Seventh Day Adventists: Is It A Cult?

I talked to a couple seventh day Adventists the other day on the podcast, to try to get a feel for how cult-like this group is. One was an ex seventh day adventist, and the other is an active seventh day adventist. So where do they sit? Is it a cult or not? Let’s get into it.

A lot of you guys have probably heard of the BITE model, but I’m coming into this assuming this is your first video, so let me give you a little primer. The BITE model was written by Steven hassan. It’s an acronym that stands for Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, and Emotional control. It’s the ways in which cults control people. There are a bunch of different points under each category. So let’s go through the list and see how seventh day adventists match up. I have a scoring system that seems kind of complicated at first, but it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it. It’s basically a 1 to 7 scoring system, but instead of 1 through 7, I use the fibonacci sequence. I do that because the gap between points grows bigger each time, and it makes it easier to pick between each one. There isn’t usually as much debate and fence riding. And one more thing. I usually try to be generous with these because if something is a cult then it’ll shine through, whether I’m generous or not.

That being said, let’s give seventh day adventists a look.

The first category on the bite model is behavior control.

  • Promote dependence and obedience
    • I don’t think they promote dependence much, but I think they’re pretty bad about obedience. Just the word “obedience” is kind of a loaded term. There’s lots of baggage with it. And Jehovahs witnesses, for example, are really bad about this one. I’m going with 8 on this one, because they ARE bad about obedience, and i’d say they’re not completely innocent with dependence, considering the fact that they have k to 12 seventh day adventist schools, and they have adventist colleges, too.
  • Modify behavior with rewards and punishments
    • They do have a censure system within the religion. If you break one of the rules, you lose the ability to do certain things. It’s kind of like you aren’t a full member anymore. Jehovahs witnesses have something called reproval if you break the rules. Censures are kind of like that. I’d call that a system of rewards and punishments. I’ll give them an 8. I’ve seen worse. The perfect example of this is probably catholics with their penance system.
  • Dictate where and with whom you live
    • I didn’t think this one was terrible at first, but on further investigation, they do have a problem with you living with somebody outside of marriage, for example. Or living with somebody of the same sex if you’re gay. So this ties into restriction or control of sexuality, which is the next point. I’m giving them a 5 on this one.
  • Restrict or control sexuality
    • This one is actually really bad. But not horrific. Heaven’s gate, for example, would go around the breakfast table and everybody would report their thoughts and feelings as a way to shame each other into not having them anymore. Not to mention the fact that they believed strongly in castration, and some of them actually went through with it. No anesthetic. No doctor’s office. They rented a storage unit and did it to each other. So it isn’t THAT extreme. i’d give heaven’s gate a 21. I’ll give seventh day adventists an 8 because they still have big problems with homosexuality, for example.
  • Control clothing and hairstyle
    • This one isn’t awful, but again, it’s there. They believe in modesty, like most churches do. But they go a little over the top with it. I’m giving them a 5.
  • Regulate what and how much you eat and drink
    • I’d give this one a pretty high number because a lot of foods are banned. They follow the kosher diet in a lot of ways. And actually, lots of seventh day adventists are vegetarians, just because it’s easier. They heavily discourage alcohol and caffeine, and basically any other type of drug like that. I really don’t know how you get much more extreme with this for a religion that’s this big. I’d give them an 8, because I’d call the kosher diet a little more extreme, and I’m sure there are more extreme examples of even that.
  • Deprive you of seven to nine hours of sleep
    • This one isn’t really a problem within the religion. Though they do have lots of activities and stuff to do, so I’ll give them a little bit above a baseline 1. Ill say they’re a 2.
  • Exploit you financially
    • I’d say they’re as bad as mormons on this one. Which is to say, they’re pretty bad. You have to pay 10% to remain a full member of the church. Not to mention the other offerings. So ill give them a 13. Id say Jonestown is a good example of full exploitation. Jim jones was commnuist, so the members would give all their money to him and he’d provide what he thought they needed.
  • Restrict leisure time and activities
    • You’re pretty much expected to only consume entertainment that glorifies god. Some R rated movies are ok, as long as they fit within certain guidelines. I’d put this one really high. I’ll say 13. They’re very similar to Jehovahs witnesses in this respect.
  • Require you to seek permission for major decisions
  • They aren’t as bad about this, but it’s there. I’ll give them a 5.

That’s it for behavior control. They got an average score of 8. As I’ve said before, 8 or higher is pretty concerning. And actually, their score evens out to 7.7. so they’re right on the line with this. But having 13’s or 21’s at all raises lots of red flags for me. Let’s continue on to information control.

  • Deliberately withhold and distort information
    • This one ties in with “dividing information into insider vs outsider doctrine” in a lot of ways. I didn’t think the church did this from the top down at first, but when you consider the adventist school system, it’s actually a real, tangible problem. They alter information being given to people from childhood on to adulthood. Not necessarily regular members, but definitely for children. And that’s really the best time. ill give them a 13 for this. If you get them from childhood, you’ve pretty much got them for life.
  • Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics
    • This one really isn’t much of a problem at all. You’re allowed to talk to ex members. they don’t really shun at all. Though talking to critics is a little more iffy. Ill give them a 2 for that reason. Though, full disclosure, I did talk to an active seventh day adventist the other day about all this stuff and he was perfectly happy to discuss it. so take that for what you will.
  • Discourage access to non-cult sources of information
    • They do have their own news network and everything. It’s a really elaborate system. Jehovahs witnesses have jw broadcasting, which is like a monthly program that everybody is expected to watch, but these guys have a much more robust system. Which acts as something of a propaganda network. I dont know that they discourage outside sources of information much, but they certainly encourage inside sources of information. Ill give them a 3 for this.
  • Divide information into Insider vs. Outsider doctrine
    • They’re actually pretty serious about this one, too. From my understanding, the members employ thought stopping techniques when faced with oppositional doctrines from within the church. Debate isn’t necessarily discouraged with people outside the church, but when you’re debating doctrine from within, it gets a little iffy. I’d give them an 8.
  • Generate and use propaganda extensively
    • This one is pretty high, based on the fact that they have an entire news network and everything. Not to mention the reading materials and everything else. Jehovahs witnesses started out as a printing company. I gave them a 21. It really doesnt get more extreme than that. I’d give seventh day adventists a 13 on this one.
  • Use information gained in confession sessions against you
    • This one basically isn’t a problem at all, from my understanding. In fact, this is one of those doctrinal things they think catholics get wrong. They think confession is something personal and should stay between you and god, because only god can judge. However, if they catch you doing something they disapprove of, there will be repercussions. Like being in a relationship outside of marriage. For that reason I’ll give them a 3.
  • Gaslight to make you doubt your own memory
    • I really can’t say this one’s a problem at all, outside of the school system. But since the school system exists ill give them one above the baseline. we’ll go with 2.
  • Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors
    • Again, this one isn’t much of a problem. Like i said, they don’t think you should have to report anything to superiors. They think that’s where catholics get it wrong. so I’ll go with 2. Because they do still keep track of your life.
  • Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct”
    • I’ll go with 8 on this one, surprisingly. Because gossip networks are very real in this religion. If you mess up in some big way, in their eyes, then there will be censures.

That’s the end of information control. The average score for that one was 6. Not too bad. But again, they had a 13 in there. That’s a little concerning. Let’s move on to thought control.

  • Instill Black vs. White, Us vs. Them, & Good vs. Evil thinking
    • I’d say they’re bad about this, but not as bad as some groups. They still think they have the truth, they still think they’re right, they still think they’re going to be attacked in armageddon. But it could be worse. They think, even if you aren’t a seventh day adventist, you could still make it through armageddon alive. You could still be resurrected. That being said, i have to give them a higher number. They don’t do an “us versus them” thing in the same way as other groups do, but they have a strong sense of unity. They all work together. it’s like a big family. in a creepy way. Similar to jehovahs witnesses or mormons in that sense. Not to mention the fact that beliefs are all dictated by the church, so I’m going with 13.
  • Overreaching or exaggerated importance placed on events or ideas
    • I added this one to the bite model because I see a lot of this from extremist groups. jehovahs witnesses separating themselves from a massive cultural event like Christmas over some perceived ties to paganism. And going as far as to avoid buying Santa snow globes during the holidays because they dont want to contribute to a pagan institution like that. I think they do this with lots of stuff. A good example would be their emphasis on the sabbath. what they are and arent allowed to do on saturdays, which, by the way, is when they believe the sabbath should be. They’re really intense with this one. Dare i say, as intense as Jehovah’s witnesses. For different things, of course, but still bad about it. They get a 21 for this. 
  • Change your identity, possibly even your name
    • Though they don’t change your name, they do change your identity. They still want you to be “owen morgan, seventh day adventist”. They want you to assume the new personality, similarly to Jehovahs witnesses in many ways. So I’m actually going with 5. This is one of the biggest markers of a cult. If they have a permanent smile plastered on their face when they start talking about the religion, if they have glassy eyes, it means they probably had their personality modified through control mechanisms.
  • Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought
    • This does apply in many ways. Some examples of this for Jehovahs witnesses would be referring to everybody as “sister” or “brother”. Or with mormons, you’ve got terms like “heavenly father”. It’s like a unique language that other people can understand, but has an extra hidden meaning to mormons or Jehovahs witnesses. I’ve heard a few examples of this, so I’m going with 8.
  • Induce hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate
    • This is one of the ways in which they think a lot of churches get it wrong. For example, They don’t really believe in speaking in tongues as a regular worship practice, like pentecostals do. They think speaking in tongues is a real thing, but it’s really uncommon. They think missionaries are randomly granted the ability to speak other languages and understand people speaking in other languages. I would say this is a low number. Ill give them a 2.
  • Teach thought-stopping techniques to prevent critical thoughts
    • They do this mainly in the schooling system, and from what I understand, they have the tendency to do this about church doctrine or history. They have cookie cutter answers for stuff, and you aren’t supposed to go past that. The founder, Ellen g. white, plagiarized lots of her writings, for example. Researching that subject is heavily discouraged. There are lots of other problems. For example, she claimed to receive prophecies and revelations, but she was hit in the head with a rock when she was younger. Lots of the symptoms she described line up with a traumatic brain injury or epilepsy. But the church explains it away with a standard cookie cutter answer and discourages members from researching it any further. I’d give them an 8 for this.
  • Allow only positive thoughts
    • They do say people should be positive and happy, because your mental state is just as important as your physical state. So I’m giving them a reasonably high number for this. Ill say 5.
  • Use excessive meditation, singing, prayer, & chanting to block thoughts
    • Again, this ties into inducing hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate. I dont think they’re awful about it but it’s there. I’ll give them a 5.
  • Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt
    • This one’s actually pretty bad. Especially if you go through the school system. They’re young earth creationists so they deny evolution and everything. All the standard stuff. Of course they want their colleges to be accredited, which requires they teach evolution, so they teach it, but they’ll, quote unquote, “debunk” it as they teach it. I’ll give them a score of 8 for this.

That’s the final point for thought control. The average for that category was 8. And they had a single 21 in there. I’m surprised it was as low as it is. let’s hit emotional control next.

  • Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group
    • I think this is less of a problem than in other groups. catholics instill this horrific fear of hell if you leave the group or dont confess. A fear that stays with you until the day you die. People need therapy after that. But it does still happen. doctrinally, they believe that when you die, you’re just dead. Until you’re resurrected. Very similar to Jehovahs witnesses. But if you leave the group, you won’t be resurrected. So it’s bad but it isn’t as bad as catholics. Ill say 8.
  • Label some emotions as evil, worldly, sinful, or wrong
    • I’d say the best example of this is probably heaven’s gate, who were so completely against love or lust that they were cutting their junk off. They’d get a 21. But adventists aren’t great about this either. I’ll give them a 5.
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to prevent anger, homesickness
    • The best example of this one would be mormon missionaries, where they send them off to a foreign country and up until recently, they were only allowed to communicate with a family member twice a year. They try to completely separate you from your family and make you reliant on the church. I wouldn’t say adventists are THAT bad about it but it does happen. I’ll give them a 5.
  • Promote feelings of guilt, shame, & unworthiness
    • Catholics are by far the worst about this. again, I don’t think adventists are as bad as catholics. Ill say 8.
  • Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”)
    • I think this one exists, but I think the sense of family that’s created with the church is really the problematic part. They bring you in and you all work together. It’s very intense. Love bombing happens to a lesser extent, but because of the extreme sense of oneness, I would give them a 13.
  • Threaten your friends and family
    • This doesn’t really happen, almost at all. It doesnt have to be physical threats like scientology, it can be the threat of taking friends or family away from you. Or the threat of losing your job or something. But even in that context, I dont think it’s extreme. I’ll go with 2.
  • 2 Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve
    • This really doesn’t happen at all. I mean, it happens a little bit, but as I said before, I had a discussion with an active seventh day adventist and an ex seventh day adventist. In the same chat. They didn’t seem to have a problem with each other. So I’ll say 2, because I’m sure the cultural element is still there in some churches, it just isn’t heavily enforced from the top.
  • 5 Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group
    • When I hear this one, I think about catholicism, or Jehovahs witnesses, or even mormons, who say people who leave just want to sin. They’re really living miserable lives, but they have no other way of coping with the pain but to do immoral things. I dont think it’s terribly strong here but it’s there. I’ll give them a 5.

So that’s the last category: emotional control. The average on that one is 6. So the overall average score for this group is 7.  As I said, any group that has an 8 or higher, or a 21 on any point, is a concern to me. 13’s also raise alarm bells. The strong sense of unity, the extreme importance they place on things like the sabbath or their diet, the fact that they’re taught how to shut down when certain subjects are discussed, like critical information about their founder, all raises alarm bells. I would be very cautious with this group. But they do have one thing going for them at least: shunning isn’t baked into the doctrine. So take that for what you will.

So that’s the seventh day adventist score card. I think the fact that they’re young earth creationists would be more than enough to rule them out for me. Let alone all the stuff I mentioned a minute ago. We didn’t address their doctrine much, but it gets strange. And it’s oddly similar to jehovahs witnesses. I’ve explained the reason for that before, but I might do a whole video on the history of seventh day adventists and why they’re so similar to lots of churches formed in the 1800s. So keep a lookout for that in the future.

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