:09] Jeff: 'They, they've studied so much and have so much knowledge and they still haven't found the truth.'
[00:27:15] Santiago: What an elitist mindset.
[00:27:18] Jeff: You know, it really is. Maybe one of the enduring memories and one that I continue to grapple with to this day in different ways is the, the kind of extreme "us/them" othering of non-Adventist people. I mean, I read an article years ago called The Wall of Adventism and, all to say it, it was kind of commenting on this aspect of the Adventist system.
[00:27:44] I mean I was well into my late twenties, well into young adulthood before I had relationships of significance that were outside of the Adventist system. Literally everyone I knew and was at all close to. I had people in my life that I was acquainted with those kids that I played with, you know, kind of growing up, um, who weren't Adventist. But once I went away to boarding academy, those relationships for all practical purposes stopped and I'm no longer in contact with those people.
[00:28:11] Yeah, I was in my twenties before I had friendships that were meaningful outside the system. And so yeah, that real, the real us/them part of it was, was, was pretty intense. And to this day, when I meet a new person, I notice that they wear jewelry or don't. And although it doesn't matter to me if they're wearing jewelry, I know they're not Adventist. The thought does go in my head. You know, if I see them drinking coffee, 'Well, not Adventist,' you know? Although that's no longer quite the case.
[00:28:40] See them going to the beach on Saturday or eating bacon or whatever, 'Hmm, not an Adventist.' And there would've been a time when that fact would've been a reason why I knew in my heart I couldn't be close friends with them. Because they're binding themselves into bundles that will be burned later. And I, why would I want to tie myself to that?
[00:29:02] Santiago: Yeah, wow, that's so sad when you think about potentially missed opportunities, missed friendships. I wouldn't say that I myself am particularly bitter. I've talked before about how my break with my local church was really me ghosting them because I can't be open about my current beliefs. Not because I had a falling out with any one particular person or because I felt hurt or abused in any way.
[00:29:30] One of the big things that I kind of regret is just wondering 'What if,' right? 'What if I hadn't been raised in this kind of bubble?' Less of a bubble than other folks who are raised in an even more insular Adventist community, but still a bubble nonetheless. And um, you know, it's just one of those things where I'm like, 'Okay, well I have the rest of my life, however long that is, to make new friends and kind of see the world.' And, and I've been doing some of that and, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity to do that.
[00:30:01] Jeff: You know, that really, that really resonates, and I'm gonna just segue really quickly to the Ex Adventist survey, and I, I would, it seems like there are a number of people who have taken the survey who have commented in different parts, you know, similarly to what you've just described. I, I also don't, wouldn't say that I have anger or resentment toward the church particularly.
[00:30:26] And whatever anger or resentment I have would be mostly in exactly this space, right? Perfectly lovely people that I had the chance to have in my life and chose not to because they weren't Adventist. Girls I didn't kiss because they weren't Adventist, weekends I didn't spend at the beach because I was Adventist, or camping or whatever.
[00:30:49] Rock concerts I didn't go to because I was Adventist and movies I didn't go to because I was Adventist, and all of those things that were kind of off limits. Music in particular was a big one for me. I always grew up loving it and wanting it and wanting to have it playing or to play it. And similarly, uh, I was well into young adulthood in my twenties before I finally kind of thought myself out of that kind of wet paper bag of guilt that around music.
[00:31:17] How many times in academy did I pray for release from my addiction to rock and roll music and
[00:31:23] Burn my REO Speedwagon cassette tape or you know, whatever [laughing]. It all seems pretty tame now, but, yeah, I took that shit seriously. And now of course I listen to nothing but hard rock and heavy metal, except for when my kids wanna play music in the car and, yeah, anyway.
[00:31:41] Santiago: Yeah, making up for lost time.
[00:31:42] Jeff: You're right man [laughing]!
[00:31:45] Santiago: So, speaking of, you know, music and some of these other things, obviously Ellen White wrote a ton about that and so many other topics. And I'm curious, for you, how important was Ellen White in your family, schools, or churches?
[00:32:02] Jeff: Pretty important. You had to work hard to kind of escape Ellen White. And certainly, you know, I feel like kind of the first wave of public Adventist backlash against Ellen White was — I, I kind of rode what I perceived to be the early part of that wave, right? And a lot of teachers in academy and a lot of adults in my life as I was going through adolescence and young adulthood, kind of gave lip service to this idea that 'You don't need Ellen White to be saved, you can be a good Adventist without accepting Ellen White.'
[00:32:35] But I don't think anyone really believed it, and they certainly didn't act in ways that made us believe it. Ellen White was kind of, you know, behind everything. And they found a thousand ways to say "Ellen White." 'Tell me Ellen White without telling me Ellen White,' you know? 'The Spirit of Prophecy, the Pen of Inspiration,' the, you know, 'The little red books say.'
[00:32:56] And so yeah, I would say it was pretty well constantly, I don't wanna say barraged, but Ellen White was always there. My parents had all the books, still have 'em. I bought books too. And, you know, early in my adult life had, you know, Ellen White books on, on my shelf that I read and referred to.
[00:33:15] Um, I don't think I ever was in an institution until I joined ADRA, where Ellen White wasn't kind of like a, an understood part of the, the framework, yeah.
[00:33:28] Santiago: Interesting, okay yeah, we're definitely gonna get into your time at ADRA in a little bit. One more question along the lines of Ellen White. So when I interviewed Melissa, she talked about her family very intentionally avoided things like mustard and spices in line with Ellen White's writings. So I'm wondering if your family also did that or if you knew any other families who did.
[00:33:51] Jeff: Yeah, I mean that was, that was kind of standard in the Adventist community that I grew up with. You know, if, if you go to someone's house for Sabbath dinner and they have black pepper on the table, 'Ooh, they're liberal,' you know?
[00:34:03] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:34:05] Jeff: You know, there's a, there's a funny family story about, you know, my grandfather who graduated from Loma Linda medical school back in the early days of it, right, who, 'Well, you know!' Kind of an old western cowboy kind of guy. 'Oh, yeah, yeah, it's a bunch of hogwash' and he was gonna have black pepper. But, you know, my grandmother who kind of believed it was bad for, for you would scrape, burn toast into the pepper shaker so that...
[00:34:31] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:34:32] Santiago: What?
[00:34:33] Jeff: Yeah.
[00:34:34] Santiago: Sabotaging the pepper!
[00:34:36] Jeff: Sabotaging black pepper, who knew? [Laughing]
[00:34:41] Santiago: You know, it's so funny because having grown up on the West Coast, you know, it's the West Coast, so it's a more liberal state. I grew up, you know, in a somewhat of a different time, and I also grew up in a multicultural church.
[00:34:55] When I heard about that, because I, I had not deeply studied Ellen White as a kid, that was news to me. Like, I think it wasn't until I started deconstructing and deconverting that I learned that there was some Adventists who grew up this way and I was like, 'Wait, what?'
[00:35:12] That would be unheard of at the church I grew up in and in having a Latina mom, like, you know, eating the food that she made, that would've also been unheard of in my family. So it's so fascinating to hear from, from folks who, who grew up with that.
[00:35:28] Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and mustard too, you know, I listened to the clip that you put in your story of Melissa talking about mustard and sure enough, yeah. I mean, you know, we had mustard in her house and it was for things like, you know, Veja-Link hotdogs and, you know, lentil patty burgers and stuff, but not, not often. We, we wouldn't normally have that, and it was intense.
[00:35:50] And, you know, to this day, um my parents struggle with, I won't even say spicy food. I will say food with intense flavors. Now they're, they're older and I understand that, you know, sensitivities change as, as that happens. But yeah, boy, anything that's remotely, anything that's even incrementally off dead bland, you know, is just kind of cause for... And I'm not speaking just of my parents now, but of pretty much everyone I knew growing up.
[00:36:19] Anything off of dead bland was kind of cause for brow furrowing and, you know, lip twisting, and maybe a, a sideways comment or two about, 'Ooh, that seems spicy. Ooh, I wonder what Sister White would think.'
[00:36:32] Santiago: Oh man, I, I wonder how much of that was just that some of these folks who were maybe not as used to spicy food, just personally couldn't handle it and assumed it was bad for everyone else. I gotta imagine there's some of that going on.
[00:36:48] Jeff: I mean, it's hard to separate out, right? I mean, Adventism was born out of White, North American middle class culture, wasn't it? And I would say that that was, that that's also the culture that I grew up in. Straight, White, heteronormative, Midwestern, you know, kind of Southern Michigan, Midwest United States.
[00:37:09] You know, in just every way, we weren't accustomed to anything outside of that. A, a Black or Brown person was, was cause for comment. Um, you know, our church was, was straight White for most of the time that I went there, as was the, the school. And so, yeah, it's hard to separate kind of White Midwest culture from Adventist culture in some areas. And this may be one, although my worldly neighbors used mustard on their hotdogs all the time and didn't seem to suffer any long-term effects from it.
[00:37:39] Santiago: Yeah, go figure.
[00:37:42] Jeff: They seemed happy. Probably not true happiness though, that only comes from Jesus. And we all know that Jesus wouldn't eat mustard, so yeah.
[00:37:51] Santiago: [Laughing] Right, right. So I'm curious since you mentioned that, I was a full on adult by the time I heard anything about racial segregation within the SDA church. And I was aware that there were "Black churches" as we referred to them, even within my own church.
[00:38:12] That were, you know, not necessarily seen as outside of our Adventist faith, but they were, it was definitely understood that there was a different culture, a different vibe. I attended some several times for different events, different like multi church events.
[00:38:31] But I was never really aware of the segregation that we faced within our church until we eventually had a Black pastor. And I remember that very gently, but he did speak about that. And I remember having some conversations with him, just kind of one off. And I was very interested about that. And I hadn't really heard about it.
[00:38:58] Candidly, I hadn't really even thought to research into why that was. It was just kind of the way it was and I didn't really think much about it. So I'm curious, you know, what was it like for you seeing that? And did you ever think about it? Did it, did anyone ever talk about it?
[00:39:15] Jeff: Uh, yeah, we did think about it and speak about it, but in very typical ways for that part of the world at that time, I would say. There was, you know, there was a little bit of kind of Adventist veneer over the top of, you know, 'This is why the,' I was in the Lake Union conference, and so the, the parallel, you know, system for the Black churches was called the Lake Region Conference.
[00:39:41] And so there was, there was kind of these bland Adventist explanations of, 'Well, this is the reason why we have the Lake Region Conference. You know, those Black people like to worship their way and it's a little different from ours and we just want to make sure that everyone's comfortable.'
[00:39:54] I remember there was a, a Black kid, um, I think he was from the Caribbean somewhere who, you know, for a brief period, his parents attended our church and he went to our school and, you know, that was just kind of awkward and, and dramatic.
[00:40:07] And I do remember, you know, at, at one point he was absent from school and the teacher stood up in front of the class. I was like, in fourth grade or maybe fifth grade and, and said something like, so, you know, 'This kid is gone today. And part of the reason is that he feels he's being picked on because he's Black.'
[00:40:28] And, you know, who in Michigan in the early eighties, especially when you're 10, is equipped to really kind of have that conversation, you know? Having grown up in inside a, a White bubble, not just an Adventist bubble, but a very White bubble. And, you know, some 10 year old Black kid thinks he's being picked on.
[00:40:46] And I don't know, I, I remember thinking, 'What? Are we picking on him? I don't remember.' Um, you know, and I can remember some of the adults that, you know, would talk to my parents and I would kind of linger around the fringes, would say things like, 'Well, you know,' with reference to this kid's parents, 'They're always just so angry. Just so angry, you know?' So a lot of the kind of typical tropes of the day. I think there was a time when we, when the, the Adventist elementary school I went to, you know, we were all required to be in the school choir, [laughing] even those who couldn't sing.
[00:41:25] And, um, anyway, we put together a, a set of, you know, kids' choir songs and it was kind of a big deal because we got ourselves invited to go sing at the Black church in our town. And that was something. 'Oh, the black church, wow.' Felt a little dangerous going to that part of town and all those black people, man. Yeah, it was, it was, really a different time.
[00:41:46] Santiago: Yeah, and it's interesting to hear you, you know, mention that experience of hearing the teacher talk about that. And also, you know, comments from some of the parents that you heard. Because I think back then I imagine we didn't really have the language to talk about something like that. The term microaggressions certainly wouldn't have been used.
[00:42:07] And even today in some circles, some Adventist circles, I'm sure people will roll their eyes at the use of that term. But those are definitely part of people's lived experiences that unless if you've experienced it, it's kind of difficult to understand or empathize.
[00:42:24] Jeff: Absolutely, yeah, and maybe just to say that, you know, becoming more woke to, to racial issues was certainly, uh, a big part of my deconstruction from, from Adventism, which I, to this day see as very kind of White patriarchal.
[00:42:38] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's interesting seeing the conversation playing out right now in early 2023. The term woke is very, it's used very derisively. It's, it's really become, at least for many people, a derogatory term. And I feel like it's been used so much that it's somewhat lost its original meaning. But I've, I've heard people describe it as simply having empathy for others and being aware of social injustices around you. And I'm like, who, who would find fault in having empathy for other people?
[00:43:19] Jeff: You know, yeah it, it, it blows my mind and it's, although I'm outside of the system now and, you know, can kind of set myself free from any emotional kind of tie to it, right? I, I, I guess there's still a level of disappointment when I look back at the Adventist system and see the kind of, maybe not from the formal system itself and its own communication, but certainly from, you know, the lay membership. And I, I realize I'm painting with a broad brush and it's not every individual, right? But kind of the general trend that's, you know, kind of anti woke, let's put it that way.
[00:43:56] Santiago: Mm-hmm, yeah. I would say definitely within Evangelical Christianity as a whole, that is very much, that is very much the trend. And it has been for, for decades in the United States at least, and from what I've read, it's, they're starting to export that as, as we do, as Americans, exporting that to other countries.
[00:44:20] Jeff: Yeah, for sure.
[00:44:21] Santiago: I've heard about how the Adventist church has become definitely more liberal over the years in North America. But thanks to their own proselytizing and kind of neo-colonial missionary activities if you will, in other countries, the rest of the church is theologically and socially where the North American church was maybe some decades ago. And it's kind of coming back to haunt them, which is interesting.
[00:44:52] Jeff: Yeah, I think you're right. I think that's the, that's exactly, exactly the situation. And again, it's, it's disappointing to kind of see it, but yeah, I have to kind of set myself free from worrying too much about it.
[00:45:05] Santiago: Yeah, so coming back to your own personal experiences with faith, I'm wondering if you grew up with any anxiety about death or the afterlife?
[00:45:19] Jeff: Not death and the afterlife particularly because, you know, once the dead are dead, they know nothing and the memory of them is forgotten. But, uh, I was certainly very afraid of the "time of trouble." Throughout my kind of late elementary school years and, and through academy, I worried about, you know, what was gonna, gonna happen in the time of trouble.
[00:45:44] Would I be strong enough to withstand, you know, the, the trials and tribulations that I knew were coming? Um, would I be tortured from my faith and would I be able to withstand the torture? I had nightmares about it through academy. They mostly stopped in college but certainly, I, I stressed about this.
[00:46:01] There was a particular speaker I remember, too, at Michigan camp meeting, and we went religiously every year. We didn't always stay for the whole thing, but certainly on the weekends. Um, but there was one, one speaker that I recall who was kind of a mainstay at the early teen tent. You know who he, he was, I want to say he was from Central America, but I don't know which country.
[00:46:24] And he, you know, kind of had these lurid stories about people in, I guess Cuba or maybe El Salvador, I don't know, being tortured for their, for their faith. And, you know, the blood running out of the cell onto the, onto the cement floor and, you know, and then kind of ending with, 'And this is what you're gonna face also, and you need to be strong.'
[00:46:45] And I just remember thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I don't want to have my blood running out of the cell.' And that really, really terrified me. I feel I, looking back, I think it was completely inappropriate, you know, to saddle 10 year olds and 11 year olds with that kind of thing. Um, even to tell them the stories really, um, let alone saddle them with the burden of 'You're gonna have to deal with this, too.'
[00:47:07] But, so yeah, I took that, uh, very, very seriously. I, I spent a lot of time praying that I would be strong enough that, you know, that I wouldn't receive the mark of the beast. And yeah, that was, that was, I took that very seriously.
[00:47:20] Santiago: I don't remember getting very graphic descriptions like that from my family or at school, but I definitely remember hearing some sermons. Not by, I don't think it was necessarily the head pastor at our church, but probably by some guest speakers that came through, that definitely were, I think you could fairly call them fear mongering. Definitely inappropriate for kids.
[00:47:51] Jeff: Yeah, it was, it was, it was very inappropriate.
[00:47:53] Santiago: Well, you've described your experience of leaving as a "slow extrication" and that it took you a while to even admit to yourself that you didn't believe in the Adventist faith anymore. So I'm wondering if you remember what you were thinking and feeling when you finally admitted that to yourself?
[00:48:12] Jeff: Yeah, I think the, the, the moment or the, the time when I finally was kind of intellectually honest in the silence of my own head, right? That, 'You know what, I no longer believe this.' It was, uh, a very intense and clear sense of release and of a burden lifting. There was a moment when, before then I had to worry about all this stuff, being tortured for my faith perhaps, um, and the next moment it was no longer a concern.
[00:48:42] So yeah, it was a very, very liberating moment. Man, I felt amazing and felt great. I was much happier almost immediately. Took a while to get there, but yeah, yeah, no, that was, it was a good moment. I still remember it.
[00:48:56] Santiago: Yeah, I can only imagine that no longer having to worry about something as horrible as that is good for your mental health.
[00:49:04] Jeff: [Laughing] Yeah, for sure. You know, I mean, it didn't take long for there to kind of then be this, this next part of the journey, right? Which was around, 'Okay, if you're not Adventist, then what are you? And if this is not your community, then who is?'
[00:49:19] And I would say that, give or take 20 years later, I'm still kind of finding that community. There have been a, a few different tribes that I've been part of along the way and, you know, maybe still kind of am. But yeah, I've never found a, a community to really kind of replace the one that, that I, that I left when I left Adventism. And to be fair, I mean, I basically have two and a half feet out, right?
[00:49:44] It's, it's not possible to all the way leave the community. You can stop performing the rituals and you can stop saying the magic words, and you can stop believing the, you know, the mythology or the legends. But, you can never, well, maybe you can, but I haven't been able to completely disentangle. And I probably will never be able to because of, you know, so many family and long-term personal connections. I think it, I think it was, um, was it Abby a, a couple episodes ago who talked about you can never really quit Adventism, it's always gonna kind of be there in the background and yeah. That, that really resonated, I found that really to be true.
[00:50:24] Santiago: Yeah, I think that is definitely true for many folks, especially people like you who, kindergarten through college, that was, that was, that was your life. So I think it's totally understandable that in, in one way or another, it may always be there.
[00:50:39] And I think that's part of, part of what this podcast is about for me, is I am absolutely fully out. The only Adventists I see regularly are my parents, and yet here I am talking about it regularly because I personally am still processing. I think like Tom mentioned, part of the survey was part of your process as well, of still kind of dealing with these questions, right?
[00:51:06] Jeff: Yeah, very much so, and I think at this point I've mostly made peace with the reality that I'll probably be somehow processing this for the rest of my life. Um, and somehow still examining it, um, if not for the rest of my life, for, for a long time. Coming to terms with what it means for me now to have been raised inside that, that system.
[00:51:29] Yeah, a lot of emotional and mental energy over the past, you know, few years have kind of gone to going back to some of those memories of how it was and, uh, you know, yeah. Trying to, under, trying to look at them through, through the eyes of an adult now and understand 'em differently, yeah.
[00:51:47] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:51:47] Jeff: I, I'm not sure I can all can say a hundred percent of why it's important to me to do it, but it is.
[00:51:52] Santiago: Yeah, no, I, I can relate. There's, there's just kind of maybe a, a lack of closure in some cases for people. I feel like maybe that's what I feel.
[00:52:02] Jeff: That's interesting, you know, I hadn't thought of the lack of closure part of it, but maybe it's some, somehow that. I feel like a lot of us leave quietly and slowly and there is never a moment at which you're now out and everyone knows it. And, and so yeah, we've been denied or failed to take that closure, uh, when it was offered. Because of family, because of friend networks that go way back, it's, it's really hard to completely extricate yourself. And so I guess the, the flip side is we, we don't get that closure.
[00:52:31] Santiago: Yeah, so speaking of, you know, your, your school experience, you've talked about going to an SDA boarding school and staying in the dorm, and, uh, I, I know we're already quite a ways into the conversation, but I'm wondering if you, first of all, I'm wondering what was it your parents' idea to send you there?
[00:52:53] Jeff: Uh, yeah, it was, um, I don't remember ever there being a conversation where options were discussed, particularly, that would've included not going to an Adventist boarding academy. There were two kind of boarding academies in, in the state of Michigan when, when I grew up Adelphian and Cedar Lake. And, you know, there was, at one point I remember a conversation about 'Which one's it gonna be,' and there were some zoning issues because of where we lived.
[00:53:21] Then Adelphian was the one that I should go to, so I did. Yeah, that was as deep as it went. There was no, there was no day academy close enough that I could have attended and there was no discussion that I recall of, maybe I could go to the public high school. That would've been scary 'cause you know, "worldly." 'I'll be safe at academy.'
[00:53:43] Santiago: [Laughing] Well, so speaking of safe, we're, we're gonna get into that in a bit 'cause you've mentioned, you, I think you told me in, in episode nine that if you didn't go through the dorm experience, you can only imagine what it was like.
[00:53:57] But before we go into that, for anyone who isn't familiar with SDA schools, the term boarding school or boarding academy might evoke, you know, images of elite, wealthy private schools in New England with, you know, these like towering brick buildings covered in ivy leaves.
[00:54:15] Another ex-Adventist shared a story where someone actually asked her if her boarding school was anything like Hogwarts. And so for those listening who aren't familiar, can you describe what your campus and dorms were like?
[00:54:29] Jeff: Yeah, I mean, it was kind of, uh, in, in some rural land outside of a small town called Holly, Michigan. Holly, part of being part of a, a wider network of small cities, kind of outside the Detroit metropolitan area. So you didn't feel like you were close to a big city, but we definitely drew from, you know, the, the elementary schools around the Detroit area.
[00:54:58] Yeah, it was, you know, as I remembered, it was a pretty campus. Kind of flat and a few trees around different parts. And there was a kind of a diamond shape center campus where, you know, two opposing points of the, the square were the boys and the girls dorm. And then, um, the other opposing point of the square would've been the gymnasium with the cafeteria down below and then the administration building.
[00:55:20] And so yeah, it was a square. There were a couple of athletic fields off to one side, and there was like, there was some land that we called the farm, and I worked on the farm for a couple of, couple of seasons. Ran a strawberry patch and I don't know, baled hay and that kind of thing. That's what it was when I, when I last attended, um, there were probably about 300 students as I recall. I graduated the last year that it, the academy existed after that. They, they closed it and there was only one boarding academy in Michigan after that.
[00:55:52] Santiago: Interesting, I think I looked them up online the other day, so I, if I'm not mistaken, I think they did reopen. Or at least a school opened under that name, but I think it only goes up to 10th grade if, if, I'm remembering correctly.
[00:56:06] Jeff: Interesting.
[00:56:07] Santiago: Yeah, I think it's now Adelphian Junior Academy.
[00:56:12] Jeff: Probably, you know, and the, the thing that I recall about choosing the academy and being at the, you know, the decision to go to Adelphian Academy was that, you know, there seemed to be a bit of a reputation in the Michigan conference that, you know, Cedar Lake was the good school if you wanted to go and really build your spiritual life.
[00:56:31] And you know, you go to Cedar Lake, it was a little more remote. Uh, it was a small, outside of a smaller town, but Adelphian was kind of the, the school for the edgy kind of hardcore kids. And, you know, that kind of appealed to me. I wanted to go be edgy and, you know, I liked the idea of being one of the bad boys.
[00:56:50] Everyone: [Laughing]
[00:56:51] Santiago: Well, so speaking of that, what are some of your most vivid memories from being at that school and being in the dorm?
[00:57:00] Jeff: Uh, wow. I mean where to, where to begin? But maybe let's just start with, um, the fact that, uh, in the, in the boys' dorm, it was gang showers. So, uh, porcelain tile room with four spigots coming out of the wall and, you know, there was one, one shower room per floor.
[00:57:20] It was a two story dorm and so I think the expectation was normally you'd go to the shower on your floor. And um, normally we would all get up and go wait in line in the shower, watching the, the four guys showering, shower till they got done.
[00:57:39] And um, you know, I, I, I guess there was pressure to, to move it along because there was 20 other guys standing there watching you shower and commenting on whatever, uh, um, uh, it was, it was very awkward at first. And you know, after the first week or so, you got used to it.
[00:57:56] And, you know, to the point that we would even, well, the new kids would, would go to the shower room with all their clothes on and their, you know, their shower stuff in a little bag or whatever. And you know, by the end of the year, your second week you're walking naked down the hall with your towel over your shoulder and, you know, a, a bar of soap in your hand. And that was kind of it.
[00:58:18] Santiago: Oh man, okay.
[00:58:19] Jeff: It was really awkward. There were a few times when, um, like the, the wind symphony or whatever from Andrews University or a gymnastic troupe for another academy would come and, you know, and they would all kind of crash in our dorm rooms. We'd all kind of put our hands up, we were willing to have somebody sleep in our dorm room.
[00:58:36] And I remember these college guys, they would come and it was the same deal. They would be going down to the shower, you know, in their gym suit and with their little, you know, shower kit and uh, you know, in a room full of 30 naked guys, very awkwardly standing there.
[00:58:53] Santiago: I'm sure that at least some of them were not expecting that.
[00:58:57] Jeff: They were not. Absolutely, they were not. Um, and it was always, always fun to watch. Um, and I would say, yeah, so that's a very kind of vivid memory and you know, the shenanigans that guys get up to when they're 30 of them and they are all naked in a room with lots of hot water flowing. Um, yeah, you can just imagine.
[00:59:19] Santiago: Yeah, the the closest thing I can relate to is my sixth grade camp. The showers were individual stalls, but I remember some guys thought it was hilarious to rip open the curtains and make fun of penis sizes of the boys that were inside taking a shower. And I remember, again, having come from a homeschooling environment just not that long ago, being completely horrified at that prospect. So I can only imagine what being in a, in an open shower like that would've been like for me.
[00:59:58] Jeff: What a shock at the system. Well, and you know, and in this, this, you know, shower room, everyone's got their morning wood going and oh my goodness. It's just, it's just awful.
[01:00:08] Everyone: [Laughing]
[01:00:09] Santiago: I bet, oh man. Did, did you ever witness any, any hazing or, or anything like that?
[01:00:18] Jeff: Yeah you know, um, and I thought a lot about this. Uh, you know, I don't think I witnessed anything criminal. Let me just put that out there. There's nothing, I don't have anything to share that will get anyone in actual trouble with the law. However, I do, I think now looking back that an awful lot went on that if it was to happen today, would certainly be grounds for civil, uh, a civil lawsuit.
[01:00:47] There, I, I think there were some people that I went to academy with who could seriously sue for damages and win, um, in, you know, 2022 if, if those things were to happen to them. You know, along the theme of the shower and just all these guys being naked together in one room could, 'cause what could ever go wrong, you know?
[01:01:10] Um, you know, Sabbath morning, you know, we all, some somewhere between breakfast and going to church or to Sabbath school, which was required, it was not optional. Um, you know, we would all shower and I remember one morning coming out, um, you know, dressed for, for church and Sabbath school and you know, there was some kid handcuffed buck naked to our doorknob in the hallway.
[01:01:33] The keys kind of just out of reach. And, uh, as far as I know, he stayed there naked, handcuffed until the boys dean went through during Sabbath school to check to make sure that everyone was out. Uh, 'cause they did a room check to make sure that everyone was out.
[01:01:49] Santiago: What? And was this one of the other students?
[01:01:55] Jeff: This was, yes, this was a student. That's one example. I, I mean, I just saw a tremendous amount of, uh, you know, bullying, emotional and verbal abuse, and in some cases physical abuse. I, again, nothing that I think would pass a a, you know, a criminal sniff test, but certainly, um, yeah.
[01:02:15] It, I don't know. There was some kid who, uh, he was ironing his clothes in the ironing room and some guys took him and two guys held him and another guy put the iron on his chest. Basically scalded him through his shirt and he had a big red iron mark.
[01:02:31] Santiago: Wow.
[01:02:32] Jeff: So...
[01:02:33] Santiago: I, I don't know that...
[01:02:34] Jeff: Stuff like that. That could be a assault and battery, I guess today.
[01:02:38] Santiago: I th, I think that could.
[01:02:39] Jeff: Aggravated assault, yeah. Um, he was not seriously injured. It wasn't like a second degree burn or something, but it, it was definitely left a red mark. Um, you know, and it was, you know, I, I think the, the boys dean kind of, 'Okay, guys gotta apologize and do some free labor' or something like that. And that was kind of as far as it went.
[01:03:00] Santiago: Really, interesting. Back then, did you have the term being put on "social" or social restriction?
[01:03:09] Jeff: Oh yes, yep. If you, uh, got too physical with your girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever, person you were dating, um, yeah. You'd be on, be put on social. Short for social restriction, means you're not allowed to interact. I don't remember too many cases of people being put on social. It was a thing that people were terribly afraid of and, um, so went to a lot of trouble to avoid.
[01:03:35] One or two couples got put on social and basically they couldn't sit together at the cafeteria. They couldn't, theoretically, they weren't even supposed to, you know, make eye contact from across the room. Um, in some cases they, when they had classes together, maybe there would be some effort gone to, to change the class schedule so they wouldn't be in the same class. But otherwise they were meant to not interact at all until the period of being on social was over.
[01:03:59] Santiago: Wow.
[01:03:59] Jeff: You'd be a, you'd be put on social for things like, I don't know, making out, if you got caught holding hands during a movie with, you know, your boyfriend or your girlfriend, um, yeah, usually for, for public display of affection kinds of things.
[01:04:15] Santiago: Yeah, I can imagine it's, it's pretty humiliating to, to be put on that.
[01:04:20] Jeff: Well, they really, you know, and this is, this is maybe one of the things about Adventism that I kind of have, have come to resent just a little bit. But I mean, they took every kind of mundane thing that maybe, maybe legitimately you shouldn't do. I'm not saying that being, you know, public display of affection and when you're in high school should result in being, you know, put on social.
[01:04:42] But you know, every little thing was, was kind of a moral judgment, right? And so being put on social was something you did if you were really kind of "loose and promiscuous" and just not a good person. And it really cast aspersions on your character. 'What kind of person would be on social?'
[01:04:58] And, you know, I know there were one, one or two kids who got transferred to our academy from other academies, kind of in the, you know, the multi-state union that we were part of because they'd been kicked out and, you know, 'Ooh, they were on social. Oh wow. Sexual predator.'
[01:05:16] You know, it's kind of the, the assumption, right? Or, oh, 'Loose woman' or, yeah. We really kind of morally judged people based on, on things like that. And I thought that was, looking back, I think that was really harmful.
[01:05:28] Santiago: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think, like you talked about earlier, there's this whole just, there's this just whole aroma of secrecy and shame, and I think in some cases that takes things like you said, that are completely harmless, that are completely normal, but it elevates them to this level of something that's to be feared. And I think in some cases that, that could turn things that are otherwise innocent into eventually being things that are maybe not so innocent in, in an environment like that.
[01:06:03] Jeff: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
[01:06:07] Santiago: Yeah, what a shame. Well, so after, after graduating from Adelphian, you went to Andrews University. And now I think you mentioned this is the early nineties. So I'm wondering what was that like for you and what made you decide to go to Thailand as a student missionary?
[01:06:27] Jeff: Andrews University, uh, was kind of the path of least resistance. And I don't mean that to, to speak poorly of the institution because I enjoyed my time there. But, you know, I came close to the end of, of high school at Adelphian and really, no adult in my life had had a serious conversation about college or what options looked like.
[01:06:51] And so basically I filled out a form and my parents agreed that they would cover the tuition as long as I worked on campus and, you know, did the work study thing. And that was kind of that. I, I really wanted to be a rock and roll guitarist, and they didn't offer that as a degree program at Andrews.
[01:07:10] So I, you know, took photography, the next best thing, and here we are. Um, all altogether, I, I really enjoyed Andrews. It felt like, uh, a breath of fresh air and freedom after being in the academy and, you know, in a boarding academy. Looking back it was still fairly strict and fairly conservative and fairly restrictive and all those things, but it really felt like, 'Oh my goodness, I'm being set free, wow!'
[01:07:37] You know, I, I can choose which, you know, devotions I want to go to, as long as I get enough worship credit, you know, it's, it's not kind of mandatory. And I could kind of go off campus and go see a movie or blow off church on Saturday if I wanted to, or, you know, eat a hot dog. You know, and there was no one kind of looking over my shoulder to make sure that those things didn't happen. So, that was good.
[01:08:01] I met some, you know, um, there are a few people from that period that I'm still close to and still in, in contact with. So I would say my current kind of Adventist network friendships go back about that far.
[01:08:12] The decision to go as a student missionary came when I was a junior. I don't know, I just, got a bad case of early senioritis, for one thing. Um, I was really tired of cold Michigan gray winter, and that part of Michigan particularly can be really grim during the winter months, which are basically from end of October through about June. Um, well you can get a few nice days in April and May, but it, it can be really cold and dreary.
[01:08:42] And I was like, 'Man, screw this. I want to go someplace nice.' So I went to the campus ministry's office and looked through their book and chose Thailand. Looked warm, sunny. Also, it was so, the student missionary culture of Andrews for everyone to want to go to Korea or Japan because that's where you made the money. And I was just like, 'Well, forget it. I want to go any place but Korea and Japan.' So I went to Thailand.
[01:09:06] Santiago: Nice, well yeah, I think warm and sunny when you're in a place like Michigan in the winter definitely seems appealing.
[01:09:16] Jeff: You know, Thailand was really important. Um, being a student missionary in general was important and Thailand was important itself because I, as I parse it now, that was really the beginning of the end for me inside the Adventist system. Thinking back, had I not gone as a student missionary, I could very well still be a tithe paying church attending, you know, Ellen White reading kind of person. I could or, or have would've started my deconstruction much, much later. So in many ways that was, like I said, the beginning of the end.
[01:09:48] Santiago: Interesting, so, I want to hear a little bit more about why you think that is, but I'm also curious about if you experienced any culture shock around Adventist practices in Thailand compared to Adventist practices in the US and if that had anything to do with it.
[01:10:06] Jeff: I don't think that Adventist practices in Thailand had an effect, particularly on me, you know, eventually leaving the church or not. At that point in my life, I tended to parse liberal versus conservative Adventists on primarily kind of external behavioral kinds of things.
[01:10:25] And so Adventists who ate meat were liberal, and those who were kind of weirdly vegan were conservative. You know, Adventists who are comfortable swimming on Sabbath, were liberal. And the ones who kind of wear their prairie dresses all day until sundown were conservative. Um, and so kind of by those measures, right, that, the, the Thai Adventists, at least the ones that I kind of knew well, were pretty liberal.
[01:10:51] They weren't vegetarian, mostly. And they were, you know, they, they had a view of keeping Sabbath that was different than what I'd grown up with in Michigan, which was pretty conservative, right? You know, my parents were pretty much, you know, even as a small kid, you know, there were particular toys I played with on Sabbath that I didn't play with on the weekdays and vice versa.
[01:11:11] So by those measures, the, the Thai Adventists were somewhat conservative. Now, if you dig into, you know, their understanding of scripture and their reading of Ellen White, of course they're dead conservative, right? It's 1950s Adventism. But kind of the way that they lived their lives day-to-day felt liberal in, in some ways to someone coming from Michigan.
[01:11:30] So that part was also kind of refreshing. I think the part that made it the beginning of the end though, really, was that it was the, the first time in my life that I meaningfully encountered non-Adventists over any period of time, you know, at any depth. Um, I got to be quite close with some of the Thai students that I, that I taught.
[01:11:53] I taught English and Bible at the SDA language school in Bangkok. You know, and I hung out with these people on the weekends and kind of traveled around the country with them, you know, on, on, on weeks off or, or whatever. And, wow, just to be kind of seen as normal, comparatively speaking was, was really a new experience for me.
[01:12:15] And to, to meet and deal with people who weren't part of the Adventist system and who didn't take issue with the fact that I was different. I think that, already Americans were weird to the Thai so, you know, the fact that I was Adventist was just kind of one more little, tiny bit of weird, on top of, already a lot of weird. And so I don't think they processed that I was weirder than most Americans [laughing].
[01:12:39] And so it was really nice, nice to kind of escape that mantle. You know, with Amer, with people from my own culture, um, the Adventist thing always comes up. It's impossible to avoid it. You can't, you can't go to a meal together without having to address it. You constantly calculating around food, around Sabbath keeping. And so kind of to get into a setting where, um, that wasn't the focus was, was really kind of liberating and I really liked it.
[01:13:06] Santiago: Yeah, I bet. I'm curious, you know, was your experience in Thailand something that made you decide to go into aid work? You know, why did you decide to go to ADRA and did you go right after graduation?
[01:13:20] Jeff: No, that was directly related to Thailand. I went to Thailand to teach English for one year, and while I was there, I got recruited to stay a second year and work for ADRA in Thailand. That was, that was also the beginning of my humanitarian career. Well, so I would've started with ADRA Thailand in about the summer of 1992. Yeah, '91, '91 until, until '92 is when I worked for ADRA in Thailand.
[01:13:43] I was a communications kind of person. They wanted my photography and writing skills, so that's what I did for them. Uh, and during that year, um, I, first of all, I traveled around Thailand a lot, looking at ADRA's work and kind of becoming acquainted with it. Um, I'd never heard of this stuff before, and so it was kind of intensely interesting.
[01:14:03] It was during this period that the government of Burma changed and the country became Myanmar. There was a, a lot of people from then Burma kind of fled across the border into Thailand. And so ADRA did a small response for some of those refugees, and I was the one tasked to lead it.
[01:14:23] Basically, my boss didn't want to deal, so he gave me a cashier's check for the response budget and said, you know, 'Right, mate!' He was Australian. Sent me off, put me on an overnight bus to the border and said, you know, 'Just go do it.' And with lit, literally zero knowledge of how any of it worked, I went and bought a bunch of stuff and got it up the river and gave it to the refugees and came back and it was super exciting and fun and, yeah. Uh, and so that, that was really the beginning of it for me. Unlikely for someone to get in that way these days, but that's how I, that's how I started.
[01:14:55] Santiago: Right, that's quite the responsibility.
[01:14:59] Jeff: Yeah, no kidding! Well, and it was, it had scary moments. That was an active war zone, um, that we were in. So, you know, we were hearing shelling and shooting and stuff off in the distance, and yeah. It was very kind of badass 'Out on the border, giving blankets to refugees, just doing my bit,' you know, kind of thing, so, yeah.
[01:15:23] Santiago: Aside from that, I'm, I'm curious if you have any other kind of vivid memories working at ADRA.
[01:15:31] Jeff: Oh, well, I mean so many. So, uh, so I guess the basic trajectory is that after I did a year with ADRA in Thailand, I came back to Andrews to finish my degree and then immediately turned around and went back to Asia for another two years with ADRA in Vietnam.
[01:15:50] So it was like 93 and 94, that kind of two year period in there. On the way out to that assignment, I managed to persuade ADRA International at the GC that they should send me around Southeast Asia, taking pictures for them. I just finished my degree in photography and so yeah, they did. They sent me for about three months taking pictures around South and Southeast Asia before I got to my assignment in Vietnam.
[01:16:18] And so, I mean, that was just such a blast traveling around and I don't know, riding the back of, of jeepneys in the Philippines and, you know, kind of going up to the border of India and Bangladesh and sleeping in, you know, local staff's houses and eating with them. It was really, really a fun kind of eye-opening, very privileged kind of experience, um, for someone of, of my age at that time.
[01:16:43] And, yeah, I would say it was all part of the, the fabric of, of what really changed my life, toward my, my current career in humanitarianism. That two years in ADRA, kind of in Vietnam, ended unexpectedly when, you know, I failed to, to get a visa.
[01:17:01] Basically, the government of Vietnam in those days didn't like the fact that I was kind of running around, taking lots of pictures, trying to learn the language. They kind of quiet quit me, ghosted me, I guess. Um, and, and sent me off home. And so I went back and worked on the master's degree. And then after that, I joined ADRA International at the, at the global headquarters of the GC. And that's where I worked for most of the rest of my career. I was a country director in Vietnam for a few years, too.
[01:17:27] Santiago: I am aware of instances of missionary trips done under false pretenses where instead of applying for the quote unquote correct visa, um, you get the tourist visa and you're strictly there as a tourist, supposedly.
[01:17:47] Jeff: Look, I mean, and yeah, what to say, the world was different. Sensibilities were different and, and I did and was asked and assigned to do things then, during those years that I would never, even in ADRA, I expect I would never be asked or assigned to do now. Once I went to Vietnam as a tourist, um, I was still working in, in Thailand, and I wanted to see Vietnam, and it was, it was like newly possible for Americans to get a visa.
[01:18:11] So I went as a tourist and I remember somebody in the church asked me to smuggle Bible — I say smuggle, carry Bibles in there. I put it, I put them in, it was about eight. I put them in my checked luggage and carried them in, and no one, no one looked twice. And I was met at the airport by some people from the local Adventist church, and I handed those Bibles off and everyone was happy. And I said, for many years 'I smuggled Bibles into Vietnam, man!'
[01:18:38] When in truth I just checked them in my luggage and carried them. Um, so, you know, stuff like that, uh, you know, and those in, in kind of the mid and late nineties, there were a lot of places around the world that I got sent to by ADRA headquarters where... I mean, the local ADRA office was basically kind of the, the do my own thing wing of the local church.
[01:19:03] And it was kind, kind of some pastor who, you know, Saw an opportunity to maybe do some church planting and make people feel good by giving them stuff and yeah. Yeah, there was, there was a lot of that kind of thing happening then.
[01:19:16] Santiago: Not that long ago, I went on ADRA's website and it clearly states that they do not proselytize. So I'm wondering if your own personal experience, you know, did you feel like that was the case or did you ever feel like Adventist culture or beliefs ever maybe conflicted with the needs of the people you were serving?
[01:19:38] Jeff: Well when I, during the years that I worked for ADRA, they also said they don't, didn't proselytize. And just to, just to be clear, I never was aware of an ADRA country director, anybody senior in the structure who kind of misused ADRA funds for proselytizing. I was never aware of that happening. May well have happened, I just didn't know about it.
[01:20:02] But I would say what was really common was a lot of kind of blurring the lines, right? So in one country that I got sent to, go to and stay for a couple of months, you know, the, the inter the, the American guy who was the project manager out in a remote place, oh no, he would never proselytize.
[01:20:21] But he did buy his own car with his own money so that he could take, you know, a bunch of little old ladies from that town to church every Sabbath. And you know, okay, yep, strictly speaking, it's not proselytizing. Yes, he did go to the trouble of buying his own car with his own money. He was also the only foreigner in that town. And so it's not like people didn't know.
[01:20:43] It's not like, you know, anyone was kind of making the separation in their mind that, you know, until sundown Friday, he was just the ADRA project manager. But you know, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, he was his own person and could do what he wanted.
[01:20:58] And, and so I think there, there wasn't a whole lot of kind of, um, maturity and wisdom and nuanced understanding around those kinds of, of sensibilities. When you're in a place like that, representing an organization, you're representing them 24/7. And so you're, you're kind of, your time's kind of not your own in, in some ways.
[01:21:17] And I think a lot of ADRA people kind of struggled with that, um, especially the ones who really wanted to proselytize but felt that they were constrained from doing so. I think the, the proselytizing thing kind of constantly was in the background when I was an ADRA. Because of the way ADRA's constituted right? It's local boards in, in each country, and those boards are invariably led by pastors.
[01:21:38] And in most of the cases that I can recall, you know, those pastors were not particularly liberal and they were not particularly sympathetic to just giving people stuff with no strings attached. They wanted to know that there was some benefit coming to their church as a result of it, other than just the good feeling and goodwill of the community.
[01:21:58] And so there were, I would say there were kind of constant efforts to undermine the no proselytizing rule, to kind of fudge it to, you know, there are still a hundred ways that you can prioritize Adventist beneficiaries over non-Adventist.
[01:22:13] There are a hundred ways that you can prioritize Christian over non-Christian. There are a hundred ways that you can kind of in, you know, make people feel incentivized to come participate in church after they've been a beneficiary of ADRA. All of which are maybe fly under the rules of the day, but still kind of count as low-key proselytizing, I guess.
[01:22:34] Santiago: Interesting, okay. Well you've, you've spoken about how some of the things back then wouldn't fly today, even within ADRA. And I've also read about some shifts in the humanitarian sector, just generally, like transitioning away from using quote unquote "poverty porn" in donor ads. You know, where there's these images of extreme poverty that are, you know, kind of exploitative and not really fully representative of a given people or a given area. So I'm wondering, have you noticed shifts like that throughout your career and during your time at ADRA?
[01:23:09] Jeff: Yeah, definitely throughout my career, uh, in the world, definitely. And I would say, you know, it's the last 10, 15 years that there's really been kind of an awakening in the humanitarian space around use of images. And, you know, when we go out and take pictures of refugees in a camp after they just escaped Syria, uh, you know, is there a way of using those images that doesn't ultimately endanger them in some way?
[01:23:39] Um, you know, is informed consent ever truly informed? And if it's not truly informed, is it actually consent when it comes to asking, for example, parents, if we can take pictures of their children to put on our website? Do nomads in the Sahel truly understand the implications of their image being on the internet is a, you know, fair question, I think.
[01:24:00] And most humanitarian marketers kind of don't like the answer. But those conversations really hadn't kind of started in the industry when I was still in ADRA, it would've been after I left. So I wasn't particularly aware of those shifts in ADRA, although I can see from looking at their, their website. I can see from having been in the field with other organizations and meeting ADRA people that, you know, those shifts have happened. They've tried to keep with the times.
[01:24:25] Santiago: Yeah, I think that's important and I'm glad to hear that they are also shifting along with what I think, you know, everyone would hopefully agree are, are definitely positive improvements within, within that sector.
[01:24:40] Jeff: You know, I think the real, the real challenge that I, that I felt with ADRA as I kind of matured as a humanitarian, and I expect that the tension is still there today, you know, really comes down to the question of 'Why we do it,' or why they do it in this case.
[01:24:58] When I was country director, the way that I would parse it to my board and also to churches that I got asked to speak at when I was home on furlough would be 'Okay, if we could know conclusively right now, that no one would ever accept Jesus as a result of our humanitarian work, never, ever, ever become Christian as a result of our humanitarian work, would we still do it? Yes or no?'
[01:25:22] And you know, the majority of the time when I posed that question to, you know, people who weren't humanitarians but who were Adventist, the answer was no. They wouldn't do it. And so yeah, they can say 'Without strings attached, without alternative agenda' all they want in their website or wherever. But if the answer to that question is no, then there it is.
[01:25:44] Santiago: Yeah, that's an, that's a really important thing to keep in mind. And one of the reasons why, as I started going through deconstruction, I'm, I'm pretty sure I have donated to ADRA and other Adventist nonprofits in the past. But one of the reasons why I started to shift my giving to secular nonprofits was one, I had this nagging question in the back of my head about efficacy.
[01:26:13] I'd looked up, you know, several charity rating websites and got maybe different information from different sites. But then there was also the question of, how do I really know that proselytizing isn't going on? And so that's, that's one of the reasons why I very intentionally shifted my giving away to arguably secular nonprofits that didn't have any sort of denominational or any ties to, to any particular faith.
[01:26:43] Jeff: Yeah sure, there you go.
[01:26:45] Santiago: Having gone through the SDA education system and having worked for ADRA, would you say that you think the Adventist church is a net positive, negative, or neutral force in the world?
[01:27:00] Jeff: Oh wow, um, yeah, you know, I'm not, uh, I'm, I'm not really sure. Uh, I would probably have to come down on the side of net negative, honestly. Don't ask me to enumerate it, but I think that, you know, raising people to be uncomfortable talking about basic, normal things, raising people to essentially be afraid of those who are outside of their own system or at some level incapable of having true relationships with people outside of that system is a, is a net negative in the world.
[01:27:35] The kind of othering that happens within the Adventist system, certainly that happened as I was growing up in it, has got to be kind of a net negative. We need less othering in the world right now rather than more, or continued othering. And honestly, just the, just the basic factual misinformation that if it doesn't actively continue, at least they can't bring themselves to disavow it. And I'm talking about things like the Young Earth creationism, certain aspects of the health message, you know, continued debate about whether, whether Ellen White was a prophet. Sorry, it's a net negative.
[01:28:13] Santiago: Yeah, I obviously, I'm, I'm biased. We, we are on a podcast for ex-Adventists after all, but I would agree. I've had conversations and debates with other folks I knew growing up who were not necessarily Adventist, but were Catholic or of some other sort of faith, and they'll point to the hospital systems and the schools.
[01:28:35] But if you know people who worked there or if you even read some of the headlines of things that happened within those institutions, sure, some good is being done. I, I don't think anybody would dispute that, but we cannot discount the negative aspects as well. And those are the ones that we know of, right? There's, I'm sure plenty that have also been swept under the rug.
[01:29:00] Jeff: Yeah, the abuses that we know for a fact that have happened and have been kind of not dealt with, or as you say, swept under the rug. And, you know, and, and also this is all not to say at all that, while there are, what, 22 million Adventists in the world or so? Certainly not to say that all or even a majority or even a significant proportion of those are not good people. But we're, we're commenting here on the system itself which I see as a net negative.
[01:29:25] Santiago: Right, exactly. I remember growing up a favorite phrase, I guess, from evangelists and pastors, whenever they would talk about the mark of the beast and the Catholic church was 'The people are great. We love the people, they're good people. It's the system, right?' It's almost in the same lines of, uh, 'Love the sinner, hate the sin.' And so, absolutely I have Adventists in my life, like my parents, like my one friend from my old church, who I love dearly and I know are good people. So it's not them I have an issue with. It's, it's the system. And particularly with my parents, it's the way the system and the theology makes them see the world.
[01:30:08] Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there you go. Love the Adventist, don't give the Adventist system oxygen to breathe, in my opinion.
[01:30:16] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, so I know we're, we're, um, we're pretty far into this so I'm gonna try and wrap it up. I appreciate you sticking with me this long. I wanted to ask you when you got the idea for the ex-Adventist survey.
[01:30:31] Jeff: I, I got the, the idea within this year. So it, it came, you know, fairly quickly. I'd known Tom Arcaro for, for quite a few years. I think he and I first started kind of talking and about social science researchy kinds of things back in 2011, 2012, around in there. And yeah, you know, I had known him for some time and we've been friends for a while. And then, yeah, we were on a call for something else and, uh, I just said, 'Hey, you know what? What would you think about studying ex-Seventh-day Adventists?' And, yeah, that was where it started, so there we are.
[01:31:05] Santiago: Nice.
[01:31:06] Jeff: Yeah, it was just, I don't know, um, my own kind of path of deconstruction. And that path has been characterized, I think, by a series of kind of ups and downs. There, there have been periods throughout the, the last 20 years when kind of what it all means, and that deconstruction has been very much top of mind, right?
[01:31:30] And, and right now is one of those times for me, I'm thinking a lot about it. I'm speaking a lot about it. Then it kind of subsides and I focus on other things for a while, and then it kind of comes back and is important for different reasons. So anyway, I'm, I'm in a period right now personally where it's very top of mind and, and important to me to kind of grapple with some of that stuff. And so that's, yeah, that's kind of where this comes from.
[01:31:52] I found that... [Sigh] Well, kind of like the prophet Jonah, right? Going to Ninevah, um, or, or trying to escape going to Ninevah, um, [laughing] trying to kind of leave it all behind or as much as possible and kind of excise it from my life and, you know, in different ways you find that's not really possible.
[01:32:14] And one of the things I started to find was that there are, there are some aspects of this that are really, really can't discuss with someone who's not Adventist, or not ex-Adventist, sorry. Someone who hasn't also experienced it, and then set themselves free from it. Some kinds of jokes just aren't funny unless you're ex-Adventist, you know?
[01:32:34] Santiago: Yeah.
[01:32:35] Jeff: Um, and, and some kinds of struggles just aren't intelligible to someone who didn't grow up in the bubble. And then, then try to leave. The complicated relationship with parents who are still in the system and how deconstruction get parsed to them, if at all, uh, is one of those things that very few people can understand if they haven't kind of gone through it.
[01:32:56] And maybe, like I mentioned earlier, you know, I've been part of different tribes then since leaving the community. Maybe this is an attempt to find a tribe, ex Adventists, who get me and I get them. And I would say the results of the survey are, are kind of bearing that out as I read the comments. And I do every day. I read the, the comments and know the new ones. Yeah, these are people that I get, everything's intelligible. Some experiences are more extreme than mine. Some are less, less extreme than mine. But, uh, yeah, it's been, it's been incredibly affirming to feel that I'm not alone on some of these things.
[01:33:36] Santiago: Yeah, I think that's so important and that's, that's exactly why I'm doing what I'm doing with Haystacks and Hell. It's because in 2021 when I told my parents I no longer believed in the Adventist faith. And not only that, but I had left religion behind in general, I was feeling particularly alone.
[01:33:58] I talk about how my brother, you know, he's also an ex-Adventist, but he had left years before I did, and he was busy with school. I was busy with work. It wasn't something that we necessarily talked about a whole lot. And I didn't have a new community that I could kind of speak to and process with and make those jokes with, right?
[01:34:23] I didn't, I didn't really have that in my life. So when I was Googling and just looking for ex-Adventist resources, somehow I stumbled across Abby and Ami's podcast. And honestly hearing them, but I think the biggest thing beside that was hearing their friends. Hearing the mini interviews they did at the end of those episodes, and hearing just a group of friends laughing and talking about these memories, it did something for me.
[01:34:55] And in that moment, I felt less alone. And for anyone who's listening, who's feeling particularly lonely, maybe feeling like you're not understood by your family or by your community because of these changes you've gone through and are going through. That's really, I think, my number one goal.
[01:35:13] Obviously, there's a lot of other things that we talk about, and I absolutely want to normalize some of the things we're talking about, like I've mentioned earlier, but really I think if I had to say my number one goal, it's for people like us who left, had a challenging time thinking through that and processing it, and feeling alone in that moment.
[01:35:38] Jeff: I think there's a lot about the way the system works that makes it that when we leave, even if we don't articulate it directly to ourselves, there's still this undercurrent of 'There's something wrong with us,' right? 'I couldn't take it, or, you know, I apostatized. I left, I was personally the, the outlier.'
[01:36:03] And it's taken some time to come around and say, 'Actually know, what? I'm the normal one.' Or, or the one who's trying to be normal here. 'Let's, let's not normalize what you guys are up to. You're the weird ones, not me.' Um, and I say that with lots of love for my dear friends who are still inside the system, including you know, close family. But, but let's just be, just be very clear. I'm not the weird one here.
[01:36:28] Santiago: It's funny you mention that because I, I remember having a conversation with a classmate at my secular public college and how she found out that I believed in Young Earth creationism and that I was Adventist. I was driving us somewhere for an offsite class event. I offered to give her a ride and I asked if it was alright if, if she didn't mind that I started with prayer before I started the car and drove off.
[01:36:58] Jeff: Oh you were one of those, huh?
[01:36:59] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, yeah. I, I was in, in college [laughing] and before deconstructing.
[01:37:06] Jeff: Awkward.
[01:37:06] Santiago: So yeah, it, it was, and I remember we, we started talking a little bit about faith. I gotta imagine I brought it up. I can't imagine her asking me, but I do remember distinctly talking about Young Earth creationism, and she was shocked that I believed in that. And my gut reaction was to say, 'Well you know, the Adventists aren't as weird as the Mormons.' And I just totally, [laughing] I just totally threw the Mormons under the bus talking about their, their special garments.
[01:37:41] Jeff: Yeah, no, I, whenever possible I say, you know, in, in, in my current life, you know, if it comes up, 'Yeah, I'm recovering former Seventh-day Adventist.' I try to make it sound like I dunno, Alcoholics Anonymous. 'Former recovering Adventist, sober since Saturday.' You know, and there's always the questions about 'What's Adventism?' Oh, well, you know, incrementally less weird than the Mormons. Yeah, I take shots at the Mormons at every opportunity. Love 'em to death.
[01:38:07] Santiago: I've made, yeah, I've made friends over Twitter. I've, I have Twitter friends who are ex-Jehovah's Witness, ex-Mormons. And, um, I apologized to an ex-Mormon the other day on Twitter because she was saying that how growing up, she always had the impression that Mormons were, you know, widely respected by everyone else. And how it was, I think, shocking to her to find out that more often than not, they were viewed with pity by others.
[01:38:37] And, uh, so I apologized to her for, for throwing them under the bus. And, uh, I love, I love the phrase, I don't know if it was, I think it was an ex-Mormon, it might have been an ex-Jehovah's Witness, but somebody came on the ex-Adventist subreddit and used the term "cult cousins." And I love that term because I truly do see the three of us, the three of these groups as cousins. They all came up in the 1800s. They all are kind of weird offshoots from more quote unquote mainline Christianity.
[01:39:08] Jeff: Well, I'm, I'm speaking outside of my area of expertise a bit here, but I think we all came from, or I think they all came from the, the Millerite movement basically, yeah?
[01:39:17] Santiago: I don't know, I'd have to look that up. But I do know for a fact that they, they were all from the 1800s.
[01:39:25] Jeff: Kissing cult cousins I think is funnier.
[01:39:28] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, uh, what I, what I can say with a little more confidence is I think they all came from the Second Great Awakening. So that is kind of the general movement of this period in, in the 1800s where there was sort of a religious revival, generally speaking, within the United States.
[01:39:47] Jeff: Yeah you know, just thinking about around the time that I seriously began deconstructing, um, well, no, I, that's not quite right. I, I'd been deconstructing for a while, but anyway, my wife and I went to see Book of Mormon, you know, at, uh, a theater here in Seattle.
[01:40:03] And, uh, I remember thinking, in addition to finding it very funny, 'cause a lot of it, it, it is just so intelligible to Adventists. And I felt confident that unless people were Mormons or, or Adventists or maybe Jehovah's Witnesses get it as well, um, that there were just a lot that was being missed. Very, very relatable.
[01:40:23] Santiago: Oh, I'm sure. My partner has seen Book of Mormon and I haven't yet, so one of these days we're gonna have to go watch it. 'Cause she just played, she just played some of the songs for me on YouTube and I was dying. I was dying of laughter, so I can only imagine seeing a live production.
[01:40:42] Jeff: Oh, you need to see it. You know, a couple of months ago I was sitting around with a, a group of what I'm gonna call pretty marginal Adventists. I don't want to out anyone who might be listening and put this, put this together. But, um, I remember someone when saying something like, um, how did they put it? Something like, you know, 'Adventist culture will have really arrived when it can absorb and tolerate, uh, you know, something like Book of Mormon, but for, for Adventists.' And I, I thought that was really, you know, well thought and apt.
[01:41:15] Um, I would, I would love to, to see that. There's another ex Adventist that I, you know, hang out with online sometimes and, and chat with, and, you know, we've discussed ex-Adventist humor specifically, or, you know, what, what are Adventist jokes? I, I feel like, um, we need our own humor. We have also discussed, um, the idea of a, I don't know if it's a novel or a screenplay or what, but some kind of science fiction setting where, you know, your survival depends on you being able to tell who's Adventist or ex-Adventist, you know, based on their behavior without them telling you and, you know, how would you know?
[01:41:55] How would you set up a conversation to try and draw out of somebody without them saying it directly, that they're, you know, ex-Adventist or that they're Adventist, right? And that the ex-Adventists are the ones who are trying to survive. So basically the Adventists would be perpetrating the time of trouble and how do we, how do we hide out in that scenario, anyway.
[01:42:12] Santiago: Oh man yeah, that's a fun idea. I, I remember seeing a, I think there's like three of them now, but there's like this end times like very, very low budget production films put together by some Adventist. And, um, they're on YouTube, you can watch the entire thing. It is hilarious how bad the acting and just, just the whole vibe of it is, is incredibly campy. One of these days I might go through and, and sit down and watch the whole thing.
[01:42:47] But it's interesting how, especially I think within the ex-Adventist community, there's this desire or this need, even, to write and talk about some of these experiences. Once you've gotten to the point where you've accepted how weird and in many cases messed up a lot of this stuff was, I think for some people the next step is, you know, being able to write about it or being able to speak about it.
[01:43:13] So I've been very grateful for the people who have submitted stories on the website, and I'm sure it's very, you know, kind of affirming in your experience, seeing the responses you're getting through the survey of people just being able to write in free form and say, 'Hey, this is what, this was my experience.' I think that's healing.
[01:43:34] Jeff: Yeah, for sure. You know, I think, um, and, and this is hard to say, uh, because I do really love many Adventists still. But that system hurt us. It, it hurt us in ways that take a while to recover from. And I think that humor is part of the recovery, for sure. I think another important part of it is being able to, for lack of a, a less dramatic term, face your face, your abuser and take them down a bit, whatever that might mean. Maybe it's confronting them, you know, an actual person face-to-face for me. Uh, you know, because I wasn't, you know, I was never touched inappropriately by a pastor. I was never, you know, abused by a teacher in some way. I was fortunate in that sense 'cause I know that many were.
[01:44:32] The abuse that, you know, I kind of lived through was at the hands of a, of a kind of system, a, a monolithic system more than a, more than individuals, right? Although I know that system's made up of individuals. So for me, you know, the ability to kind of give the finger to the system and confront it a little bit and, you know, 'You can't touch me now, bitches! Come on, man!' You know? There's an element of recovery in that, and I expect that many of us feel that way.
[01:45:00] I can remember growing up, uh, how we thought about and spoke about ex-Adventists when I was still in that system. And typically the descriptor was angry, right? Even today people joke about, 'Oh, the Madventists.' You know, the most awkward thing for an Adventist is a ex-Adventist who will tell you why they're ex-Adventist. Yeah, I think it's interesting that, uh, we're often seen and characterized as angry.
[01:45:30] I don't think of myself as angry, but um, when it comes to Adventism, yeah, there, there's, there's some anger in there. And again, I'm not angry at a person, but there's still some anger and being able to express it, being able to confront that system and yeah, give it the finger. Definitely, definitely cathartic. Hope it's recovery for real as well.
[01:45:52] Santiago: Yeah, I want to point out that anger can absolutely be a valid response and reaction to the system and to what people have gone through, while also recognizing that it is a myth that anger or being unable to keep the rules is the only reason or even the main reason why everyone leaves, right? I, I think it's valid, but it's also a myth that that's the main reason why people leave. And, you know, the survey results we talked about last time, I think bore that out. And I imagine as, even as you get more responses in, I, wouldn't be surprised if that's still the case.
[01:46:32] Jeff: Well, it is, in fact, I checked just before we began our call, and I can tell you that, um, first of all, the results are still coming in and I really hope that people keep taking it. And second, yeah, I mean by some margin, the, the number one, uh, the number one and, and number two, they're quite closely, um, grouped together in the high 80%, are stopped believing in Ellen White and stopped believing in the doctrines and teachings.
[01:46:57] So, and you know, issues with Adventist people or anger are kind of, kind of way down there. So what I'm saying and what's coming from the survey is that, yeah, people have anger, people are, are angry, but that's not the reason they left. They left because they stopped believing.
[01:47:14] Santiago: Mm-hmm, yeah. And I imagine if we were to look at, you know, any one given response and compare to another the cause or the reason for the anger, you know, maybe differs from person to person. Like you, I don't have an issue with any one particular person at my old church.
[01:47:35] Nobody at my old church is the reason why I left. But now that I am out and I'm aware of more of the cases of abuse that have been swept under the rug, who wouldn't be angry at that, right? I, I would say that there's an issue if there isn't anger there.
[01:47:51] Jeff: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, part of my reflection of the last few days is really around, as, as I recall it, growing up inside the Adventist system... Any kind of, and maybe this is really White Midwestern culture. You, you tell me if your experience was different, Santiago, but it, it seems like in general, emotions were meant to be muted.
[01:48:14] So any kind of dramatic or, you know, uh, vivid display of emotion, of any emotion, was you know, maybe tolerated up to a point, but was, you know, there were ways of kind of shutting that down. The, the kind of hippie-ish lady who would stand in the front row and put her hands up in the air during, you know, prayer made everyone nervous and they found a way to, to make her feel like she probably shouldn't do that.
[01:48:40] You know, the, the grieving widow who, you know, was bursting into tears during Sabbath school for too many months running, eventually got the message that she needed to kind of keep that emotional expression, maybe a bit more private. Um, they, they find ways of kind of muting emotions, but I found that, or I, um, my reflection is that in particular, anger was an off-limits emotion, right?
[01:49:07] Joy was tolerated up to a point. Sadness was, and grief, were tolerated up to a point. The kid who was hurt, you know, would get, you know, hugs from the teacher. The kid who was really happy, you know, whatever they were happy about, maybe celebrated with the teacher, but the angry kid got sent to the principal's office. The angry kid got time out.
[01:49:26] In academy, it was the same. The angry kids were the ones who were from troubled homes or something like that. And in general, it seemed that the whole 'Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord,' combined with this endless kind of vapid focus on happiness and being cheerful, which I've just found very oppressive toward the end, especially. Um, you know, kind of supplant any, any legitimacy of anger.
[01:49:52] Adventists really don't want to deal with anger or acknowledge it even in their own lives. And I have to say, it took me years like, like understanding that I'm not going to hell because I listen to rock and roll music. Also, you know, anger is a legitimate emotion, like you said. And sure there are unhealthy expressions of it, but having a well-rounded emotional repertoire is not a bad thing.
[01:50:15] Santiago: I completely agree. To answer your question, within my own family, I feel like we were allowed to have and express our emotions. I know that my mom, being the Latina woman in the house, I think, there's the stereotype of Latina moms, you know, being very expressive, very emotional.
[01:50:36] And I would say that, um, you know, maybe she didn't fit that stereotype 100%. It is a stereotype after all. But she definitely was more emotional than my dad, and I think more emotional than my brother and I were at times. But within my church, I also definitely got the sense that you kind of described. I remember there would be people who would visit our church.
[01:51:02] They were generally not members, who were a bit more expressive, who might, you know, raise their hands. Who might, um, really be vocal in reaction to things that the pastor said. And they were kind of the outliers. And I remember as a kid noticing that that was different and thinking they were maybe a little bit weird because of that.
[01:51:25] I remember, I remember one time in the early teen class, I think it was the early teen class, um, maybe teens or maybe young adults. I don't remember a hundred percent, but I vividly remember a visitor coming to our church and being just so expressive. And so... they just, they seemed to be very joyful, just like very exuberant. And they were talking about, 'Oh, isn't it amazing what Jesus has done for us? And I just feel so alive and so free.'
[01:52:01] And I, I don't remember, you know, I'm, I'm kind of just vaguely remembering what they were saying, but I remember that the energy they brought to the room was way off the charts compared to anyone else in the room. And I remember the person who was leading Sabbath school that day was just kind of trying to awkwardly like agree with them, but also bring the tone back to where it originally started before they walked in the room, 'cause they came in late.
[01:52:29] So I just, I remember that absolutely, kind of the, any, any emotion that was outside of the quote unquote normal spectrum for the church was managed down kind of as you described. And to touch on, on the point you mentioned about anger, I remember having a discussion with a more liberal Adventist about how she heard a sermon.
[01:52:57] I think this might have been a Spanish speaking church, but she heard a sermon where this pastor was talking about how anger is a "sin." He went as far as to say that anger was sinful and that you shouldn't be angry. And she was, if, if I'm not mistaken, a psychology student. She may have already graduated, and, um, actually started practicing by that point.
[01:53:18] But she talked about how that was completely unscientific and actually harmful to be preaching. And I really appreciated that. That was, and this was as, this was as a young adult. That was one of the first times, it was only until I became a young adult and came into contact with a more liberal Adventist, that I remember somebody specifically countering what a pastor said and saying, 'This is unscientific.'
[01:53:47] And I remember that I really appreciated that she was willing to say that. Um, obviously it was a small group. Uh, she didn't stand up in the middle of church and, and call him out in real time. But I, I remember appreciating that she was willing to say that. And I think that was really one of the first times... I had, I had in my own mind, uh, in the past wondered or said to myself, 'Hmm, I don't know if I really agree with that.'
[01:54:14] I especially did a lot more of that as I started deconstructing. But this was before I started deconstructing in earnest, and it was really one of the first few times that I heard somebody very clearly and boldly say, 'No, that is flat out wrong and unscientific.'
[01:54:29] Jeff: Yeah well, it's interesting, you know, and there's so much culture inside Adventism around, you know, whatever the pastor says. 'Oh man, oh, well, well, the pastor said it.' [Sigh] Don't get me started on, on pastors, many of whom are lovely individuals, but, well, and you mentioned Hogwarts, right? I mean, my own part of my, my middle finger up at the system is referring to the Adventist Theological Seminary as Hogwarts at every possible opportunity.
[01:54:56] Santiago: Interesting, okay. Why is that, if you don't mind me asking?
[01:55:01] Jeff: Uh, well, I, I guess the point being that, uh, you know, they're teaching magic and ritual. Same as, same as, Hogwarts, right? And also because, you know, anything Harry Potter is such a, such a flashpoint for, for many Adventists. Especially, especially those who maybe were millennial or younger, um, you know, whether they're for it or against it, it seems to be a thing. Didn't exist when I was growing up. So, you know, for us it was Ozzy Osborne, 'Oh my god.' You know, or whatever.
[01:55:31] Everyone: [Laughing]
[01:55:34] Santiago: Yeah, no, definitely. I, I, I watched Harry Potter for the first time in my mid twenties, uh, or mid, mid to late twenties. I watched it for the very first time after my partner and I had already started dating. We had to, we had to do a marathon one weekend because I was just not getting a lot of the references and that was something she grew up with.
[01:55:55] Jeff: That's interesting. You know, there was definitely a period, um, as I, as I'm reflecting just now as you're speaking, but there was definitely a period in my early deconstruction where I really went to trouble to absorb worldly culture that I had missed out on. Watch movies that I knew were, had been popular and famous as I was growing up but I had chosen not to. You know, for whatever reason, possibly Adventist concerns or, or whatever.
[01:56:23] Listening to music was a big deal for me. So, you know, I went out and bought literally every AC/DC album ever recorded, you know, and, uh, you know, or, you know, stuff like that. Um, tried all the foods that I kind of wanted to try, but, but hadn't, and tried to bit of trying to catch up, I guess.
[01:56:42] Santiago: Yeah, no, there's definitely I think a sense among many ex-Adventists of this feeling of needing to catch up. That was definitely the sense that I got and, and in some cases is still something I'm working through. I've talked before about how dancing is something I still need to take lessons for and actually be comfortable in my own skin. And being, being able to kind of let loose and, and just experience that.
[01:57:09] Jeff: That's interesting, you know? Yeah. Dancing is another one that just feels incredibly awkward. It's not that I'm shy or unwilling to, you know, go to a club with some friends and, you know, bust my sick moves, but it just, yeah, it just feels in incredibly awkward, uh, to do it. Pork is another one. I, I really, I really can't eat pork, um, just 'cause I, it smells funny and tastes funny. Interesting that comes up a lot as well in the survey, lots of people struggle with pork.
[01:57:41] Santiago: Yeah, well we've, we've talked a lot about, you know, kind of negative aspects of the church and, you know, we, we talked about whether it's a net positive or not. I'm curious if you did take any positive messages or ideas from Adventism or for you, thinking back to the survey question, is there anything in particular that you miss?
[01:58:07] Jeff: Um, you know, I don't think there's much that I miss because I'm in one of these spaces where I kind of have the ability to, to keep the things about it that I liked. Haystacks is still something that we do at our house. I don't wanna say once a week, but more than once a month we'll have haystacks on the menu. The people in that system still that I, that I like, I, I still do like, and we're still friends.
[01:58:34] I haven't been ex-communicated or shunned the way that, that others have. I've been fortunate again. I, I think what I, what I miss more than anything else, and I wouldn't have put it in these words until reading comments to the survey, but kind of miss the sense of certainty, right? That, that comes with it. The sense of, you know, being sure and convinced that you're right and that you know how this all ends.
[01:58:59] Although it's a net positive for me personally to no longer think that there's gonna be an investigative judgment and, you know, uh, a second death and I was terrified of the, uh, of the, the second death as a teenager as well. Almost as bad as being tortured by communists, probably.
[01:59:19] 'Cause of course that would've been communists. And just, can I just say, the amount of angst about communism still among the Adventists I know is really kind of weird. Seriously, is communism a threat in 2023? I don't think so. But yeah, fear of the, the second death or more aptly, um, that, uh, all my sins will be displayed for the entire universe to see. And see that, you know, God had judged me fairly.
[01:59:45] Santiago: Yeah, that is one that specifically for me, I was nervous about. I've talked before about how I discovered porn by accident in a public chat room, somebody posted a spam link. And so I don't remember exactly how old I was. Part of me thinks it was probably before I had the talk with my parents.
[02:00:07] But as a curious kid, and then as somebody who was going through puberty, that was something that I went back to every now and then. And I remember such a feeling of guilt, not just because I had been told that things like that were bad, and there was this general, you know, there's this general feeling of secrecy and shame with anything to do with sexuality.
[02:00:28] But also specifically because I thought, 'Oh man, after everything is over, after the world ends and, and they're opening the book of life, and then they're looking at the people who aren't there. If I'm not there, oh my goodness, they're going, they're gonna see all the times that I had these browser tabs open.' And I just felt so, I felt so bad because of that.
[02:00:52] Jeff: Same first of all, yeah, I, I was terrified that, not have dying the second death. I was ready, take me now. You know, uh, or if, if that's the end, if that's what's going to be the end for me, I, I can accept it. But the, the thought of the humiliation of having the entire universe be specifically aware of every time you looked at porn and masturbated, oh my goodness, or whatever. You know, ate bacon on your, on your cheeseburger or whatever it might have been, you know, and that, that was the thing, you know? 'Jeff had all these chances and he still did it,' you know, 'didn't accept.'
[02:01:32] Santiago: Yeah, I mean, the funny thing to me, thinking about it now and honestly, this really shows, I think this is a great example of how sin flattening absolutely took place within our upbringing and within our churches. This idea that one sin is no worse than the other. I don't specifically remember hearing that preached, but I feel like that idea somehow was implanted in us.
[02:02:00] Because, it depends on who you ask. I'm sure you ask 10 different Christians, 10 different Adventists, you might get 10 different answers. But, you know, worrying about that being on display for the universe to see when there are so many more horrific things that people do to other people, uh, and to the other living things around them, to our planet. Like, that's, that's gonna be the thing?
[02:02:25] Jeff: Yeah, that's the thing that puts me in the category with Pol Pot and I guess Jeff Bezos, seriously? You know?
[02:02:32] Everyone: [Laughing]
[02:02:34] Santiago: Yeah, oh man, it's just, yeah, it just goes to show how warped I think the priorities are in many, many of these communities.
[02:02:43] Jeff: I feel like there's some memes in there that need to be made, man.
[02:02:46] Santiago: Oh yeah. I'm sure I'll, I'll be on the...
[02:02:48] Jeff: You do that.
[02:02:50] Everyone: [Laughing]
[02:02:51] Santiago: All right well, we are, I think over two hours at this point. So I just want to ask one last question and that is, having gone through this process now for, I think you said, you know, over 20 years, and also having seen all the different responses that have come in from the survey, what would you say to somebody that's actively going through deconstruction or deconversion?
[02:03:18] Jeff: Well, a couple of things. First of all, hang in there. You know, it, it does get better. There are ups and downs and some days are gonna suck and some days are gonna be amazing. And, uh, the longer you stick with it, the more the amazing days are. So hang in there, stick with it. Second part I think would be, yeah, reach out to people who have been through it as well.
[02:03:39] And if they're not people who are kind of physically in your life, you know, there, there are online forums that do it. The ex-Adventist Reddit is very supportive, I feel. There's a couple of great Instagram pages that can help you connect, um, with other ex-Adventists out there. I feel like ex-Adventists as a community are just now kind of starting to coalesce a little bit. Feels like we have more kind of group identity than we had maybe two, three years ago. And I think that's a positive thing. There are other people who've been through it and not that your experience has to be the same, but yeah, reach out and get support because a lot of this stuff is gonna be familiar to someone.
[02:04:23] And, and then lastly, get therapy. Man, I mean, I, I think it's, I think it's really important, seriously, to say that we were hurt by the system and to, to name it. With all gentleness and, and true love toward the many Seventh-day Adventists in my life, who are, you know, lovely people, that system does need to be recovered from. And it's a good chance that many of us, well, I have personally been in therapy, so, you know, uh, yeah, recommend it. Therapy helps. And you most probably do need it if you're deconstructing from Adventism.
[02:05:07] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely highly recommended. I know I said that was the last question, but if you don't mind a quick follow up. Amazing, I appreciate that. Since you mentioned therapy, in your own experience, what was the process of finding a therapist like, and are there any particular resources you would point people to?
[02:05:30] Jeff: So the, the way that I happened to go to therapy in the first place was related to my work. I sought therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder after working in war zones as a civilian for, you know, much of the last 30 years. And in the course of that therapy, uncovered you know, kind of residual stuff related to religious trauma, religious, you know, deconstructing from religion. So that's where it came in. And, um, yeah, kind of have to, I found I kind of had to deal with that stuff before I could deal with, you know, the atrocities and the horrors of war, kind of stuff.
[02:06:07] Santiago: Interesting, okay.
[02:06:09] Jeff: So there's a therapy provision, uh, with my current employer. I used an app and booked a session and it, it kind of went from there. In North America, anyway, most employer provided insurance packages also include provision for, you know, therapy. I think there's a growing awareness in North America at least, that mental health is a real thing and requires professional help.
[02:06:32] So I would say don't go to a pastor, don't. Certainly some wonderful people are pastors and maybe some are trained in counseling, but no, get an actual therapist. You can't fix your recovery from religion with religion. You need to go to a worldly therapist and get actual help, in my opinion.
[02:06:52] Santiago: Agreed, yeah, there's, there's a great book by a former Baptist pastor, which I'll link in the show notes, where he talks about that being part of his own kind of deconstruction and deconversion journey. Where he recognized that some of these support groups that they were putting together, that were using principles from psychology. They, they didn't necessarily have trained psychologists, but they were informed about some of these ideas and principles, that he found that more effective than other programs that were strictly based on theology.
[02:07:31] And I think that's so important for anyone who's listening, who's maybe still on the fence, I would say you have nothing to lose by seeing a therapist who may or may not be religious, but is informed about religious trauma and is willing to speak to you and help you from a place that does not come exclusively at trying to solve this through additional prayer, or Bible study, or things of that nature.
[02:07:59] Jeff: Absolutely. I think it's important to use terms like religious trauma. Goes back to the issue of naming things and, and saying what they are for real. That language sounds dramatic and over the top to people who still believe, but yeah, it, it's the right term.
[02:08:15] Santiago: Yeah, definitely. Well Jeff, this has been a great conversation, I really appreciate your time and, and you coming on the show.
[02:08:25] Jeff: Absolutely, thank you Santiago. It's good to, good to speak with you today.
[02:08:29] Santiago: Yeah and, um, I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the survey and hopefully we'll, we'll have another conversation with Tom and Duane at some point.
[02:08:38] Jeff: Yeah, for sure. The survey's gonna be open for another two months, basically, so yeah, please if you haven't taken it, take it.
[02:08:45] Santiago: Yes, please do. There will be a link in the show notes.
[02:08:49] All right, thanks again.
[02:08:51] Jeff: All right, thanks man.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[02:08:52] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!