After a long hiatus over the summer the research team is back and beginning to pour through the massive data set represented by the 1200+ responses to our survey.
To get things started, here is a glimpse at the results from Q33, “To what extent did your experience as an Adventist impact your political views?”
Below are the aggregate responses. As you can see, most (62%) indicated that their experience as an Adventist impacted their political views at least a little, with over 26% indicating “a lot” or “a great deal.”
But what of the narrative responses? Using ChatGPT1 to summarize the 303 responses, here are the results listed as the seven top themes and accompanies by representative quotations. The themes are ordered based on the number of comments fitting in to each theme.
Theme 1: Growing Awareness and Change in Political Beliefs
This theme encompasses responses that indicate a shift in political beliefs over time due to exposure to different perspectives, education, critical thinking, or personal growth.
Representative Quote: “I swung the opposite direction of the fundamental church views.”
Number of Responses: 117
Theme 2: Influence on Values of Equality and Compassion
This theme reflects how the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) upbringing influenced respondents to value concepts like compassion, justice, equality, and social responsibility.
Representative Quote: “I have a strong sense that one should strive for justice and mercy for all, for doing right.”
Number of Responses: 53
Theme 3: Emphasis on Separation of Church and State
This theme highlights the impact of SDA teachings about the separation of church and state, leading to a perspective that values secular governance and individual freedoms.
Representative Quote: “I believed in a living Jesus so was pretty liberal, politically speaking. Believed people could be personally against abortion, but that it shouldn’t be enforced on others.” (Group 6)
Number of Responses: 35
Theme 4: Influence of Exposure to Other Perspectives
This theme involves the effect of exposure to diverse viewpoints, education, and interaction with people outside the SDA community, leading to shifts in political beliefs.
Representative Quote: “I found in the last years that I was in the church making a very substantial swing toward evangelical and right-wing politics.”
Number of Responses: 40
Theme 5: Shift from Conservatism to Progressivism
This theme relates to how respondents moved away from conservative political views promoted by the SDA church toward more progressive or liberal perspectives.
Representative Quote: “I am politically liberal. I thought following Christ made me so. But after I grew up I realized religion had nothing to do with it and most Christians were just heartless nationalists.”
Number of Responses: 20
Theme 6: Rejection of Conservative Church Views
This theme indicates a rejection of conservative views endorsed by the SDA church, particularly in cases where these views contradict personal values or appear hypocritical.
Representative Quote: “I always identified as liberal leaning and assumed other Adventists did too because it seemed Christ-like to me, but I learned at some point that it was the other way around.”
Number of Responses: 22
Theme 7: Development of Independent Political Views
This theme highlights how respondents developed their own unique political views, distinct from the influence of the SDA upbringing.
Representative Quote: “My political views from the time I was 6 are the same views I have today.”
Number of Responses: 16
Please note that the above themes and quotes are drawn from the entire sample of 303 responses.
Having carefully read the 303 narrative responses, my sense is ChatGPT did a very good job identifying the major themes. Respondents appear to recognize that the views taught by the SDA are inherently very conservative and now being ex-SDA they see this more clearly and have tended to become more liberal after leaving the church.
Much more needs to be parsed out looking at the data for this question, but this is a glimpse at what is to come.
1Special thank go to Elon University undergraduate student and sociology major Mason Carter for the hard work of maximizing the ChatGPT output.