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Part 1 of 2: Santiago interviews Will James, an ex-Adventist husband, dad, lawyer, and TikToker based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. We discuss his parents' conversion to Adventism (along with 30 of their friends?!) when he was two years old. Will grew up with a very literal interpretation of the Bible and Ellen White's writings, and eventually deconstructed everything.
Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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 Will: Ex-SDA Husband, Dad, Lawyer and TikToker
[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 Will James. Will is a husband, dad, lawyer, and Badventist turned ex-Adventist. He grew up SDA in Texas and Oklahoma and lives in Oklahoma with his wife, two kids, and puppy. In 1985, one of his mom's coworkers gave her a cassette tape featuring an SDA Revelation seminar. His parents were intrigued, started attending an Adventist church, and when Will was two years old, they joined the church, along with a group of about thirty of their friends.
[00:00:57] As a kid, Will didn't feel like he was being dragged along. He really owned his faith and was all in. If you grew up Adventist, depending on when and where you went to church, you might have encountered time of trouble prepper Adventists, similar to what Will experienced. He's been on nature walks with other Adventists where they'd practice identifying which plants and insects were clean and safe to eat while on the run because of the National Sunday Law. Today, Will's parents run the Adventist church in his hometown, and so he stays up to date on SDA news whether he wants to or not.
[00:01:36] Will has worked as a public defender and now runs his own private law practice. And he also has a great TikTok account where he talks about a bit of everything, including deconstructing Adventism, toxic masculinity, racism, current events, Black history, and more. So with that background, let's jump into our conversation. Will, thank you for your work and thanks for coming on the show.
[00:02:00] Will: Thank you, that was awesome! That was cool. I liked to hear a perspective on me [laughing].
[00:02:06] Santiago: Yeah, the little bit I've been able to glean from your videos, from your blog, we were just talking about how you had a podcast or, you know, still up there, which I'm definitely going to check out at some point.
[00:02:19] I always appreciate when folks have stuff that I can already look up online. It makes my job a little bit easier. You have a really interesting story and I think you're the first person that I've had on the show where your parents converted like, you know, right after you were born pretty much.
[00:02:37] Will: Yeah.
[00:02:37] Santiago: And so there isn't generations and generations of history there. I was just talking to somebody I met on TikTok the other day where they converted at like 17 and I'm hoping we can have a conversation at some point because I want to know what that was like.
[00:02:52] Will: That would be fascinating.
[00:02:53] Santiago: Right?
[00:02:54] Like, imagine converting as a teenager and then leaving later as an adult. But anyway, you've written about how your parents joined when you were two years old, along with about 30 of their friends. I'm wondering if you can tell us the story of how your mom was invited to that Revelation seminar, and if your parents ever told you growing up, like, what the conversion process was like for them.
[00:03:14] Will: Well, so they didn't even go to the seminar. They got tapes, like recorded cassette tapes of a guy. His name was Oscar Lane. And she got it from a doctor that she worked with. My mom was a respiratory therapist and the doctor was second or third generation Adventist.
[00:03:38] And my mom listened to all the tapes, made my dad listen to them. He was out, like just immediately out on it. And then she gave it to pretty much everybody she knew. And a good 30 of her friends all joined all at the same time, pretty much. My dad eventually came along. And I was just barely two when they joined.
[00:04:08] What I think is interesting about that is they became like staunch. They were very, very hardcore immediately. And had to go through this phase of learning all of this information and then figuring out what to do with it. But they had to raise my sister and I at the same time. And so I, I do think there is a stark difference between second generation, third generation, like having it as a family tradition where you've already made some of these...
[00:04:50] Compromises is probably not a word a lot of conservative Adventists would use. But compromises of, "Well, these are the rules." "This is where it's safe to bend and flex." We didn't have any of that because it was all new, literal learned things just immediately handed to these grade school kids to go have fun with that, you know?
[00:05:17] Santiago: Yeah, so you're taking in all of this, what is essentially dogma, and taking it to heart and running with it, it sounds like.
[00:05:26] Will: Yes, like the King James Bible was the book I learned to read with.
[00:05:32] Santiago: Oh, wow.
[00:05:33] Will: Like at three, I would sit in bed and try to work out the words. And so it was not super helpful to have the old English as the language you're learning to read. But I would sit there and that was the book we used. And, uh, I kept that thing.
[00:05:50] It fell apart eventually. You know, but it was notes in the margins. I, I'm sure it's, most of it's somewhere. I would love to see what like little kid me wrote in the spine of that Bible over the years, you know?
[00:06:06] Santiago: Yeah, man, I can only imagine.
[00:06:09] Will: But with my parents doing what they did, the church in our hometown didn't have any children, so we didn't go there. We went to one in the state capitol, was an hour and a half away. So we would drive up there Sabbath morning and stay all day with some of the groups of that 30 friends. And there was just this really cool network of people. They're all really close.
[00:06:36] Everyone's still, as far as I know, in the church. I'm the only, the only one, the black sheep of everyone. But, uh, you know, and it's, it's weird because no one's ever said anything to me. There's never been a pull or like, "Hey, come back," or there's never been any of it other than every now and again, my mom will just ask if I'm headed back to the church every now and again.
[00:07:06] Santiago: Interesting.
[00:07:07] Will: It almost feels as though it's being treated like you would a teenager going through a phase.
[00:07:14] Santiago: Right.
[00:07:14] Will: But I'm 40.
[00:07:16] Santiago: [Laughing]
[00:07:17] Will: And it's you know, I don't know, I don't know what they're hoping will happen. Actually, that's not true. I think I do know what they think will happen.
[00:07:26] Santiago: It's funny you mention that, because I feel, I feel that. You know, we were just talking about how there's maybe roughly a decade between us, but that was my experience, and it still is my experience, I think, with my immediate family. Where there's still a lot of love, we see each other fairly regularly, but it's not talked about.
[00:07:52] It was initially, and every now and then like, you know, we'll, we'll go out to eat. I forget because I've slowly lost the habit of praying before every single meal. And so that, you know, they'll pray and I'll be like, "Oh, sorry, okay, I'll wait for you guys." And I'm respectful of that, but it's interesting just, um, knowing that my mother, in particular, I think she does think it's a phase.
[00:08:20] She thought that about my brother when he left, and I think she thinks that about me now. She's basically said as much. And so, yeah, I'm sure that's, I'm sure that's a weird feeling, especially when so much of your, like, close friend network, like family friends, are in it. For me, there basically aren't any other Adventists in my extended family. So it's interesting, like, do y'all get together every now and then for different events?
[00:08:49] Will: That's kind of the odd mixture of things. They, they do. You know, the last time we all got together was because someone passed. And we hadn't all been in a room together in probably 20 years. Like everyone had seen everyone else, but we hadn't all been back together.
[00:09:12] So my, my families are big. My dad has eight brothers and sisters, and my mom has three, but none of them are Adventists. And so we always had this interesting two-headed monster of, "We have gotten this truth and look at all these people that came in with us." It was like, that was proof of its truth that 30 something people came with mom, but none of our family did, ever.
[00:09:42] And having to say, "Well, yeah, our family's fine because they're good, loving Christian people." And then, "But we have to tell everyone about the Sabbath and convert them to that and warn them of the last days, or they'll be lost." I'm like, "But our family's not listening to us." Like, "Yeah, but they're fine." I'm like, "I don't understand how this works." Like how we're saying something's imperative, but everyone we know that doesn't believe us, we're like, "Yeah, it's all right." [Laughing]
[00:10:11] Santiago: I think I know what you're talking about, and I'm sure if there's anyone listening who has extended family that was never interested in Adventism, they probably can relate to exactly what you're talking about. Yeah, 100%. So I wanted to ask you about that 30 friends because, just from my own experience, I've been to, I've lost count of how many Revelation type seminars I've been to over the years. And ones that my own church has hosted. I can't remember a time when there were maybe even a dozen people that got baptized in one go. So to hear 30 people, and 30 people that your family knew. What's the story there? Like how do 30 people come in and join at one time?
[00:10:57] Will: I really don't fully understand it, 'cause I was so small. It was literally my mom just giving these tapes to one person. And sitting there and talking to them about it, and then taking them back and giving them to the next. And then inviting them all to church eventually, and everyone came.
[00:11:16] And then I do believe eventually Oscar came back and did one near us. And maybe that was where the big baptism was. Because he was, uh, he's a family, like we've known him forever. He picked me up from, uh, let's see, second grade one day in a limousine and took me to get McDonald's. Like he was just, he drove a green Rolls Royce.
[00:11:41] He was just like this big personality, but all he did was travel around and do Revelation seminars. But he wasn't associated technically with any conference or region. He was just kind of this independent Adventist evangelist that never really said he was an Adventist?
[00:12:03] I don't know if you've noticed that about Revelation seminars, but it's, it's never, "This is the Adventist church telling you information." It's just some nice pastor who's giving you "the truth." And then by the end of it, they're like, "You should go find a church that will teach you this truth." "And oh, by the way, there's just one." "And it's the Seventh-day Adventist church. I'm not telling you that that's who we are, but that's the only people that you'll hear this from." [Laughing]
[00:12:27] Santiago: 100%, I'm so glad you mentioned that because I have a podcast recommendation for everybody. Go check out hell.bio/resources and you will find under the podcast page, there is a link to Oh No Ross and Carrie. It's a great podcast just in general. They talk about fringe science and spirituality and paranormal things and they go and investigate these things.
[00:12:56] Like the most recent episode I listened to, they paid somebody to communicate with their pets? Because apparently that's a thing that people pay money for. But they, they went to a Revelation seminar. And the hilarious thing is, I have met the man who was leading this Revelation seminar. His name is David Steward. Dave, if you ever happen to listen to this,
[00:13:18] I thought you were a great person then, I think you're a great person now, but I cannot believe... [Laughing] I could not sit through one of those with a straight face anymore, let's just say that. But they sat through this Revelation seminar put on by David Steward. He's a former prosecutor. And they talk about this exact thing, where they hid the fact that it's the Adventist church. At one point they asked him, point blank,
[00:13:43] "Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?" And he didn't want to answer the question. Because apparently in AFCOE, or whatever it's called, you know, the Amazing Facts training center, where they train people to be evangelists for Amazing Facts, because this was an official Amazing Facts event. They apparently train them to specifically not reveal that they're Adventist, until after a certain point in the seminar. So you're absolutely right. That is a thing that is done repeatedly. And I know that from having sat through multiple of these.
[00:14:12] Will: Wow, yeah, for sure. And it was, I don't even think I noticed it myself at first. I think my wife pointed it out or we noticed it together. I was like, "Have they ever mentioned who this is?" And they didn't. And then I watched another one just to see, and there was one at the beginning of COVID. They had planned one already to start in maybe June. And then after everything kind of shut down in March, the marketing for it became centered around a pestilence and plagues.
[00:14:48] And I said, "Well, I'm going to put myself through one more of these for fun." And it was not fun. I was angry every time, like every one. I want to say there was 20 of them and it was the 18th one where they finally mentioned. They mentioned a movement in the 1800s, and said Ellen White's name once. It was maybe 30 seconds out of this 20 hours of stuff. They just dropped it in and moved on. And I thought, I thought that was so fascinating that you wouldn't want to immediately hold up your banner and say,
[00:15:31] "This is who we are, and this is why we're talking to you." And to tell people, "This is the only way to read the Bible." And at the end of it, tell them there's nowhere they can go to get that, but this church we've never mentioned to you before. [Laughing] Uh, but you know, "Have fun, find one and join." And I just, it felt so dirty to me, but I had never, I really hadn't noticed it before. I'm like, well, I think that's how they always do it.
[00:16:00] And I went back because we have hard drives of sermons from my parents being behind a lot of things at our church. My dad just has sermons and sermons and sermons from all kinds of guests and different seminars. And it was just a common, a very common thing I noticed, and I just, I don't, I don't care for it. I don't care for it at all. But when you're there all the time, you don't see it.
[00:16:34] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:16:35] Will: And it's those little gaps where, when we had our first child, they wouldn't stay, they just couldn't be still for as long as our church services were. Because the church up here that we used to go to would last maybe till 2:30 sometimes, maybe 3:00. And we'd get there at 9:00 in the morning. And it just, it wasn't working. And so we stopped going because we were going in and out of service passing our child off and neither of us were getting anything.
[00:17:21] And so we were like, "Let's just not go, we'll watch sermons online and keep, you know, knowledge coming in and keeping the Sabbath." "Let's give him time to grow up a little bit, get a year under him." And then we started going back and just, what we were hearing was disturbing all of a sudden. Nothing had changed, but it was just suddenly disturbing.
[00:17:51] Santiago: That's fascinating.
[00:17:52] Will: I was like, "That has to mean something." Like there's a problem now that we're, we're leaving service angry, or we're leaving service hoping our child wasn't listening. Hoping there weren't guests that day. Hoping, you know, just these little things, but every week was like that.
[00:18:13] And it was, you know, why are we, "Why am I suddenly embarrassed almost, to be included in these "amens" that come in from these points coming from the pulpit that I'm like, "That's horrifying." "Like, that's a terrible thing." What are we "amening" that for? It just, it was a very, it was a slow process, but it was, it was noticeable because we took a break. Which was unrelated to anything but just inner peace of having this kid that would just start screaming, you know?
[00:18:50] Santiago: Yeah, that's fascinating. I want to come back to that because it sounds like that was definitely maybe a part of your deconstruction beginning, right?
[00:19:00] Will: Yes, that and that keying off of how I looked at what my parents had to do by finding Adventism with little kids. And then me saying, "Well, I'm not going to do it the way they did it." So that I can protect this little kid's brain a bit. And then it was that kind of thought that really started everything. It was, "I can't just go home and tell my son that." "I have to do something to it first." And the goal was to go back through all of the dogma and theology, pinpoint exactly where it comes from, so that I could teach it to my kids myself.
[00:19:54] Because I was so worried about what a Sabbath school teacher might say, and I'm not in the room. The first time my in-laws came, because my wife did not, my wife grew up Methodist and converted to Adventism when she was getting her master's in Chicago. We were not even together at the time. We had dated a while and broke up. She converted to Adventism. I saw that a bit as a sign, almost. You know, which got us talking again, to some effect. And led to us, ended up getting married anyway.
[00:20:31] But the first time her parents came to church with us, we had a random guest minister at my parents' church. And he talked about the sin of caffeine. Like half his sermon was about the sin of caffeine and we had had them over at the house and made coffee for everybody. And I'm sitting there like, "Oh my gosh." Like, I don't know what to do. You know, like he was quoting Ellen about caffeine and compare it, calling it a sin and all of this stuff. And we're like, "All right, my in-laws are going to think I'm crazy." "They're going to absolutely think I'm crazy." And I can't argue with what he said. I have to say, "Well, she did say that." What am I supposed to say?
[00:21:12] Santiago: Yeah, she did.
[00:21:14] Will: You never know what someone's going to say.
[00:21:16] Santiago: Yeah, I think I've mentioned this on the podcast before, but the first time, first and last time, a friend from high school that I invited to come to a Revelation seminar, the first and last night she came with her mom was the night that they revealed the Mark of the Beast.
[00:21:33] Will: Oh, awesome.
[00:21:35] Santiago: I swear I was, I was sweating bullets in the pew as I was there and I was like, "Goddammit it, why did you have to come this night?" "Like, why didn't you come the night before?" And then maybe you would have come back another night. [Laughing]
[00:21:50] Will: Oh, that's the worst.
[00:21:52] Santiago: Right? I don't know how it was for you, but for me growing up when, 'cause every now and then preparing for these Revelation seminars, I can remember a handful of times that we would go door to door. I don't remember if we were coached to do this, or if it was just something I did instinctively. But I didn't say, "Hey, we're Seventh-day Adventists."
[00:22:11] I said, hey, you know, "We're your local Christian church, and we're putting on a, we're putting on a Revelation seminar." So I don't know, I feel like there, I picked up somehow, or just instinctively, I knew it was different and that you needed to treat it, you needed to handle it carefully. And clearly like the folks over at amazing Facts and some of these other ministries feel that way too, just in terms of how they structure their presentations.
[00:22:40] Anyway, I want to bring us back to some of your earliest memories growing up Adventist. So, your parents have joined, a bunch of friends have joined, you're two. Walk me through what that experience was like, if you can remember from that time, and then after that.
[00:22:58] Will: I never really liked being separated from my parents. So whatever they went to, I went to. And I would sit there and they thought, I assume, that I wasn't really paying attention. But I was listening to everything. And taking everything in, and there was so much literalism talked about. Which literalism to an adult is an entirely different idea than literalism to a little kid. Like little kids are extremely literal.
[00:23:35] So everything they said, I was like, that's exactly, like, I remember learning about, oh, the, "The plagues will come back in the end times." Because I, I remember it being our first house. So I had to be less than four. And going to run the tub water, not to even take a bath, but to test and make sure blood didn't come out so that I would know I was okay. Like either it wasn't yet the last days or it was, and we, our house was protected.
[00:24:13] Santiago: Oh, man.
[00:24:14] Will: And it would, I would always wonder, and I would check after my parents or after someone else did to be like, "Well, I know they got water, so they're good, but will I also get water?" Because I'm, I, I remember from very young being like, "I don't want to be the one of the four of us that doesn't make it."
[00:24:35] I don't want it to be my parents and my sister in heaven looking around for me and they can't find me. And then mom gets to go through the books and see the little white lie I told her, and that's why I'm not there or, you know, whatever it was. So I got pretty into it, into wanting "the indwelling of the Holy Spirit."
[00:24:57] Did I know what that meant? Probably not, but I knew how to say it and I knew what it was supposed to mean, I thought. And that I would, you know, if I prayed and studied my Bible and asked the Holy Spirit to guide each and every decision throughout the day, I would eventually come to always like make the right decisions.
[00:25:23] But I'm six, you know? I got baptized at six. Which was crazy because the church was adamant, my pastor was like, "No, we don't baptize people that young." And I had to prove to them that I understood. I don't remember how many of the fundamental beliefs I had to go through, but I had to talk about them and what I understood them to mean. And, you know, did I understand what sin was? And you know, you have like a little six year old talking about how, you know, uh, "My sins killed Jesus."
[00:26:04] Santiago: Wow.
[00:26:05] Will: And it was like, I just wanted to get, I wanted to get baptized because, because I broke a plate and lied about it.
[00:26:15] Santiago: I read your blog post on that. I love that you wrote that up. I'm gonna link that in the show notes so people can, this is a must read people. Like, if you thought you were a guilty kid growing up, go read this blog post. [Laughing] It's a great read. But yeah, please continue.
[00:26:32] Will: But yeah, so I'm, I'm that kind of anxious. Or I was that kind of anxious. And so it was interesting to try to make that life decision before there is really anything to tempt you. Like six year olds either do what they're told or they don't. And that's kind of the extent of it. So it was like, okay, I've, I got baptized so when I get to junior high, I'll be able to conquer the normal hormonal issues.
[00:27:12] Like I won't, I won't struggle with lust. I won't have to struggle with all these things. I've already got Jesus in my life. And so then when you just do, when you just grow up naturally, it all felt like backsliding.
[00:27:28] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:27:29] Will: Because I'd already made this decision and here I am still having all these temptations like everybody else. I must not be doing something right because I don't have enough of the indwelling Holy spirit.
[00:27:41] But I'm also not doing anything. Like I couldn't have been a more well behaved child because I was terrified. And I just wanted to, I had no idea when the end was going to come and I wanted to be ready. And every week we talked about how it could be like, we know it can't be today because we have to have the Sunday laws first.
[00:28:10] But that could happen tomorrow. And if that happened tomorrow, before next Sabbath, it could be over. If you don't make all your right choices now or rededicate yourself today, you don't know what could happen. And so it was just this constant thought of the end. But never a thought of growing up. Just, "The end will come, and I'll still be a kid."
[00:28:38] And so I just, I crammed all of my, like, life's worth of anxiety in these first few years. That kind of anxiety was what I saw in our son and why I wanted to protect him. And I was like, well, I can't just hand 'em Messages to Young People and expect not to have a nervous wreck like I was.
[00:29:02] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:29:03] Will: It was things when I was a kid, I did not think were negative. I didn't look at all that pressure I was putting on myself as negative. It was what you're supposed to do. But then when the idea of putting that burden on someone else came up, I was like,
[00:29:18] "Oh, there's absolutely no way I can do that." "I cannot possibly do that." Our children, both of them, really, their growth has been this thing that has brought back all these memories that I didn't even know I was kind of holding onto negatively, because they were just "life."
[00:29:43] Santiago: That is so fascinating, and I'm so glad you mentioned that because if there's any parents listening right now, I'm sure they can probably relate to that. I think in the very first episode, there is an audio clip of Ami's husband, where Ami's husband Alex, where he's talking about how the turning point for him when he kind of drew a line in the sand, was when their daughter was born. And he's like, "I can't teach this to my daughter."
[00:30:15] And I think Ami had the same experience. I'm sure again, if there's any parents listening, you could probably resonate with this. You see what it did to you, and you're like, "I don't, I don't want to see that for my kid." And I think that speaks volumes of the amount of growth that people can go through and just the parental love and empathy you have for your kids where you're like,
[00:30:38] "I know what it's like and I want better for my kid." That's fascinating. I'm gonna, we're gonna come back to parenting a little bit. I haven't done an episode specifically on this yet, but I have been reached out to by a couple ex-Adventists who have kids, and who are like, "What do I do?" so we're gonna come back to that in a second.
[00:31:02] From everything you've shared so far, it sounds like you, you know, you fully bought into it, and you didn't maybe have too many questions because you're taking all of this so literally. So, was there a point, as a kid, where you ever openly questioned the church's teachings? Or felt comfortable asking questions?
[00:31:20] Will: I felt comfortable asking questions in the sense of I expected them to have an answer and whatever the answer was, I would accept it.
[00:31:30] Santiago: Mmm.
[00:31:31] Will: Which is kind of crazy when you think about it, because there's so many gaps you can fill in biblical stories. And so I would see them and instead of saying this, "This is an inconsistency," I was just like, "What's going on here?" and there would be some apologetic for it. And I would say, "Okay, you know, that's fine."
[00:31:52] I remember the first Revelation seminar I sat through, that I had to maybe be six or seven. And they got to the Ellen White day. But really the whole Great Disappointment, they went through the whole thing. Which, I feel like the Great Disappointment gets left out a lot now.
[00:32:11] Santiago: Mmhmm.
[00:32:12] Will: But they went through the whole thing. And I remember sitting there thinking, "So wait, they predicted something and it didn't work?" "And then they took that as the sign that God was with them?" "And then this little teenage girl started seeing visions and became a prophet, just like, like Moses was a prophet?"
[00:32:36] And they're like, "Yeah." And I'm like, "Wait, so, so God stopped talking to people like that for 1800 years. And then he picked one person and then he stopped again?" And they were like, "Yes." And I looked at my mom in the pew and was like, "I don't know about this." This sounds, it sounded like blasphemy to my childhood brain.
[00:33:04] I was like, "No, the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, you can't add or take away." And they're now saying this lady, they're like, "Well, she didn't add." And I'm like, well, fine, but this feels awfully close. I mean, I obviously wasn't this articulate about it, but I remember definitely looking at my mom and being like, "I don't know about that."
[00:33:25] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:33:25] Will: And her saying, "Of course it's true." And me just being like, "Okay." And never questioning it again for like almost 30 years. It was, "Hey, do we give this person authority?" "Yes." "Okay." And that was the hardest decision to undo for me personally. I could question anything eventually and not feel weird about it from a scriptural standpoint, but questioning whether or not Ellen White was inspired was the thing I gave up last.
[00:34:07] Santiago: Wow, interesting, okay. I feel like a lot of people had issues with Ellen White first, and then started taking a harder look at the Bible and everything else. So for you, that was the last step.
[00:34:19] Will: Yeah, because I sold myself on prophecy. You have the statue, you have all the pieces and it represents all of the empires. They had all of these dates and everything worked perfectly with — granted, countless assumptions were built into how they presented the information to be able to then say, "See how this works perfectly."
[00:34:42] But, you know, if you're not looking at it that close, it all worked perfectly. And so to me, it was, well, they got the time stuff right. I'm not sure what happened there, but I don't necessarily have to believe in a literal six day creation to believe something Napoleon did satisfied some part of this prophetic thing in this chart.
[00:35:10] I don't have to be literal to believe that the movement was divine and then I can maybe question some of what Ellen said because I questioned some of what Paul said. But even though I would say, have said that at the time, it would have still been from an apologetic of, "Well, I'm not sure Paul actually wrote the verse that I think shouldn't be in the Bible."
[00:35:38] So it was, I was still very like into the inerrancy of things, but it wasn't until I kind of, well... I hate that the thing that bothers you is always the thing that affects you personally, when you'll let stuff that is clearly messed up but affects other people, slide. I was basically sorting through Ellen to see what would be safe to let the kids see, and found these quotes about how enslaved people who were not given Jesus by their masters wouldn't be burned in hell, but wouldn't get to go to heaven because they never made a choice. But it wasn't their fault, so God would just make it as though they had never existed.
[00:36:31] Santiago: Wow.
[00:36:32] Will: And me thinking, "Well, that's, that's interesting that he could ignore my ancestors' cries and we're fine with that, but he had to do something about Israel." Like he had to make up for these things of his people. "So we just weren't his people, is what you're saying." And I saw connected to it, it was in her Shut Door phase. And she was talking about the children that had not made a choice for God before 1844, and how they would be saved or not. And if their parents were saved, the children were saved. And if the parents weren't saved and the kids were bad, she was afraid to mention.
[00:37:19] She was like, "I haven't been given light on what would happen to like kids that haven't," she didn't use the phrase age of accountability, but that was kind of the idea. It's like if you're not there yet and your parents were evil, it's possible you're okay. "I don't want to say you're not." "But if you were Black and enslaved and you were fine as a character, but no one told you about Jesus,
[00:37:44] God would just forget about you entirely." And I was like, "Well, that's too far." "I can't, I can't go with this one." And so then it was once I picked one, I was able to say "Well, I don't know about any of this stuff she's saying anymore."
[00:38:00] Santiago: I was already an ex-Adventist by the time I read that quote. Obviously nobody's quoting that from the pulpit. And if you do, I question what kind of White supremacist church you're in.
[00:38:12] Will: For sure.
[00:38:12] Santiago: What the fuck? Like, can we just take a moment to reflect on how incredibly fucked up that is? I was also an ex-Adventist by the time I read the quote about amalgamation.
[00:38:24] Will: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. And then I found a bunch of people trying to explain that one away. And I was like, all right. It was that extra level of apologetic. Like we really — "We're doing it for her too?" Like, like we're already denying all of these things and we have to do it for her too. And I just, I couldn't do it.
[00:38:45] That was the hardest thing to tell my parents. "I need you to know I'm completely out on Ellen, and I need you to read these quotes too." "And I need you to be mad about them, too." And that was when they were like, "Well, you know, you kind of have to," what was the, what's the phrase? "Chew the meat and spit out the bones with her." And I was like, "What are you talking about?" "That is absolutely not what we've been saying this whole time." My mom goes, "It took me almost 15 years of reading Ellen to figure out where to put her in terms of like, how strictly I should listen to this stuff."
[00:39:27] And I said, "Well, that's interesting because you found out about Ellen when I was two and you figured out how to deal with her when I was 17, and I had already moved out of the house." "So thanks for mentioning that to me because I've been out here thinking everything she said is gospel and that's just the way it is." And now you're telling, now you're telling me it's okay to say, "I don't know about this part." And I was so mad, but it also made me feel better about what they were doing because they hadn't figured out what to do with it yet when they had to teach it to me because they were, you know, in their mind, entrusted by God with these people, these little kids to raise the right way and teach the truth to.
[00:40:22] And so as soon as they got it, they handed it to us and we all digested it together. 'Cause I, I consider myself as I joined it out of my own free will. My parents didn't make me do it. They brought me. I had no other option, of course, but they weren't pushing me to. I wanted to do it. It's a weird thing because I talk about Adventism in a certain, a certain way, especially on TikTok, that would make it seem like I'm kind of bitter about my upbringing, but I'm really not. It's not really that. It's just, it was what it was, they were doing what they could do.
[00:41:09] There were all of these communal benefits of it. Like it wasn't a situation where I was mistreated in church or I went to one I didn't agree with politically or anything like that. Like it wasn't that kind of thing. It was always this worry because we would, we'd be sitting in service hearing about how we weren't good enough yet, you know? There was a lot of last generation stuff sprinkled in, in my church I grew up in. Where it wasn't necessarily full on perfectionism, "You have to be perfect," but there were every now and again, a guest speaker that would talk about the time when the Holy Spirit would withdraw from everyone and you'd have to remain sinless and in that period of time, you'd have to be perfect.
[00:42:12] Santiago: Yeah, I've had at least, I want to say by this point, three different people that I've had full on conversations with that grew up with that as well.
[00:42:20] Will: Yeah, and so it was like,
[00:42:23] "We obviously aren't there yet." "That's why he hasn't come." "That's why it's taken so long since 1844, is we are pitiful, but we are the only ones with the truth." And so I'm sitting there thinking, "Well, if we're not good enough and everyone else doesn't even know this, like everyone's screwed."
[00:42:43] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:42:44] Will: And I'm, I'm, I'm like, "Why is this good news?" "Why are we happy about, like this is terrifying." It was really worrying about my place in the church, that led to a lot of my questions. Because I wanted to be a pastor, but they hammered to us the calling aspect of it. And you had to feel that calling. And I never felt anything that felt like a calling. I just had a desire. And so I, I preached a couple of times at camp meetings when I was a teenager.
[00:43:22] But I was like, you know, I don't have this calling and I didn't know where to do it. There's this quote from Ellen that tortured me for years. And I don't remember it word for word. She talks about how we've been entrusted with the most important message of all time and there is nothing more important than spreading it. We should never be too preoccupied with anything. And I had grown up thinking well, "I'm never even gonna have a job." "I'll never have to," so I never thought about what I would do. Like I legitimately didn't think I would graduate high school.
[00:44:07] Santiago: Oh, wow. And this was back in the 90s, or?
[00:44:13] Will: So I graduated high school in 2001. And I was one of those kids that was like, we've got Jesus' birth off by four years. So 1996 is the real 2000, which means 2000 is 2004. And God probably likes these nice round numbers 'cause it was like, 2,000 years or so from creation to Abraham and then 2,000 from Abraham to Jesus, I want to say. And then it was going to be 2,000 from Jesus to 2000. And I was like, "There's no way." "Like, it's over."
[00:44:54] You know, like it's a wrap. And I was praying daily for experiences. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to experience not living in my hometown for a little bit. And there was this school that opened when I was eight that we didn't hear about until I was 16. And it was a residential high school in our state, in Oklahoma City. You lived there, it was the equivalent of 22 collegiate credits a semester. And it was for, it was just, you know, a crazy application process and interview process.
[00:45:39] You had to submit standardized test scores to get in. And we looked at that as the answer to my prayer of, "If you get in here, that'll be a taste of college." And that'll be '99 and 2000. You can squeeze it in before the end comes. And so I was like, "I probably won't get in, but I'll apply." "And if I get in, that's the answer to this prayer." And like, I moved out of, I moved away from home at 16 because I thought the world was going to end and I wanted to experience being out of that town just a little bit. But I've made all kinds of weird decisions because I thought time was running out.
[00:46:23] I worked for a big law firm here when I was, let's see, our daughter, we were pregnant with our daughter. So this would have been nine years ago. It was my first day and it was a top floor office, floor to ceiling windows. And at the end of the first day, everyone was leaving and I turned my chair, was looking out the window at all the people walking around and cars driving.
[00:46:53] And I got hit with this wave of "Now that you're in this position, there are no like steps up from here, technically." Like you can work at other firms, but this is kind of what you're looking for. Now that you're in this place of finality, you've got one kid at home, second one on the way, you're only having two. This is, you've done the things you never thought you'd do. And I'm looking down at these people thinking, "Now it's time to save them all."
[00:47:23] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:47:24] Will: "You have worked on you up to this point." "Now you need to rededicate to me and go evangelize this whole city." And it was like this weird out of nowhere thought, and the pressure that like immediately broke me.
[00:47:41] The questions were all there. I was afraid to tell people what my answers were to them, and accept them for myself, really. It was, "I have these questions, but I think, I think there's a way to loosen Adventism enough to spread it to another generation of people that would never accept what we were given." And that that needed to now be my, the thing I did with all my spare time. Like that was the mission.
[00:48:12] Santiago: Was your music tied into that? On your blog you mentioned how it originally started, the intent was to be like a music ministry or something like that?
[00:48:20] Will: Yeah, yeah. So there was a period of time where my parents started like a rotation of five churches that we would go to. And my dad would preach, or his friend Larry would preach. And whoever didn't preach did the other stuff, you know? And then I would play the piano for the hymns and do special music, but I don't really read music very well.
[00:48:49] I just played by ear. And so it was easier for me, because hymns are strange, a lot of them. Or are in keys I don't love. And so what I would do is I would just write my own stuff. Because I was like, it's easier for me to make up songs than to learn this one that I've don't like, anyway. So I would write my own and that became what I thought I would do.
[00:49:14] I was like, "Well, I'll do music." I won't try to like become a musician, but I'll just put it out there and that'll be my way. Because I'm incredibly introverted most of the time. So person to person evangelism was never going to be my thing. So like, well, I'll do music then. And did that for a while, uh, to very terrible results. I am not a great sound engineer, I will say that much. I didn't hate all my songs, but I don't love them either. So I didn't even mention the music 'cause I don't want anybody looking for it.
[00:49:49] Both: [Laughing]
[00:49:50] Santiago: Okay.
[00:49:52] Will: But that was the thing. And then it was going to be a blog, which was then going to be a podcast. And when the podcast started is about when I had taken that job and had that moment. And then I fell into this crazy depression about not being able to live up to what a good Adventist should be and not, and not in the sense of sins.
[00:50:27] But of like not being a great witness and not being able to answer to any question I get challenging my beliefs. Like I had answers, but they weren't good ones, you know? And I wanted to be able to be better at that and I started thinking about not being able to do that and then not being able to raise my kids to be great Adventists, either.
[00:50:57] And I essentially gave up and decided they would be, it would be better for them if I wasn't leading them. Like God wanted the man to lead the family and the household and be the spiritual head, that whole thing. I was still holding on to that part without seeing it as misogynistic at all, for some reason. And I was like, "They'll be better without me."
[00:51:30] And I got in this really dark phase where I tried to logically explain why I should just end everything. And I felt as though this was what, this is what's weird. And this is when the pod, my podcast took a weird turn. I felt in this moment as though God spoke to me and said, "The God you're holding onto is going to kill you." "So let me go." And it was the weirdest thing in the world because I'm not, and it's a weird thing to talk about now, because I have researched a lot of neurological understandings of how people hear "the voice of God" when you're raised to think that you can.
[00:52:19] I am not telling people how to think about that. I don't personally believe anything actually spoke to me anymore. At the time, it was as though I akined it to Inception. Like it wasn't an idea I would have come up with, unless it was true.
[00:52:41] Santiago: That's so interesting, because I've heard so many people talk about how, oh, you know, "God spoke to me, God said this." And they have trouble describing it. It's either somebody will claim they heard an audible voice and people will tell them, "Okay, go see a professional," or they'll say, "Oh, I had like an idea."
[00:53:02] I've never heard it described as Inception, but having seen the movie, I think at least twice, that makes sense to me. That's a great analogy. Interesting, okay. So, and I'm glad you mentioned that because you have a TikTok where somewhere you talked about how as many people as there are on Earth...
[00:53:22] Will: There are that many, there are that many gods.
[00:53:24] Santiago: Yeah, exactly. So yeah, just as many people believe in God, there's that many versions of God, because our conception varies. On a surface level observation, maybe not that widely, but there is a lot, there's a lot of variation there.
[00:53:39] Will: Yeah well, so the weird, the weird thing was I've never heard anyone say they heard God tell them to stop believing in it. And I'm like, that's a weird thing, but it was, "Hey, however, you're holding on to this is going to kill you, do something else." And that was when I really decided, all right, I'm going to deconstruct this thing for the purpose of putting it back together. I likened it to, uh, Jacob wrestling in the wilderness and asking God his name and God gives him a different name than he's told.
[00:54:23] It's actually funny because that story is in there twice. So this, this story is part of my deconstruction in two levels. But, I likened it to that where it was, I've been worshiping my parents' God, even though I thought it was mine. Now I would like to figure out who God is for myself so that I can really be dedicated to it.
[00:54:46] And then the attempt to do that just full on backfired. And I ended up where I'm at, but it was, uh, it was out of great intention that I ended up deconstructing everything. But I just, I want to make that point because it is not the idea of, "I couldn't." "I didn't like keeping the Sabbath, or I didn't like rules." It was, I really want to understand this for myself and see the, if there are assumptions, what are they? Where are they? Why do we believe them?
[00:55:22] And I just had no idea the mountain of things I was going to find and questions that I had that I thought no one was asking that had been asked from the inception of Adventism, over and over again. And I'm like, "Oh, this is out there." We just, when I was a kid or a teenager wondering, there wasn't a resource to find it.
[00:55:52] Santiago: And we're going to pause here. Make sure to come back for part two, which has about two more hours of my conversation with Will. For now, you can see the show notes for links to Will's TikTok and the other topics we discussed. I also want to personally ask you for help. This show takes a lot of time and effort to produce, and your donations help pay for the tools and hosting that make this show possible.
[00:56:20] Even more importantly, we're trying to help out fellow listeners of the show with a mutual aid project. As of this recording, we're still raising money for the Dunk family in St Lucia. Please see the show notes for the link to donate, or go to hell.bio/dunkfamily. That's D U N K F A M I L Y, all together. hell.bio/dunkfamily
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Haystacks & Hell Outro
[00:57:07] 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 . 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!