While visiting Loma Linda, California, to promote his film Bonhoeffer, producer-director Martin Doblmeier toured the University Medical Center, famous for infant heart transplants and cancer research. He was fascinated by "the juxtaposition between the rather conservative, traditional faith that is Adventism and this 21st-century pioneering medical technology that they're doing." His interest led to The Adventists (Journey Films), a 60-minute documentary allegedly airing on American Public Television this month (it's also available on DVD). Focusing on four cutting-edge hospitals in California, Florida, and Ohio, the film lauds their luxurious campuses, personal patient care, and state-of-the-art technology. Adventist hospital marketing departments must be drooling.
Devout Adventists live, on average, 10 years longer than other Americans. Their long lives, however, have to do more with lifestyle than technology. Church members are not supposed to drink alcohol or smoke. They are encouraged to eat a plant-based diet, to exercise regularly, to maintain normal body weight, and to stop working once each week for 24 hours. Those who do this are much less likely than the general public to experience cancer or heart disease, reports Blue Zones author Dan Buettner.
Adventism is, of course, a faith community, not a health club. In the film, cheesy costume drama depicts the denomination's origins in 19th-century millennialism, intense Bible study, and the supposed prophetic gifts of Ellen White. Before embarking on health reform in 1863, Adventists were already worshiping on Saturday and had developed a then-unique theology of resurrection, not immortality. Several contemporary Adventist theologians comment on the group's commitment to the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.
Still, this film is more about longevity than theology, and its picture of Adventists is far from complete. You won't learn here, for example, that Adventism is a variety of Bible-believing evangelical Christianity, or that the denomination has many more schools than hospitals, or that Adventists boast nearly twice as many university graduates as the general population. You won't suspect that 94 percent of the church's members live outside the United States, or that the American Adventist population is 50 percent nonwhite and 31 percent immigrant, or that despite all those surgeons, Adventists' income levels are decidedly below average.
You will, however, learn that an Adventist doctor patented a manufacturing process for peanut butter, and you may be inspired to eat more of it.
LaVonne Neff was raised Seventh-day Adventist. She blogs at LivelyDust.blogspot.com.
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